Paine, Thomas (1737–1809), an Anglo-American political writer and philosopher. Paine's writings helped turn American opinion to the cause of independence during the Revolutionary War. Later he called on Britain and France to overthrow monarchy, and took part in the French Revolution. Paine always aroused controversy because his ideas were radical for the time. His clear, vigorous language was intended to move his readers to action.
Paine was born in Thetford, England. As a young man, he received little formal education. He was apprenticed to a corset-maker, but ran away to sea at 19. Later Paine was at times a tobacconist, grocer, teacher, and exciseman (customs officer). In 1774 he went to Philadelphia.
Soon after the opening of the war with Britain, Paine wrote Common Sense, published on January 10, 1776. This pamphlet convinced great numbers of Americans that no compromise with Britain was possible.
Paine served as aide to General Nathanael Greene in 1776. In December, 1776, he wrote the first of a series of pamphlets entitled The Crisis to rally patriot sentiment. It began:
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 his 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.
Paine continued to write while serving as secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Continental Congress, 1777–79, and clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, 1779–81.
In 1787 Paine went to England and France. When the early course of the French Revolution was attacked by Edmund Burke, Paine's response was The Rights of Man (two parts: 1791, 1792). It denounced monarchy and contended that the role of government is to guarantee the natural rights of man. The influence of his work was so great that Paine left England to avoid prosecution for sedition.
Paine was made a French citizen in 1792 and was elected to the National Convention. An associate of the Girondists (moderate republicans), he opposed the execution of King Louis XVI. Paine was jailed under the rule of the Jacobins, 1793–94. While in prison he began The Age of Reason (two parts: 1794, 1796). In this book Paine affirmed his belief in God but rejected Christian doctrine in a manner that shocked his contemporaries. Paine further damaged his reputation in America by writing an abusive open letter to President George Washington, formerly a good friend. He argued that Washington could have used his influence to prevent Paine's imprisonment.
In 1802 Paine returned to the United States. President Thomas Jefferson befriended him, but political opponents called Paine an atheist and a drunkard, and he became a social outcast. Paine died in New York City and was buried in New Rochelle. His remains were removed to England in 1819 by William Cobbett. Paine was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1945.