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Oil painting by Auguste Millière (1880)
|Born||February 9, 1737[Note 1]|
Thetford, Norfolk, Great Britain
|Died||June 8, 1809 (aged 72)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|School||Enlightenment, Liberalism, Radicalism, Republicanism|
|Main interests||Politics, ethics, religion|
Oil painting by Auguste Millière (1880)
|Born||February 9, 1737[Note 1]|
Thetford, Norfolk, Great Britain
|Died||June 8, 1809 (aged 72)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|School||Enlightenment, Liberalism, Radicalism, Republicanism|
|Main interests||Politics, ethics, religion|
Thomas Paine (February 9, 1737 [O.S. January 29, 1736][Note 1][Note 2][Note 3] – June 8, 1809) was an English-American political activist, author, political theorist and revolutionary. As the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, he inspired the Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called "a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination".
Born in Thetford, England, in the county of Norfolk, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. His principal contributions were the powerful, widely read pamphlet Common Sense (1776), the all-time best-selling American book that advocated colonial America's independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and The American Crisis (1776–83), a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."
Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote the Rights of Man (1791), in part a defence of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. In 1792, despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy.
In December 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794. He became notorious because of The Age of Reason (1793–94), his book that advocates deism, promotes reason and freethinking, and argues against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. He also wrote the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1795), discussing the origins of property, and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to America where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral as he had been ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity.
Paine was born on January 29, 1736[Note 1] (NS February 9, 1737) the son of Joseph Pain, or Paine, a Quaker, and Frances (née Cocke), an Anglican, in Thetford, an important market town and coach stage-post, in rural Norfolk, England. Born Thomas Pain, despite claims that he changed his family name upon his emigration to America in 1774, he was using Paine in 1769, whilst still in Lewes, Sussex.
He attended Thetford Grammar School (1744–49), at a time when there was no compulsory education. At age thirteen, he was apprenticed to his corsetmaker father; in late adolescence, he enlisted and briefly served as a privateer, before returning to Britain in 1759. There, he became a master stay-maker, establishing a shop in Sandwich, Kent. On September 27, 1759, Thomas Paine married Mary Lambert. His business collapsed soon after. Mary became pregnant; and, after they moved to Margate, she went into early labor, in which she and their child died.
In July 1761, Paine returned to Thetford to work as a supernumerary officer. In December 1762, he became an Excise Officer in Grantham, Lincolnshire; in August 1764, he was transferred to Alford, at a salary of £50 per annum. On August 27, 1765, he was fired as an Excise Officer for "claiming to have inspected goods he did not inspect." On July 31, 1766, he requested his reinstatement from the Board of Excise, which they granted the next day, upon vacancy. While awaiting that, he worked as a stay-maker.
In 1767, he was appointed to a position in Grampound, Cornwall; subsequently, he asked to leave this post to await a vacancy, thus, he became a schoolteacher in London.
On February 19, 1768, he was appointed to Lewes in Sussex, a town with a tradition of opposition to the monarchy and pro-republican sentiments going back to the revolutionary decades of the 17th century. Here he lived above the fifteenth-century Bull House, the tobacco shop of Samuel Ollive and Esther Ollive.
There, Paine first became involved in civic matters, and he appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish vestry, an influential local church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at age 34, he married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord's daughter.
From 1772 to 1773, Paine joined excise officers asking Parliament for better pay and working conditions, publishing, in summer of 1772, The Case of the Officers of Excise, a twenty-one-page article, and his first political work, spending the London winter distributing the 4,000 copies printed to the Parliament and others. In spring of 1774, he was fired from the excise service for being absent from his post without permission; his tobacco shop failed, too. On April 14, to avoid debtor's prison, he sold his household possessions to pay debts. It was reported that his oppressors in the English corrupted monarchy, judiciary, banks, and corporate colonists were directly responsible for these firings, terminations, retaliations, business sabotages, and threats to throw him into debtor's prison (The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, P.S. Foner (ed.), 1945, I, 4/23). Paine's attack on monarchy in his book Common Sense (1776) is essentially an attack on George III. Whereas colonial resentments were originally directed primarily against the king's ministers and Parliament, Paine laid the responsibility firmly at the king's door. Common Sense was the most widely read pamphlet of the American Revolution. It was a clarion call for unity, against the corrupt British court, so as to realize America's providential role in providing an asylum for liberty. Written in a direct and lively style, it denounced the decaying despotisms of Europe and pilloried hereditary monarchy as an absurdity. At a time when many still hoped for reconciliation with Britain, Common Sense demonstrated to many the inevitability of separation.
