Paine, Thomas

Paine, Thomas

biographical name


Thomas Paine, detail of a portrait by John Wesley Jarvis; in the Thomas Paine Memorial House, New …—Courtesy of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association

(born Jan. 29, 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, Eng.—died June 8, 1809, New York, N.Y., U.S.) English-American writer and political pampleteer. After a series of professional failures in England, he met Benjamin Franklin, who advised him to immigrate to America. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1774 and helped edit the Pennsylvania Magazine. In January 1776 he wrote Common Sense, a 50-page pamphlet eloquently advocating independence; more than 500,000 copies were quickly sold, and it greatly strengthened the colonists' resolve. As a volunteer aide to Gen. Nathanael Greene during the American Revolution he wrote his 16 “Crisis” papers (1776–83), each signed “Common Sense”; the first, beginning “These are the times that try men's souls,” was read to the troops at Valley Forge on George Washington's order. In 1787 Paine traveled to England and became involved in debate over the French Revolution; his The Rights of Man (1791–92) defended the revolution and espoused republicanism. Viewed as an attack on the monarchy, it was banned, and Paine was declared an outlaw in England. He then went to France, where he was elected to the National Convention (1792–93). After he criticized the Reign of Terror, he was imprisoned by Maximilien Robespierre (1793–94). His The Age of Reason (1794, 1796), the first part of which was published while he was still in prison, earned him a reputation as an atheist, though it in fact espouses Deism. He returned to the U.S. in 1802; criticized for his Deist writings and little remembered for his service to the Revolution, he died in poverty.

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