men are regarded as having contributed equally to the
successful outcome of the
American War of Independence, George
Washington in directing the movement of the soldiers
and another man whose words in a time of crisis
inspired those soldiers.
man's first pamphlet, which Washington ordered to be
read to the troops, begins with these words
"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 who stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of
man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily
conquered....." With Washington's troops near
disintegration, Thomas Paine, a man about whom few
people have heard or know what he did, published
those words in mid-winter on December 19th
was the first person to use the phrase 'The United
States of America', so let us recall the life and
work of a man dedicated to liberty and reason.
was born into a Quaker family on 29th
January 1737 in Thetford, Norfolk, England. His
formal education was minimal and, after working for a
while at his father's trade as a corset maker, he
chose to go to sea as a privateer. Fortunately,
because of sickness, he missed sailing on a vessel
that lost most of its crew.
became an exciseman and spent some of his meagre wage
on books and scientific apparatus until dismissed
after publishing, in 1772, a stormy argument for
better pay for excisemen.
was unfortunate in marriage but his abilities were
recognised by Dr Benjamin Franklin who advised him to
go to America and provided a letter of introduction.
arrived in Philadelphia in November 1774 and secured
work as co-editor of The
Pennsylvania Magazine. He wrote
and published poems and other articles anonymously
(or under non-deplumes): such works as his scathing
denunciation of the slave trade, which he signed
"Justice and Humanity".
was fighting against the British troops at Lexington
and Concord in mid 1775. On 10th
January 1776 Paine published the pamphlet Common
Sense, showing why America should become independent
of Britain, emphasising how unjust and foolish was
the monarchal system of government. This publication
paved the way for The Declaration
Jefferson has always been credited with having
written the Declaration of Independence but evidence
now available reveals that Thomas Paine produced the
draft for this document. In Common
Sense he argues that a manifesto
be published which could be sent to other nations and
would tell why America was forced to break ties with
Britain. The causes which impel the separation are
proclaimed in Common Sense.
June 1776 Congress voted for such a document. A
committee of five was appointed but at the last
moment one was obliged to answer a call to his home
and Jefferson took his place. Paine produced a draft,
of which the John Adams' family still retains a copy.
carries a clause to end slavery and this clause was
omitted from the Declaration. Had it been included,
the Civil War, ninety years later, would not have
been fought. Why was this clause significant? Because
slavery appalled Paine but Jefferson, at his death,
still owned 200 slaves and any draft from him would
not have included this clause.
phrasing in the draft and the peculiar use of
capitals and the spelling of words brand it to be the
work of Thomas Paine. It was condensed, mutilated and
then submitted to Congress by the chairman of the
Committee, Thomas Jefferson. It is far easier to
modify a draft on hand than to start with blank paper
and, in twenty days, produce such a Declaration of
was typical of the integrity of Paine that he never
openly claimed the credit, although it was hinted.
enlisted, served as aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel
Green and wrote a total of 16 'Crisis Papers'.
1777 Congress appointed him Secretary to the
Committee of Foreign Affairs, in which position he
was obliged to reveal that Silas Deane was taking
personal profit from war aid from France. Paine was
dismissed but subsequent investigation proved that he
was appointed Clerk of the General Assembly of
Pennsylvania in November 1779 and that body, in March
1780, was the first to pass
an Act for the abolition of slavery. The preamble is
attributed to Thomas Paine. As Clerk, Paine was able
to observe the suffering of the American soldiers
because of the lack of supplies, and he took $500
from his own salary of $1690 for a fund, which led to
the foundation of the Bank of America. In his
pamphlet Public Good
he called for a Convention to update the Articles of
1781, together with John Laurens, he went to France,
where Louis XVI 'loaded him with favours' which were
instrumental in Washington's final victory. For this
service Paine received neither payment nor
the American Revolution ended Paine was
poverty-stricken, for whilst his pamphlets had been
sold in hundreds of thousands, he had refused to
profit from them and this stance he maintained all
Washington endorsed a petition to Congress for
financial assistance but Paine's opponents buried it
until December 1784 when a payment of $3000 was made,
an amount less than the cost of his journey to
France. However, Pennsylvania gave him $500 and New
York presented him with a 277 acre farm at
Rochelle, so he was able to concentrate on his plans
for a 500 foot iron arch bridge and other
inventions. Later he was granted patents in Britain
for his bridge. At least one was built but he was
cheated out of any remuneration there from.
