Literature: Tool For The Masses To Grasp And Form

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Literature: Tool For The Masses To Grasp And Form Opinions On A Subjec

Literature: Tool For The Masses to Grasp and Form Opinions on A Subject

Over the centuries, one of the most important tools available to protesting
groups was literature. Some of the most famous protest literature in the world
has its roots in American history. For example, some great American authors of
protest literature include Thomas Paine, Thomas Nast, John C. Calhoun, and
Martin Luther King. Through eloquent, sometimes subtle means, these authors
became the spokesmen for their particular protest movements.

Thomas Paine was an English-born man who seemed to stir controversy wherever he
traveled. Paine's forceful yet eloquent prose made him a hero for the three
great causes to which he devoted his life; the American Revolution, religious
reform, and the natural rights of man. At the age of 37, Paine strove for the
fabled shores of America, determined to forget his past. He made the
acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, and settled in Philadelphia. There, Paine
was eventually hired into the profession of editor for the Pennsylvania Magazine.
He published a series of minor essays, but his first important work was an
essay written for the Pennsylvania Journal in which Paine openly denounced
slavery. This was Paine's first foray into the world of protest literature, and
it clearly whet his appetite. Paine soon became fascinated with the ongoing
hostility in Anglo-American relations, and, much to the dismay of his publisher,
could not seem to think of anything but. Therefore, in late 1775, Paine had
begun what was to become a 50-page Pamphlet known as Common Sense. In this work,
Paine stated that:

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is
but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer,
or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a
country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we
furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of
lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of
paradise (Fast 6).

This very biting and controversial stance is what characterized Paine's writing.
He went on to dismiss the King as a fool, and stated that natural ability is not
necessarily related to heredity. Paine argued that the colonies existed only
for British profit, and that the colonies must unite quickly if they were ever
to form a single nation. This latter argument was more than likely influenced
by Franklin's famous "Join or Die" cartoon. Finally, Paine argued that the only
way to gain the rights desired by the colonists and help from outside powers was
to claim total independence. In Paine's own words, "Until an independence is
declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off
some unpleasant business...and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its
necessity" (Coolidge 31).

While Paine was working on Common Sense, the war had changed theatres into New
York. Paine felt it his duty to fight in the cause he wrote so valiantly for,
and thus enlisted in a Pennsylvanian unit in August of 1776. After fighting at
Fort Lee, New Jersey, Paine's unit joined with General George Washington's army
in its retreat. Here, Paine gained a quiet respect for Washington, and began
the first of thirteen papers that would become known as The American Crisis.
Again, Paine's eloquent prose struck the hearts of patriots and laymen alike,
and earned him a large following. It is in the first of these Crisis papers
that one of the most stunning lines in protest literature is written: "These are
the times that try men's souls." (Coolidge 38). Paine signed the pamphlet
"Common Sense", and this furthered his reputation. Washington was so impressed
by this work that he ordered it read to the men to bolster morale just before
the first major offensive of the war. Reinforced by the dramatic coup which
Washington scored at Trenton, the first of the Crisis papers helped to inspire
many thousands of men into joining the war effort.

The second Crisis paper was a great chance for Paine to launch a personal attack
of George III, whom he deemed incompetent and unintelligent. His third paper
was directed against the American Tories, and particularly the loyal Quakers of
Philadelphia, whom Paine scathingly rebuked for their lack of courage. In his
fourth Crisis, Paine gave a call for his fellow man to join in the fight against

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