Thomas Paine (or Pain; February 9, 1737 [O.S. January 29, 1736][Note 1] – June 8, 1809) was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution and inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. Saul K. Padover described him as "a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination".
Born in Thetford in the English county of Norfolk, Paine migrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read (or listened to a reading of) his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), proportionally the all-time best-selling American title, which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–1783) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said: "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain".
Paine lived in France for most of the 1790s, becoming deeply involved in the French Revolution. He wrote Rights of Man (1791), in part a defense of the French Revolution against its critics. His attacks on Irish conservative writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia in England in 1792 for the crime of seditious libel. The British government of William Pitt the Younger, worried by the possibility that the French Revolution might spread to England, had begun suppressing works that espoused radical philosophies. Paine's work, which advocated the right of the people to overthrow their government, was duly targeted, with a writ for his arrest issued in early 1792. Paine fled to France in September where, rather immediately and despite not being able to speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention. The Girondists regarded him as an ally. Consequently, the Montagnards, especially Maximilien Robespierre, regarded him as an enemy.
In December 1793, he was arrested and was taken to Luxembourg Prison in Paris. While in prison, he continued to work on The Age of Reason (1793–1794). Future President James Monroe used his diplomatic connections to get Paine released in November 1794. He became notorious because of his pamphlets The Age of Reason, in which he advocated deism, promoted reason and free thought and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular. He also published the pamphlet Agrarian Justice (1797), discussing the origins of property and introduced the concept of a guaranteed minimum income. In 1802, he returned to the U.S. where he died on June 8, 1809. Only six people attended his funeral as he had been ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity.
Paine was born on January 29, 1736 (NS February 9, 1737),[Note 1] the son of Joseph Pain (or Paine) and Frances (née Cocke), in Thetford, Norfolk, England. Joseph was a Quaker and Frances an Anglican. Born Thomas Pain, and despite claims that he changed his family name upon his emigration to America in 1774, he was using Paine in 1769, while still in Lewes, Sussex.
He attended Thetford Grammar School (1744–1749), at a time when there was no compulsory education. At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to his stay-maker father. Paine researchers contend his father's occupation has been widely misinterpreted to mean that he made the stays in ladies' corsets, which likely was an insult later invented by his political foes. The father and apprentice son actually made the thick rope stays (also called stay ropes) used on sailing ships.[better source needed]  Thetford historically had maintained a brisk trade with the downriver, then major, port town of King's Lynn.[not in citation given]
A connection to shipping and the sea explains why, in late adolescence, Thomas enlisted and briefly served as a privateer,[better source needed] before returning to Britain in 1759. There, he became a master stay-maker, establishing a shop in Sandwich, Kent. On September 27, 1759, Thomas Paine married Mary Lambert. His business collapsed soon after. Mary became pregnant; and, after they moved to Margate, she went into early labor, in which she and their child died.
In July 1761, Paine returned to Thetford to work as a supernumerary officer. In December 1762, he became an Excise Officer in Grantham, Lincolnshire; in August 1764, he was transferred to Alford, also in Lincolnshire, at a salary of £50 per annum. On August 27, 1765, he was dismissed as an Excise Officer for "claiming to have inspected goods he did not inspect". On July 31, 1766, he requested his reinstatement from the Board of Excise, which they granted the next day, upon vacancy. While awaiting that, he worked as a stay-maker. Again, he was making stay ropes for shipping, not stays for corsets.
In 1767, he was appointed to a position in Grampound, Cornwall. Later he asked to leave this post to await a vacancy, and he became a schoolteacher in London.
On February 19, 1768, he was appointed to Lewes in Sussex, a town with a tradition of opposition to the monarchy and pro-republican sentiments since the revolutionary decades of the 17th century. Here he lived above the 15th-century Bull House, the tobacco shop of Samuel Ollive and Esther Ollive.
Paine first became involved in civic matters when he was based in Lewes. He appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish vestry, an influential local church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at age 34, he married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord's daughter.
