Born: Thetford, England, as Thomas Pain. His father, a staymaker,
was a member of the Society of Friends. His mother was a member of
the Church of England. Paine practiced neither religion.
apparently trained as a staymaker (the exact definition of which
has been subject to dispute. This term was used to describe one
who made the frames for women's corsets but was also used to
describe shipbuilders who constructed the ribs of a ship. Recent
research indicates that Thetrod was home to this industry.
Paine's family may actually have been rather well off
financially. The question is whether Paine's political
detractors later attempted to deman him by inventing the story
that he was a corset-maker.
Paine later wrote of his early education:
being of the Quaker profession, it was my good fortune to have
an exceeding good moral education, and a tolerable stock of
useful learning. Though I went to grammar school, I did not
learn Latin, not only because I had no inclination to learn
languages, but because of the objection the Quakers have against
the books in which the language is taught. but this did not
prevent me from being acquainted with the subjects of all the
Latin books used in the school. the natural bend of my mind was
to science. ..."
||Paine ran away from home,
joining the crew of a privateer, the King of Prussia.
Historian Page Smith indicates that he remained on this or another
warship through the end of the Seven Years' War (which would have
kept him at sea until 1763 and conflicts with what is recorded by
other historians and biographers).
||Arrived in London, where he
remained for one year, then moved to Dover, and then to the
village of Sandwich. His biographers carry forward the story that
he opened his own staymaking stop.
||Married Mary Lambert, a maid
employed by a local shopkeeper. Another story carried forward by
his detractors is that his business failed and he was forced to
make a midnight move to another village up the coast. Mary died
the following year (apparently from the premature birth of their
||Enters school to learn
mathematics, improve his knowledge of the English language and to
study a position in the excise service, collecting internal
customs duties (levied on tobacco, alcohol and other consumption
Johnson, whom Paine probably came to know in London, expressed
the general feeling about excise taxes when he called them "a
hateful tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the
common judges for property, but by wretches hired by those to
whom the excise is paid."
||Appointed tax collector in the
town of Alford, Lincolnshire -- at a salary of 50 pounds per year,
from which he had to pay all his own expenses.
||Dismissed from his position as
tax collector for failing to inspect goods before assigning the
amount of tax due. Paine returns to the staymaking trade.
||Moves to London and takes a
position as an instructor of English at a small academy, where he
stays for only a short while before moving on to another school.
Teaching does not seem to suit him. He is said to have also tried
preaching, although this is out of character forhim given his
||After petitioning for his old
position as excise tax collector, he is appointed tax collector of
Lewes, Sussex (some fifty miles form London). Here, he joins an
informal club of debaters that met evenings at a tavern. He writes
a poem ostensibly about the death of General James Wolfe, who was
killed in Quebec during the Seven Years' War, but in great part
the poem is a criticism of British foreign policy.
members of this club espoused Whig political views. Even the
radical-Whigs were not republicans. They merely wanted an end to
the corruption existing under Pitt and the cabinet system. There
was also great frustration with Parliamentary representation,
which left some towns wihtout representation at all.
||Paine's landlord, owner of a
tobacco shop, dies; Paine steps in to help run the shop. Paine
adds footstuffs and alcoholic spirits to the shop's goods. As
these were all taxable items, Paine finds himself in a conflict of
interest as collector of the excise taxes on these goods.
||Marries for a second time, to
Elizabeth Ollive, the eldest daughter of his dead benefactor. He
later says the marriage was one of convenience entered into for
the sake of appearances, and was never consummated. Meanwhile, the
shop business slowly declines. Paine's biographers repeat earlier
conclusions that his occurs because of Paine's ineptitude in
||Paine is among the leaders of a
movement to obtain higher salaries for excise tax collectors,
which fails. Ostensibly for his failure to perform his duties, but
more likely because of his involvement, he is dismissed from his
position. During this campaign he writes his first political
pamphlet, The Case of the Officers of Excise.
pamphlet talks about "general want" among the English
people caused by increasing prices and expanded supply of money.