On June 4, 1774, he formally separated from wife Elizabeth and moved to London, where, in September, the mathematician, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Commissioner of the Excise George Lewis Scott introduced him to Benjamin Franklin, who suggested emigration to British colonial America, and gave him a letter of recommendation. In October, Thomas Paine emigrated from Great Britain to the American colonies, arriving in Philadelphia on November 30, 1774.
He barely survived the transatlantic voyage. The ship's water supplies were bad, and typhoid fever killed five passengers. On arriving at Philadelphia, he was too sick to debark. Benjamin Franklin's physician, there to welcome Paine to America, had him carried off ship; Paine took six weeks to recover his health. He became a citizen of Pennsylvania "by taking the oath of allegiance at a very early period." In January, 1775, he became editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, a position he conducted with considerable ability.
Paine designed the Sunderland Bridge of 1796 over the Wear River at Wearmouth, England. It was patterned after the model he had made for the Schuylkill River Bridge at Philadelphia in 1787, and the Sunderland arch became the prototype for many subsequent voussoir arches made in iron and steel. He also received a British patent for a single-span iron bridge, developed a smokeless candle, and worked with inventor John Fitch in developing steam engines.
Thomas Paine has a claim to the title The Father of the American Revolution because of Common Sense, the pro-independence monograph pamphlet he anonymously published on January 10, 1776; signed "Written by an Englishman", the pamphlet became an immediate success. It quickly spread among the literate, and, in three months, 100,000 copies (estimated 500,000 total including pirated editions sold during the course of the Revolution) sold throughout the American British colonies (with only two million free inhabitants), making it the best-selling American book. Paine's original title for the pamphlet was Plain Truth; Paine's friend, pro-independence advocate Benjamin Rush, suggested Common Sense instead.
The pamphlet came into circulation in January 1776, after the Revolution had started. It was passed around, and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the idea of republicanism, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. Paine provided a new and convincing argument for independence by advocating a complete break with history. Common Sense is oriented to the future in a way that compels the reader to make an immediate choice. It offers a solution for Americans disgusted with and alarmed at the threat of tyranny.
Paine was not, on the whole, expressing original ideas in Common Sense, but rather employing rhetoric as a means to arouse resentment of the Crown. To achieve these ends, he pioneered a style of political writing suited to the democratic society he envisioned, with Common Sense serving as a primary example. Part of Paine's work was to render complex ideas intelligible to average readers of the day, with clear, concise writing unlike the formal, learned style favored by many of Paine's contemporaries. Scholars have put forward various explanations to account for its success, including the historic moment, Paine's easy-to-understand style, his democratic ethos, and his use of psychology and ideology.
Common Sense was immensely popular in disseminating to a very wide audience ideas that were already in common use among the elite who comprised Congress and the leadership cadre of the emerging nation, who rarely cited Paine's arguments in their public calls for independence. The pamphlet probably had little direct influence on the Continental Congress's decision to issue a Declaration of Independence, since that body was more concerned with how declaring independence would affect the war effort. Paine's great contribution was in initiating a public debate about independence, which had previously been rather muted.
One distinctive idea in "Common Sense" is Paine's beliefs regarding the peaceful nature of republics; his views were an early and strong conception of what scholars would come to call the democratic peace theory.
Loyalists vigorously attacked Common Sense; one attack, titled Plain Truth (1776), by Marylander James Chalmers, said Paine was a political quack and warned that without monarchy, the government would "degenerate into democracy". Even some American revolutionaries objected to Common Sense; late in life John Adams called it a "crapulous mass." Adams disagreed with the type of radical democracy promoted by Paine (that men who did not own property should still be allowed to vote and hold public office), and published Thoughts on Government in 1776 to advocate a more conservative approach to republicanism.