From 1772 to 1773, Paine joined excise officers asking Parliament for better pay and working conditions, publishing, in summer of 1772, The Case of the Officers of Excise, a 12-page article, and his first political work, spending the London winter distributing the 4,000 copies printed to the Parliament and others. In spring 1774, he was again dismissed from the excise service for being absent from his post without permission; his tobacco shop failed, too. On April 14, to avoid debtors' prison, he sold his household possessions to pay debts. On June 4, 1774, he formally separated from his wife Elizabeth and moved to London, where, in September, mathematician, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Commissioner of the Excise George Lewis Scott introduced him to Benjamin Franklin, who suggested emigration to British colonial America, and gave him a letter of recommendation. In October, Paine emigrated to the American colonies, arriving in Philadelphia on November 30, 1774.
He barely survived the transatlantic voyage. The ship's water supplies were bad and typhoid fever killed five passengers. On arriving at Philadelphia, he was too sick to disembark. Benjamin Franklin's physician, there to welcome Paine to America, had him carried off ship; Paine took six weeks to recover. He became a citizen of Pennsylvania "by taking the oath of allegiance at a very early period". In January 1775, he became editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, a position he conducted with considerable ability.
Paine has a claim to the title The Father of the American Revolution, which rests on his pamphlets, especially Common Sense, which crystallized sentiment for independence in 1776. It was published in Philadelphia on January 10, 1776, and signed anonymously "by an Englishman". It became an immediate success, quickly spreading 100,000 copies in three months to the two million residents of the 13 colonies. During the course of the American Revolution, a total of about 500,000 copies were sold, including unauthorized editions. Paine's original title for the pamphlet was Plain Truth, but Paine's friend, pro-independence advocate Benjamin Rush, suggested Common Sense instead.
The pamphlet came into circulation in January 1776, after the Revolution had started. It was passed around and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the idea of republicanism, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. Paine provided a new and convincing argument for independence by advocating a complete break with history. Common Sense is oriented to the future in a way that compels the reader to make an immediate choice. It offers a solution for Americans disgusted with and alarmed at the threat of tyranny.
Paine's attack on monarchy in Common Sense is essentially an attack on George III. Whereas colonial resentments were originally directed primarily against the king's ministers and Parliament, Paine laid the responsibility firmly at the king's door. Common Sense was the most widely read pamphlet of the American Revolution. It was a clarion call for unity against the corrupt British court, so as to realize America's providential role in providing an asylum for liberty. Written in a direct and lively style, it denounced the decaying despotisms of Europe and pilloried hereditary monarchy as an absurdity. At a time when many still hoped for reconciliation with Britain, Common Sense demonstrated to many the inevitability of separation.
Paine was not on the whole expressing original ideas in Common Sense, but rather employing rhetoric as a means to arouse resentment of the Crown. To achieve these ends, he pioneered a style of political writing suited to the democratic society he envisioned, with Common Sense serving as a primary example. Part of Paine's work was to render complex ideas intelligible to average readers of the day, with clear, concise writing unlike the formal, learned style favored by many of Paine's contemporaries. Scholars have put forward various explanations to account for its success, including the historic moment, Paine's easy-to-understand style, his democratic ethos, and his use of psychology and ideology.
Common Sense was immensely popular in disseminating to a very wide audience ideas that were already in common use among the elite who comprised Congress and the leadership cadre of the emerging nation, who rarely cited Paine's arguments in their public calls for independence. The pamphlet probably had little direct influence on the Continental Congress' decision to issue a Declaration of Independence, since that body was more concerned with how declaring independence would affect the war effort. Paine's great contribution was in initiating a public debate about independence which had previously been rather muted.
One distinctive idea in Common Sense is Paine's beliefs regarding the peaceful nature of republics; his views were an early and strong conception of what scholars would come to call the democratic peace theory.
Loyalists vigorously attacked Common Sense; one attack, titled Plain Truth (1776), by Marylander James Chalmers, said Paine was a political quack and warned that without monarchy, the government would "degenerate into democracy". Even some American revolutionaries objected to Common Sense; late in life John Adams called it a "crapulous mass". Adams disagreed with the type of radical democracy promoted by Paine (that men who did not own property should still be allowed to vote and hold public office) and published Thoughts on Government in 1776 to advocate a more conservative approach to republicanism.
