IN addition to poverty, there was a psychological problem in the family of the Paines, when Thomas was born in Thetford, England, on January 20, 1737; for his parents were of different faiths, the father being a Quaker and the mother an Anglican. One consequence of this was that the marriage was unhappy, the more so that Mrs. Paine was in many respects superior to Mr. Paine; another, that the son responded to the situation by never choosing to join either faith.
At the age of thirteen Thomas abandoned all formal education -- but continued studying quite vigorously and thoughtfully on his own -- and became apprentice at his father's trade, corset making. At 19 he left his home and during the following two decades he changed many trades and tried being a privateer, school teacher, tobacconist, grocer, and exciseman. While agitating for the excisemen's better lot, he met Benjamin Franklin whom he impressed quite favorably. Equipped with a letter of introduction from the great American, he left for Philadelphia ( 1774).
Once in America, Paine unhesitatingly decided to become a journalist and began to contribute articles to the Pennsylvania Magazine. Almost at once he became aware of a widespread antiBritish feeling in the colonies. And it did not take him long to transform the vague ideas in the air into clear thoughts and words calling for action. The result assumed the form of a pamphlet, named Common Sense and anonymously published; it expressed Paine's ideas on democracy as opposed to monarchy and uttered a call for a declaration of independence and formation of a federal union. Its success was instantaneous, and the sales exceeded the author's most optimistic expectations-possibly close to half-amillion copies, a figure unheard of in those days.
During the Revolutionary War, Paine continued his political journalism, having written twelve issues of Crisis (with some separate supplements), a series of important articles on current events. They were excitedly read and discussed practically by everybody who could read. Paine became one of the most famous men in the colonies.