Thomas Paine

"The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the Divinity, the most destructive to morality and the peace and happiness of man that ever was propagated since man began to exist." -- Thomas Paine

(1737-1809), Anglo-American political philosopher, whose pamphlet Common Sense greatly influenced public opinion during the American Revolution.

American Sojourn.

Born on Jan. 29, 1737, in Thetford, Norfolk, England, he emigrated to Philadelphia in 1774, with introductions from Benjamin Franklin, who then represented the American colonies in Great Britain. Once there, he edited the Pennsylvania Magazine and published other writings. On Jan. 1, 1776, Common Sense appeared. In a dramatic, rhetorical style, it asserted that the American colonies received no advantage from their mother country, which was intent on exploiting them, and that every consideration of common sense called for the colonies to become independent of Great Britain and to establish a republican government of their own. Published anonymously, the pamphlet sold more than 500,000 copies and helped encourage the issuance of the Declaration of Independence half a year later.

During the Revolution Paine wrote a series of pamphlets, entitled The American Crisis, that George Washington ordered read to his troops to improve their morale; the first of these opened with the famous words "These are the times that try men's souls." In 1778 Congress appointed Paine secretary of the committee of foreign affairs. After losing the post during a political dispute, he became clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature. Acknowledging that much of Paine's public service had been at his own expense, in 1785 Congress awarded him $3000 and New York State gave him a confiscated Royalist farm in New Rochelle.

British Interlude.

Paine returned to Great Britain in 1787, and in 1791-92 he published The Rights of Man, in two parts. The most famous of all replies to the condemnatory Reflections Upon the French Revolution by the British statesman EdMund Burke, it was also an analysis of the weaknesses of European society, proposing such remedies as republican government and progressive income taxes; a million and a half copies were sold in England alone. The British government indicted Paine for treason, and he fled to France.

French Career.

In France Paine was elected a deputy to the National Convention, and he generally voted with the Girondists. By favoring the exile, rather than the execution, of King Louis XVI, however, he offended Maximilien de Robespierre, the leader of the radical faction, and he was imprisoned for 11 months until Robespierre's downfall in 1794; he then regained his National Convention seat. That year Part I of his book The Age of Reason was published; Part II appeared in 1795 and a portion of Part III in 1807. Although it favors deism while opposing atheism and Christianity, the book gained him ill repute as an atheist and alienated most of his old friends. Paine eventually became disgusted with French politics and concentrated on the study of finance until 1802, when he returned to America in a ship placed at his disposal by President Thomas Jefferson. He died in New York City on June 8, 1809.

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