Sophia Rosenfeld argues that Paine was highly innovative in his use of the commonplace notion of "common sense". He synthesized various philosophical and political uses of the term in a way that permanently impacted American political thought. He used two ideas from Scottish Common Sense Realism: that ordinary people can indeed make sound judgments on major political issues, and that there exists a body of popular wisdom that is readily apparent to anyone. Paine also used a notion of "common sense" favored by philosophes in the Continental Enlightenment. They held that common sense could refute the claims of traditional institutions. Thus, Paine used "common sense" as a weapon to delegitimize the monarchy and overturn prevailing conventional wisdom. Rosenfeld concludes that the phenomenal appeal of his pamphlet resulted from his synthesis of popular and elite elements in the independence movement.
According to historian Robert Middlekauff, Common Sense became immensely popular mainly because Paine appealed to widespread convictions. Monarchy, he said, was preposterous and it had a heathenish origin. It was an institution of the devil. Paine pointed to the Old Testament, where almost all kings had seduced the Israelites to worship idols instead of God. Paine also denounced aristocracy, which together with monarchy were "two ancient tyrannies." They violated the laws of nature, human reason, and the "universal order of things," which began with God. That was, Middlekauff says, exactly what most Americans wanted to hear. He calls the Revolutionary generation "the children of the twice-born". because in their childhood they had experienced the Great Awakening, which, for the first time, had tied Americans together, transcending denominational and ethnic boundaries and giving them a sense of patriotism.
In late 1776, Paine published The American Crisis pamphlet series to inspire the Americans in their battles against the British army. He juxtaposed the conflict between the good American devoted to civic virtue and the selfish provincial man. To inspire his soldiers, General George Washington had The American Crisis, first Crisis pamphlet, read aloud to them. It begins:
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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
In 1777, Paine became secretary of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs. The following year, he alluded to secret negotiation underway with France in his pamphlets. His enemies denounced his indiscretions. There was scandal; together with Paine's conflict with Robert Morris and Silas Deane it led to Paine's expulsion from the Committee in 1779.
However, in 1781, he accompanied John Laurens on his mission to France. Eventually, after much pleading from Paine, New York State recognized his political services by presenting him with an estate at New Rochelle, New York and Paine received money from Pennsylvania and from Congress at Washington's suggestion. During the Revolutionary War, Paine served as an aide-de-camp to the important general, Nathanael Greene.
In what may have been an error, and perhaps even contributed to his resignation as the secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Paine was openly critical of Silas Deane, an American diplomat who had been appointed in March 1776 by the Congress to travel to France in secret. Deane's goal was to influence the French government to finance the colonists in their fight for independence. Paine largely saw Deane as a war profiteer who had little respect for principle, having been under the employ of Robert Morris, one of the primary financiers of the American Revolution and working with Pierre Beaumarchais, a French royal agent sent to the colonies by King Louis to investigate the Anglo-American conflict. Paine labelled Deane as unpatriotic, and demanded that there be a public investigation into Morris' financing of the Revolution, as he had contracted with his own company for around $500,000.
Unfortunately, Paine's criticisms turned against him. Amongst his criticisms, he had written in the Pennsylvania Packet that France had "prefaced [their] alliance by an early and generous friendship," referring to aid that had been provided to American colonies prior to the recognition of the Franco-American treaties. This was effectively an embarrassment to France, which potentially could have jeopardised the alliance. John Jay, the President of the Congress who had been a fervent supporter of Deane, immediately spoke out against Paine's comments. The controversy eventually became public, and Paine was then denounced as unpatriotic for criticising an American revolutionary. He was even physically assaulted twice in the street by Deane supporters. This much added stress took a large toll on Paine, who was generally of a sensitive character and he resigned as secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs in 1779.
Paine accompanied Col. John Laurens to France and is credited with initiating the mission. It landed in France in March 1781 and returned to America in August with 2.5 million livres in silver, as part of a "present" of 6 million and a loan of 10 million. The meetings with the French king were most likely conducted in the company and under the influence of Benjamin Franklin. Upon returning to the United States with this highly welcomed cargo, Thomas Paine and probably Col. Laurens, "positively objected" that General Washington should propose that Congress remunerate him for his services, for fear of setting "a bad precedent and an improper mode". Paine made influential acquaintances in Paris and helped organize the Bank of North America to raise money to supply the army. In 1785, he was given $3,000 by the U.S. Congress in recognition of his service to the nation.