He suggests that such want causes corruption of morals and
suggested the wealth held by the rich came from the misfortune
||More important is his
friendship whith amateur mathematician George L. Scott, who had
served as a tutor to George III. Through Scott, Paine joins a
circle of intellectuals that includes Edward Gibbon, Samual
Johnson, astronomer Dr. John Bevis and Benjamin Franklin. Evidence
suggests that Paine became a very active political pamphleteer
during this period, writing anonymously, as was the general
practice of the time.
||Separates from his wife (but is
never divorced). He is introduced to Benjamin Franklin (most
likely by the Deist and politically progressive David Williams
(who later authored the pamphlet Political Liberty) and
expresses a desire to leave for North America. One story is that
Paine hoped to establish an academy for young ladies; however,
this seems to run counter to his brief exposure to teaching.
Another possibility, one advanced by Paine's modern supporters, is
that Franklin urged him to put his pen to use on behalf of the
Page Smith writes, for example, that it was paine's "radical
views" that brought him to North America.
||Armed with a letter of
introduction from Franklin, Paine leaves England for North
America, arriving in Philadelhia in the fall, very ill from the
journey. For six weeks he is bedridden. Then, when sufficiently
recovered, he visited Richrad Bache, Franklin's son-in-law and a
merchant in Philadelphia.
||While recovering he does his
first serious writing, an essay titled "Dialogue Between
General Wolfe and General Gage in a Wood near Boston," which
was published in a local newspaper. In this essay, he attacked the
royal governor of Massachusetts and the Quebec Act (which put the
stamp of approval on the Catholic Church in Canada). He also
suggested that the response by the colonial assembly in
Massachusetts effectively declared its independence from both the
British Parliament and the Crown.
||Obtains a position as editor of
the new periodical, the Pennsylvania Magazine, whose owner
(Robert Aitken) hoped to stay out of the political debate heating
up in the colonies. Paine wrote under several pseudonyms, one of
his submissions being his poem about Wolfe.
||Paine writes an essay published
in the Pennsylvania Journal that condemns Britain's role
in allowing slavery to be established in North America. At the
same time, he warns the colonials that a fitting retribution
against the American acceptance of slavery might be British
enslavement of Americans. After this essay, Paine never again
writes penetratingly on the subject. One reason, perhaps, is his
association with Washington, Jefferson and other slave-holding
COMMENTS: Paine asks
how the colonials could "complain so loudly of attempts to
enslave them while they hold so many hundred thousand in
slavery." He argues that "the slave, who is the proper
owner of his freedom, has a right to reclaim it."
||April: British and colonial
troops exchange fire at Lexington and Concord. The rebellion
against British rule is underway.
||May: Benjamin Franklin returns
to Philadelphia from London. The Second Continental Congress meets
in Philadelphia. The British leadership subsequently rejects the
colonials' "Olive Branch Petition" and the colonials
prepare for armed conflict.
||Paine writes to George L. Scott
in England: "Surely the ministry are all mad, they never will
be able to conquer America." He writes his first political
essay to appear in Pennsylvania Magazine. In the July
issue, he refers to the conflict as a defensive war rather than as
a revolution or rebellion.
conflict with his publisher, Aitken, he soon left the magazine.
Paine later explained: "When the country into which I had
just set foot, was set on fire about my ears, it was time to
stir. It was time for every man to stir. Those who had been
settled had something to defend; those who had just come had
something to pursue; and the call and the concern was equal and
universal. For in a country where all mean were once
adventurers, the difference of a few years in their arrival
could make none in their right."
||October: Paine charges that
Britain had used deception and false promises to enlist the
indigenous tribes in the struggle between the Crown and the
colonies. He reaches the conclusion that the colonials must
separate from the British empire.
COMMENTS: At the
suggestion of Benjamin Rush, Paine begins to write his pamphlet
in defense of the break with Britain.
||Paine's pamphlet, Common
Sense, is published in January. The pamphlet is rapidly
circulated throughout the colonies. Paine finishes revisions in
February for a new printing.
Of Common Sense, Paine writes that the purpose of the
pamphlet is to "rescue man from tyranny and false principles
of government, and enable him to be free."
Paine attacked hereditary rule and monarchy and called for a
representative system of government, a republic with a unicameral
legislature, frequent elections and a written constitution.