Sophia Rosenfeld argues that Paine was highly innovative in his use of the commonplace notion of "common sense." He synthesized various philosophical and political uses of the term in a way that permanently impacted American political thought. He used two ideas from Scottish Common Sense Realism: that ordinary people can indeed make sound judgments on major political issues, and that there exists a body of popular wisdom that is readily apparent to anyone. Paine also used a notion of "common sense" favored by philosophes in the Continental Enlightenment. They held that common sense could refute the claims of traditional institutions. Thus, Paine used "common sense" as a weapon to delegitimize the monarchy and overturn prevailing conventional wisdom. Rosenfeld concludes that the phenomenal appeal of his pamphlet resulted from his synthesis of popular and elite elements in the independence movement.
According to historian Robert Middlekauff, Common Sense became immensely popular mainly because Paine appealed to widespread convictions. Monarchy, he said, was preposterous, and it had a heathenish origin. It was an institution of the devil. Paine pointed to the Old Testament, where almost all kings had seduced the Israelites to worship idols instead of God. Paine also denounced aristocracy, which together with monarchy were "two ancient tyrannies." They violated the laws of nature, human reason, and the "universal order of things", which began with God. That was, Middlekauff says, exactly what most Americans wanted to hear. He calls the Revolutionary generation "the children of the twice-born", because in their childhood they had experienced the Great Awakening, which, for the first time, had tied Americans together, transcending denominational and ethnic boundaries and giving them a sense of patriotism.
In late 1776 Paine published The American Crisis pamphlet series, to inspire the Americans in their battles against the British army. He juxtaposed the conflict between the good American devoted to civic virtue and the selfish provincial man. To inspire his soldiers, General George Washington had The American Crisis, first Crisis pamphlet, read aloud to them. It begins:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
In 1777, Paine became secretary of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs. The following year, he alluded to continuing secret negotiation with France in his pamphlets; the resultant scandal and Paine's conflict with Robert Morris eventually led to Paine's expulsion from the Committee in 1779. However, in 1781, he accompanied John Laurens on his mission to France. Eventually, after much pleading from Paine, New York State recognised his political services by presenting him with an estate, at New Rochelle, New York, and Paine received money from Pennsylvania and from the US Congress at George Washington's suggestion. During the Revolutionary War, Paine served as an aide to the important general, Nathanael Greene. Paine's later years established him as "a missionary of world revolution."
Paine accompanied Col. John Laurens to France and is credited with initiating the mission. It landed in France in March 1781 and returned to America in August with 2.5 million livres in silver, as part of a "present" of 6 million and a loan of 10 million. The meetings with the French king were most likely conducted in the company and under the influence of Benjamin Franklin. Upon returning to the United States with this highly welcomed cargo, Thomas Paine and probably Col. Laurens, "positively objected" that General Washington should propose that Congress remunerate him for his services, for fear of setting "a bad precedent and an improper mode." Paine made influential acquaintances in Paris, and helped organize the Bank of North America to raise money to supply the army. In 1785, he was given $3,000 by the U.S. Congress in recognition of his service to the nation.
Henry Laurens (the father of Col. John Laurens) had been the ambassador to the Netherlands, but he was captured by the British on his return trip there. When he was later exchanged for the prisoner Lord Cornwallis (in late 1781), Paine proceeded to the Netherlands to continue the loan negotiations. There remains some question as to the relationship of Henry Laurens and Thomas Paine to Robert Morris as the Superintendent of Finance and his business associate Thomas Willing who became the first president of the Bank of North America (in Jan. 1782). They had accused Morris of profiteering in 1779 and Willing had voted against the Declaration of Independence. Although Morris did much to restore his reputation in 1780 and 1781, the credit for obtaining these critical loans to "organize" the Bank of North America for approval by Congress in December 1781 should go to Henry or John Laurens and Thomas Paine more than to Robert Morris.[original research?]
