Thomas Paine


The Anglo-American revolutionary writer Thomas Paine, b. England, Jan. 29, 1737, d. June 8, 1809, called for American independence in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, which was widely distributed and had a profound influence on public opinion in America. An English excise officer, Paine was dismissed (1774), probably for agitating for a salary increase, and emigrated to America on the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin. In Philadelphia from 1774, Paine became a journalist and essayist. After the publication of Common Sense, which sold 100,000 copies in 3 months, he continued to inspire and encourage the patriots during the Revolutionary War in the series of pamphlets called The Crisis (1776-83).

Paine returned (1787) to England after the war and published The Rights of Man (1791-92), in which he defended the French Revolution in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Outlawed for treason, Paine fled (1792) to France, became a French citizen, and was elected to the National Convention. Imprisoned (1793-94) during the Reign of Terror, Paine wrote the first part of Age of Reason (1794), a deistic statement of his religious views. All Paine's works reflect his belief in natural reason and natural rights, political equality, tolerance, civil liberties, and the dignity of man. His Age of Reason and his criticism of George Washington in Letter to Washington (1796), however, made him unpopular. Paine returned to the United States in 1802 and died in poverty.