COMMENTS: John Adams
writes a long and somewhat critical response to Common Sense
he titled Thoughts on Government. This opens a lifelong
resentment by Paine against Adams.
Adams emphasizes the need for a balance of power in government,
consistent with that proposed by the English theorist James
||Addressing the morality of
existing socio-political arrangements, Paine first attacked the
conventional wisdom that the distinction between rich and poor is
natural. He goes on to denounce the essence of inherited
privilege: "[T]here is another and greater distinction for
hwich no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned, and
that is the distinction of men into Kings and Subjects. Male and
Female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the
distincitons of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world
so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new
species, is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means
of happiness or misery to the world."
||Paine also appeals to the
patriotism of the wealthy colonials to provide the funds necessary
to fight the British and to establsih a new government. "A
national debt is a national bond," he writes.
COMMENTS: It is
curious that Paine did not advance, on principle, the
perspective that the new government ought to raise needed
revenue by taxation rather than borrowing. Practical
considerations -- the resistance of the colonials to taxation --
dictated that the Continental Congress operated to a
considerable degree on the credit of private individuals.
||The success of Common Sense
was immediate becuse it was written in a manner the average person
could appreciate. Paine's language and message expressed
was not the "mother country" to many
European-Americans. Most colonials were born in North America
and many were of Dutch, German, Scotish, Irish or African
||Among the educated, a number of
critics of Common Sense suggested that Paine had taken
much of the content from John Locke. Paine responded that Locke's
A Treatise on Government was "a specultative, not a
practical work, and the style of it is heavy and tedious, as all
Locke's writings are."
statement by Paine contradicts another statement he made, that
he had never read Locke. It is more likely that what he meant
was that he had never thoroughly studied Locke because he found
reading Locke "heavy and tedious."
||July: The leaders of the
rebellion against British rule signed a Declaration of
COMMENTS: Was the
rebellion an actual "revolution" or a struggle to
preserve and incrementally change what already had existed under
Britain's long-standing policy of salutary neglect, as described
by historian Charles Andrews. Also, Peter Drucker's 1944 book,
The Future of Industrial Man, argues the war was, in
fact, a conservative counter-revolution.
||Paine volunteers to become
secretary to the Pennsylvania troops headed to meet the British
outside of New York City. After three months, he becomes
aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene and takes on the role of
war correspondent. As the army retreated to Trenton, Paine
returned to Philadelphia.
||December: In an effort to
strengthen the morale of the colonials, Paine writes the first of
his Crisis Papers. He explained his reason for writing the
Crisis Papers: "The deplorable and melancholy condition the
people were in, afraid to speak and almost to think, the public
presses stopped, and nothing in circulation but fears and
COMMENTS: Crisis No.
1 contains the famous words: "These are the times that try
men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in
this crisis shrink form the service of his 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; 'tis dearness only that gives everything 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."
||January: Paine writes Crisis
No. 2, addressed to Lord Howe, responding to proposals to settle
the war to prevent an interruption in material prosperity. Paine
writes: "The meanest peasant in America, blessed with
[liberty and safety] is a happy man compared with a New-York toy."
||Paine is appointed secretary to
a commission meeting with a number of indigenous tribes in
Pennsylvania. Paine reported that the tribes intended to remain
neutral. This was to be his only direct contact with the tribal
societies of North America. The conference opened on 27 January in
||April: Paine is nominated by
John adams to become secretary to a Committee for Foreign Affairs.
One of Paine's ideas at this point was to write a history of the
struggle for independence.
||Paine authors Crisis No. 3, in
which he reviews the American progress toward independence. He
appeals to all classes to support the war and calls for the
persecution of American tories.
||Paine participates in the
Constitutional Convention debates held by Pennsylvanians. Paine
writes: "I consider freedom as personal property. If
dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least
equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence, and if
taken from the former under the pretense of safety, it must be
taken from the latter for the same reason, and vested only in
those which stand between the two; and the difficulty of doing
this shows the dangerous injustice of meddling with it at all, and
the necessity of leaving it at large."
||September: Washington's army is
defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, and the British move into
Philadelphia. Following the battle, Paine writes Crisis No. 4,
doing as much as possible to put a favorable light on the outcome.
