Thomas Paine (born Thomas Pain) February 9, 1737 ‚Äď June 8, 1809

‚ú™ Thomas Paine ¬†was an English-born American¬†political activist,¬†philosopher,¬†political theorist and¬†revolutionary. He authored two of the most influential pamphlets at the start of the¬†American Revolution, Common Sense¬†(1776) and¬†The American Crisis¬†(1776‚Äď1783); and helped inspire the¬†Patriots¬†in 1776 to declare independence from¬†Great Britain,¬†hitherto an unpopular cause. His ideas reflected the¬†Enlightenment-era¬†ideals of individualism and transnational human rights.

Thomas Paine was born on January 29, 1736, the son of Joseph Pain, a tenant farmer and stay-maker and Frances Pain, in Thetford, Norfolk, England. He attended Thetford Grammar School (1744‚Äď1749) at a time when there was no compulsory education. At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to his father. Following his apprenticeship, aged 19, Paine enlisted and briefly served as a privateer before returning to Britain in 1759. 

On September 27, 1759, Paine married Mary Lambert. His business collapsed soon after. Mary became pregnant; and, after they moved to Margate, she went into early labour, in which she and their child died.

Paine first became involved in civic matters when he was based in Lewes. He appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish vestry, an influential local Anglican church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at age 34, Paine married Elizabeth Ollive, the daughter of his recently deceased landlord, whose business as a grocer and tobacconist he then entered into.

The tobacco shop business failed and on April 14, Paine sold his household possessions to pay debts to avoid¬†debtors’ prison. He formally separated from his wife Elizabeth on June 4, 1774 and moved to London. In September, mathematician, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Commissioner of the Excise¬†George Lewis Scott¬†introduced him to¬†Benjamin Franklin,¬†who was there as a voice for colonial opposition to British colonial rule, especially as it related to the¬†Stamp Act and the¬†Townshend Acts. ¬†Franklin was publisher and editor of the largest American newspaper,¬†The Pennsylvania Gazette¬†and suggested to Paine that he should emigrate to Philadelphia. Paine emigrated in October to the American colonies, arriving in¬†Philadelphia¬†on November 30, 1774.

Paine barely survived the transatlantic voyage to America. The ship’s water supplies were bad and typhoid fever killed five passengers on the voyage. On arriving in Philadelphia, he was too sick to even disembark. Benjamin Franklin’s physician, there to welcome Paine to America, had him carried off ship. Paine took six weeks to recover. He became a citizen of Pennsylvania “by taking the oath of allegiance at a very early period.” In March 1775, he became editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, a position he conducted with considerable ability.Paine wrote in the Pennsylvania Magazine that such a publication should become a “nursery of genius” for a nation that had “now outgrown the state of infancy,” exercising and educating American minds, and shaping American morality.

Paine has a claim to the title The Father of the American Revolution, which rests on his pamphlets, especially Common Sense, which crystallized sentiment for independence in 1776. It was published in Philadelphia on January 10, 1776, and signed anonymously “by an Englishman.” It was an immediate success, quickly spreading over 100,000 copies in three months to the two million residents of the 13 colonies. During the course of the American Revolution, a total of about 500,000 copies were sold, including unauthorized editions.

The pamphlet came into circulation in January 1776, after the American Revolution had started. It was passed around and often read aloud in taverns, which contributed significantly to spreading the idea of republicanism, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. In Common Sense, Paine provided a new and convincing argument for independence by advocating a complete break with history.

Common Sense became immensely popular mainly because Paine appealed to widespread public convictions. Monarchy, he said, was preposterous and it had a heathenish origin. It was an institution of the devil. Paine pointed to the Old Testament, where almost all kings had seduced the Israelites to worship idols instead of God. Paine also denounced aristocracy, which together with monarchy were “two ancient tyrannies.” 

While there are no historical records of Paine’s direct involvement in drafting the Declaration of Independence, some scholars of Early American History have suspected Thomas Paine’s involvement. In 2018, the Thomas Paine National Historical Association introduced an early draft of the Declaration that contained evidence of Paine’s involvement based on an inscription of “T.P.” on the back of the document.

During the early deliberations of the Committee of Five members chosen by Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence, John Adams made a hastily written manuscript copy of the original draft of the Declaration of Independence on June 24, 1776, known as the Sherman Copy. The degree to which Paine was involved in formulating the text of the Declaration is unclear, as the original draft referenced in the Sherman Copy inscription is presumed lost or destroyed.

