English by birth, Paine was raised in Norfolk among farmers and other common people. His formal education was minimal. His major accomplishment as a young man was to be fired twice in four years from his job as collector of excise taxes. His first recorded writing was a short article in favour of better salaries and working conditions. His mother was a member of the Church of England, and his father was a Quaker. There has been some historians who have argued he was strongly influenced in his views by his father.
Paine's advocated a liberal world view, which was radical at the time. He had no use for royalty, and viewed government as a necessary evil. He opposed slavery and was an early supporter of social security, public education[?] and many other ideas that came to fruition decades later. He was a Deist and outspoken critic of organized religion.
Paine worked an Exciseman and after spells in Grantham and Alford, both in Lincolnshire, he was posted on 19 February 1768 to Lewes, East Sussex, England. He had lodgings in the 15th Century Bull House. He was a member of the Headstrong Club, a debating club at the White Hart Inn.
Paine petitioned Parliament on behalf of the Excisemen for better pay but was unsuccessful. After a failed marriage, the bankruptcy of his shop and being fired as an Exciseman he left Lewes looking for a fresh start.
After meeting Benjamin Franklin in London, Paine emigrated to America in September1774 where he published an antislavery tract and became co-editor of Pennsylvania Magazine. No great fan of the British Monarchy, Paine soon became an articulate spokesman for the American independence movement. Paine's pro-independence pamphlet Common Sense published on January 10 of 1776 quickly became well known to every literate colonist. It is claimed that as many as half a million copies may have been distributed in a country with only a few million inhabitants.
Legend tells that Paine was tarred and feathered at one time in New Jersey, but no proof exists of this legend. Many scurrilous tales about Paine were circulated, first by the British during the time of the American Revolution, and later by his political opponents.
Thomas Paine used his powerful ability to present ideas common to his time in clear form, in contrast with highly philosophical approaches used by his colleagues.
Common Sense convinced many Americans, including George Washington to seek redress in political independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Benjamin Rush had a great influence on this work, as well as its name. (Paine proposed the title Plain Truth). It was instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence. Paine also has the distinction of being the man who proposed the name United States of America for the new nation.
During the Revolutionary War Paine published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis[?] that served to inspire Americans during the long struggle. The first Crisis paper, published December, 1776, began with the immortal line, "These are the times that try men's souls". Following a series of military failures, morale was wavering among the Patriot army. The first Crisis paper was so uplifting that Washington had it read to all of his troops.
He was also an inventor, receiving a patent in Europe for the single span iron bridge, working with John Fitch[?] on steam engines, and developing a smokeless candle.
In 1791, Paine published Rights of Man[?], an abstract political tract published in support of the French Revolution. The book -- which was highly critical of monarchies and European social institutions -- was so controversial that the British government put Paine on trial in absentia for seditious libel. Paine had already (prudently) left for Paris.
Although Paine was an enthusiatic supporter of the French Revolution, as a member of the National Convention, he opposed the execution of Louis XVI. That was enough to bring Paine -- who was never noted for his diplomacy -- into conflict with the increasingly out of control revolutionary leaders. Paine was imprisoned and sentenced to death by Maximilian Robespierre, Paine escaped beheading apparently by chance. A guard walked through the prison placing a chalk mark on the doors of the condemned prisoners. He placed one on Paine's door - but because a doctor was treating Paine at that moment, the prison door was open. When the doctor left, the door was swung closed, such that the chalk mark faced into the cell. Later, when the condemned prisoners were rounded up for execution, Paine was spared because there was no apparent chalk mark on his cell door.
In prison, convinced he would soon be dead, Paine wrote The Age of Reason, an assault on organized religion. A second part was written and published after his release from prison.
Paine published his last great pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, in the winter of 1795-1796. In this pamphlet, Paine further developed ideas proposed in the Rights of Man[?] as to how the institution of land ownership separated the great majority of persons from their rightful natural inheritance and means of independent survivial. The USA Social Security Administration recognizes Agrarian Justice as the first American proposal for an old-age pension.
There is a museum in New Rochelle[?], New York in his honor.
See also: http://www.thomas-paine.com/tpnha/