"The nearer any disease approaches to a crisis," he
writes, "the nearer it is to a cure."
||Paine joins Washington briefly
at Valley Forge, then travels ot York, Pennsylvania to take up his
position as Secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs.
||March: March: Paine writes
Crisis No. 5, as a letter to Sir William Howe, commander of the
British troops in Philadelphia. Of Washington's army at Valley
Forge, Paine writes: "The interest, the happiness of all
America, is centered in this half-ruined spot."
||June: The British evacuate
Philadelphia and the Continental Congress returns. In the interim,
France declared war on Britain, and the French fleet arrives in
||July: Paine writes Crisis No.
6, directed to the peace commissioners sent by the British. Paine
defends the American alliance with the French as "open,
noble, and generous."
Americans, still recalling the intensity of the Seven Years' War
and the alliance between the French and many of the indigenous
tribes on the frontier, had to be wondering whether this
alliance meant trading one Old World despotic overlord for
||November: Paine writes Crisis
No. 7, addressed to the people of England. In this work, he
reveals the essence of his personal socio-political principles. He
challenges the English cliam to having created the highest order
political system. English politics, he writes, "instead of
civilizing, has tended to brutalized mankind." He appeals to
the English merchant classes and their own interests to pressure
the British government to end the war. He also suggested that the
English people could find the cost of their high taxes in the
militarism of their government.
COMMENTS: Also in
Crisis No. 7, Paine shows he thinks of himself as a
transnational. "Perhaps it may be said that I live in
America, and write this from interest. To this I reply, that my
principle is universal. My attachment is to all the world, and
not any particular part, and if what I advance is right, no
matter where or who it comes from."
||Paine writes a series of essays
promoting the new Pennsylvania constitution, which provided for a
legislature with only one house and an executive council in lieu
of a governor.
||Silas Deane is recalled from
France to explain hugh debts incurred in the name of the
Continental Congress. The delegates split into factions defending
or attacking Deane. Paine, having access to documents confirming
goods supposedly purchased by Deane were gifts provided by the
French government, wrote an essay attacking Deane. The pro-Deane
faction then went after paine.
COMMENTS: Even John
Adams warns that unless something was done to end the war
profiteering a civil war might erupt in America.
||In the midst of controversy
over the Deane Affair, in January Paine resigns from his position
as Secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is approached
by the French ambassador to become a paid propagandist on behalf
of France and the Franco-American alliance. He declined. He spent
the next several months writing a long series of essays
meticulously reconstructing the case against Deane.
COMMENTS: Because of
the Deane Affair and what he saw as profiteering by Robert
Morris and others, Paine calls for price controls.
||During this period, Paine
worked as a clerk in the office of Philadelphia merchant Owen
||One result of Paine's efforts
was that Maryland and Virginia passed laws prohibiting their
delegates in Congress from profiting from government contracts.
Several delegates attacked by Paine were not re-elected.
||Paine enters the debate over
the question of whether Britain ought to be pressured to
relinquish any claim to the fisheries off the coast of
Paine argues that the law of nations is not fixed. In his view,
international law "is a term without any regular defined
meaning, in theory the law of treaties compounded with customary
usage, and in practice just what they can get and keep till it be
taken from them."
Americans and their aspirations for empire, he wrote: "We
covet not domination, for we already possess a world." What
is important in this comment is his inclusion of himself as an
||In the face of rapidly rising
prices, Paine urges the Congress to institute price controls and
serves on a committee to develop a plan for raising tax revenue.
Paine's idea is to call for the voluntary contribution of hard
Paine argued that the unchecked prices acted as a tax on the
plain people. The merchants argued, in response, that price
controls would bring ruin, forcing them to sell below cost. The
problem was the uncontrolled issuance of paper money by the
||November: After an illness
lasting several months, Paine contemplates leaving North America.
However, he is chosen to become the clerk of the Pennsylvania
Assembly and accepts this position.
||February: Paine writes Crisis
No. 8, directed to the people of England. He re-emphasizes
England's "legacy of debts" and declared that "America
is beyond the reach of conquest."
||Mid-year: Paine becomes
intimately involved in the creation of the Bnak of Pennsylvania.
