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Engraving of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine (Thetford, England, 1737 - New York City, 1809) was a political and religious writer born in Thetford, England, who came to America in 1774. His pamphlet "Common Sense" in 1776 was a major cause of the American decision to declare independence in July 1776. It explained republicanism and the evils of having a king in very clear language. Selling over 100,000 copies and read aloud in taverns and churches, it reached most of the attentive public in all 13 colonies.

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).

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. Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City. [1]


Paine was a devout Deist, and slammed Christianity on many occasions. He authored a vulgar and blasphemous pamphlet "The Age of Reason" in which he goes on to describe Christianity a mere fraud and cult. This led to his public disownment, despite being one of the key founders of the United States of America.


  • "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 (1776)
  • "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it." from The American Crisis‎ (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." (1795)[2]
  • "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)[3]
  • "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."[4](1895).
  • "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)[5]
  • “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.


His works include:

  • Common Sense - published in 1776, which challenged British authority over the colonies and spoke to the common people[6]
  • The Crisis - a series of articles published 1776-77 during the American Revolution[7]
  • The Rights of Man - published in 1792 in support of the French Revolution[8]
  • Agrarian Justice - (1795)
  • The Age of Reason - published in three parts (1794, 1795 and 1807), an anti-religious text[9]

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.)

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


  1. Thomas Paine.
  2. Paine, "Dissertation on First Principles of Government," The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, vol. 3, p. 277 (1895).
  3. Rights of Man online
  4. 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
  5. Paine, "Dissertation on First Principles of Government," in The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Moncure D. Conway, vol. 3, p. 267 (1895).
  6. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/commonsense/index.htm
  7. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/crisis/index.htm
  8. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/rights/index.htm
  9. http://www.ushistory.org/paine/reason/index.htm