Biography of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was an eighteenth century political reformer.

When and Where was he Born?

29th January 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England.

Family Background:

Tom Paine was the son of a Quaker small holder and corset maker.

Education:

Local Grammar School. Took up the corset making business at the age of thirteen.

Timeline of Thomas Paine:

1750: Paine took up corset making in Kent. He then got work as a sailor and a school teacher.

1768: He moved to Lewes in Sussex where he was employed as an Excise Officer. He became active in local politics, serving on the local Council and started a debating society in a local public House. He was dismissed by his employers as an agitator for asking for a pay rise for himself and colleagues. He then moved to London.

1774: Paine met Benjamin Franklin who helped him to emigrate to America. He settled in Philadelphia and took up work as a radical journalist. He had several articles published in the “Pennsylvan Magazine” including one urging the abolition of slavery.

1776: He published a pamphlet called “Common Sense” which attacked the British Monarchy and argued for American Independence. During the American War of Independence Paine wrote many articles enthusing the superiority of republican democracy over the monarchical system and also served in the armies of George Washington.

1777: He became Secretary to the Congress Committee on Foreign affairs.

1781: He went to France on a fund raising trip for the American cause.

1787: Thomas Paine returned to England.

1791: He published “The Rights of Man” as a reply to Edmund Burke’s “Reflection’s on the French Revolution”. In it he supported both the French and an overthrow of the British Monarchy. Not surprisingly he was indicted for treason by the British but managed to escape to Paris before he could be arrested. (This is a seminal work in British History as it also argued for votes for all men over 21, an increase in the power of the House of Commons, the decline of the House of Lords, the introduction of progressive taxation based on the ability to pay, family allowances, old age pensions and maternity grants. The book was banned by the British Authorities but over 200,000 people in Britain still managed to buy a copy).

1792: He was made a French citizen and became a member of the National Convention as Deputy for Pas-de-Calais. As a supporter of the Girondins he spoke out against the execution of King Louis the Sixteenth and thus upset Robespierre who had him arrested. Robespierre took away his French citizenship and said he was being charged as an enemy Englishman.

1794: During his time in prison Thomas Paine completed his work “The Age of Reason”. After the “Terror” he was released on the grounds that he was a United States citizen after a plea by the American minister James Munroe.

1796: Publication of “The Age of Reason”, which was an attack on accepted religion. (Again this work made him many enemies and alienated him from his friends including George Washington). Thus he remained in Paris.

1802: He returned to the United States but now he was ostracised as an atheist and a free thinker, very different to his reception during the War of Independence. Unable to return to Britain, however, he died alone and in poverty on a farm in New York State even though by now over a million and a half copies of “The Rights of Man” had been sold in Europe.

When and Where did he Die?

8th June 1809, New York City, United States of America.

Age at Death:

72.

Written Works:

1768: “The Case of Officers of Excise.”
1776: “Common Sense.” “The American Crisis.”
1786: “Dissertations on Government.”
1787: “Prospects on the Rubicon.”
1791: “The Rights of Man.” (Parts 1 and 2).
1794: “The Age of Reason.”
1795: “First Principles of Government.”
1796: “The Age of Reason.” (Part Two).

Marriage:

  1. Married a servant girl at the age of twenty-two who died the following year.
  2. Elizabeth Olive, daughter of a shopkeeper. (separated when they got into debt).

Site of Grave:

Thomas Paine National Museum, New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York.

Places of Interest:

EAST SUSSEX:

Lewes.

NORFOLK:

Ancient House Museum, White Hart Street, Thetford, IP24 1AA.