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Thursday, 8 December 2016

Thomas Paine


Thomas Paine was born on February 9, 1737 in a cottage in Thetford, a town in Norfolk, England.

Statue in Thetford, Norfolk, England, Paine's birthplace

His parents were Joseph and Frances Pain. Joseph was a Quaker staymaker (corset maker) and Frances an Anglican. A sister, Elizabeth, died in infancy.

Thomas grew up around farmers and other uneducated people. He attended Thetford Grammar School (1744–49), at a time when there was no compulsory education, leaving school at the age of 13 to work for his father.


Thomas spent his teenage years as an apprentice corset maker.

At 19, Paine became a privateer, serving for a short time during which he fought the French in the Seven Years War.

Paine returned to England in April 1759 and he set up a corset shop in Sandwich, Kent.

In July 1761, Paine returned to Thetford where he worked as a supernumerary officer. In December 1762, he became an excise officer in Grantham, Lincolnshire; he was transferred one and a half years later to Alford also in Lincolnshire where his salary was £50 a year.

On August 27, 1765, Paine was discharged from his post for claiming to have inspected goods when in fact he had only seen the documentation.

On July 3, 1766, Paine wrote a letter to the board of excise asking to be reinstated, and the next day the board granted his request to be filled upon vacancy. While waiting for an opening, Paine worked as a staymaker in Diss, Norfolk, and later as a teacher of English at an academy in Goodman's Fields, Whitechapel.

Around this time, Paine applied to become an ordained minister of the Church of England, and according to some accounts preached in Moorfields.

On May 15, 1767, Paine was appointed to a position in Grampound, Cornwall. He later was asked to leave to await another vacancy, and spent a short time as a teacher of English in Kensington, London.

Paine was appointed on February 19, 1768 as an excise officer in Lewes in East Sussex. He lived there above the tobacco and snuff shop of Samuel and Ester Ollive and in 1770 he set up a tobacco business with Ester and her daughter Elizabeth following Samuel's death.

Thomas Paine's house in Lewes

In 1772 Paine wrote a pamphlet, The Case of the Officers of Excise, asking parliament for a pay rise and working conditions as the way to end corruption in the service. It was his first political work.

In 1774 Paine was fired from his job with the excise service for being absent from his post without permission, after distributing his pamphlet in London. By then his tobacco business had also failed.

Paine emigrated to the American colonies in 1774 to escape his creditors. He sailed for America carrying letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin who'd recommended him for the "genius in his eyes."

In America, Paine was appointed war correspondent and co-editor of the Pennsylvania magazine in January 1775. He remained in that position for at least half of its nineteen-month run.

Paine was a soldier and political adviser during the American Revolution. During the Revolution Paine's pamphlets inspiring the Americans in their battles against the British army sold huge amounts. However he refused to accept the profits from his writings and after the revolution he was destitute.
Congress refused his plea for assistance but the states of New York and Pennsylvania granted him money.

On September 9, 1776, the Continental Congress formally declared the name of the new nation to be the “United States” of America. It has been suggested that it was Thomas Paine who had proposed the name United States of America. However, in his popular book, Common Sense, Paine had used "United Colonies," "American States," and "Free and Independent States of America" but he never used the final form.

Paine was rewarded with the post of Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs in 1777 for his part in the American Revolution.

Paine was also an inventor, receiving a patent in Europe in the mid-1790s for the single span iron bridge. It was the first long bridge that could cross a river without a supporting prop in the middle.
He also developed a smokeless candle, and worked with John Fitch on the early development of steam engines.

During the 1790s, Paine became deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the Revolution against its critics and helped to draft the 1793 French Constitution.

Oil painting by Laurent Dabos, circa 1791

Paine was branded a blasphemer in England for his The Rights of Man and his effigy was burnt in towns across his home country.


During a visit to England, unknown to Thomas Paine, a warrant was out for his arrest for treason because of the controversy over Rights Of Man. While in a publisher's shop, William Blake warned him not to go to his home so he fled to France. Twenty minutes after Paine left the warrant arrived for his arrest.

Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, and despite being a foreigner was elected to the National Convention. He opposed the execution of Louis XVI and advocated the French monarch be exiled to America instead. His humanitarian stance bought him into conflict with the increasingly out-of-control revolutionary leaders. Paine was imprisoned during the 1793 French "terror" for arguing for the life of Louis XVI.

Paine escaped beheading by chance. A guard walked through the prison placing a chalk mark on the doors of the condemned prisoners. He placed one on Paine's door — but because a doctor was treating Paine at that moment, the cell door was open. When the doctor left, the door was swung closed, so that the chalk mark faced into the cell. Later, when the condemned prisoners were rounded up for execution, Paine was spared because there was no apparent chalk mark on his cell door.

After ten months in prison he was released after the fall of Robespierre.


Thomas Paine's Common Sense pamphlet written in 1775–76 advocated independence from Great Britain to people in the Thirteen Colonies. It was published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution, and was the first publication to voice a policy of separation.

In Common Sense, Paine argued for America's independence from Britain and for the establishment of a free republic. The publication of the pamphlet encouraged many who were unsure about declaring independence to speak out in favor of declaring independence from Britain.

