I have been interested in Thomas Paine way before I have read any of his books. Of course I’ve heard about him and I have seen, a couple of years ago, some of his quotes when it comes to Government and Religion.
I always try to read some of the most important works by the people that I’m interested in, then I try to learn about their lives to understand exactly where they come from as well as to learn about the conditions from which they had to operate, and arguably the circumstances that have influenced their lives. So one needs to take in consideration everything about the authors of one’s favorite books.
Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer, journalist and an inventor. He is widely known in the U.S. and the U.K as the great Englishman as well as the great American revolutionary and Founding Father of the United States. One can even say that he is the morale author of the U.S and without whom the latter wouldn’t have got its independence in 1776.
He was born in England in 1737 to a Quaker father and an Anglican mother; something that indeed have influenced his thoughts on religion and what latter lead him to Deism and Humanism. He didn’t get much formal education, besides learning how to read, write and perform arithmetic. By the age of 13 Paine has already started working with his father making rope stays that are used in sailing ships. He then tried many other occupations, with complete failure, before he end up working as an officer of the excise. He was dismissed from that job too since he published a sturdy argument for a raise in pay in order to end corruption in the service.
Thomas Paine’s life in England was marked by successive failures, professionally and personally. When he just hit rock bottom, he met Benjamin Franklin, who advised him to immigrate to British colonial America and gave him a letter of recommendation. Which he did, arriving to Philadelphia in 1774. He then got a job helping to edit the Pennsylvania Magazine where he published, anonymously, some few articles and poetry. One of which was “Justice and Humanity” in which he vehemently criticized and denunciated the African Slave trade.
At this time, Thomas Paine involvement in the American revolution has started. By 1776, Thomas Paine has published one of the most influential Pamphlets of the entire revolutionary era: Common Sense. The pamphlet was a sensation, it made the case for an immediate action for independence from British Rule. He made the case against the British Monarchy in a simple but rather convincing manner, as well as making the case for independence as soon as possible. The book argued in general against Monarchy and hereditary succession, tyranny as well as making the American case meaningful to people from all over the world. He wrote:
“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. — Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.” From Common Sense.
The pamphlet has sold more than 500,000 copies in just a few months. The publication has indeed paved the way for the Declaration of independence in July 4, 1776.
During the war of independence he participated in the struggle by volunteering in the Continental Army, together with writing his highly influential papers “American Crisis” that begins with the motivating and stimulating phrase:” These are the times that try men’s souls.” which George Washington ordered to be read to all the troops. Later in 1777 he became Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs in Congress; but was forced to resign for disclosing secret information, which was a quotation from secret documents he had access to as secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, because he had to expose a member of the Continental Congress for profiting personally from French aid to the United States.
Thomas Paine was appointed later as clerk of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. Something that gave him the opportunity to observe that American troops were discontented because of the low pay and the scarce supplies. He then went to France to raise what was needed for the troops. Indeed, the wartimes supplies that he had offered were an important factor to the final success of the revolution. He then wrote “Public Good” which was a call for a national convention to fix the ineffectual articles of Confederation and to establish a firm central government under a continental constitution.
By the end of the revolution, Thomas Paine found himself penniless again. Though he has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his pamphlets, he refused to take any profit from them so that the cheap edition will be widely circulated. So he pleaded for a financial assistance in a petition to the Congress. Pennsylvania gave him something around $500, and a farm in New York. In this period Paine concentrated on some of his new inventions, such as an iron bridge without piers and a smokeless candle.
In 1787 Paine left America for Europe in order to promote his plan to build a bridge. But he was soon diverted from his plan by the French Revolution. His passionate support for the revolution made him write a response which is “Rights of Men” to a famous attack on said revolution by Edmund Burk in 1790.
