January 29, 2013 marks the 276th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Paine -- the often ignored "Founding Father" -- who was born in Thetford, England in 1737.
Before coming to the American Colonies, Paine worked at variety of jobs including, Corset Maker, Sailor and Customs Collector---he failed at all of them. He married twice --- his first marriage ended with the death of his wife, and his second ended in divorce.
He came to Philadelphia in 1774, where he worked as a Printer and Journalist. Historian, Richard Ketchum
wrote that Paine "had been driven to the New World by a succession of personal failures and a festering hatred for the society that brought them about."
In January, 1776, he published, at his own expense, 18,000 copies of his 50-page pamphlet, "Common Sense,"
which argued for a declaration of independence from Great Britain. It was widely distributed throughout the colonies, reprinted often; it eventually sold nearly half a million copies. Paine donated the proceeds of his publication to the Continental Congress.
Ketchum noted that Paine "tossed a spark that turned a disorganized rebellion into the overthrow of an entire social and political system."
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It is probable that every literate colonist read Common Sense or knew about its contents. It was read aloud in taverns, at town meetings, and village greens. Fellow rebel, John Adams, said that he expected "Common Sense" to become the "common faith." Paine's words convinced many colonists to support an American Revolution.
Early in the war Paine served as an aide to Major General Nathaniel Greene
and later, , while serving as a foot soldier at Valley Forge, he wrote a pamphlet series, "The American Crisis," which began with the memorable line, "These are the times that try men's souls." Paine's words, literally, held together the Continental army and sustained the spirit of the Revolution.
According to British historian N.A.M. Rodger,
Paine was a "political radical, a subversive, not a natural friend of respectable, slave-owning gentlemen." He was not the type of person who would be invited to tea at Mount Vernon.
Historian Margaret Washington,
described Paine as a "common man," not of the same socio-economic class as the other founding fathers, many of whom considered the common people "rabble." Thomas Paine, she said, believed that the common people "were the revolution. He believed that "ordinary people could understand and participate in government."
Ketchum stated, "If ever there was a case of an indiviual and an idea that came together at the right moment, Thomas Paine was it." His radical journalism was a significant factor in the effort to establish a government where authority was given to the people -- a factor that, according to Margaret Washington, made the American Revolution an event of "world significance."
After the American Revolution, he lived quietly in New York until he returned to Britain in 1787. He wrote The Rights of Man (1791--92) in response to Edmund Burke's criticism of the French Revolution. He became an honorary French citizen, was elected to the Revolutionary Convention (1792), and was imprisoned during the height of the Terror
in Paris. Later he published The Age of Reason (1794, 1796) and returned to New York where he lived in obscurity until his death in 1809.
His obituary read in part: "He had lived long, did some good and much harm." Paine was ostracized because of his anti-christian sentiments
. He wrote, "As to the book called the bible, it is blasphemy to call it the Word of God. It is a book of lies and contradictions and a history of bad times and bad men." Only six mourners came to his funeral, two of whom were black, most likely freedmen
Richard Ketchum, "The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton," Henry Holt and Company, LLC (pages 3 and 6)
This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less
I'm a contrarian by birth, a historian by degree, a Vietnam War veteran by conscription, and an advocate by profession.
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