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Thomas Paine: Barack Obama’s inspiration

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech continues to inspire column inches and internet pixels. Now the attention is on Thomas Paine – the inspiration behind his inspiring speech. Rare book collectors and historians know Paine very well.

Paine, one of America’s early thinkers and writers, featured in Obama’s speech in the final section. “In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.”

An Englishman from Norfolk, Paine died 200 years ago. Obama borrowed those words from Paine’s pamphlet The Crisis. George Washington insisted the article was read to his forces before battling with the English army at Trenton. Although Paine died in obscurity, at the time the Americans liked the idea of an Englishman sticking it to the English.

Paine’s most famous work is Common Sense, advocating American independence, and it was published six months before the Declaration of Independence. It became an 18th century bestseller and today it is extremely collectible and extremely expensive.

However, when Paine died in 1809 only six mourners turned up. It would appear that an Englishman has a prominent position in the White House.

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