What was started as a defense for the French revolution has developed into an analysis of the roots of evil and discontent in European society; which was, according to Paine, arbitrary government, illiteracy, poverty and war. He then laid out his arguments in favor of Republicanism instead of Monarchy, as well as proposing a plan of universal education for the public, relief of the poor, pensions for the aged and public work for the unemployed all through a progressive taxation system. The ruling class of course found the book to be incredibly appalling; consequently, the government ordered the book to be banned. He then was accused of treason and an order has been made for his arrest. Though his arrest failed since he was already on his way to France because he has been elected for the National Convention. Thus, he escaped prosecution.
Paine arrived to France in 1792 just days before the Convention proclaimed France a republic. But then Thomas Paine was the only one who had the nerve to stand up for the life of King Louis XVI by opposing his execution; which made him a foe of the Jacobins who already considered him a suspect simply because he was born in England. In the middle of the night before Christmas in 1793, the Jacobin police arrested him without a trial and Paine’s name was added to the list of prisoners who would be executed. Luckily enough, prison guards mistakenly passed by his cell when they were gathering the prisoners that would be beheaded.
One of his impactful publications, The Age of Reason, was written behind bars when he was imprisoned. He felt that death is coming sooner and that he had to write his thoughts on religion and religious institutions as soon as possible. Though he believed in the virtuousness of Jesus Christ, he attacked quite viciously the logic of Christianity and defended the Deistic view of the world. The publication was published in two parts. He wrote the first one without mentioning any specific verses from the Bible. Then he got some responses to that publication from various priests. So he decided to write the second part of the Age of Reason, in which he examined the Bible carefully and exposed it for its incoherence and its lack of historical credibility. As well as exposing the horrendous stories and the incredible immorality of said stories. He wrote in the beginning of part two of the Age of Reason:
“The evidence that I shall produce in this case is from the books themselves; and I will confine myself to this evidence only. Were I to refer for proofs to any of the ancient authors, whom the advocates of the Bible call prophane authors, they would controvert that authority, as I controvert theirs: I will therefore meet them on their own ground, and oppose them with their own weapon, the Bible.”
The Age of Reason had a huge impact and it was selling on a massive scale in England, even though the government tried to suppress it. Needless to mention that it was a hot seller in European countries and in the United States of America as well.
Paine was let out from Prison upon the demand of the U.S minister James Monroe who said about Paine, and I quote:
“the citizens of the United States cannot look back to the era of their revolution, without remembering, with those of other distinguished patriots, the name of Thomas Paine. The services which he rendered them in their struggle for liberty have made an impression of gratitude which will never be erased, whilst they continue to merit the character of a just and generous people.”
He went back to America through the invitation of Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Paine has made many enemies and had alienated himself from many Americans when he published The Age of Reason. He found that all what he had done to the United States is all forgotten and now he is considered, by pretty much everyone, as the filthiest infidel that the world has ever known. When Thomas Jefferson invited him to the White House, his two daughters made it clear that they don’t want to associate with such a man, in which Jefferson replied with the following: ” Thomas Paine is too well entitled to the hospitality of every American, not to cheerfully receive mine.”
He spent the rest of his life in a farm in New Rochelle, New York. And he died on the morning of June 8, 1809. He was buried in the farm because no cemetery wanted to take him.
Thomas Paine fought his entire life for liberty, equality and humanity. He has laid the humanistic and universal foundations of the United States, and one can only feel ashamed when one see what Americans are squandering because of their ignorance of their own history. Almost everything that he had fought for has being achieved years later after his death. Be it the abolishment of slavery, the emancipation of women, or individual rights. He ought to be remembered for his everlasting fight against tyranny, against the corrupt authority of governments and churches, and of course for sparking the ongoing battle against superstition and religious wickedness.
Although his efforts and achievements towards the American and French revolutions, and humanity in general, were forgotten at his own lifetime; he, unlike many other great freedom fighters, didn’t fall to cynicism.
Thomas Paine didn’t have anything except the sharpness of his intellect, and the bravery of his heart. And yet, he aroused hundreds of thousands of people to throw off their oppressors. He changed history for the better through written words, and he had shown us what an individual is capable of doing through nothing more than a pen and a piece of paper.