The capital of the bank is to be used for loans made to the
government for the war effort.
||June: Paine completes Crisis
No. 9, meant to lift the spirits of colonials in the face of
setbacks, such as the fall of Charleston to the British.
Paine explains how the creation of the Bank of Pennsylvania
(later to become the Bank of North America) is central to solving
the problem of supplying the army and is a clear demonstration
that the wealthy class in America support the war.
||Paine is awarded an honorary
masters degree by the newly-created University of Pennsylvania.
||Fall: Paine writes The
Crisis Extraordinary, adding his voice to that of George
Washington in condemning the system of procurement that left the
army without adequate arms and other supplies and urging the
states to increase taxation and to give the Congress power to tax
||September: The British remain
in control of New York City. Benedict Arnold abandons the
rebellion and goes over to the British.
||December: Paine's pamphlet,
Public Good, is published. Its main objective is to
challenge Virginia's unwillingness to give up its claim to lands
west of the Allegheny Mountains. Paine argues that the "Northwest
Territory" belongs to all the states collectively. He saw the
western lands as a potential source of income to the Congress. For
Virginians, this would create "a frontier state for her
defense against the Indians."
||Paine is proposed for
membership in the American Philosophical Society but is rejected
because he had ruffled the feathers of too many members.
||Paine decides to accompany John
Laurens to France. Laurens is charged with obtaining additional
financial assistance from the French. Paine returned several
months later without position and without money to pay his bills.
Pain's reputation is negatively impacted during this trip, as
reported by Elkanah Watson, to whom Paine had been sent by
Benjamin Franklin. Watson describes Paine as "course and
uncouth" and "a disgusting egoist..." Rumors also
circulated in France that Paine was being paid by the government
as a propaganda agent for France. There are records in 1782 and
1783 indicating Paine received payment from the French Embassy for
finally returning to America from France in 1802, Paine bases
his petition to Jefferson for a pension on the fact that he
received nothing to compensate him for this trip to France. The
trip was initiated on his own but was taken ostensibly to assist
in raising funds for the American cause.
||October: Cornwallis surrenders
to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.
||November: Paine completes a
critical review of the book, The Revolution in America,
written by the Abbe Guillaume Raynal.
response to Raynal's conclusion that the American Revolution
resembled all revolutions in history, Paine wrote: "It is
in vain to look for precedents among the revolutions of former
ages, to find out, by comparison, the causes of thisl. Here the
value and quality of liberty, the nature of government, and the
dignity of man, were known and understood, and the attachment of
the Americans to these principles produced the Revolution, as a
natural unavoidable consequence."
Paine also declares his transnationalism, referring to himself
as "a citizen of the world." He writes: "The true
idea of a great nation is that which extends and promotes the
principles of universal society; whose mind rises above the
atmosphere of local thoughts, and considers mankind, of whatever
nation or profession they may be, the work of the Creator."
||David Freeman Hawke writes of
"The picture of Paine as a wild-eyed radicla in the American
Revolution dissolves under scrutiny. Instead, it could be said of
him as has been said of the American he respected above all
others, Benjamin Franklin, that he 'was one of those who achieved
distinction by embodying completely the spirit of the society in
which they live, rather than by deviating from it or going beyond
it.' Paine called for no fundamental changes in the forms of
government once a republic had been established; he propagandized
for no great social experiments. He rarely risked energy or
reputation on lost causes. His writings, like a barometer,
registered the current climate of opinion and also a hope of what
would be in the future."
COMMENTS: Hawke, I
think, wishes to view Paine in this light; however, Paine's
writings embody not the spirit of the societies in which he
resided but a system of principles that gradually evolved in his
thinking. His moral sense of right and wrong was more
well-defined than almost any of his contemporaries.
||March: Paine writes Crisis No.
10 in response to a speech made by George III delivered on 27
November 1781. Paine observes that Parliament has voted to
continue the war and warns Americans not to "wrap herself up
in delusive hope and suppose the business done," as this
would "only serve to prolong the war, and increase expenses."
||Paine accepts a position as a
paid propagandist to support the new federal government formed
under the Articles of Confederation.
