Thomas Paine & the Roots of American Progressivism

Michael Crowder at Online

Tue, Apr 21 at 7:30 p.m.   |   90 minutes   |   BYOB
Olios: Drop-in classes led by professors

Who exactly was Thomas Paine, and why is someone like Andrew Yang talking about him? Paine’s life and legacy have always hovered as a specter over the American political left, and this class explores how and why.

Who exactly was Thomas Paine, and why is someone like Andrew Yang talking about him? That isn’t just a rhetorical question for the sake of drawing in the audience. From the moment he reached revolutionary celebrity status in 1776 after the publication of Common Sense—the influential pamphlet that almost single-handedly inspired the American Declaration of Independence—Paine was simultaneously cast into the contradictory roles of hero and villain, political influencer and maligned hack, paragon of republican virtue and personally disgusting and politically dangerous to moderates and conservatives. More than any other major figure of the American Revolution, Paine inspired both intense devotion and vociferous defamation, more than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the current reigning champion of Revolutionary Era fascination, Alexander Hamilton.

Why? Because Paine dared to articulate a radical worldview rooted in what today would be considered progressive principles, as a harsh critic of hereditary privilege, slavery, and women’s subordination, an apostle of democratic political participation and more egalitarian societies. In other words, Paine was America’s first progressive. This Olio examines Paine’s life and relevance to modern American politics at a critical moment, as the modern American progressive left expands its base and influence. Paine’s life and legacy have always hovered as a specter over the American political left, and this class explores how and why.

Teacher: Michael Crowder

Michael Crowder received his Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY, in 2019. He works as Public Historian and lecturer at the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies at Iona College, and is currently writing a new history of Thomas Paine, the American Revolution, and the origins of American progressivism.


Venue: Online

Zoom link will be sent upon signup.

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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.