Liberty in Business: The Printing of Common Sense
Chapter 2 reads a selection of Thomas Paine’s political writings—including Common Sense (1776), The American Crisis (1776–83), Letter to the Abbe Raynal (1782), and The Rights of Man (1792)—as a commentary on moral agency in the print trade, including the agency of the printer who issued the first edition of Common Sense, Robert Bell. Paine’s belief that the putative deficiency of civility and character among printers would result in a debased and inconsequential American literature was not a unique argument, but its place within his larger critique of political tyranny helps us understand the cultural function of Paine’s attack on the business of print: that the trade ignored the “civil manners” that ideally should characterize American civil society.
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