Thomas Paine (1737-1789) had a profound impact on the founding of our republic. He was an author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Saul K. Padover described him as “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination.”
Paine was one who “put his money where his mouth was.” He supported the war for Independence and actually helped to fund it with his own money. However, most know him for his powerful writings that became part of the philosophical underpinnings of the new republic. People quote him often, but are not always aware of him as the source. Here are some of his most important works:
His work Common Sense (1776) was a powerful manifesto that made a compelling case for liberty. Because of this work, Paine became known as the “Father of the American Revolution.” It was written anonymously and became an overnight success. The book is not considered an original work, but a polemic device meant to arrouse the passion of the colonies in their disdain for the British empire. It certainly succeeded in that objective.
Crisis was a small, but powerful document that was actually used by George Washington to inspire his often war weary troops. The pamphlet begins with the famous words: “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 their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
Later in his career, Paine wrote his Rights of Man (1791) in defense of the French Revolution and is seen as an attack on European monarchs and institutions. His work, The Age of Reason, was an attack on traditional and “organized” religion. It was published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807.
Paine spent much of his life in Europe, as well as in the United States. He even spent time in a French prison for his criticism of the monarch. He later found himself in danger because of his disdain for Napoleon. There were many who contributed to the founding of this great nation, but few did so with more eloquence and passion than Thomas Paine.