Henry Laurens (father of Col. John Laurens) had been the ambassador to the Netherlands, but he was captured by the British on his return trip there. When he was later exchanged for the prisoner Lord Cornwallis (in late 1781), Paine proceeded to the Netherlands to continue the loan negotiations. There remains some question as to the relationship of Henry Laurens and Thomas Paine to Robert Morris as the Superintendent of Finance and his business associate Thomas Willing who became the first president of the Bank of North America (in January 1782). They had accused Morris of profiteering in 1779 and Willing had voted against the Declaration of Independence. Although Morris did much to restore his reputation in 1780 and 1781, the credit for obtaining these critical loans to "organize" the Bank of North America for approval by Congress in December 1781 should go to Henry or John Laurens and Thomas Paine more than to Robert Morris.
Paine bought his only house in 1783 on the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Church Streets in Bordentown City, New Jersey and he lived in it periodically until his death in 1809. This is the only place in the world where Paine purchased real estate.
In 1787, a bridge of Paine's design was built across the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia. At this time his work on single-arch iron bridges led him back to Paris, France. Because Paine had few friends when arriving in France aside from Lafayette and Jefferson, he continued to correspond heavily with Benjamin Franklin, a long time friend and mentor. Franklin provided letters of introduction for Paine to use to gain associates and contacts in France.
Later that year, Paine returned to London from Paris. He then released a pamphlet on August 20 called Prospects on the Rubicon: or, an investigation into the Causes and Consequences of the Politics to be Agitated at the Meeting of Parliament. Tensions between England and France were increasing, and this pamphlet urged the British Ministry to reconsider the consequences of war with France. Paine sought to turn the public opinion against the war to create better relations between the countries, avoid the taxes of war upon the citizens, and not engage in a war he believed would ruin both nations.
Back in London by 1787, Paine would become engrossed in the French Revolution after it began in 1789, and decided to travel to France in 1790. Meanwhile, conservative intellectual Edmund Burke launched a counterrevolutionary blast against the French Revolution, entitled Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), which strongly appealed to the landed class, and sold 30,000 copies. Paine set out to refute it in his Rights of Man (1791). He wrote it not as a quick pamphlet, but as a long, abstract political tract of 90,000 words which tore apart monarchies and traditional social institutions. On January 31, 1791, he gave the manuscript to publisher Joseph Johnson. A visit by government agents dissuaded Johnson, so Paine gave the book to publisher J.S. Jordan, then went to Paris, per William Blake's advice. He charged three good friends, William Godwin, Thomas Brand Hollis, and Thomas Holcroft, with handling publication details. The book appeared on March 13, 1791 and sold nearly a million copies. It was "eagerly read by reformers, Protestant dissenters, democrats, London craftsman, and the skilled factory-hands of the new industrial north".
Undeterred by the government campaign to discredit him, Paine issued his Rights of Man, Part the Second, Combining Principle and Practice in February 1792. It detailed a representative government with enumerated social programs to remedy the numbing poverty of commoners through progressive tax measures. Radically reduced in price to ensure unprecedented circulation, it was sensational in its impact and gave birth to reform societies. An indictment for seditious libel followed, for both publisher and author, while government agents followed Paine and instigated mobs, hate meetings, and burnings in effigy. A fierce pamphlet war also resulted, in which Paine was defended and assailed in dozens of works. The authorities aimed, with ultimate success, to chase Paine out of Great Britain. He was then tried in absentia and found guilty, though never executed. The French translation of Rights of Man, Part II was published in April 1792. The translator, François Lanthenas, eliminated the dedication to Lafayette, as he believed Paine thought too highly of Lafayette, who was seen as a royalist sympathizer at the time.
In summer of 1792, he answered the sedition and libel charges thus: "If, to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy ... to promote universal peace, civilization, and commerce, and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank; if these things be libellous ... let the name of libeller be engraved on my tomb".
Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution, and was granted honorary French citizenship alongside prominent contemporaries such as Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others. Paine's honorary citizenship was in recognition of the publishing of his Rights of Man, Part II and the sensation it created within France. Despite his inability to speak French, he was elected to the National Convention, representing the district of Pas-de-Calais. A few weeks after being elected to the National Convention, Paine was selected as one of nine deputies to be part of the Convention's Constitutional Committee, who were charged to draft a suitable constitution for the French Republic. He subsequentially participated in the Constitutional Committee in drafting the Girondin constitutional project. He voted for the French Republic, but argued against the execution of Louis XVI, saying that he should instead be exiled to the United States: firstly, because of the way royalist France had come to the aid of the American Revolution; and secondly, because of a moral objection to capital punishment in general and to revenge killings in particular. However, Paine’s speech in defense of Louis XVI was interrupted by Jean-Paul Marat, who claimed that as a Quaker, Paine’s religious beliefs ran counter to inflicting capital punishment and thus he should be ineligible to vote. Marat interrupted a second time, stating that the translator was deceiving the convention by distorting the meanings of Paine’s words, prompting Paine to provide a copy of the speech as proof that he was being correctly translated.
Regarded as an ally of the Girondins, he was seen with increasing disfavor by the Montagnards, who were now in power; and in particular by Maximilien Robespierre. A decree was passed at the end of 1793 excluding foreigners from their places in the Convention (Anacharsis Cloots was also deprived of his place). Paine was arrested and imprisoned in December 1793.
Thomas Paine wrote the second part of Rights of Man on a desk in Thomas 'Clio' Rickman's house, with whom he was staying in 1792 before he fled to France. This desk is currently on display in the People's History Museum in Manchester.
Paine was arrested in France on December 28, 1793. Joel Barlow was unsuccessful in securing Paine’s release by circulating a petition among American residents in Paris. Sixteen American citizens were allowed to plead for Paine’s release to the Convention, yet President Marc-Guillaume Alexis Vadier of the Committee of General Security refused to acknowledge Paine’s American citizenship, stating he was an Englishman and a citizen of a country at war with France. Paine himself protested and claimed that he was a citizen of the U.S., which was an ally of Revolutionary France, rather than of Great Britain, which was by that time at war with France. However, Gouverneur Morris, the American minister to France, did not press his claim, and Paine later wrote that Morris had connived at his imprisonment. Paine narrowly escaped execution. A chalk mark was supposed to be left by the gaoler on the door of a cell to denote that the prisoner inside was due to be removed for execution. In Paine's case, the mark had accidentally been made on the inside of his door rather than the outside; this was due to the fact that the door of Paine's cell had been left open whilst the gaoler was making his rounds that day, since Paine had been receiving official visitors. But for this quirk of fate, Paine would have been executed the following morning. He kept his head and survived the few vital days needed to be spared by the fall of Robespierre on 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794).
Paine was released in November 1794 largely because of the work of the new American Minister to France, James Monroe, who successfully argued the case for Paine's American citizenship. In July 1795, he was re-admitted into the Convention, as were other surviving Girondins. Paine was one of only three députés to oppose the adoption of the new 1795 constitution because it eliminated universal suffrage, which had been proclaimed by the Montagnard Constitution of 1793.
In 1796, a bridge he designed was erected over the mouth of the Wear River at Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England. This bridge, the Sunderland arch, was after the same design as his Schuylkill River Bridge in Philadelphia and it became the prototype for many subsequent voussoir arches made in iron and steel. In addition to receiving a British patent for the single-span iron bridge, Paine developed a smokeless candle and worked with inventor John Fitch in developing steam engines.
In 1797, Paine lived in Paris with Nicholas Bonneville and his wife. As well as Bonneville's other controversial guests, Paine aroused the suspicions of authorities. Bonneville hid the Royalist Antoine Joseph Barruel-Beauvert at his home. Beauvert had been outlawed following the coup of 18 Fructidor on September 4, 1797. Paine believed that the United States under President John Adams had betrayed revolutionary France. Bonneville was then briefly jailed and his presses were confiscated, which meant financial ruin.
In 1800, still under police surveillance, Bonneville took refuge with his father in Evreux. Paine stayed on with him, helping Bonneville with the burden of translating the "Covenant Sea". The same year, Paine purportedly had a meeting with Napoleon. Napoleon claimed he slept with a copy of Rights of Man under his pillow and went so far as to say to Paine that "a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe". Paine discussed with Napoleon how best to invade England and in December 1797 wrote two essays, one of which was pointedly named Observations on the Construction and Operation of Navies with a Plan for an Invasion of England and the Final Overthrow of the English Government, in which he promoted the idea to finance 1,000 gunboats to carry a French invading army across the English Channel. In 1804, Paine returned to the subject, writing To the People of England on the Invasion of England advocating the idea.
