Thomas Paine is fondly remembered as one of the founding fathers of American independence. One of his highly acclaimed literary contributions, the Common Sense (1776) actually advocated Colonial American independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain (also commonly known as the Union Jack). A man of many talents, he was exemplified as a revered author, a renowned pamphleteer, a radical by nature, an acclaimed intellectual, and a profound revolutionary.
Thomas Paine had a humble upbringing. He was born on January 29, 1737 in Norfolk England as derived from provable statistical data. He was the son of a poor Quaker corset-maker father and little about his mother is known. He received his primary education from a local grammar school but was eventually forced by his father to learn the corset-making trade. He apprenticed and worked under his father for a period of 3 years before running away to sea at a tender age of 16. Thomas duly found that the corset-making trade was not his cup of tea. He thereby joined a British privateer at sea during the Seven Year War (1756-1763) before returning back to London.
After the Seven Year War
On returning back to London he worked as a corsetiere in Kent as he was cut out for employment options. Corset-making was something Thomas never really fancied from day one. He further went on to serve as an excise man in Lincolnshire, followed by a short teaching stint a local school in London thereafter. Finally settled down once again as an excise officer this time in 1768 with a firm called Lewes, based in East Sussex, England, alongside managing a small shop. His personal life was one to forget. He briefly married for a period of one year in 1760 before his beloved wife passed away. He remarried again in the year 1771 before being legally separated from his second wife after just three years of marriage, 1774. To summarize his personal life, childless marriages compounded his misery.
Journey to America
During his tenure at Lewes, Thomas was an active participant in local affairs. He served on the local town and went to the extent of establishing a “Debate Club” at a local pub. As a worker and entrepreneur, Thomas was a failure. He was expelled from his duties as an excise officer at Lewes due to frequent absences and further shut down shop since the business was not much to harp about. It was during this period he met a Good Samaritan by the name of Mr. Benjamin Walker, who helped him immigrate to America somewhere in October 1774. Upon reaching American soil, Thomas Paine settled in Philadelphia and embarked on a new career as a journalist. He penned and contributed many articles for a journal called the “Pennsylvania Magazine” during this period.
Life in America
True to traits of his revolutionist and patriotic nature, Thomas committed himself to the cause of American independence despite living in America for less than a year. He ridiculed monarchial type of government, unethical virtues of British policies and discounted ideas of reconciliation with his native land, Great Britain. He believed that the American Revolution was an ethical agitation for a transparent political system, and that the land of America was a superpower in its own right.
Thomas was a man who lacked tactical ability. This is evident in his failed employment and entrepreneurship ventures. He became infamous for provoking controversy and lived a penniless life for a period of time. He lived on borrowed funds from good friends and the occasional reward from the French envoy in America. Congress eventually empathized with Thomas Paine by rewarding him a sum of $3000 in cash and New York went a step further by granting him a Loyalist Farm at New Rochelle.
The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
It was during this dark period of American history, when Thomas Paine published a pamphlet called “Common Sense” on January 10, 1776 after the revolution broke out in 1775. It further enhanced his reputation as revolutionary propagandist. Confirmed publication sales of the “Common Sense” journal swelled to the tune of around 500,000 copies in 3 months which included sales of pirated versions as well. The whole idea or content of the pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ was resentment against the Crown Monarchy thereby instigating people to do so. Thomas Paine believed America was a superpower, unthinkably unconquerable and free to choose its own government or political system. The pamphlet spread around like wildfire in the streets of America, garnering warranted support and enthusiasm for separation from Great Britain and encouraging recruitment for the domestic continental army.
Again as we discussed earlier, life was more tyrannical for the average American citizen under the sovereign British rule. Thomas Paine expressed ideas of democracy in his acclaimed literary composition, the “Common Sense.” He envisioned principles of democracy, spelt out clear ideas to the common man to strive for a noble democratic cause unlike cynical complex ideas composed by his contemporaries. Scholars laid further claim to proof of evidence and subsequent success that compounded it.
Despite the pamphlet ‘Common Sense’ becoming an overwhelming success with the common masses, it had little impact on the Continental Congress. The pamphlet was unable to influence the Congress’ decision to issue a Declaration of Independence. The content of the pamphlet emphasized more declaration of independence as an impact on the war effort. In brief, Thomas Paine initiated and instigated a public awareness movement about democracy which previously was suppressed for unknown reasons.
The opposition and loyalists during these times released a series of scathing attacks against Thomas Paine. A loyalist in the form of Ms. Marylander James Chambers claimed Thomas Paine to be a political quack and an unknown quantity in political circles. Others instilled fear into people’s minds that without monarchy the government would crumble and end up a failed state. Even some American revolutionaries ridiculed Thomas Paine’s idea of radical democracy. Somewhere in late 1776, Thomas Paine came up with another piece of inspiring literary wonder called the “Crisis”. The motto of this pamphlet was to incite and inspire the Americans in their long lost battles against the British army. This pamphlet further deliberated a noteworthy cause, a wide gulf in reasoning of the honest American citizen as compared to his selfish power hungry provincial counterpart. As an act of integrity and loyalty, the then General George Washington spelt the contents of the “Crisis” pamphlet loud and clear to his fellow soldiers to egg them on.
After the American Revolutionary War
In 1777, Thomas Paine was appointed as Secretary for Foreign Affairs on the Congressional Committee. However, the following year led to his expulsion from the Congress Committee as he was found guilty in a breach of conduct. He confessed to secret negotiations with France in his pamphlets. However in the year 1781 he accompanied John Laurens on his proclaimed revolutionary mission to France. During this period, the Congress and New York state recognized and rewarded him for his political contribution to American society. Thomas Paine was also instrumental in generating funds from France along with John Laurens for helping to initiate and fight the American Revolutionary War. Part of the revolutionary war funding also came about through help of the Bank of North America upon approval by the Congressional Committee, to which Thomas Paine and John Laurens are still credited date. Thomas Paine thereby retired after the American Revolutionary War in 1783 to New Jersey and lived there periodically till he eventually passed away in 1783.
Literary Work, Political, and Religious Views
Besides the highly acclaimed “Common Sense” and “Crisis,” Thomas Paine penned a few other famous pamphlets and journals as well. “Names like Rights of Man,” “The Age of Reason,” “Agrarian Justice,” and “On the Origins of Freemasonry” are some of his other works. Thomas Paine had a democratic outlook on the political front. Experts further state that this democratic nature was inherited by his father. Thomas Paine further never believed in religion or sects but believed in one God. Though he did publish an article on freemasonry, there was no concrete evidence that he was part of the Freemason sect either.