Paine bought his only house in 1783 on the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Church Streets in Bordentown City, New Jersey, and he lived in it periodically until his death in 1809. This is the only place in the world where Paine purchased real estate. His design for a single-arch iron bridge led him back to Europe after the Revolution, where he tried, unsuccessfully, to find backers for his plans.
Having taken work as a clerk after his expulsion by Congress, Paine eventually returned to London in 1787, living a largely private life. However, his passion was again sparked by revolution, this time in France, which he visited in 1790. Edmund Burke, who had supported the American Revolution, did not likewise support the events taking place in France, and wrote the critical Reflections on the Revolution in France, partially in response to a sermon by Richard Price, the radical minister of Newington Green Unitarian Church. Many pens rushed to defend the Revolution and the Dissenting clergyman, including Mary Wollstonecraft, who published A Vindication of the Rights of Men only weeks after the Reflections. Paine wrote Rights of Man, an abstract political tract critical of monarchies and European social institutions. He completed the text on January 29, 1791. On January 31, he gave the manuscript to publisher Joseph Johnson for publication on February 22. Meanwhile, government agents visited him, and, sensing dangerous political controversy, he reneged on his promise to sell the book on publication day; Paine quickly negotiated with publisher J.S. Jordan, then went to Paris, per William Blake's advice, leaving three good friends, William Godwin, Thomas Brand Hollis, and Thomas Holcroft, charged with concluding publication in Britain. The book appeared on March 13, three weeks later than scheduled, and sold well.
Undeterred by the government campaign to discredit him, Paine issued his Rights of Man, Part the Second, Combining Principle and Practice in February 1792. It detailed a representative government with enumerated social programs to remedy the numbing poverty of commoners through progressive tax measures. Radically reduced in price to ensure unprecedented circulation, it was sensational in its impact and gave birth to reform societies. An indictment for seditious libel followed, for both publisher and author, while government agents followed Paine and instigated mobs, hate meetings, and burnings in effigy. A fierce pamphlet war also resulted, in which Paine was defended and assailed in dozens of works. The authorities aimed, with ultimate success, to chase Paine out of Great Britain. He was then tried in absentia and found guilty though never executed.
In summer of 1792, he answered the sedition and libel charges thus: "If, to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy ... to promote universal peace, civilization, and commerce, and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank; if these things be libellous ... let the name of libeller be engraved on my tomb".
Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, and was granted, along with Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others, honorary French citizenship. Despite his inability to speak French, he was elected to the National Convention, representing the district of Pas-de-Calais. He voted for the French Republic; but argued against the execution of Louis XVI, saying that he should instead be exiled to the United States: firstly, because of the way royalist France had come to the aid of the American Revolution; and secondly because of a moral objection to capital punishment in general and to revenge killings in particular. He participated in the Constitution Committee that drafted the Girondin constitutional project.
Regarded as an ally of the Girondins, he was seen with increasing disfavor by the Montagnards who were now in power, and in particular by Robespierre. A decree was passed at the end of 1793 excluding foreigners from their places in the Convention (Anacharsis Cloots was also deprived of his place). Paine was arrested and imprisoned in December 1793.
Arrested in France, Paine protested and claimed that he was a citizen of America, which was an ally of Revolutionary France, rather than of Great Britain, which was by that time at war with France. However, Gouverneur Morris, the American minister to France, did not press his claim, and Paine later wrote that Morris had connived at his imprisonment. Paine narrowly escaped execution. A chalk mark, supposed to be left by the gaoler to denote that the prisoner in this cell was to be collected for execution, was left on the inside of his door, rather than the outside, as the door happened to be open as the gaoler made his rounds, because Paine was receiving official visitors. But for this quirk of fate, he would have died the following morning. He kept his head and survived the few vital days needed to be spared by the fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794).
Paine was released in November 1794 largely because of the work of the new American Minister to France, James Monroe, who successfully argued the case for Paine's American citizenship. In July 1795, he was re-admitted into the Convention, as were other surviving Girondins. Paine was one of only three députés to oppose the adoption of the new 1795 constitution, because it eliminated universal suffrage, which had been proclaimed by the Montagnard Constitution of 1793.
