Thomas Paine

 

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Thomas PainePaine, THOMAS, patriot; born in Thetford, England, Jan. 29, 1737. His father was a Quaker, from whom he learned the business of stay-making. He went on a privateering cruise in 1755, and afterwards worked at his trade and preached as a Dissenting minister. He was an exciseman at Thetford, and wrote (1772) a pamphlet on the subject. Being accused of smuggling, he was dismissed from office. Meeting Dr. Franklin, the latter advised him to go to America. He arrived in Philadelphia in December, 1774, and was employed as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. In that paper he published, October, 1775, Serious Thoughts, in which he declared his hope of the abolition of slavery. At the suggestion of Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philadelphia, it is said, he put forward a powerfully written pamphlet, at the beginning of 1776, in favor of the independence of the colonies. It opened with the often-quoted words, "These are the times that try men's souls." Its terse, sharp, incisive, and vigorous sentences stirred the people with irrepressible aspirations for independence. A single extract will indicate its character:

"The nearer any government approaches to a republic, the less business there is for a king; in England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places. Arms must decide the contest [between Great Britain and America]; the appeal was the choice of the King, and the continent hath escaped the challenge. The sun never shone on a cause of greater worth. Tis not the affair of a city, a county, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent - of at least one-eighth part of the habitable globe.  Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age  posterity are virtually involved in it even to the end of time. . . . Freedom hath been hunted round the globe: Asia and Africa hath long expelled her; Europe regards her like a stranger; and England hath given her warning to depart. Oh, receive the fugitive, and prepare an asylum for mankind."

The effect of Common Sense was marvelous. Its trumpet tones awakened the continent, and made every patriot's heart beat with intense emotion. It was read with avidity everywhere; and the public appetite for its solid food was not appeased until 100,000 copies had fallen from the press. The legislature of Pennsylvania voted to the author $2,500. George Washington, in a letter written at Cambridge, highly applauded it, and all over the colonies there were immediate movements in favor of absolute independence.

For a short time after the Declaration of Independence Paine was in the military service, and was aide-de-camp to General Greene. In December, 1776, he published the first number of his Crisis, and continued it at intervals during the war. In 1777 he was elected secretary to the committee on foreign affairs. SILAS DEANE, who acted as mercantile as well as diplomatic agent of the Continental Congress during the earlier portion of the war, incurred the enmity of Arthur Lee and his brothers, and was so misrepresented by them that Congress recalled him from France. It had been insinuated by Carmichael that Deane had appropriated the public money to his private use. Two violent parties arose, in and out of Congress, concerning the doings of the agents of Congress abroad. Robert Morris, and others acquainted with financial matters, took the side of Deane. The powerful party against him was led by Richard Henry Lee, brother of Arthur, and chairman of the committee on foreign affairs. Deane published (1779) An Address to the People of the United States, in which he commented severely on the conduct of the Lees, and justly claimed credit for himself in obtaining supplies from France through Beaumarchais. Paine, availing himself of documents in his custody, published a reply to Deane's address, in which he asserted that the supplies nominally furnished through a mercantile house came really from the French government. This avowal, which the French and Congress both wished to conceal, drew from the French minister, Gerard, a warm protest, as it proved duplicity on the part of the French Court; and, to appease the minister, Congress, by resolution, expressly denied that any present of supplies had been received from France previous to the treaty of alliance. Paine was dismissed from office for his imprudence in revealing the secrets of diplomacy.

Late in November, 1779, he was made clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly; and in that capacity read a letter to that body from General Washington, intimating that a mutiny in the army was imminent because of the distresses of the soldiers. The Assembly was disheartened. Paine wrote a letter to Blair McClenaghan, a Philadelphia merchant, stating the case, and enclosing $500 as his contribution to a relief fund. A meeting of citizens was called, when a subscription was circulated, and very soon the sum of 300,000 (Pennsylvania currency) was collected. With this capital a bank (afterwards the Bank of North America) for the relief of the army was established. With Colonel Laurens, Paine obtained a loan of 6,000,000 livres from France in 1781. In 1786 Congress gave him $3,000 for his services during the war, and the State of New York granted him a farm of 300 acres of land at New Rochelle, the confiscated estate of a loyalist.

Sailing for France in April, 1787, his fame caused him to be cordially received by distinguished men. In 1788 he was in England, superintending the construction of an iron bridge (the first of its kind) which he had invented. It now spans the Wear, at Sunderland. He wrote the first part of his Rights of Man in 1791, in reply to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. It had an immense sale, and the American edition had a preface by Thomas Jefferson. An active member of the revolutionary society in England, he was elected to a seat in the French National Convention in 1792. He had a triumphant reception in Paris, but in London he was indicted for sedition and afterwards outlawed. Paine assisted in framing the French constitution in 1793; and the same year he opposed the execution of the King, and proposed his banishment to America. This action caused his imprisonment by the Jacobins, and he had a narrow escape from the guillotine. It was at that period that he wrote his Age of Reason. James Monroe, then American minister to France, procured his release from prison in 1794. After an absence from the United States of fifteen years, he returned in a government vessel in 1802. His admirers honored him with public dinners; his political opponents insulted him. Settled in New York, he died there, June 8, 1809, and was buried on his farm at New Rochelle, the Quakers, for peculiar reasons, having denied his request to be interred in one of their burying-grounds. Near where he was buried a neat monument was erected in 1839. In 1819 William Cobbett took his bones to England. In 1875 a memorial building was dedicated in Boston, having over the entrance the inscription, "Paine Memorial Building and Home of the Boston Investigator." See INGERSOLL, ROBERT GREEN.

 

 

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