1786 Paine's principles of a republican government,
as opposed to monarchal rule, were enshrined in the
Constitution, in which the term 'sovereign' has
'subject' for its correlation. This concept was later
rejected by the Eleventh Amendment.
returned to Europe in mid 1787 and spent time in both
France and England, where he was recognised and feted
as the author of Common Sense. Paine's
vision of a Europe without kings was enhanced by the
French Revolution and the fact of him being asked to
take part in the writing of the French Constitution,
which included many of his concepts, such as the
abolition of slavery.
degree of honour accorded Paine was shown when M de
Layfette gave him the key to the destroyed Bastille
for presentation to President Washington and later
Paine was elected to the French National Convention.
England he warned Prime Minister William Pitt against
involvement in a war against France over Holland.
in November 1790, Edmund Burke published Reflections
on the Revolution in France, Paine
was outraged and replied with his celebrated Rights
of Man. When Burke responded,
Paine published Rights of Man
Part 2 in February 1792.
this work he analysed the reasons for the political
discontent in Europe and spoke out against the evils
of arbitrary governments, poverty, illiteracy,
unemployment and war. He argued against hereditary
rights, in favour of republics over monarchies and
advocated a progressive income tax to finance
education, relief for the poor, aged pensions and
public works for the unemployed. The ruling class of
Britain was outraged. The books were banned and the
December 1792 Thomas Paine was charged at Guildhall,
London, that he "being a person of a wicked,
malicious and seditious disposition" etc
"did publish that the crown of this kingdom was
contrary to the rights of the
inhabitants......." and so forth. The
Attorney-General, who prosecuted, said that he would
not read out the many "false, wicked and
scandalous assertions" but would read only a few
more, such as "to inherit a crown is to inherit
the people, as if they were flocks and herds."
The famous Thomas Erskine defended Paine but the
carefully selected jury, which received two guineas
each and a free dinner for a conviction and nothing
otherwise, decided to return a verdict of guilty.
Laws were passed to restrict free speech and
was indicted for treason and his arrest ordered. He
left for Dover where the Collector of Customs
subjected him to a thorough search. Among his letters
were those from the Secretary of State in America and
from President Washington. When the Collector began
to read, Paine's friend Frost retrieved the letter
and rebuked him for reading such a private letter.
Frost then read aloud the last sentence above
Washington's signature "....and as no man can
feel a greater interest in the happiness of mankind
than I do, it is the firm wish of my heart that the
enlightened policy of the present age may diffuse to
all men those blessings to which they are entitled
and lay the foundation of happiness for future
generations." The letters were returned and
Paine and his friends sailed to France. Twenty
minutes later the order for Paine's arrest reached
returned to France to take up his Convention seat
with the applause of the crowd and through triumphant
arches. He recommended the end of the monarchal
system. He strongly opposed the killing of Louis XVI
and this was used against him when Robespierre gained
realised that killing Louis could lead to invasion by
the European countries that had ties to the deposed
monarch. Some of the nobility appealed to William
Pitt for money to secure the life of Louis but Pitt
refused to attempt to save the life of America's
friend. If Louis and his family had been banished to
America, as Paine proposed, how different the history
of Europe would have been.
political scene in France was determined by specific
parties and when Robespierre came to power Paine was
arrested and imprisoned on 28th
December 1793. He was just able to arrange for the
publication of The Age of Reason before
his incarceration. Anticipating his arrest, he had
finished this work six hours previously. His reason
for writing it was "lest we lose sight of
morality, of humanity and of the theology that is
became very ill in the Luxemburg prison, while
outside France suffered the 'Reign of Terror'; and
prisoners were taken away daily to the guillotine.
