Thomas Paine, an American political writer, born at Thetford, county of Norfolk, England, Jan. 29, 1737, died in New York, June 8,1809. He learned under his father, a Quaker, the trade of staymaking. About 1755 he shipped in a privateer, and in 1759 settled at Sandwich, where he worked at his trade, and preached occasionally as a dissenting minister. In 1760 he obtained a place in the excise at Thetford, and subsequently at Lewes in Sussex, where he also carried on business as a grocer and tobacconist. He was chosen by the excisemen to speak for them, and wrote in 1772 "The Case of the Officers of the Excise." Being accused of smuggling in connection with his business as a grocer, he was dismissed from the excise. Benjamin Franklin having advised him to go to America, he arrived in Philadelphia in December, 1774, and was employed as editor of the "Pennsylvania Magazine." In October, 1775, he published in the "Pennsylvania Journal" his "Serious Thoughts," in which he declared his hope of the ultimate abolition of slavery, and his belief in the separation of America from Great Britain. His writings attracted the attention of Dr. Benjamin Rush, at whose suggestion, it is said, he wrote "Common Sense," a pamphlet advocating an independent republic.
It made a profound impression, and is said to have had a wider circulation than any paper published until that time in America. It was strongly opposed and denounced, hut struck the keynote of popular feeling, and contributed much to the dissemination of republican ideas. The legislature gave him £500, and the university of Pennsylvania conferred upon him the honorary degree of M. A. The work was first published anonymously and without copyright, and its great circulation did not reimburse the author.
After independence was declared Paine volunteered in Gen. Roberdeau's division of the flying camp, and afterward was aide-de-camp to Gen. Greene. In December, 1770, he published his first "Crisis," which began with the phrase: " These are the times that try men's souls." This was read by order at the head of every regiment, and did much to rouse the drooping ardor of the people. A second number of the " Crisis " appeared after the battle of Trenton, and other numbers at irregular intervals, until the 18th and last on the attainment of peace, April 19, 1783. In 1777 he was elected secretary to the committee on foreign affairs, but was censured by congress and obliged to resign for making improper use of official secrets in his letters in the "Pennsylvania Packet" against Silas Deane. In November, 1779, he was elected clerk to the general assembly of Pennsylvania. In the following June a letter was received by the assembly of Pennsylvania from Gen. Washington, saying that, notwithstanding his confidence in the attachment of the army to the cause of the country, he feared their distresses would soon cause mutiny in the ranks. This letter was read by Paine as clerk. A despairing silence pervaded the hall, and the assembly soon adjourned.
Paine wrote to Blair McClenaghan, a merchant of Philadelphia, explaining the urgency of affairs, and enclosed in the letter $500, the amount of salary due him as clerk, as his contribution toward a relief fund. McClenaghan called a meeting next day and read Paine's letter; a subscription list was immediately circulated, and in a short time £300,000 Pennsylvania currency was collected. With this as a capital, the Pennsylvania bank (afterward expanded into the bank of North America) was established for the relief of the army. In 1781 Paine was sent with Col. Laurens to France to negotiate a loan, and secured (3,000,000 livres from the French government, and its guarantee for 10,000,000 advanced by Holland. In 1782 he wrote a " Letter to the Abbe Raynal," correcting mistakes in the account by the latter of the American revolution. In January, 1785, he was elected a member of the American philosophical society, and in the following October received $3,000 from congress as a testimonial for his services during the revolution; and the state of New York granted him a house and farm of 300 acres in New Rochelle, it be-ing the confiscated estate of a royalist, On April 20, 1787, he sailed for France, where he was cordially received by many eminent men.
