The pleasures of Tom Paine

21st July 2000 at 01:00
PUPILS studying citizenship in East Sussex are modelling themselves on local hero Tom Paine.

The brains behind the American war of independence, who was also charged with sedition for advocating an end to the British monarchy, might not be exactly what the Government had in mind in its bid to create "responsible citizens" with its citizenship curriculum proposals.

Tom, the son of a Lewes corset-maker, worked as a tax inspector before being overcome with revolutionary zeal. His polemic The American Crisis was read aloud to fire up General Washington's troopsjust before they launched themselves across the Delaware river to victory over the British.

Peter Rowley, special projcts officer at the county council, said students were similarly enthused by the 18th century radical. In a day of discussion and debate, sixth-formers gave presentations on the proposal: "Tom Paine was responsible for democracy as we know it today."

There's no doubt the great man's ideas were before his time. William Hague would envy the response to his first work Common Sense, which sold 150,000 copies. But the Tory leader might take comfort from Tom's view that his ideas might be "not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour".

For less diligent students of American independence, Mel Gibson's English-bashing epic The Patriot is now in UK cinemas.

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