There is a passage, laid down by Thomas Paine in the first installment of his 1776 political tract The American Crisis, that—in its precision, its intensity, its moral clarity—is a piece of unmitigated, coruscating beauty:

Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Sentences like those ought to be carved in stone.

There are, on that score, no significant monuments raised to Paine. This is not necessarily astonishing, and it is in a way appropriate. Paine does not fit neatly into the...


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