Ironically, Paine reports in this position to Robert Morris, whom
he had earlier condemned as a monopolist.
With regard to the Articles, he calls for a stronger central
government but one that is fully representative of the citizenry.
||May: paine writes Crisis No.
11, responding to those who advocated negotiating peace with the
British without consulting the French. "All the world are
moved by interest," writes Paine, going on to remind the
British government that America's "public affairs have
flourished under the alliance."
Lord North had resigned from the British government. The Whigs,
led by Rockingham, came to power and pledged to secure a truce
with the Americans.
||October: Paine writes Crisis
No. 12. News reached America that Rockingham had died and that his
successor, Shelburne, was determined to prevent American
independence. Paine delivered the message to Shelburne that
Americans would never accept a return to being subjected to "British
brutality." Adds Paine: "As America is gone, the only
act of manhood is to let her go."
||November: Paine writes a series
of essays encouraging Rhode Island to sign the Articles of
Paine's observations offer important contributions to progressive
"Wht would the sovereignty of any one individual state be,
if left to itself, to contend with a foreign power? It is in our
united sovereignty, that our greatness and safety, and the
security of our foreign commerce, rest."
And, on the issue of dual citizenship:
"Every man in America stands in a two-fold order of citizen.
He is a citizen of the state he lives in, and of the United
States; and without justly and truly supporting his citizenship in
the latter, he will inevitably sacrifice the former."
||April: Paine writes Crisis No.
13, declaring that the "greatest and completest revolution
the world ever knew" had been accomplished.
In celebration of independence and the end of war, Paine writes:
"The times that tried men's souls are over -- and the
greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew, gloriously
and happily accomplished."
Yet, if all this was to be preserved, there must be a
strengthening of the union of the States.
||In a serious financial
situation, Paine writes to the U.S. Congress soliciting a pension
for his services during the war. A committee recommended that
Paine be offered the position of official historian.
Paine cautiously makes his care, comparing his position with
those of others to whom the Congress is indebted:
"For besides the general principle of right, and their own
privileges, they had estates and fortunes to defend, and by the
event of the war they now have them to enjoy. They are at home in
every sense of the word. But with me it is otherwise. I had no
other inducement than principle, and have nothing else to enjoy."
||Fall: Paine comes down with
scarlet fever (an epidemic was spreading throughout the
Philadelphia population) and is bedridden for a month.
||November: The Peace of Paris
formally ends the war between Britain and France and establishes
the terms of independence of the thirteen North American colonies
from British rule.
||November: Paine travels to New
York City. He writes A Supernumerary Crisis, an essay
arguing that only the strengthening of the union between the
states would preserve their independence form foreign domination.
Paine criticizes Rhode Island for its unwillingness to work
within the union and to contribute its fair share to the conduct
of the war. He fears Britain will use whatever means it can to
keep the states disunited and thereby monopolize American
||June: The New York legislature
awards Paine a farm in New Rochelle, New York, a property
confisced from a departed Tory.
||Paine is awarded $3,000 by the
U.S. Congress for his services during the war.
Freeman Hawke observes that "[f]rom a nation unaccustomed
to honoring literary gentlemen with cash rewards Paine had
received more than almost any writer would ever receive from a
national or state government in American history."
||A struggle arises over the
granting of a charter to the Bank of North America. During and
after the war, the country experienced a severe shortage of
coinage (i.e., of hard money). European immigration had come to a
virtual halt because of the political uncertainty, which hit the
land speculation market hard. With the end of fighting, farm
production increased dramatically, and farmers delivered large
surpluses for which there was no market. As a result, prices fell
sharply and many states fell into recessionary downturns.
||Paine prepares a pamphlet, Dissertation
on Government; the Affairs of the Bank; and Paper Money.
Finished in February, he has copies distributed to the members of
the Pennsylvania Assembly.
