Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine Thomas Paine[1†]

Thomas Paine (1737–1809) was an English-American activist, philosopher, and key figure in the American Revolution. Famous for "Common Sense" (1776), he inspired the revolution. His works include "Rights of Man" (1791) and "The Age of Reason" (1794). Paine's ideas profoundly influenced the political landscape, earning him a place among the Founding Fathers of the United States, with lasting recognition[1†][2†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Thomas Paine was born on February 9, 1737 (N.S.), in Thetford, Norfolk, England[2†][1†]. He was the son of Joseph Paine, a Quaker, and Frances, an Anglican[2†][4†]. His formal education was limited, but he learned to read, write, and do arithmetic[2†][5†][6†]. He attended Thetford Grammar School[2†][6†], where he acquired these basic skills.

At the age of 13, Paine began working with his father, who was a corset maker[2†][5†][4†][6†]. This was a common practice at the time, for children to learn a trade from their parents. However, Paine’s early life was marked by a series of unsuccessful ventures. He tried various occupations, even serving as a privateer for a brief period, which was akin to being a legal pirate[2†][4†][6†].

Despite these setbacks, Paine was an avid reader and used part of his earnings to purchase books and scientific apparatus[2†]. His thirst for knowledge was evident even in these early years. His life in England was marked by repeated failures, including two brief marriages and several unsuccessful jobs[2†].

In his 30s, Paine met Benjamin Franklin in London, who advised him to seek his fortune in America and gave him letters of introduction[2†]. Encouraged by Franklin, Paine moved to the American Colonies in 1774[2†][5†]. This marked the end of his early years in England and the beginning of his influential career in America.

Career Development and Achievements

Upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1774, Paine began his career in America as a journalist and editor for the Pennsylvania Magazine[2†]. He wrote numerous articles and some poetry, often under pseudonyms[2†]. One of his notable early works was “African Slavery in America,” a strong denunciation of the African slave trade[2†].

Paine’s career took a significant turn with the publication of his pamphlet “Common Sense” in 1776[2†][1†]. This work was a powerful argument for American independence from British rule[2†][1†]. Written in clear and persuasive prose, “Common Sense” played a crucial role in turning public opinion in favor of the Revolution[2†][1†][7†].

Following “Common Sense,” Paine continued to inspire and rally the American people with his “Crisis” papers, which were important influences on the American Revolution[2†][1†]. His writings communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, stirring the hearts of the fledgling United States[2†][7†].

In addition to his contributions to the American Revolution, Paine also had a grand vision for society. He was staunchly anti-slavery, and he was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly[2†][7†]. He spoke out effectively in favor of republicanism as against monarchy and outlined a plan for popular education, relief of the poor, pensions for aged people, and public works for the unemployed, all to be financed by the levying of a progressive income tax[2†][8†].

Paine’s other notable works include “Rights of Man” (1791), a defense of the French Revolution and of republican principles, and “The Age of Reason” (1794), an exposition of the place of religion in society[2†][1†]. These works further contributed to his reputation as one of the greatest political propagandists in history[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Thomas Paine’s writings had a significant impact on the American Revolution and the formation of the United States as a nation. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works had a profound impact on the political landscape of the time and continue to be influential today. They showcase Paine’s skill as a writer and his commitment to principles of liberty, equality, and justice[9†][1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Thomas Paine’s writings have been widely recognized for their philosophical content and their influence on political thought[10†]. His works were not only revolutionary in their ideas but also in their clear and accessible language, which made complex political issues understandable to the common people[10†][11†].

Paine’s “Common Sense” is credited with playing a crucial role in convincing the colonists to take up arms against England[10†][11†]. His arguments that representational government is superior to a monarchy or other forms of government based on aristocracy and heredity were groundbreaking at the time[10†][11†].

His series of pamphlets, “The American Crisis”, were intended to inspire the soldiers and the American public during the difficult times of the Revolutionary War[10†]. His opening line, “These are the times that try men’s souls…”, is still quoted today[10†].

In “Rights of Man”, Paine defended the French Revolution and its principles of liberty and equality[10†]. He argued against the idea of hereditary rule and in favor of a democratic system[10†].

“The Age of Reason” was a critique of institutionalized religion and a defense of deism[10†]. This work caused a great deal of controversy at the time of its publication due to its outspoken opposition to organized religion[10†][12†].

In “Agrarian Justice”, Paine proposed a system in which those who possess cultivated land owe the community a ground rent, which can be used to provide a universal basic income for everyone[10†]. This idea was considered radical at the time and shows Paine’s forward-thinking social views[10†][12†].

Paine’s writings have had a lasting impact on political philosophy and the fight for human rights. His commitment to principles of liberty, equality, and justice have made him a significant figure in history[10†].

Personal Life

Thomas Paine was born to a Quaker father and an Anglican mother[2†]. His early life was marked by repeated failures and disappointments[2†]. He had two brief marriages[2†]. His first wife died just a year after their marriage[2†][13†]. He then married Elizabeth Ollive in 1771[2†][14†].

Paine’s life in England was filled with professional struggles. He tried various occupations before settling in Lewes as an exciseman[2†]. During this time, he also became involved in government, primarily in small civic matters[2†][14†].

Despite the hardships, Paine used part of his earnings to purchase books and scientific apparatus[2†]. His love for knowledge and learning was evident even in the face of adversity.

Conclusion and Legacy

Thomas Paine’s influence extended far beyond his lifetime, shaping the political landscapes of two nations - England and America[15†][1†]. His writings, particularly “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis,” were instrumental to the success of the American Revolution[15†][16†]. His arguments for independence from Britain laid the groundwork for the Declaration of Independence[15†][17†].

Paine’s legacy is not without controversy. At his death, most U.S. newspapers reprinted the obituary notice from the New York Citizen, which read in part: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm.”[15†]. However, over time, perceptions of Paine have shifted. On January 30, 1937, The Times of London referred to him as “the English Voltaire,”[15†] and on May 18, 1952, Paine’s bust was placed in the New York University Hall of Fame[15†].

Paine’s advocacy for human rights, democratic government, and secularism continue to resonate today[15†][18†]. His writings remain a powerful testament to his revolutionary spirit and his commitment to individual freedom[15†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Thomas Paine [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Thomas Paine: British-American author [website] - link
  3. Vaia - Thomas Paine: Biography, Facts & Ideology [website] - link
  4. The Famous People - Thomas Paine Biography [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - Thomas Paine [website] - link
  6. Ducksters - Biography for Kids: Thomas Paine [website] - link
  7. ushistory.org - Thomas Paine [website] [archive] - link
  8. Britannica - Thomas Paine - Revolutionary, Philosopher, Activist [website] - link
  9. Wikisource (English) - Thomas Paine [website] - link
  10. eNotes - Thomas Paine Analysis [website] - link
  11. History - Thomas Paine: Quotes, Summary & Common Sense [website] - link
  12. PM Press - The Liberty Tree: Review: A Celebration of the Life and Writings of Thomas Paine [website] - link
  13. Humanist Heritage - Exploring the rich history and influence of humanism in the UK - Thomas Paine (1737-1809) [website] - link
  14. Revolutionary War - Thomas Paine [website] - link
  15. Britannica - Thomas Paine - Revolutionary, Enlightenment, Rights [website] - link
  16. National Archives - Thomas Paine’s Attitudes Toward Religion Impacted His Legacy, Author Says [website] - link
  17. New World Encyclopedia - Thomas Paine [website] - link
  18. The Thomas Paine National Historical Association - What is Paine’s position on the separation of church and state? [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.