Nice look by WSJ at the new exhibit on ‘Common Sense’ author Thomas Paine at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
A rguably the most influential crank in American political history, Thomas Paine the man—as opposed to Thomas Paine the author of hackle-raising tracts such as “Common Sense”—has been all but lost to contemporary memory. That, at least, is the view of the National Portrait Gallery, which hopes a new exhibit will help restore the outlines of the fading arc of Paine’s extremely consequential life. “Although his words are quoted left and right, right and left, I suspect most people know very little about Tom Paine,” says Margaret Christman, curator of “One Life: Thomas Paine, the Radical Founding Father.” Who was Paine? Depending on whom you ask, he was either an uncompromising free-thinker who made possible the popular embrace of the Declaration of Independence, or “a filthy little atheist,” as Teddy Roosevelt once described him. A seditious subject of the English crown or an honorary French citizen chucked in the Bastille. Or just a fiercely American idealist with too much interest in brandy and democracy and not enough in fashion or personal hygiene. All are more or less accurate—some more, others less—though Paine did firmly believe in God. Not that it made him any less polarizing. – From WSJ