Paine, Thomas, 1737-1809

Alternative names
Birth 1737-02-09
Death 1809-06-08

Biographical notes:

Political theorist, New York.

From the description of Letter, 1779 Jan. 17. (New York University). WorldCat record id: 476963318

Thomas Paine, English author and revolutionary.

From the guide to the Thomas Paine manuscript material : 1 item, 1788, (The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.)

Revolutionary pamphleteer, author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man.

From the description of ALS, [1803] June 23 : New Rochelle, to DeWitt Clinton, Mayor of New York. (Copley Press, J S Copley Library). WorldCat record id: 13832553

From the description of ALS, 1783 December 31 : Borden Town, to Robert Morris. (Copley Press, J S Copley Library). WorldCat record id: 13832423

From the description of ALS, 1798 [May 29?] : Paris, to Elbridge Gerry. (Copley Press, J S Copley Library). WorldCat record id: 13832489

Thomas Paine was a political writer.

From the description of Richard Gimbel Collection of Thomas Paine Papers, 1692-1921. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 86155642

English radical and author.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : London, to George Washington, 1792 Feb. 13. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270610518

From the description of Autograph letter signed : to Benjamin West, 1789 Mar. 8. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270611406

From the description of On the Descent upon England : copy of a poem signed "Thomas Blockhead", i. e. Thos. Payne, 1797 May 11. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270612578

Paine (1737-1809) was an American Revolutionary writer of political pamphlets and books, including Common sense and the Age of reason. Nine of his books are in the Clarke Historical and Park libraries. For more information on Paine, see an encyclopedia. No information is available on Mrs. Few.

From the description of Correspondence, 1787. (Clarke Historical Library). WorldCat record id: 45722928

Epithet: author and revolutionary

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000296.0x000038

Revolutionary War political writer.

From the description of Papers, 1914-1930. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 38744934

Philosopher, publicist, and author.

From the description of Papers of Thomas Paine, 1789-1819. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79454826

Thomas Paine was one of the foremost political philosophers of the 18th century. His ideas influenced the courses of both the American Revolution and the French Revolution and are still of significance today. His tragic life was partly the result of his status as a man far ahead of his time.

Paine was born January 29, 1737 in Thetford, Norfolk, England, to a Quaker corset-maker and his Anglican.wife. He remained in poverty throughout his life. He was married twice: to Mary Lambert in 1759 (she died within a year), and to Elizabeth Olive in 1771 (they separated in 1774). A hint of the course his life would later take came in 1772, when he was fired from his job as an excise officer for publishing a document advocating higher wages as a method for curtailing corruption in government service.

Paine became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin while in London. Franklin was impressed by Paine's mind and may have seen something of himself in the younger man. Both came from humble origins and were largely self-educated, but showed a broad intellectual understanding and a passionate engagement in life. Paine immigrated to Philadelphia in 1774, armed with letters of introduction from Franklin. He became an editor at the Pennsylvania Magazine and began to anonymously publish his own essays and poetry. One of his earliest pieces was "African Slavery in America" (1775), one of the first and most influential abolitionist writings in America.

His great tour de force was the 50-page pamphlet Common Sense, which was published anonymously on January 10, 1776. It sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. Its central thesis, that common sense dictates that the colonies derive no benefit from their association with Great Britain and therefore should become independent, helped to fan the flames of revolution that led to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence six months later. Between 1776 and 1783 he issued a series of pamphlets under the title The American Crisis. General George Washington ordered Paine's works (which included the famous line, "These are the times that try men's souls") to be read to the flagging American troops as an inspiration to presevere in their cause. Paine served briefly in the colonial army under the command of General Nathanael Greene. In 1777, he was appointed secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs by the Second Continental Congress. He lost that position in 1779 due to political disputes, but later became the clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature. In 1785, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Financial and political difficulties led Paine to return to England in 1787. There he published his Rights of Man in two parts, in 1791 and 1792. This eloquent refutation of Edmund Burke's critical Reflections Upon the French Revolution sold a million and a half copies before it was supressed. Paine's stance against monarchy and for a republican form of government caused him to be tried for treason by the British government in 1792. Already on his way to France when the order for his arrest was issued, Paine still managed to remain embroiled in controversy. He took his seat in the French National Convention, but offended Robespierre by favoring exile, rather than execution, for King Louis XVI. He was imprisoned from December 1793 to November 1794, during which time Part I of his The Age of Reason was published. Part II was published in 1795, and part of Part III in 1807. In this work he severely criticized organized religion, but his words were widely misinterpreted as a defense of atheism. He lost many friends as a result.

In 1802 President Thomas Jefferson helped him return to the United States, and he went to live on his farm in New Rochelle, NY. Instead of being remembered for his contributions to the revolution, Paine found he was feared for his radical ideas and infamous as the world's greatest infidel. His final days were marred by poverty, poor health, and enmity. He died on June 8, 1809 in New York City and was buried on his farm after sacred ground was refused. Ten years later, journalist William Cobbett disinterned his remains and brought them to England with the intention of building a proper monument to this great thinker. The curse of Paine's unhappy life followed him even after death, as Cobbett's vision was never realized and Paine's remains were lost.

From the guide to the Colonel Richard Gimbel Collection of Thomas Paine Papers, 1692 - Circa 1921, (American Philosophical Society)


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  • Thetford, , UK
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