College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in the media between September 14 - 21, 2015
One of the founding fathers of the United States, Thomas Paine has also been described as a corsetmaker, a journalist and a propagandist. But the celebrated English political activist and revolutionary may also have been something else: a cunning plagiarist.
A newly published essay has claimed that a crucial 6,000 word passage of Paine’s famous 1791 work Rights of Man was not written by him at all, but by his friend the Marquis de Lafayette.
The remarkable claim is made by Jonathan Clark, a professor of history at the University of Kansas, who said Paine’s account of the French Revolution was “different in tone” from the rest of the work and was almost certainly the result of extensive conversations with an uncredited second writer.
“This 6,000-word narrative is eloquent, idealistic and visionary. There is, indeed, only one difficulty: Paine cannot have written it. He wrote it out; some of it he put into his own words; but he cannot have been the primary author,” he writes in his essay, published in the Times Literary Supplement.
Paine’s version of the French Revolution, which forms the central historical passage of the work, has come to be regarded over the centuries as the definitive account of the event, he argues. If it did come from Lafayette, Professor Clark says, historians who have taken the story for granted will have “much re-thinking to do”.
The prose of the disputed section is different to that used by Paine in the rest of the book, Professor Clark claims, as it written in the third person and is often “couched in uplifting generalisations”. Examined more closely, he says, it “seems not to be that of an Englishman at all; it reads like the English prose of a native French speaker”.
During this part of his narrative, Paine also boasts that he is privy to the “secret history” of French politics. But Professor Clark says the Englishman’s “humble social standing” at the time meant he would not have moved in such circles – and in any case, he did not even speak French.
The real author of the account is likely to be Lafayette, who knew Paine well, he concludes. Consequently, this part of his famous book should be read not as the “neutral history” of an Englishman but a “very personal perspective” on the French Revolution. The section “consistently overstates” Lafayette’s role in events and may have been written to conceal the true author’s identity, he says.
Additional media coverage includes:
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- Dwindling North American monarchs begin 3,000-mile journey (+video) - Christian Science Monitor
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- University of Kansas historian Jonathan Clark says Thomas Paine didn't write the account of the French Revolution included in the Rights of Man - History News Network
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- Burkina Faso coup spells trouble for civil society in Africa - World News
- Board of Regents prioritizes KU science in budget request - SFGate - San Francisco Chronicle
- Board of Regents wants$10M-plus for science facilities at KU - WIBW
- Kansas Board of Regents prioritizes KU science in budget request to lawmakers - Topeka Capital Journal
- Kansas Regents requesting millions more for higher education - Kansas City Star