Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, England the son of a Quaker corset stay maker. His mother was an Anglican, and Paine later attributed this combination of Quaker and Anglican for giving him his philosophies and views. He went to a local school for a few years, but was pulled out to help support his family. He began to learn his father’s business, but eventually became disillusioned and became an exciseman (tax collector). He was married twice during this time, his first wife died and the second he eventually separated from in 1774, the year he first went to America.
Paine arrived in America on the brink of the Revolutionary War. He found work as an editor of Pennsylvania Magazine where he worked writing about such social issues as slavery, women’s rights, animal cruelty and of course independence for the United States. He wrote the fifty-page pamphlet Common Sense that was heralded as the first major work that called for complete separation from England. It sold over 500,000 copies by the beginning of the war. He also helped out the war effort by writing a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis. The pamphlets were so enthusiastically received that they were read to the troops stationed at Valley Forge during that fateful winter. Due to his help during the war, he was given a farm in New Rochelle, NY.
Paine went to France in 1787 and eventually wrote The Rights of Man, which was a defense of the French revolution and a written response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. In The Rights of Man, Paine called for the British to overthrow the monarchy, and as a result, was tried for sedition and could not return to England as a result. Paine was elected to the National Convention in France and worked to help write their constitution. Eventually, because he did not wish to guillotine the former aristocrats and king, he wound up in jail awaiting his own execution. There is a story that indicated he was slated for execution, but they marked the wrong side of his door and he was never executed. After the Reign of Terror, he was released from prison, a sickly and bitter man.
There is another story that while on his way to prison, he handed a copy of the first part of The Age of Reason to a friend to get it published. While in prison, this work was published. After his release and much to his chagrin, he found that his attacks upon religion had caused his friends and allies to turn away from him.
Paine returned to the United States in 1802 and settled in at New Rochelle. He saw his reputation dissipate because of his attacks on formal religion. He died on June 9, 1809 and was refused burial in a Quaker cemetery and was buried on the grounds of his estate. His remains were later taken to England for reburial, but it is not known where.
Paine was vilified even more when a false biography of Paine was published by an editor named James Cheetham that tried to show how immoral Paine was. Paine was also another victim of a so-called deathbed conversion that did not take place.
Paine was a Deist during his life. He attacked formal religion because he felt that it was harmful to humanity. Paine worked throughout his life for the betterment of man. He was a reformer in every sense of the word, and did not stop at just social reforms. He also wanted to reform law, politics and religion and attacked Christianity because they did not want to reform themselves. He felt that organized religion had become perverted. He also thought that the Bible was ridiculous and could not possibly be the word of God. All the good that Paine had done throughout his life is not remembered today because of his "radical beliefs," despite those beliefs were shared among many of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion."
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, 1794.
OF THE RELIGION OF DEISM COMPARED WITH THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION by Thomas Paine.
Freethought.org Historical Documents by Thomas Paine.
Thomas Paine and The Age of Reason: A Radio address by Joseph Lewis.
The American Crisis by Thomas Paine.
Internet Infidels Age of Reason online
Friends of Thomas Paine an interesting site.
Director, Center for Inquiry Libraries