January 29, 2011

Paine: the plant she named Liberty Tree

According to the Old Style dating system, Thomas Paine was born on January 29, 1737. Paine, born in England, was an influential writer in the colonies leading up to and during the American Revolutionary War. His pamphlet, Common Sense (1776), is often credited for shifting the focus of the struggle from one seeking civic rights to one for independence. Though this is his most famous claim to fame, his other writings and other political accomplishments are manifold.

For a time, he wrote for and edited Pennsylvania Magazine: Or American Monthly Museum. It was in that periodical that, under the pseudonym "Atlanticus," Paine published the poem "The Liberty Tree, A Song Written Early in the American Revolution":

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

Though this tree came from overseas, it flourished "like a native." To its "peaceable shore" flocked many other nations. These people supplied "timber and tar" to "Old England" and fought on that nation's behalf "for the honor of Liberty Tree." But then:

...But hear, O ye swains, 'tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defense of our Liberty Tree.

Today, some celebrate January 29 as "Thomas Paine Day" or "Freethinkers Day."


  1. With my fife-&-drum group's relish for early American Revolution music (and pre-Revolution), this blog post makes me wonder if Thomas Paine's lyrics were ever put to music? It was common to put new words to familiar tunes. I'll have to see what I can find. Thanks for the post, Rob!

  2. Paine wrote this piece intentionally as a song; as was traditional, he used an already well-known tune - in this case, "The Gods of Greece." I don't know that one myself!