Paine wrote letters to try to secure his release but
was frustrated by the American Minister in France,
Gouverneur Morris, who was his enemy and stood to
gain by his death.
wrote to Secretary, Thomas Jefferson, "Lest I
forget it, I must mention that Thomas Paine is in
prison, where he amuses himself with a pamphlet
against Jesus Christ........."
Age of Reason Part 2 was written
whilst in prison.
day a chalk mark was made on the outside of the doors
of those to be taken to the guillotine. Because Paine
was so ill, his door was left open during the day and
so the chalk-mark was made on the inside, but his
door was closed when the condemned were collected.
The next day Robespierre was removed from power but
Paine was not released until 4th
November 1794. He was nursed back to health by the
new American Minister in Paris, James Monroe, in
whose house he now read what were reported as his
dying words before his execution. They were a
rejection of all his words and principles. When his
health improved he was readmitted to the National
the pamphlet The Decline and Fall
of the English System of Finance dated
April 1796, Paine predicted the suspension of the
Bank of England that occurred the next year. The
proceeds of this pamphlet he devoted to the relief of
the prisoners in Newgate prison held for debts.
1797 he published Agrarian
Justice, which attacked the
inequality of property ownership.
pamphlet entitled Maritime
Compact was published in 1800.
It includes ten articles for the security of neutral
commerce to be signed by the nations entering the
'Unarmed Association' which he proposed.
was consulted by Napoleon Bonaparte but this dialogue
ended when Napoleon rejected the republican
principles and declared himself Emperor.
Britain exercised control over the sea routes, Paine
delayed returning to America until September 1802.
During this time, he maintained cordial relationships
with several families, including the Bonnevilles and
Sir Robert Smith, for whose wife he wrote the poem The
Castle in the Air as a tribute
to her kindness during his imprisonment.
October of the same year, Paine landed at Baltimore
to a mixed welcome of praise and abuse. On 25th
December he wrote to Jefferson suggesting the
purchase of Louisiana and how it should be done.
Jefferson replied that he also was contemplating such
was a Deist and it was his conception of the nature
of a perfect god which was the basis of his attack on
the Bible, on the Church and all book-based
religions. Of course his statements could not be
allowed to go unchallenged. The Bishop of Landaff
made an attempt at a challenge but sank the Church
deeper into the quicksand, for Paine's observations
were devastating and have never been proved to be
faulty or false. Religious leaders, such as Bishop
Spong, are slowly recognising the validity of The
Age of Reason, but they can only
go so far without admitting that Christianity is
morally bankrupt and completely fraudulent.
Church has never forgiven Paine, has continued to
oppose his principles and has downplayed his enormous
contribution to human rights and to the living
standards, which are recognised today.
Bonnevilles migrated to the United States and a
complete file of Paine's writings and letters were
given to Madame Bonneville to assist in proposed
folio works. She became a Roman Catholic convert and
the project never proceeded. This invaluable
collection was destroyed in a fire.
was ostracised and died on 8th
June 1809. He could well be described as the 'Creator
of Modern Democracy' but the Christian world rewarded
Paine with abuse and vilification. Theodore Roosevelt
described Thomas Paine as a "filthy little
atheist" - three lies in three words. He was not
filthy, was five feet ten inches tall with broad
shoulders and was a Deist.
tide is turning. On 30th
January 1937 The Times of
London referred to him as "the English
Voltaire" and on 18th
May 1962 his bust was placed in the New York
University Hall of Fame.
honour Thomas Paine for his impact on the concepts of
liberty and equality of citizens before the law, and
for his condemnation of the Bible and Christianity.
Courtesy of the ATHEIST FOUNDATION OF AUSTRALIA
Life of Thomas Paine by Moncure D Conway
Paine-Author of the Declaration of Independence by
Paine by Chapman Cohen
Paine by John Keane