Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Paine's mother gave birth to him on January 29, 1737 in England. As he grew older, his life was never easy. Paine finished his education at age 12 and went to work for his father making corsets. This work didn't suit him, so at age 19, he joined as a merchant seaman. This job was short-lived. One mishap after another befell Paine during his early life. He tried going into corset making and got married, but his business failed and his wife died in childbirth with their baby. Paine's fortunes didn't improve.

He took on a job as an excise office and was twice fired. Paine tried other employment: applying to become an ordained minister, preaching, teaching, and owning a tobacco shop. At everything he seemed unsuccessful. After auctioning his possessions, paying his debts, and separating from his second wife, Paine moved to London where he met Benjamin Franklin. Taking Franklin's suggestion to move to the colonies in America, Paine boarded a ship bound for Pennsylvania. The trip almost killed him. In Philadelphia, Franklin's doctor carried Paine off the ship and tended to him for six weeks. Regaining his health, Paine's life took a turn for the better.

As a new career, Paine started writing pamphlets, his first being African Slavery in America. He also became co-editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. Sensing the tension and turmoil of the colonists dealing with overbearing England, Paine wrote Common Sense and published it anonymously. This influential work encouraged the colonists to push for independence and led the way for the Declaration of Independence to be written. It was Paine who suggested the new nation be called the United States of America. Paine volunteered for the Continental Army, and though not a great soldier, he penned a series of pamphlets called The Crisis which did much to hearten and bolster the spirits of the colonists and General Washington's military.

He also held a government position, Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs in Congress. This didn't last long after Paine revealed secret negotiations between the French and the colonists. Still, with some authority, Paine traveled to France and assisted with the talks. His efforts were rewarded with an estate at New Rochelle, New York, and money from Congress.

An inventor as well as an author, Paine patented a single-span iron bridge. Back in England to raise money to build the bridge, Paine involved himself in the French Revolution. He opposed monarchy and supported the revolution in his tract Rights of Man. England banned his book and tried him for seditious libel in his absence. Anticipating trouble, Paine had fled to France. The French granted him honorary citizenship, but after arguing that King Louis XVI should not be executed, Paine grew out of favor and was imprisoned. Extremely ill and with a fever, Paine and his cellmates left their door open for air. After the guards came and marked the doors for the next day's executions, the prisoners swung the door shut with the chalk mark facing inwards. This granted Paine enough time to be released from prison with help from James Monroe, then American Minister to France.

American public disenchantment with Paine came with his work The Age of Reason. Paine believed in Deism, and he disagreed with some Christian doctrines. This upset many religious individuals, while other people opposed his acquaintance with then President Thomas Jefferson because of his political views. Though he advocated a social security system to aid elderly and poor people, worked to create a smokeless candle and helped develop early steam engine designs, decried slavery, and assisted colonists in their fight to become Americans, Paine's accomplishments and writings were overlooked and forgotten. Americans experienced the Second Great Awakening, and Paine's Deism bordered on atheism in the mind's of some people. In the end, Paine died a lonely man on June 8, 1809 in New York City.

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Common Sense Audio
2 Items found
Common Sense
Dover Thrift Editions
by Thomas Paine
from Dover Publications
Political Philosophy for 9th-Adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: LIT5-18)
Rights of Man, Common Sense
by Thomas Paine
from Oxford University
for 10th grade-adult
in 18th Century Literature (Location: LIT5-18)