Paine and O’Sullivan, their visions, 63 years apart

By Darren Iozia

Two authors, two different time periods, with the same vision for the future of the United States of America. Greatness. One seeing the men of the colonies hold true to a newly created voice and a break from the old country; the other seeing the westward expansion of the United States, carving business, families and America to what we see today. Both Thomas Paine (1737-1809) and John L. O’Sullivan (1813-1895) placed ink on paper, grabbing the attention of many. History shows that what they envisioned is what has made the culture of today’s modern America.

English born Thomas Paine was a significant voice for both sides of the Atlantic with his writings. Travelling back and forth between Britain and the United States (the colonies), Paine lived the life of a cosmopolitan. He was known for his famous piece, titled “Common Sense” of Independence, 1776. The American Revolution (1765-1783) was started for three main reasons: the inability to move westward, the inability to trade with whomever and the need to have representation without taxation. Paine’s writing hits home and upsets many with the publishing of his pamphlet. But it has become a staple in American history with how he represents the people, upsets some and explains the differences of government and the need to break away from the British to establish America’s own sense of representation. Paine’s words became so important to the American people that his vision and thought was embraced by the public sphere. Taverns, local gatherings and clubs of sort would read and discuss what Paine was saying the American way should, or could, be.

During the first section of “Common Sense,” he relates to the people and explains his style and intentions. “In the following pages, I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and in suffer this reason and his feelings to determine for themselves.” This is powerful because being a man born in Britain, he establishes himself as part of the cause. One thing that is congruent throughout his entire piece is that he refers to “man” only. No women are mentioned as part of the cause. However, they are. During that period, it was not uncommon to refer to all humans as “man.” If he was to write today, gender neutral would be enacted. In addition, Paine sets the tone for the future by his vision of growth and how man should band together. “Now is the seed of time of continental union, faith and honor. The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; the wound will enlarge with the tree, and the posterity read it in full grown character.”

Despite his efforts to band the colonists together, inevitably Paine ruffled a few feathers. Breaking away from Britain and forming a government caught the attention of many. Paine’s ideas and thoughts translated to the idea of “Absolutismversus Constitutionalism.” He moves forward and connects the distance that Britain maintains and that being ruled from such a travel is far beyond belief, and the fact that they are not able to conquer and not manage the colonist. “The business of it will soon be too weighty, and intricate, to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us; for if they cannot conquer us, they cannot govern us,” said Paine. He basically enables the readers to think for themselves, empowering them to make a choice by posing a simple, and indirect question, “What’s the best form of government for you?”

One last important section of “Common Sense” is the topic of religion. Europe believed in “one state, one religion.” According to Paine’s vision, he believes one should be able to have freedom of religion: “As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.”

One country that has stood for itself during a time period of many intelligent men with vision and determination. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and many more. One timeline with two written pieces, 63 years apart. Two men that never breathed the same air during their lifetimes, but these two men saw the vision of a great nation that would hold the world high and lead other countries.

John L. O’Sullivan was an American columnist and editor. During his lifetime, he was known for writing a piece on the Manifest Destiny (1839), which was excerpted from “The Great Nation of Futurity.” His idea that America was disconnecting itself from the past and moving forward, and westward, was going to pave the way for greatness and power within the world. This is clear in his quote: “that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them [other nations], and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only.” OSullivan’s powerful piece created a state of mind that people who travelled westward would “come alive.” This expansion and state of mind was believed to be a God given right to expand from coast to coast, which was held during the 19th century. O’Sullivan, fueled by the disgust of the old world, believed that the American way was destined for greatness. “What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they never existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and the injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from retrospect?” O’Sullivan saw a future in America and he wanted the country to be distinct from Europe, he wanted the country to be new, not forgetting but instead separating itself from the past oppressive rulings. He said it perfectly in his piece, “America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defense of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement.”

In defining the push west, from Atlantic to the Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail to the Mississippi River and then to the Pacific Coast, O’Sullivan not only opened the arena to how great it was to move west, but also saw how it defined the people of America. “The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American Greatness. In it is magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most-High – the Sacred and the True.”

In conclusion, two great writers saw the greatness of a country that was destined to be one of the, if not the, most powerful countries on Earth … a country that fought for its freedom from the old world and a country that expanded west. There was Paine, who banded people together with his belief in “Common Sense” by showing the power of a voice in government, the disconnect from only trading with Britain and the ability to have freedom of religion and there was O’Sullivan, too, who saw America define itself as its people moved west by establishing land, farming and creating a nation that would grow exponentially. In reading of the both of these pieces, by two men that never met, I see their vision and how it reached many Americans to push for a great nation, an independent nation and a disconnect from past oppressors.

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About the author

Originally from the United Kingdom, and now a proud US citizen, Darren has been involved with the print industry since college in the late 90s. His experience in writing, designing and photography fuel his position as managing editor at The Source Newspaper.

View all articles by Darren Iozia