The biography of Thomas Paine shows the humble origins of a man who is often described as a professional radical and a revolutionary propagandist. Paine was one of the founding fathers of the United States; Thomas Paine's Common Sense is credited with helping to win widespread support for independence from England.
Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, England in 1737. His father was a Quaker and worked as a corset maker. After he completed his schooling, Thomas returned home to work as an apprentice corset maker. He soon grew tired of the work and left to pursue other ventures. He tried several other jobs, including a brief stint as a London schoolteacher, before eventually becoming a tax officer in Lewes.
It was in Lewes that Paine got involved in politics. He served on the town council and he started a debate club in a local pub. After a short time, he demanded higher wages from his employer. He published a pamphlet entitled, The Case of the Officers of Excise, to further his cause.
This did not set well with his employers and they fired him. Left with no job and no prospects, he emigrated to America. Paine found support in America from Benjamin Franklin; the two met while Paine was working as schoolteacher in London.
Life in America
Paine arrived in America in 1774 and promptly settled in Pennsylvania. Although his background was in corset making, once in America he became a journalist. He published a majority of his work in Pennsylvania Magazine. His articles covered a variety of topics, including several anti-slavery pieces.
Paine published Common Sense in 1176. His pamphlet attacked the British Monarchy and encouraged colonists to become independent. It became the most popular pamphlet published in the American colonies up to that time, helping to build popular support for independence from England. During the Revolution, Paine served with Washington's Army and wrote several more articles and pamphlets on the superiority of democracy over monarchy.
Back to Europe
After the war, Paine took no part in American government. In 1787, he returned to Britain. While in Britain, he continued to publish political manuscripts. His work The Rights of Man was published in 1791. Like Common Sense, it became a popular tool to win support for revolution, this time in France. The book argued for voting rights for all men over 21, as well as for fair taxes. Paine lived in France for a short time. While there he was elected to the French National Convention.
His downfall came when he published The Age of Reason. In it, he argued against institutionalized religion and Christian doctrines. The book caused him to fall out of favor in Europe and he returned to America. Even in America, he was attacked for writing about church doctrine, and some politicians regarded him with suspicion in light of his involvement with the French Revolution. Paine died alone in 1809.