In 1797, Tom Paine lived in Paris with Nicholas Bonneville and his wife. Paine, as well as Bonneville's other controversial guests, aroused the suspicions of authorities. Bonneville hid the Royalist Antoine Joseph Barruel-Beauvert at his home. Beauvert had been outlawed following the coup of 18 Fructidor on September 4, 1797. Paine believed that America, under President John Adams, had betrayed revolutionary France. Bonneville was then briefly jailed and his presses were confiscated, which meant financial ruin.
In 1800, still under police surveillance, Bonneville took refuge with his father in Evreux. Paine stayed on with him, helping Bonneville with the burden of translating the "Covenant Sea". The same year, Paine purportedly had a meeting with Napoleon. Napoleon claimed he slept with a copy of Rights of Man under his pillow and went so far as to say to Paine that "a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe." Paine discussed with Napoleon how best to invade England and in December 1797 wrote two essays, one of which was pointedly named Observations on the Construction and Operation of Navies with a Plan for an Invasion of England and the Final Overthrow of the English Government, in which he promoted the idea to finance 1,000 gunboats to carry a French invading army across the English Channel. In 1804 Paine returned to the subject, writing To the People of England on the Invasion of England advocating the idea.
On noting Napoleon's progress towards dictatorship, he condemned him as: "the completest charlatan that ever existed". Thomas Paine remained in France until 1802, returning to the United States only at President Jefferson's invitation.
Paine decided that President George Washington had conspired with Robespierre to imprison him. Embittered by this perceived betrayal, Paine tried to ruin Washington's reputation by calling him a treacherous man unworthy of his fame as a military and political hero. Paine described Washington as an incompetent commander and a vain and ungrateful person. In a scathing open letter to President Washington in 1796, he wrote: "the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any."
In 1802 or 1803, Thomas Paine left France for the United States, paying passage also for Bonneville's wife, Marguerite Brazier and their three sons, seven year old Benjamin, Louis, and Thomas, for whom Paine was godfather. Paine returned to the United States in the early stages of the Second Great Awakening and a time of great political partisanship. The Age of Reason gave ample excuse for the religiously devout to dislike him, and the Federalists attacked him for his ideas of government stated in Common Sense, for his association with the French Revolution, and for his friendship with President Jefferson. Also still fresh in the minds of the public was his Letter to Washington, published six years before his return.
Brazier took care of Paine at the end of his life and buried him after his death on June 8, 1809. In his will, Paine left the bulk of his estate to Marguerite, including 100 acres (40.5 ha) of his farm so she could maintain and educate Benjamin and his brother Thomas. In 1814, the fall of Napoleon finally allowed Bonneville to rejoin his wife in the United States where he remained for four years before returning to Paris to open a bookshop.
Paine died at the age of 72, at 59 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, on the morning of June 8, 1809. Although the original building is no longer there, the present building has a plaque noting that Paine died at this location.
After his death, Paine's body was brought to New Rochelle, but as the Quakers would not allow it to be buried in their grave-yard per his last will, so his remains were buried under a walnut tree on his farm. In 1819, the English agrarian radical journalist William Cobbett dug up his bones and transported them back to England with the intention to give Paine a heroic reburial on his native soil, but this never came to pass. The bones were still among Cobbett's effects when he died over twenty years later, but were later lost. There is no confirmed story about what happened to them after that, although down the years various people have claimed to own parts of Paine's remains, such as his skull and right hand.
At the time of his death, most American newspapers reprinted the obituary notice from the New York Citizen, which read in part: "He had lived long, did some good and much harm." Only six mourners came to his funeral, two of whom were black, most likely freedmen. The writer and orator Robert G. Ingersoll wrote:
Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.
Biographer Eric Foner identifies a utopian thread in Paine's thought, writing that "Through this new language he communicated a new vision--a utopian image of an egalitarian, republican society." Paine's utopianism combined civic republicanism, belief in the inevitably of scientific and social progress and commitment to free markets and liberty generally. The multiple sources of Paine's political theory all pointed to a society based on the common good and individualism. Paine expressed a redemptive futurism or political messianism. Paine, writing that his generation "would appear to the future as the Adam of a new world," exemplified British utopianism.