On noting Napoleon's progress towards dictatorship, he condemned him as "the completest charlatan that ever existed". Paine remained in France until 1802, returning to the United States only at President Jefferson's invitation.
Paine believed that U.S. President George Washington had conspired with Robespierre to imprison him. He had felt largely betrayed that Washington, who had been a lifelong friend, did nothing while Paine suffered in prison. While staying with Monroe, he planned to send Washington a letter of grievance on the former President's birthday. Monroe stopped the letter from being sent just in time and after Paine's criticism of the Jay Treaty Monroe suggested that Paine reside somewhere else.
Still embittered by the perceived betrayal, Paine tried to ruin Washington's reputation by calling him a treacherous man who was unworthy of his fame as a military and political hero. He sent a stinging letter to Washington, in which he described him as an incompetent commander and a vain and ungrateful person. Paine never received a reply, so he contacted his lifelong publisher, the anti-Federalist Benjamin Bache to publish this Letter to George Washington in 1796. In this scathing publication, Paine wrote that "the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any". He further wrote that without the aid of France, Washington could not have succeeded in the Revolution and had "but little share in the glory of the final event". He also commented on Washington's poor character, saying that Washington had no sympathetic feelings and was a hypocrite.
In 1802 or 1803, Paine left France for the United States, paying passage also for Bonneville's wife Marguerite Brazier and their three sons, seven-year-old Benjamin, Louis and Thomas, to whom Paine was godfather. Paine returned to the United States in the early stages of the Second Great Awakening and a time of great political partisanship. The Age of Reason gave ample excuse for the religiously devout to dislike him and the Federalists attacked him for his ideas of government stated in Common Sense, for his association with the French Revolution and for his friendship with President Jefferson. Also still fresh in the minds of the public was his Letter to Washington, published six years before his return. This was compounded when his right to vote was denied in New Rochelle on the grounds that Gouverneur Morris did not recognize him as an American and Washington had not aided him.
Brazier took care of Paine at the end of his life and buried him after his death on June 8, 1809. In his will, Paine left the bulk of his estate to Marguerite, including 100 acres (40.5 ha) of his farm so she could maintain and educate Benjamin and his brother Thomas. In 1814, the fall of Napoleon finally allowed Bonneville to rejoin his wife in the United States where he remained for four years before returning to Paris to open a bookshop.
On the morning of June 8, 1809, Paine died at the age of 72 at 59 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, New York City Although the original building is no longer there, the present building has a plaque noting that Paine died at this location.
After his death, Paine's body was brought to New Rochelle, but the Quakers would not allow it to be buried in their graveyard as per his last will, so his remains were buried under a walnut tree on his farm. In 1819, the English agrarian radical journalist William Cobbett, who in 1793 had published a hostile continuation of Francis Oldys (George Chalmer)'s The Life of Thomas Paine, dug up his bones and transported them back to England with the intention to give Paine a heroic reburial on his native soil, but this never came to pass. The bones were still among Cobbett's effects when he died over twenty years later, but were later lost. There is no confirmed story about what happened to them after that, although various people have claimed throughout the years to own parts of Paine's remains, such as his skull and right hand.
At the time of his death, most American newspapers reprinted the obituary notice from the New York Evening Post that was in turn quoting from The American Citizen, which read in part: "He had lived long, did some good, and much harm". Only six mourners came to his funeral, two of whom were black, most likely freedmen. Many years later the writer and orator Robert G. Ingersoll wrote:
Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.
Biographer Eric Foner identifies a utopian thread in Paine's thought, writing: "Through this new language he communicated a new vision—a utopian image of an egalitarian, republican society". Paine's utopianism combined civic republicanism, belief in the inevitability of scientific and social progress and commitment to free markets and liberty generally. The multiple sources of Paine's political theory all pointed to a society based on the common good and individualism. Paine expressed a redemptive futurism or political messianism. Writing that his generation "would appear to the future as the Adam of a new world", Paine exemplified British utopianism.
