Reader's Encyclopedia

Paine, Thomas (1737 - 1809)

English pamphleteer and political radical. The son of a Quaker corsetmaker, Paine came to America in 1774. Famous for his activities in behalf of the colonies during the American Revolution, as well as in France during the French Revolution, he consistently urged revolt and independence instead of reform and tried to promote world revolution. Among his works are The Case of the Officers of Excise (1772), a plea for higher wages to excisemen, of whom he had been one; Common Sense; The American Crisis, a series of pamphlets supporting the American Revolution; Public Good (1780), in which he urged that western lands become the property not of one colony but of the nation; Dissertations on First - Principles of Government (1795), an attack on monetary inflation in the American colonies; The Rights of Man; and The Age of Reason, for which he was denounced as an atheist.

Paine lived a turbulent career, beginning in a variety of humble occupations. He held several official positions in the colonies during the Revolution but made enemies and subsequently lost favor. In England he was tried for treason in absentia and outlawed because of some seditious passages in The Rights of Man. In France he was made an honorary citizen by the republican government (1792) and was a delegate to the Convention, until the more radical government of the Reign of Terror came into power and imprisoned him as an enemy Englishman. He died in the U.S. amid poverty and calumny, denounced as a radical, a drunkard, and an atheist, and was denied burial in consecrated ground. His remains were lost after being taken to England for reburial. In later years he came to be regarded as an American patriot and an important crusader for democratic rights.

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