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Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809) Thomas Paine is a recognized figure of the American history. His contribution to its history was criticized but John Adams said about him: Without the pen of the Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain. Paine was a famous author and a revolutionary activist, who played a monumental role in American and European histories. His Common Sense shook the Americans like no other book, his Rights of Man made him a national hero, his Age of Reason still stirs the bigots into fury. Born in England in 1737, Thomas Paine had just a basic education. He left school when he was thirteen and started to work for his father, who was Quaker.
In 1759 he moved to Sandwich as a master stay-maker and got married there. In 1761 he entered the excise branch of the government service and served there till 1774. In 1771 Paine wrote a small pamphlet The Case of the Officers of Excise, which was his first experience as a writer. By advice of Benjamin Franklin, whom he met in London in 1774, he decided to go to America. In 1774 Paine came to America. He had letters of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin and first started as a publicist.
In 1775 he published African Slavery in America criticizing slavery in the USA. He considered slavery to be unfair and unhuman. "That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. (from Paine's African Slavery in America). At that time he also served as co-editor in Pennsylvania Magazine. Soon he became involved in conflicts between England and the American colonies, and a bit later, in 1776, he published his second pamphlet Common Sense, which became a real success. Paine believed that the Colonies had all the right to revolt against a government that imposed taxes on them and there was no reason he thought for the Colonies to stay dependant on England. Paine's influence on American social and political thought began just before the American Revolution.
In Common Sense Paine expressed main ideas on American independence and argued that the colonies had outgrown any need for English domination and should be given independence because they had their own identity at that time. He said that sooner or later America would gain independence from England because in his words all the arguments for separation are based on nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments and common sense. That had a prominent influence on the Declaration of Independence in 1776 when Thomas Paine called for the new Americans to strive for independence from England. In 1776 Paine volunteered in the Continental Army and during the War of Independence he was a soldier in Washingtons army. At this time he started to write his sixteen American Crisis papers, which were published in 1776 - 1783.
The Crisis was widely distributed and was so influential and powerful that encouraged the country for the struggle. In 1777 he became the Secretary of the Congressional Committee of Foreign Affairs but in just two years he was forced to resign because he had revealed the secret information. In 1787 Thomas Paine left for Europe and was there until 1802. While being there he wrote his The Rights of Man which were published between 1791 and 1792. "To understand the nature and quantity of government proper for man, it is necessary to attend to his character.
As Nature created him for social life, she fitted him for the station she intended. In all cases she made his natural wants greater than his individual powers. (from Thomas Paine's Rights of Man). Most of the time Paine spent in France, where he became involved in French Revolution. The main statements of The Rights of Man were that the natural is common to all men and that only democratic institutions are able to guarantee these rights.
But he did not only defend the French Revolution, he also researched the origins of the dissatisfaction in Europe, which he supposed to be a reason of arbitrary government, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and war. "Man... is more a creature of consistency than he is aware, or than governments would wish him to believe. All the great laws of society are laws of nature. Those of trade and commerce... are laws of mutual and reciprocal interest. They are followed and obeyed, because it is the interest of the parties so to do, and not on account of any formal laws their governments may impose or interpose. (from Thomas Paine's Rights of Man) He had courage to come out against Robespierre, who threw him to jail where he was imprisoned from Dec. , 1793 to Nov. , 1794.
Exactly during this time Paine wrote his famous deistic anti biblical Age of Reason, published in 1794 and 1795. It opposed the monarchy and was written in praise of the achievements of the Age of Enlightment. After his release Thomas Paine stayed in France, where he was made a citizen of this country and elected to the National Assembly. And only in 1802 he returned to America.
He was invited by Thomas Jefferson who had met him before when he was a minister in Paris. Upon his return he realized that he was practically forgotten and ostracized. His reputation was tarnished and he was neglected for what he had done for America years earlier. He continued his critical writings and miserable life in poverty, deserted by his fellows. Seven years later in 1809 he died in New York City. He was buried in America, but ten years later his remains were removed to England.
This truly original thinker and master rhetorician was born in England but was a real American inside. He lived his freedom-loving life and wrote with a keen sense of rebelliousness. He was so rich in new progressive ideas that may in fact be a great genious. These words came from Paine's pen: These are the times that try mens souls and We have it in our power to begin the world over again. He was known as a famous journalist, a magnificent writer and an eternal idealist, who embodied the American values of life and liberty. Paine's impact on philosophy and politics helped mold the age of democratic revolutions and reverberates down to this day. (From the Bordentown Historical Society).
Bibliography Aldridge, Alfred Owen Man of Reason: The Life of Thomas Paine Fruchtman, Jack Thomas Paine: Apostol of Freedom Kaminski, John Citizen Paine: Thomas Paine's Thoughts on Man, Government, Society, and Religion Keane, J. Thomas Paine: Biography web
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