Later, his encounters with the Indigenous peoples of the Americas made a deep impression. The ability of the Iroquois to live in harmony with nature while achieving a democratic decision making process, helped him refine his thinking on how to organize society.
Paine is often credited with writing "African Slavery in America", the first article proposing the emancipation of African slaves and the abolition of slavery. It was published on March 8, 1775 in the Postscript to the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser (aka The Pennsylvania Magazine and American Museum). Citing a lack of evidence that Paine was the author of this anonymously published essay, some scholars (Eric Foner and Alfred Owen Aldridge) no longer consider this one of his works. By contrast, John Nichols speculates that his "fervent objections to slavery" led to his exclusion from power during the early years of the Republic.[dubious ]
His last pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, published in the winter of 1795, further developed his ideas in the Rights of Man, about how land ownership separated the majority of people from their rightful, natural inheritance and means of independent survival. The US Social Security Administration recognizes Agrarian Justice as the first American proposal for an old-age pension; per Agrarian Justice:
In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity ... [Government must] create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.
Note that £10 and £15 would be worth about £800 and £1,200 ($1,200 and $2000) when adjusted for inflation (2011 British Pounds Sterling).
Lamb argues that Paine's analysis of property rights marks a distinct contribution to political theory. His theory of property defends a libertarian concern with private ownership that shows an egalitarian commitment. Paine's new justification of property sets him apart from previous theorists such as Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf, and John Locke. It demonstrates Paine's commitment to foundational liberal values of individual freedom and moral equality.
Before his arrest and imprisonment in France, knowing that he would probably be arrested and executed, Paine, following in the tradition of early eighteenth-century British deism, wrote the first part of The Age of Reason, an assault on organized "revealed" religion combining a compilation of the many inconsistencies he found in the Bible with his own advocacy of deism, and calling for "free rational inquiry" into all subjects, especially religion.
About his own religious beliefs, Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
Though there is no evidence he was himself a Freemason, upon his return to America from France, Paine also penned "An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry" (1803–1805), about Freemasonry being derived from the religion of the ancient Druids. In the essay, he stated that "The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally paid to the sun." Marguerite de Bonneville published the essay in 1810, after Paine's death, but she chose to omit certain passages from it that were critical of Christianity, most of which were restored in an 1818 printing.
How different is [Christianity] to the pure and simple profession of Deism! The true Deist has but one Deity, and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom, and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in endeavoring to imitate him in everything moral, scientifical, and mechanical.
And again, in The Age of Reason:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
About the Quaker religion, he wrote in The Age of Reason:
The religion that approaches the nearest of all others to true deism, in the moral and benign part thereof, is that professed by the Quakers ... though I revere their philanthropy, I cannot help smiling at [their] conceit; ... if the taste of a Quaker [had] been consulted at the Creation, what a silent and drab-colored Creation it would have been! Not a flower would have blossomed its gaieties, nor a bird been permitted to sing.
In the second part of The Age of Reason, about his sickness in prison, he wrote: "... I was seized with a fever, that, in its progress, had every symptom of becoming mortal, and from the effects of which I am not recovered. It was then that I remembered, with renewed satisfaction, and congratulated myself most sincerely, on having written the former part of 'The Age of Reason'". This quotation encapsulates its gist:
The opinions I have advanced ... are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.
Paine's writing greatly influenced his contemporaries and, especially, the American revolutionaries. His books provoked an upsurge in Deism in America, but in the long term inspired philosophic and working-class radicals in the UK and US. Liberals, libertarians, feminists, democratic socialists, social democrats, anarchists, freethinkers, and progressives often claim him as an intellectual ancestor. Paine's critique of institutionalized religion and advocacy of rational thinking influenced many British freethinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as William Cobbett, George Holyoake, Charles Bradlaugh, Christopher Hitchens and Bertrand Russell.
The quote "Lead, follow, or get out of the way" is widely but incorrectly attributed to Paine. This can be found nowhere in his published works.
