Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
Born in Thetford, England, on January 29, 1737, Thomas Paine emigrated to America in 1774, arriving just before the dawn of the American Revolution. At first an advocate of reconciliation with England, after the battles of Lexington and Concord, he became an outspoken propagandist for the Revolution. His great and highly influential pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, was the first explicit assault on the rule of America by the British crown. In simple, concise language, Paine laid out how an independent government could be controlled by the people, and how rich and poor alike could share equally the privileges and resonsibilities of government, and how no special preferment should be attached to any one religious sect, but that religious diversity should be respected.
Following the War of Independence, Paine returned to England and was welcomed as a celebrity. He fell from favor, however, when he published The Rights of Man, a defense of the French Revolution, in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Forced to leave England by the controversy, he went to France where he was given citizenship. However, after he spoke out in favor of the deposed King Louis XVI, Paine was imprisoned in 1793 and nearly executed. While in prison, he began writing The Age of Reason, an expression of his philosophy and religious belief. Although regarded as a declaration of atheism, The Age of Reason actually espoused deism.
Paine returned to the United States in 1802. While welcomed by President Thomas Jefferson as a champion of liberty and a "father of the American Revolution," Paine was ostracized by many as "that outrageous blasphemer." Paine died in New York City on June 8, 1809.
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