Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

Born: 1737. Died: 1809.


- The rights of humankind originate at birth.

- Government should exist only for the security, happiness, and unity of humankind.

- Republican government is based on reason and engenders freedom; government by hereditary succession is based on ignorance and reduces people to slavery.

- Equality of natural property and the right of suffrage are essential for a free society.

- The unrestrained communication of ideas, the rights to reform, and freedom, and freedom of religious belief are all natural rights.

- God is the first cause of all things; only by exercising reason can humankind discover God.


Thomas Paine was born in Thetford (just north of Cambridge) the son of a Quaker corset maker. His entire career, up to his age 37, had been a succession of failures and frustrations; he had from the beginning experienced extreme poverty, privation, and drudgery.

Paine arrived Philadelphia in December of 1774. Little did Paine know how fortunate he was to have a letter of introduction signed by Benjamin Franklin; he was soon employed as the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. He wrote, condemning it all: of Negro slavery, of the political condition of women, of the lack of copyright laws, of the cruelty to animals, of the custom of dueling, and of war as a means to settle international disputes. These particulars of the human condition meant little to anyone in those years. Another matter, however, was the question of American patriotism.

In the spring of 1775 came the battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. All along he was able to spread his views, as he was easily able to do in his journalistic position, -- that it was common sense to support the colonies in their fight with England and to this effect he put out a small pamphlet, Common Sense: it was to effect a powerful change in the minds of many men, and won, at a critical time, a number of American colonists over to the cause of independence. Within a few months after the appearance of Common Sense, most of the states had instructed their delegates to vote for independence, only Maryland hesitating and New York opposed.

On July 4, 1776, less than six months from the date when Paine's famous pamphlet came off the press, the Continental Congress, meeting in the State House at Philadelphia, proclaimed the independence of the United States. Directly the fighting broke out, Paine shouldered a musket and went off to join Washington's army as a private, though, he was soon promoted as an aid-de-camp to General Greene. All along Paine continued to write often at night after a long day's march by the light of a camp fire at times when all those around him were depressed by the many set backs which the colonial fighters were to experience. These writings were collected up and put out under the title, The American Crisis.

With the American Revolution, by 1787, having become an accomplished fact, Paine returned to England. In England, Paine brought out The Rights of Man (1792), a reply to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution (1790).

Burke attacked the principles of the French Revolution, and the violence and excesses of its leaders. This work, The Rights of Man made Paine a wanted man and so he escaped to France. Never one to get along with too many at any one time, Paine soon ran afoul of the strong forces in France, and, the Robespiere faction, in 1794, saw to his imprisonment. In a French prison for ten months, Paine got down to the writing of The Age of Reason.

Though himself "a pious deist," in The Age of Reason Paine reflected the atheistic feeling that had swept France during these revolutionary times; The Age of Reason became known as the "Atheist's bible." On returning to America in 1802, Paine found himself, directly on account The Age of Reason, out of favour, ostracized by political leaders and churchgoers.

After seven incredible years of abuse, hatred, neglect, poverty, and ill health, Paine died in 1809, at the age of 72; and was denied burial in a Quaker cemetery.

Major Works of Thomas Paine

- A Dialogue between General Wolfe and General Gage in a Wood Near Boston, 1775
- The Age of Reason, 1794-1796
- Agrarian Justice, winter of 1795-1796
- Common Sense, 1776
- The Crisis Papers, 1776-1783
- The Rights of Man, 1791-1792

Quotes from Thomas Paine

- "Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "It is not in numbers but in unity that our great strength lies." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "The necessity of establishing some form of government [is] to supply the defect of moral virtue." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "Were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest.." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals." (from "Common Sense", 1776)

- "Character is much easier kept than recovered." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "Misfortune and experience are lost upon mankind when they produce neither reflection nor reformation." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "The nearer any disease approaches to a crisis, the nearer it is to a cure. Danger and deliverance make their advances together, and it is only the last push that one or the other takes the lead." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "Panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is that they are the touchstone of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "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 his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." (from "The Crisis", 1776-1783)

- "A Constitution is a thing antecedent to a Government, and a Government is only the creature of a Constitution. The Constitution of a country is not the act of its Government, but of the people constituting a Government." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "As to reformation, whenever it comes, it must be from the Nation, and not from the Government." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "The animosity which Nations reciprocally entertain is nothing more than what the policy of their Governments excites to keep up the spirit of the system. Each Government accuses the other of perfidy, intrigue, and ambition, as a means of heating the imagination of their respective Nations, and incensing them to hostilities. Man is not the enemy of Man, but through the medium of a false system of Government." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "Man cannot ... make circumstances for his purpose, but he always has it in his power to improve them when they occur." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "Mankind ... are always ripe enough to understand their true interest, provided it be presented clearly to their understanding, and that in a manner not to create suspicion by anything like self-design, nor offend by assuming too much. Where we would wish to reform we must not reproach." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "No man is prejudiced in favor of a thing knowing it to be wrong. He is attached to it on the belief of its being right, and when he sees it is not so, the prejudice will be gone." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "No one man is capable, without the aid of society, of supplying his own wants; and those wants, acting upon every individual, impel the whole of them into society, as naturally as gravitation acts to a center." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "Prejudice will fall in a combat with interest." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "Such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "What at first was plunder assumed the softer name of revenue." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "When it becomes necessary to do a thing, the whole heart and soul should go into the measure, or not attempt it." (from "The Rights of Man", 1791-1792)

- "Those words, "temperate and moderate," are words either of political cowardice, or of cunning, or seduction. A thing moderately good, is not so good as it ought to be. Moderation in temper is always a virtue, but moderation in principle is a species of vice." (from a letter, 1792)

- "[The Bible] 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." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "Every science has for its basis a system of principles as fixed and unalterable as those by which the universe is regulated and governed. Man cannot make principles; he can only discover them." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "I believe in one God and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "I do not believe in the creed professed 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." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "The story of the whale swallowing Jonah, though a whale is large enough to do it, borders greatly on the marvelous; but it would have approached nearer to the idea of a miracle if Jonah had swallowed the whale." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. One step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "There are two distinct classes of what are called thoughts: Those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "When opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail." (from "The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology", 1794-1796)

- "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression." (from "Dissertation on the First Principles of Government", 1795)

- "As to you, sir, treacherous to private friendship (for so you have been to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor, whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you every had any." (from the letter to George Washington, 1796)

- "As it is my design to make those that can scarcely read understand, I shall therefore avoid every literary ornament and put it in language as plain as the alphabet." (from "Disturbing the Peace" by Gordon S. Wood)


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