There are myriad examples of individuals coming to the United States to enjoy extraordinary success. Some have come to call that the “American Dream.” Perhaps nobody better embodies the American Dream than Thomas Paine, the famous pamphleteer of the late 1700s.
Paine was born in England in 1737 and he did not enjoy extraordinary success while in England. Gordon Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, 208. He bounced between jobs with no notable success. Id. In fact, Gordon Wood concludes that Paine had lived “close to the bottom of English society.” Id. at 209.
Then, in 1774, he moved to the New World and almost immediately, he was writing newspaper articles. Id. Soon thereafter, in January 1776, he wrote Common Sense, the famous pamphlet that some argue would change the course of America’s progress. Id. The pamphlet would go on to sell 150,000 copies at a time when “most pamphlets sold in the hundreds or a few thousand at best.” Id.
Gordon Wood concludes that Paine’s comfort and success in America was attributable to his time spent living toward the bottom of English society, and that those years “primed him to think like an American.” Id. This seemed to be true, as Common Sense became so widespread in American society that it was deemed a “work of genius,” making Paine a celebrity. Id.
Paine’s success in those tumultuous years perhaps best embody the American Dream as he came from a modest life, with nothing but his skill to persuade, and became a revered figure, synonymous with the Revolution. Saving the broader question of what the American Dream truly is for another time, Paine’s success and legacy have endured over the past two centuries, a privilege reserved for few.
The only question is why. The American Dream, at its best, remembers and celebrates those who make significant contributions to American society, for the betterment and improvement of all American lives. That remembrance and celebration occurs, generally, regardless of race, gender, or any trait.
Thomas Paine, as well as the other figures of the Revolution, would be pleased to know that their hard work and dedication has been cherished. He forms one piece of the puzzle that is America’s collection of ideals and accomplishments. With any luck, all individuals who achieve the American Dream will have a place in that puzzle.