In late 1776, Paine published The American Crisis pamphlet series to inspire the Americans in their battles against the British army. He juxtaposed the conflict between the good American devoted to civic virtue and the selfish provincial man. To inspire his soldiers, General George Washington had The American Crisis, first Crisis pamphlet, read aloud to them. It begins:

These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. 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 too 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.

In 1780, Paine published a pamphlet entitled “Public Good,” in which he made the case that territories west of the 13 colonies that had been part of the British Empire belonged after the Declaration of Independence to the American government, and did not belong to any of the 13 states or to any individual speculators. This angered many of Paine’s wealthy Virginia friends, including Richard Henry Lee of the powerful Lee family, who had been Paine’s closest ally in Congress, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, all of whom had claims to huge wild tracts that Paine was advocating should be government owned. A royal charter of 1609 had granted to the Virginia Company land stretching to the Pacific Ocean. A small group of wealthy Virginia land speculators, including the Washington, Lee, and Randolph families, had taken advantage of this royal charter to survey and to claim title to huge swaths of land, including a large amount of land west of the 13 colonies.The animosity Paine felt as a result of the publication of “Public Good” fueled his decision to embark with Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens on a mission to travel to Paris to obtain funding for the American war effort.

Paine accompanied Col. John Laurens to France and is credited with initiating the mission. They landed in France in March 1781 and returned to America in August with 2.5 million livres in silver, as part of a “present” of 6 million and a loan of 10 million. The meetings with the French king were most likely conducted in the company and under the influence of Benjamin Franklin. Paine made influential acquaintances in Paris and helped organize the Bank of North America to raise money to supply the army.

Paine bought his only house in 1783 on the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Church Streets in Bordentown City, New Jersey and he lived in it periodically until his death in 1809. This is the only place in the world where Paine purchased real estate. In 1785, Paine was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.

Back in London by 1787, Paine would become engrossed in the French Revolution that began two years later, and decided to travel to France in 1790. Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, and was granted honorary French citizenship alongside prominent contemporaries such as Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others. Meanwhile, conservative intellectual Edmund Burke launched a counterrevolutionary blast against the French Revolution, entitled Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), which strongly appealed to the landed class, and sold 30,000 copies. Paine set out to refute it in his Rights of Man (1791)which he wrote it not as a quick pamphlet, but as a long, abstract political tract of 90,000 words which tore apart monarchies and traditional social institutions. The book appeared on March 13, 1791, and sold nearly a million copies. It was “eagerly read by reformers, Protestant dissenters, democrats, London craftsmen, and the skilled factory-hands of the new industrial north.” In summer of 1792, he answered the sedition and libel charges thus: “If, to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy … to promote universal peace, civilization, and commerce, and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank; if these things be libellous … let the name of libeller be engraved on my tomb.”

Paine was arrested in France on December 28, 1793. Sixteen American citizens were allowed to plead for Paine’s release to the Convention, yet President Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier of the Committee of General Security refused to acknowledge Paine’s American citizenship, stating he was an Englishman and a citizen of a country at war with France.

Paine narrowly escaped execution. A chalk mark was supposed to be left by the gaoler on the door of a cell to denote that the prisoner inside was due to be removed for execution. In Paine’s case, the mark had accidentally been made on the inside of his door rather than the outside; this was due to the fact that the door of Paine’s cell had been left open whilst the gaoler was making his rounds that day, since Paine had been receiving official visitors. But for this quirk of fate, Paine would have been executed the following morning.

Upset that U.S. President George Washington, a friend since the Revolutionary War, did nothing during Paine’s imprisonment in France, Paine believed Washington had betrayed him and conspired with Robespierre. Paine then sent a stinging letter to George Washington, in which he described him as an incompetent commander and a vain and ungrateful person.

On the morning of June 8, 1809, Paine died, aged 72, at 59 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York City. At the time of his death, most American newspapers reprinted the obituary notice from the New York Evening Post that was in turn quoting from The American Citizen, which read in part: “He had lived long, did some good, and much harm.” Only six mourners came to his funeral, two of whom were black and most likely freedmen.

After his death, Paine’s body was brought to New Rochelle, but the Quakers would not allow it to be buried in their graveyard as per his last will, so his remains were buried under a walnut tree on his farm. In 1819, English agrarian radical journalist William Cobbett dug up his bones and transported them back to England with the intention to give Paine a heroic reburial on his native soil, but this never came to pass. The bones were still among Cobbett’s effects when he died over fifteen years later, but were later lost. There is no confirmed story about what happened to them after that, although various people have claimed throughout the years to own parts of Paine’s remains, such as his skull and right hand.‚ú™


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