Thomas Paine: Creating the New story for a New Nation

Robert Dehenny, Sandra Morgan, Pauline Assenza


Large-scale change at the institutional level is built on four major foundations: change theory, institutional theory, organizational culture and leadership, and contextual discourse and rhetorical persuasion. Thomas Paine's writings, a provocative stimulus for the new United States of America during its revolutionary crisis, employed all four of these in creating the nation's new “story.” In this case, the institution is the pre-Revolutionary concept of governance and the change, driven by multiple forces, is the breaking away of the 13 colonies from England. Paine's powerful pamphlet, “Common Sense”, as well as his other writings, reflected his rhetorical expertise and served as a cognitive foundation upon which the fledgling nation could build its new script and create new processes of institutional governance. As any good storyteller does, Paine engaged his readers in a conversation that allowed them to construct an organizational reality that articulated their collective identity. He was the change agent whose interventions helped with the birth of a new nation. One Paine biographer (Kaye, 2005) argues that Paine's “rhetorical patterns” helped to create the “vision of America as a nation gifted with a special mission” and are still quoted by Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians alike without apology (Ferguson, 2000). 

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