Early American History Seminar: Nicole Eustace, New York University

Early American History and Culture Seminar
Thursday, September 30, 2004

5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

“ ‘The Power of Feeling’ in Common Sense: the Pennsylvania Context of Thomas Paine’s Egalitarian Emotional Rhetoric”
Nicole Eustace, New York University
In January of 1776, a year after arriving in British America, Thomas Paine penned the pamphlet Common Sense and urged his readers to “examine the passions and feelings of mankind,” confident that any such scrutiny would inevitably lead to support for American independence. By invoking the “passions and feelings” of all mankind, Paine sought to promote a universal concept of human emotion, to collapse eighteenth-century distinctions between the supposedly refined feelings of genteel sensibility and the purportedly irrational passions of common servility. While Paine, a recent arrival in Pennsylvania in 1776, has often been regarded primarily as a trans-Atlantic figure - an Englishman who stopped off for a time in America on his way to revolutionary France - he should also be recognized as a Quaker-born writer who composed the piece Common Sense in Philadelphia at the close of a decades-long Pennsylvania pamphlet war that had long debated public policy using emotional rhetoric. This paper casts Common Sense as the culminating production of eighteenth-century colonial Pennsylvania debates.