Tom Paine's America
Tom Paine's America explores the vibrant,transatlantic traffic in people, ideas, and texts that profoundly shaped American political debatein the 1790s. In 1789, when the Federal Constitution was ratified, ",democracy", was acontroversial term that very few Americans used to describe their new political system. That changedwhen the French Revolution-and the wave of democratic radicalism that it touched off aroundthe Atlantic World-inspired a growing number of Americans to imagine and advocate for a widerange of political and social reforms that they proudly called",democratic.",One of the figureheads of this new international movementwas Tom Paine, the author of Common Sense. Although Paine spent the 1790s in Europe, hisincreasingly radical political writings from that decade were wildly popular in America. A cohort ofdemocratic printers, newspaper editors, and booksellers stoked the fires of American politics byimporting a flood of information and ideas from revolutionary Europe. Inspired by what they werelearning from their contemporaries around the world, the evolving democratic opposition in Americapushed their fellow citizens to consider a wide range of radical ideas regarding racial equality,economic justice, cosmopolitan conceptions of citizenship, and the construction of more literallydemocratic polities.In Europe such ideas quickly fell victim to acounter-Revolutionary backlash that defined Painite democracy as dangerous Jacobinism, and thestory was much the same in America's late 1790s. The Democratic Party that won the nationalelection of 1800 was, ironically, the beneficiary of this backlash, for they were able to positionthemselves as the advocates of a more moderate, safe vision of democracy that differentiated itselffrom the supposedly aristocratic Federalists to their right and the dangerously democratic PainiteJacobins to their left.
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