Thomas Paine

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Engraving of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine (Thetford, England, 1737 - New York City, 1809) was primarily a political writer born in Thetford, England, who came to America in 1774. His 1776 pamphlet Common Sense was a major cause of the American decision to declare independence on July 4th. It explained republicanism and the evils of having a king in clear, everyday language. In terms of percentage sales, Common Sense was second to only the Bible: Common Sense had sales of 500,000 in colonial America where the total population was only 2.5 million,[1] and was also read aloud in taverns and churches. Thomas Paine was a lifelong, staunch defender of freedom of religion. However, in his book Rights of Man, he also criticized the concept of the Bill of Rights, calling it a "bill of wrongs and insults" and has also expressed favor of a progressive tax system.[2]

Phyllis Schlafly, the leader of the grassroots movement that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment and made the Republican Party pro-life, greatly admired Thomas Paine for his effectiveness in educating and mobilizing the people through his political writing.


Late in 1776 when the war was going poorly for the Patriots, General George Washington ordered that Paine's inspirational "American Crisis" (1776) be read to his troops before the Battle of Trenton. Paine supported the Revolution, although he believed it did not go far enough. He briefly lived in the rebelling colonies before returning to Europe in time to take part in the French Revolution. There he wrote "The Rights of Man" (1791).

Later life

Paine remained in France until 1802 when he returned to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. Paine discovered that his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated due to his religious views. Paine was proven badly wrong in praising the French Revolution. Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City.[3] Once a celebrated figure, his funeral was only attended by six people.[4]

Views on Religion and Religious Liberty

Paine was the son of an Anglican and a Quaker, and grew to become a devout Deist. Paine was skeptical about miracles in Christianity, and became an opponent of the Bible. Thirty years after his successful Common Sense he published The Age of Reason (1807),[5] in which he asserts that organized religions, including Christianity, are frauds.

Paine was the only Deist among the colonial leaders who formed the United States, contrary to liberal bias falsely asserting that many of the Founders were Deists.

But Thomas Paine vigorously defended freedom of religion:

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.[6]

Paine's best-selling The Age of Reason caused a brief revival of Deism in the United States, but without lasting effect. He ultimately fell into disfavor due to his intemperate attacks on religion.


  • "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value." from The Crisis (1776)
  • "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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." from The American Crisis‎, published in The Pennsylvania Journal (Dec. 19, 1776). [7]
  • "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it." from The American Crisis‎ (1776)
  • "Volumes have been written on the subject of the struggle between England and America. Men of all ranks have embarked in the controversy, from different motives, and with various designs; but all have been ineffectual, and the period of debate is closed. Arms as the last resource decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the King, and the Continent has accepted the challenge." (Common Sense:Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs.)
  • "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." (1795)[8]
  • "To say that any people are not fit for freedom, is to make poverty their choice, and to say they had rather be loaded with taxes than not." (1792)[9]
  • "Those words, “temperate and moderate,” are words either of political cowardice, or of cunning, or seduction. A thing, moderately good is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper, is always a virtue; but moderation in principle, is a species of vice. (1895)[10]
  • "The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case." (1795)[11]
  • “I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” December 23, 1776
  • "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself." Dissertation on First Principles of Government, December 23, 1791.
  • “By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils.”


  • African Slavery in America - published in 1775, which challenges England's barbarous slave trade
  • Common Sense - published in 1776, which challenged British authority over the colonies and spoke to the common people[12]
  • The American Crisis (often shortened to "The Crisis") - a series of pamphlets published 1776 to 1783 during the American Revolution[13]
  • The Rights of Man - published in 1791 in support of the French Revolution[14]
  • Agrarian Justice - (1795)
  • The Age of Reason - published in three parts (1794, 1795 and 1807), an anti-religious text[15]

See also


  • Foner, Eric. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (1976). ISBN 978-0195174854
  • Kaye, Harvey J. Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005). excerpt and text search
  • Philp, Mark. "Paine, Thomas (1737–1809)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,online edn, May 2007
  • Wood, Gordon S. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different (2006). ISBN 978-0143112082 by a leading conservative historian excerpt and text search

Primary sources


  3. Thomas Paine.
  4. Thomas Paine: Political Activist and Author
  5. The first part was written earlier, in 1794.
  6. The Age of Reason, Pt. 1, 1794 [1]
  8. Paine, "Dissertation on First Principles of Government," The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, vol. 3, p. 277 (1895).
  9. Rights of Man online
  10. Paine, "Letter to the addressers on the late proclamation against seditious writings." in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, vol. 3, pp. 94–95
  11. Paine, "Dissertation on First Principles of Government," in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, vol. 3, p. 267 (1895).

External links