When Abraham Lincoln was 26 years old in 1835, he wrote a defense of Paine's deism; a political associate, Samuel Hill, burned it to save Lincoln's political career. Historian Roy Basler, the editor of Lincoln's papers, said Paine had a strong influence on Lincoln's style:
The inventor Thomas Edison said:
I have always regarded Paine as one of the greatest of all Americans. Never have we had a sounder intelligence in this republic ... It was my good fortune to encounter Thomas Paine's works in my boyhood ... it was, indeed, a revelation to me to read that great thinker's views on political and theological subjects. Paine educated me, then, about many matters of which I had never before thought. I remember, very vividly, the flash of enlightenment that shone from Paine's writings, and I recall thinking, at that time, 'What a pity these works are not today the schoolbooks for all children!' My interest in Paine was not satisfied by my first reading of his works. I went back to them time and again, just as I have done since my boyhood days.
In 1811, Venezuelan translator Manuel Garcia de Sena published a book in Philadelphia which consisted mostly of Spanish translations of several of Paine's most important works. The book also included translations of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution, and the constitutions of five U.S. states. It subsequently circulated widely in South America, and through it, Uruguayan national hero José Gervasio Artigas became familiar with and embraced Paine's ideas. In turn, many of Artigas's writings drew directly from Paine's, including the Instructions of 1813, which Uruguayans consider to be one of their country's most important constitutional documents; it was one of the earliest writings to articulate a principled basis for an identity independent of Buenos Aires.
The first and longest standing memorial to Thomas Paine is the carved and inscribed 12 foot marble column in New Rochelle, New York organized and funded by publisher, educator and reformer Gilbert Vale (1791–1866) and raised in 1839 by the American sculptor and architect John Frazee — The Thomas Paine Monument (see image below).
New Rochelle is also the original site of Thomas Paine's Cottage, which, along with a 320 acre (130 ha) farm, were presented to Paine in 1784 by act of the New York State Legislature for his services in the American Revolution.
The same site is the home of the Thomas Paine Memorial Museum. Thomas A. Edison helped to turn the first shovel of earth for the museum which serves as a museum to display both Paine relics as well as others of local historical interest. A large collection of books, pamphlets and pictures is contained in the Paine library including many first editions of Paine's works as well as several original manuscripts. These holdings, the subject of a sell-off controversy, were temporarily relocated to the New-York Historical Society and have since been more permanently archived in the Iona College library nearby.
Paine was originally buried near the current location of his house and monument upon his death in 1809. The site is marked by a small headstone and burial plaque even though his remains were said to have been removed to England years later.
In England, a statue of Paine, quill pen and inverted copy of Rights of Man in hand, stands in King Street, Thetford, Norfolk, his birth place. Thomas Paine was ranked #34 in the 100 Greatest Britons 2002 extensive Nationwide poll conducted by the BBC
Also in Thetford is the Thomas Paine Hotel, on which is a plaque giving details of Paine's life: the plaque was erected in 1943 by voluntary contributions from US servicemen.
In Paris, there is a plaque in the street where he lived from 1797 to 1802, that says: "Thomas PAINE / 1737–1809 / Englishman by birth / American by adoption / French by decree".
Yearly, between July 4 and 14, the Lewes Town Council in the United Kingdom celebrates the life and work of Thomas Paine.
In the early 1990s, largely through the efforts of citizen activist David Henley of Virginia, legislation (S.Con.Res 110, and H.R. 1628) was introduced in the 102nd Congress by ideological opposites Sen. Steve Symms (R-ID) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). With over 100 formal letters of endorsement by US and foreign historians, philosophers and organizations, including the Thomas Paine National Historical Society, the legislation garnered 78 original co-sponsors in the Senate and 230 original co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and was consequently passed by both houses' unanimous consent. In October 1992 the legislation was signed into law (PL102-407 & PL102-459) by President George H. W. Bush authorizing the construction, using private funds, of a memorial to Thomas Paine in "Area 1" of the grounds of the US Capitol. As of January 2011[update], the memorial has not yet been built.
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