born 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England died 1809
Anglo-American political theorist and writer. He was the son of a Quaker. An excise officer, he was dismissed from the service after leading an agitation for higher salaries (1772). Paine emigrated to America in 1774, bearing letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, who was then in England. He soon became involved in the clashes between England and the American colonies and published the enormously successful pamphlet Common Sense (Jan., 1776), in which he argued that the colonies had outgrown any need for English domination and should be given independence. In Dec., 1776, Paine wrote the first of a series of 16 pamphlets called The Crisis (1776-83). These essays were widely distributed and did much to encourage the patriot cause throughout the American Revolution. After the war he returned to his farm in New Rochelle, N.Y. In 1787 he went to England and while there wrote The Rights of Man (2 parts, 1791 and 1792), which defended the French Revolution in reply to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Its basic premises were that there are natural rights common to all men and that only democratic institutions are able to guarantee these rights. Paine's attack on English institutions led to his prosecution for treason and subsequent flight to Paris (1792). There, as a member of the National Convention, he took a significant part in French affairs. During the Reign of Terror he was imprisoned by the Jacobins from Dec., 1793, to Nov., 1794. During this time he wrote his famous deistic, antibiblical work The Age of Reason (2 parts, 1794 and 1795), which alienated many people. His diatribe against George Washington, Letter to Washington (1796), added more fuel to the persisting resentment against him. When Paine returned to the United States in 1802, he was practically ostracized; he died in poverty seven years later. An idealist, a radical, and a master rhetorician, Paine wrote and lived with a keen sense of urgency and excitement.
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