Common Sense, published in 1776

Common Sense was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history.

Common Sense was a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. General George Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that "matters never could be the same again.”

Paine published The American Crisis pamphlet series to inspire the Americans in their battles against the British army, during the American Revolution. A series of 16 pamphlets, they began with the famous words "these are the times that try mens' souls."

An image of the first page from the first edition of The American Crisis
The first of the pamphlets were published in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776. It was released during a time when the Revolution was still viewed as an unsteady prospect. Its opening sentence, "These are the times that try mens' souls," was adopted as the watchword of the movement to Trenton.

The American Crisis was a great influence on General George Washington. He ordered them to be read to every corporal's guard in the army.

The first pamphlet was read aloud to the Continental Army on December 23, 1776, three days before the Battle of Trenton, in an attempt to bolster morale and resistance among patriots, as well as shame neutrals and loyalists toward the cause.

By 1791 Thomas Paine was living in exile in revolutionary France. He published there The Rights of Man, in which he outlined his political philosophy. It was written in response to the prominent English politician Edmund Burke, who had penned a scathing rebuke of the people’s movement leading to the French Revolution.

Costing just sixpence, The Rights Of Man sold thousands of copies and was especially a huge hit with the lower classes in England, outselling the Bible in its day.

By 1793 Thomas Paine was in prison in France for arguing for the life of King Louis XVI. Convinced he would soon be dead, the incarcerated political writer penned a rationalist treatise, The Age Of Reason, which was an assault on organised religion.

Inspired by Swift and Defoe, The Age Of Reason was written in a populist style from the point of view of a Quaker who did not believe on organised religion. Originally distributed as unbound pamphlets, The Age Of Reason was published in three parts  Barlow published the first English edition of in 1794 in London, selling it for a mere three pence. The other two parts were published in 1795 and 1807.

The Age Of Reason was a best-seller in the United States, where it caused a short-lived deistic revival. The young Napoleon Bonaparte slept with a copy of it under his pillow.

Several early copies of The Age of Reason

Shortly before his death in 1790, Benjamin Franklin had seen an early manuscript. He advised Thomas Paine not to publish The Age Of Reason stating "If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it."


During his time in Sandwich and Margate in the late 1750s and early 1760s, Paine was a Methodist Lay Preacher.

Politically aware, Paine first became involved in civic matters in Lewes in the late 1760s, with Samuel Ollive introducing him into the Society of Twelve, a group of town elites who met twice a year to discuss town issues. Paine also participated in the Vestry an influential church group that collected taxes and tithes and distributed them to the poor.

By the time The Rights of Man was published in 1791, Paine was a militant deist and a freethinker. He claimed "My country is the world and my religion is to do good."

In his deistic work, The Age Of Reason, Paine criticized conventional Christianity and argued that the Bible is not the Word of God.

Thomas Paine married Mary Lambert. on September 27, 1759. She was an 'Orphan of Sandwich', meaning she had no money or relatives to provide for her. Her father had been an excise officer.

Paine's corset shop business in Sandwich collapsed soon after their marriage. Mary became pregnant, and after they moved to Margate, the following year, she went into early labor, in which she and their child died.

In the early 1770s, Paine was living above the tobacco and snuff shop of Samuel and Ester Ollive in Lewes, Sussex. On March 26, 1771, at the age of 34, Paine married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord's daughter.

Paine and Elizabeth weren't getting along and on June 4, 1774 Thomas formally separated from his wife and moved to London. He had with him £45 from his separation settlement.

In September 1774, Commissioner of the Excise George Lewis Scott introduced Paine to Benjamin Franklin, who suggested emigration to British colonial America, and gave him a letter of recommendation. Paine left England in October 1774, arriving in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 30.

In 1784 Paine was given a farm near New Rochelle, New York for his part in the course of independence. The estate, totaling about 300 acres (1.2 km2), had been confiscated from its owners by the state of New York due to their Tory activities.

Thomas Paine cottage, one of a number of buildings on the farm, was his final home on the south side of what is now Paine Avenue.


Paine had flashing black eyes, an aquiline nose and a ruddy complexion. He was small and wiry.

Portrait by Auguste Millière (1880)


Paine remained in France until 1802 living in Paris with French bookseller and revolutionary Nicholas Bonneville and his wife Marguerite Brazier.

In 1802, Paine left for the United States with Marguerite Brazier and her three sons, on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. An outcast and in ill health, he wandered from place to place until his death.

Paine died at 59 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, in New York City on June 8, 1809. At the time of 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."

Brazier took care of Paine at the end of his life and buried him after his death on June 8, 1809. Only six mourners attended his funeral.

In his will, Paine left the bulk of his estate to Marguerite, including 100 acres (40.5 ha) of his farm so she could maintain and educate her sons.

In 1814, the fall of Napoleon finally allowed Bonneville to rejoin his wife in the United States where he remained for four years before returning to Paris to open a bookshop.

The agrarian radical William Cobbett secretly exhumed Paine's bones a decade after his squalid death, shipping them in a box to Liverpool, only to lose them in transit. They were last seen in a curio shop in London's Bedford Square in the 1830s.

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