Later, his encounters with the Indigenous peoples of the Americas made a deep impression. The ability of the Iroquois to live in harmony with nature while achieving a democratic decision-making process helped him refine his thinking on how to organize society.
Paine is sometimes credited with writing "African Slavery in America", the first article proposing the emancipation of African-American slaves and the abolition of slavery. It was published on March 8, 1775 in the Postscript to the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser (also known as The Pennsylvania Magazine and American Museum). Citing a lack of evidence that Paine was the author of this anonymously published essay, some scholars (Eric Foner and Alfred Owen Aldridge) no longer consider this one of his works. By contrast, John Nichols speculates that his "fervent objections to slavery" led to his exclusion from power during the early years of the Republic.
His last pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, published in the winter of 1795, opposed to agrarian law and to agrarian monopoly and further developed his ideas in the Rights of Man about how land ownership separated the majority of people from their rightful, natural inheritance and means of independent survival. The U.S. Social Security Administration recognizes Agrarian Justice as the first American proposal for an old-age pension and basic income or citizen's dividend. Per Agrarian Justice:
In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity ... [Government must] create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.
Note that £10 and £15 would be worth about £800 and £1,200 ($1,200 and $2,000) when adjusted for inflation (2011 British pounds sterling).
Lamb argues that Paine's analysis of property rights marks a distinct contribution to political theory. His theory of property defends a libertarian concern with private ownership that shows an egalitarian commitment. Paine's new justification of property sets him apart from previous theorists such as Hugo Grotius, Samuel von Pufendorf and John Locke. It demonstrates Paine's commitment to foundational liberal values of individual freedom and moral equality.
Before his arrest and imprisonment in France, knowing that he would probably be arrested and executed, following in the tradition of early eighteenth-century British deism Paine wrote the first part of The Age of Reason, an assault on organized "revealed" religion combining a compilation of the many inconsistencies he found in the Bible.
About his own religious beliefs, Paine wrote in The Age of Reason:
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
Though there is no evidence Paine himself was a Freemason, upon his return to America from France he also penned "An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry" (1803–1805) about Freemasonry being derived from the religion of the ancient Druids. In the essay, he stated: "The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally paid to the sun". Marguerite de Bonneville published the essay in 1810 after Paine's death, but she chose to omit certain passages from it that were critical of Christianity, most of which were restored in an 1818 printing.
The opinions I have advanced ... are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.
Paine's writing greatly influenced his contemporaries and especially the American revolutionaries. His books provoked an upsurge in deism in the United States, but in the long term inspired philosophic and working-class radicals in the United Kingdom and United States. Liberals, libertarians, left-libertarians, feminists, democratic socialists, social democrats, anarchists, free thinkers and progressives often claim him as an intellectual ancestor. Paine's critique of institutionalized religion and advocacy of rational thinking influenced many British free thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as William Cobbett, George Holyoake, Charles Bradlaugh, Christopher Hitchens and Bertrand Russell.
The quote "Lead, follow, or get out of the way" is widely but incorrectly attributed to Paine. This can be found nowhere in his published works.
When Abraham Lincoln was 26 years old in 1835, he wrote a defense of Paine's deism and a political associate, Samuel Hill, burned it to save Lincoln's political career. Historian Roy Basler, the editor of Lincoln's papers, said Paine had a strong influence on Lincoln's style:
No other writer of the eighteenth century, with the exception of Jefferson, parallels more closely the temper or gist of Lincoln's later thought. In style, Paine above all others affords the variety of eloquence which, chastened and adapted to Lincoln's own mood, is revealed in Lincoln's formal writings.
The inventor Thomas Edison said:
I have always regarded Paine as one of the greatest of all Americans. Never have we had a sounder intelligence in this republic ... It was my good fortune to encounter Thomas Paine's works in my boyhood ... it was, indeed, a revelation to me to read that great thinker's views on political and theological subjects. Paine educated me, then, about many matters of which I had never before thought. I remember, very vividly, the flash of enlightenment that shone from Paine's writings, and I recall thinking, at that time, 'What a pity these works are not today the schoolbooks for all children!' My interest in Paine was not satisfied by my first reading of his works. I went back to them time and again, just as I have done since my boyhood days.
