About the Exhibit
The First Great Disinformation Campaign:
The Use of Slander in Political Cartoons to Discredit the Political Philosophy of Thomas Paine
When someone cannot defeat the wisdom of an idea they may instead try to undermine the people instigating it by attacking their character. Paine was attacked from the moment that Common Sense appeared, even though no one knew who wrote it. By the time Rights of Man appeared in 1791, he was the target of every monarchist newspaper in England. It is a testament to Paine’s power to change the world that he came under such attack. A less effective revolutionary would have been ignored.
This exhibit shows a sample of the more famous political cartoons used against Paine. Political cartoons have a long history going back to Martin Luther, and are prevalent today. They employ caricature and exaggeration to make a point. When newspapers became the primary source of information, they became a staple of political discourse. In Paine’s time, most newspapers had overt political biases and based their reports on hearsay. Few democratic newspapers existed, so the debate was very one-sided against Paine. Along with coins, these cartoons were an effective tool to slow, but not stop, the impact of his ideas.
The Institute for Thomas Paine Studies
For further information about the Institute please contact:
Scott Cleary, Director of the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Berton, Coordinator of the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies, email@example.com