Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

The Humanist, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)


"Where liberty is not, there is mine."--Thomas Paine, replying to Benjamin Franklin's remark, "Where liberty is, there is my country."

Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was born on January 29, 1737, in Thetford, England. He lived in England until age thirty-seven, working a variety of jobs, including as a corsetmaker, a privateer interrupting enemy trade, and a school teacher. In 1772 he participated in his first political venture, demanding better pay and working conditions for excise officers with the distribution of his pamphlet The Case of the Officers of Excise.

After Paine was fired from the excise service for being absent from his post without permission, a friend introduced him to Benjamin Franklin, who advised him to sail to the British colonies in America. He followed Franklin's suggestion, arriving in Philadelphia in 1774, just before the fight for independence began. He would earn the title "Father of the American Revolution" with his infamous 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, which advocated for independence from Britain and claimed that "in America THE LAW IS KING." It became a bestselling work, circulated to over 100,000 people and largely influenced the sentiments that led to the Revolutionary War.

Paine is most notorious for The Age of Reason, a deistic treatise that attacked institutionalized religion and the inerrancy of the Bible. It highlighted corruption in the Christian church, criticized the church's attempt to gain political influence through religion, rejected the notion of miracles, and postulated that the Bible was just another literary work, as opposed to a divinely inspired text. One excerpt from the work, published in 1794 and 1795, reads:

   Each of those churches show certain books, which
   they call revelation, or the word of God. … 

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