He submitted the model of an iron bridge which he had invented to the academy of sciences at Paris, whose opinion of its merits was decidedly favorable. In September he visited his mother in England, and wrote the "Prospects of the Rubicon." In 1788 he resided at Rotherham in Yorkshire, superintending the erection of his iron bridge, of which Stephenson says: "If we are to consider Paine as its author, his daring in engineering certainly does full justice to the fervor of his political career; for successful as the result has undoubtedly proved, want of experience and consequent ignorance of the risk could alone have induced so bold an experiment; and we are rather led to wonder at than admire a structure which, as regards its proportions, and the quantity of material employed in its construction, will probably remain unrivalled." This bridge was put up for exhibition in an open field at Paddington, and was afterward taken down and the materials used in the one which now spans the river Wear at Sunderland. In 1791 appeared the first part of his " Rights of Man," written as a reply to Burke's " Reflections on the French Revolution;" the second part was issued in 1792. This work had an immense circulation, and was translated into French. The American edition was prefaced with a commendatory note by Thomas Jefferson. In 1792 he gave the revolutionary society of England an order on Jordan, his publisher, for £1,000, to be applied in the furtherance of their objects.
In September of the same year a deputation from France announced to Paine his election to the French national convention from the department of Calais. He immediately left England to take his seat, and met with a triumphant reception in Paris. The revolutionary doctrines of the "Rights of Man" caused his indictment in London for sedition. The following December his trial took place, and, not appearing to receive his sentence, he was outlawed. In the national convention Paine generally voted with the Girondists. He was associated with Brissot and Condorcet on the committee that framed the constitution of 1793. As a member of the convention, he advocated the trial of Louis XVI.; but when the sentence of that unfortunate monarch came up for discussion, he opposed his death, and suggested his banishment to America. He incurred the ill will of the extreme party, and was imprisoned by Robespierre as a foreigner. On his way to prison he placed the manuscript of the first part of his "Age of Reason" in the hands of Joel Barlow. His confinement lasted from January to November, 1794. When he was first arrested, the Americans in Paris went in a body to apply for the release of " the apostle of liberty in America," as they styled him; but they were unsuccessful.
A few months after the death of Robespierre, James Monroe, the American minister in France, procured his liberation, and tendered him a home in his own family, which Paine enjoyed for about 18 months. In December he resumed his seat in the national convention, on the invitation of its members. In 1795 the second part of the "Age of Reason" appeared. It was denounced as atheistical, but unjustly. It assailed Christianity with great boldness, though not advancing many new arguments, or displaying any great study of the subject. Its position is deistical, declaring a belief in God and a future life. In April, 179G, he published an essay "On the English System of Finance," and in the following July a "Letter to General Washington," in which he accuses him of ingratitude in not attempting to procure his liberation from his French prison. "Agrarian Justice," and a " Letter to the People and Armies of France," appeared in 1797. In 1802 Paine resolved to return to the United States, and at his request President Jefferson offered him a passage in the sloop of war Maryland, that he might be secure from British capture.
He arrived at Baltimore, after an absence from the United States of 15 years, on Oct. 30, 1802. Jefferson invited him to Mon-ticello. At Washington he was cordially received; and while there he wrote his " Letters to the People of the United States." On his way to New York he was grossly insulted by the federalists at Trenton. His admirers in New York and Philadelphia honored him with public dinners; his enemies thought that he and Jefferson "should dangle from the same gallows." He finally settled in New York, occasionally passing a few months on his farm at New Rochelle. Just before his death he requested to be interred in a Quaker burial ground; but the Quakers refusing to permit this, his remains were taken to New Rochelle and buried on his farm. In 1819 William Cob-bett, the English reformer, took his bones to England. A monument was erected to his memory in 1839 within a few feet of the spot where he was originally buried. A memorial building was dedicated in Boston, Jan. 29, 1875, having over the entrance the inscription: "Paine Memorial Building and Home of the Boston Investigator." - Among the biographers of Paine are George Chalmers, under the pseu-donyme of Francis Oldvs (London, 1791; 5th ed., 1792), William Cobbett (1796), James Cheatham (New York, 1809), T. C. Rickman (London, 1814), W. T. Sherwin (1819), and Gilbert Vale (New York, 1841). The most complete edition of his works is that by J. P. Mendum (Boston, 1856), which however contains several articles not by Paine. A new edition of his political works, with a report of his trial in 1792, and also of his theological works, was published in London in 1861.