Paine, Thomas

Paine, Thomas (1737-1809) Radical Writer: Born in England to an Episcopalian mother and a Quaker father, Paine drifted from occupation to occupation until he was 37 years old. At that point, after two marriages and several professions, he moved to America, bearing a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, whom he had met in England. Paine began to edit the Pennsylvania Magazine and met with leading republican thinkers. He published Common Sense in 1776, after which he became famous throughout the colonies and in England. Paine served in the Continental Army during the war, including a period as an aide to General Nathanael Greene, and wrote a series of essays called The American Crisis. He became involved in the Silas Deane affair, publicly denouncing Deane's private arms-dealing in France. By denouncing Deane, however, Paine revealed secret negotiations with the French, and was dismissed from his post as Secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs for this indiscretion. After this, he sent $500 to George Washington to help supply the war effort, and defended the Bank of the United States, as an associate of the wealthy Philadelphia financier and merchant Robert Morris. Paine designed an iron bridge to cross the Schuylkill River, and went to England to seek financial backing in 1787.

Four years later, he published part one of Rights of Man, followed by part two the next year. In Rights of Man, Paine replied to Edmund Burke's criticism of the French Revolution. Paine's treatise was condemned in England, and he was outlawed, so he moved to France. Without ever learning how to read or speak French, Paine participated in French politics, helping to draft a constitution, which was never adopted, and serving as one of two foreigners on the National Convention. In 1793, Paine was imprisoned in the Luxembourg Prison, where he lived in fear of execution. James Monroe, American Ambassador to France, secured Paine's release after the French Terror ended. Nevertheless, Paine publicly denounced the Washington administration in 1796 for having failed to help him.

After his release, Paine completed The Age of Reason, an attack on revealed religion, on the basis of which he was accused of being an atheist. He published Agrarian Justice in 1797, and returned to America five years later, where he was ignored by the intellectual community. By 1809, he was interred on his farm in New Rochelle, New York, where he died. Radical reformer William Cobbett wished to return Paine's bones to England for a memorial burial ten years after his death, but lost the remains after they were exhumed.