Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings

By Thomas Paine; Mark Philp | Go to book overview

OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICS


RIGHTS OF MAN, COMMON SENSE
AND OTHER POLITICAL WRITINGS

TOM PAINE was born in Norfolk in 1737. After rudimentary schooling he was apprenticed to his father, a staymaker, and later also tried his hand variously as a teacher, exciseman, and tobacconist. At the age of 37, in 1774, his various enterprises having failed, he emigrated to America. He quickly sided with the colonists in their controversy with Britain and in 1776 wrote two of the most powerful pamphlets of the Revolution, Common Sense and The American Crisis. After the Revolution, in 1787, he returned to Europe and was caught up in the opening stages of the French Revolution. His Rights of Man ( 1791-2), written as a defence of France against Edmund Burke Reflections on the Revolution in France ( 1790), was the most widely read pamphlet of the decade. Its success, coupled with the rise of a popular movement for political reform in Britain and Paine's unrepentant Letter Addressed to the Addressers ( 1792) resulted in his being outlawed. A year later, as a deputy to the National Convention in France, he fell foul of the Jacobins and was imprisoned. He was released at the end of 1794 and went on to write Dissertation on the First Principles of Government ( 1795) and Agrarian Justice ( 1796), which develop still further his earlier arguments for an egalitarian yet liberal democratic order. Paine returned to America in 1802, to be vilified as an atheist by the Federation party (primarily because of his Age of Reason ( 1794), an attack on Christianity). He died in obscurity in 1809.

MARK PHILP is a Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Oriel College, Oxford. He is the author of Paine ( 1989) in the Oxford Past Masters Series, and Godwin's Political Justice ( 1986). He is the general editor of the Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin ( 1992) and the Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin ( 1993). He has written widely on late eighteenth-century political ideas and movements and is the editor of The French Revolution and British Popular Politics ( 1991).

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