In 1811, Venezuelan translator Manuel Garcia de Sena published a book in Philadelphia which consisted mostly of Spanish translations of several of Paine's most important works. The book also included translations of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution and the constitutions of five U.S. states. It subsequently circulated widely in South America and through it Uruguayan national hero José Gervasio Artigas became familiar with and embraced Paine's ideas. In turn, many of Artigas's writings drew directly from Paine's, including the Instructions of 1813, which Uruguayans consider to be one of their country's most important constitutional documents. It was one of the earliest writings to articulate a principled basis for an identity independent of Buenos Aires.
The first and longest-standing memorial to Paine is the carved and inscribed 12 foot marble column in New Rochelle, New York organized and funded by publisher, educator and reformer Gilbert Vale (1791–1866) and raised in 1839 by the American sculptor and architect John Frazee – the Thomas Paine Monument (see image below).
New Rochelle is also the original site of Thomas Paine's Cottage, which along with a 320-acre (130 ha) farm were presented to Paine in 1784 by act of the New York State Legislature for his services in the American Revolution.
The same site is the home of the Thomas Paine Memorial Museum. Thomas Edison helped to turn the first shovel of earth for the museum which serves as a museum to display both Paine relics as well as others of local historical interest. A large collection of books, pamphlets and pictures is contained in the Paine library, including many first editions of Paine's works as well as several original manuscripts. These holdings, the subject of a sell-off controversy, were temporarily relocated to the New-York Historical Society and have since been more permanently archived in the Iona College library nearby.
Paine was originally buried near the current location of his house and monument upon his death in 1809. The site is marked by a small headstone and burial plaque even though his remains were removed years later.
In the twentieth century, Joseph Lewis, longtime president of the Freethinkers of America and an ardent Paine admirer, was instrumental in having larger-than-life-sized statues of Paine erected in each of the three countries with which the revolutionary writer was associated. The first, created by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum, was erected in Paris just before World War II began, but not formally dedicated until 1948. It depicts Paine standing before the French National Convention to plead for the life of King Louis XVI. The second, sculpted in 1950 by Georg J. Lober, was erected near Paine's one time home in Morristown, New Jersey. It shows a seated Paine using a drum-head as a makeshift table. The third, sculpted by Sir Charles Wheeler, President of the Royal Academy, was erected in 1964 in Paine's birthplace, Thetford, England. With quill pen in his right hand and an inverted copy of The Rights of Man in his left, it occupies a prominent spot on King Street. Thomas Paine was ranked No. 34 in the 100 Greatest Britons 2002 extensive Nationwide poll conducted by the BBC.
A bronze plaque attached to the wall of Thetford's Thomas Paine hotel gives details of Paine's life. It was placed there in 1943 by voluntary contributions from U.S. airmen from a nearby bomber base. Texas folklorist and freethinker J. Frank Dobie, then teaching at Cambridge University, participated in the dedication ceremonies.
In Paris, there is a plaque in the street where he lived from 1797 to 1802 that says: "Thomas PAINE / 1737–1809 / Englishman by birth / American by adoption / French by decree".
Yearly, between July 4 and 14, the Lewes Town Council in the United Kingdom celebrates the life and work of Paine.
In the early 1990s, largely through the efforts of citizen activist David Henley of Virginia, legislation (S.Con.Res 110 and H.R. 1628) was introduced in the 102nd Congress by ideological opposites Sen. Steve Symms (R-ID) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). With over 100 formal letters of endorsement by United States and foreign historians, philosophers and organizations, including the Thomas Paine National Historical Society, the legislation garnered 78 original co-sponsors in the Senate and 230 original co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and was consequently passed by both houses' unanimous consent. In October 1992, the legislation was signed into law (PL102-407 and PL102-459) by President George H. W. Bush authorizing the construction by using private funds of a memorial to Thomas Paine in "Area 1" of the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. As of January 2011[update], the memorial has not yet been built.
As he was certainly not a Master Mason when he wrote the essay—and as there is no evidence he joined the fraternity after then—one may conclude, as have Mackey, Newton, and others, that Paine was not a Freemason. Still, though the 'pantheon of Masons' may not hold Thomas Paine, this influential and controversial man remains connected to Freemasonry, if only due to the close friendships he had with some in the fraternity, and to his having written an intriguing essay on its origins.