He attacks paper money issued by government and the requirement
that citizens must accept this as money in lieu of coinage. He
does, however, express his support of paper money issued by
private banks on the grounds that these notes can be accepted or
rejected by individuals as they choose.
historian Bray Hammond (author of Banks and Politics in
America from the Revolution to the Civil War, published in
1957) rated Paine "the most effective participant on either
||March: Paine initiates his
project to design and construct a model of an iron bridge. the
model is completed by June. Late in the year, he tries to get the
Pennsylvania Agricultural Society to use his design to build a
bridge across the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.
||Late in the year, Paine writes
an essay that reverses his stand in Common Sense on the
virtues of a unicameral legislature and a strong executive. He now
openly worries over the potential of such a legislative body to
become "a complete aristocracy." and, he fears that a
strong executive is equally dangerous.
||April: Paine leaves for Europe,
in part to gain approval in France and England for his bridge
||May: Delegates meet in
Philadelphia to come up with a list of proposed amendments to the
Articles of Confederation.
||THE OLD WORLD: In the summer,
civil war broke out in the Netherlands. France, suffering severe
financial problems, declines to honor a commitment to intervene.
In Britain, a group of reformers join to create the Society for
||In response to the civil war in
the Netherlands, Paine writes a pamphlet, Prospects on the
Rubicon arguing that French and British intervention would be
an expression of fiscal irresponsibility.
||August: The French Academy of
Sciences issues a formal endorsement of Paine's bridge design. In
September, he leaves for England but returns to France in
December, unsuccessful in his attempt to get the Royal Society to
endorse his bridge design.
||Pennsylvania adopts a new
Constitution. In France, Paine, Jefferson and Lafayette engage in
long discussions over whether there are such things as natural
rights. Paine writes an essay on the subject for personal
consideration by Jefferson.
argues that natural rights are those the individual can fully
exercise without the aid of government; that men come together
to form a civil society not to impose restraints on these rights
but to protect them. Separate from these natural rights are
civil rights that emerge out of any social compact, those "of
personal protection, of acquiring and possessing proerty."
||January: The Parlement of Paris
censured the government for attempting to levy new taxes.
||May: Paine returns to England
to once again pick up his efforts to market his bridge design. He
finally receives a patent for the bridge in September and enters
into a partnership with a Yorkshire ironworks to take on the
||August: Paine opens a
correspondence with Edmund Burke to discuss relations between
Britain and France.
Paine wrote: "I had been educated ... to look on France as a
wrangling, contentious nation striving at universal monarchy and
oppression. But experience, reflection, and an intimacy with the
political and personal character of that nation, removed those
prejudices, and placed me in a situation to judge freely and
impartially for myself."
September, Paine called upon Burke, one of the few British
statesmen to receive favorable treatment in Paine's wartime
||During the winter, John Adams
departs from Britain. The united States of America are
left without official representation. At Jefferson's request,
Paine agrees to do what he can to unofficially represent American
||December: A constitutional
crisis occurs in Britain, when George III temporarily "goes
Freeman Hawke observes of Paine during this period: "[A]t
no time during the turbulent weeks had Paine mocked or reviled
hereditary monarchy. Indeed, once in censuring the aristocracy,
he remarked that "the monarchy is nearer related to the
people than the peers are."
||January: The French King
convenes the Estates-General for the first time since the
The first estate was the church, the second the aristocracy, and
the third the bourgeoisie. Despite Jefferson's optimism, the
aristocracy refused to negotiate any lessening of its privileges
or to contribute to the nation's tax revenue.
||July: The Bastille is taken in
Paris, and the first phase of the "French Revolution"
begins. A people's army was then formed to maintain order, with
Lafayette at its head.
||Fall: Food shortages resulted
in a march on Versailles. The royal stores were emptied and the
King and Queen escorted to Paris. In November, the National
Assembly confiscates lands of the Catholic church.
||October: Paine spends several
weeks in a debtors' prison until able to raise funds to pay off a
debt. Shortly after his release, he returns to France. He writes
to Edmund Burke with enthusiasm over the success of the French
Morris advised Lafayette that Paine would be of little help on
serious questions of constitutional principles, "for
although he has an excellent pen to write he has but an
indifferent head to think."
||January: Paine writes to Edmund
Burke optimistically on the progress of the French Revolution.
Burke's reply reveals his inherent conservatism:
"Do ou mean to propose that I, who have all my life fought
for the constitution, should devote the wretched remains of my
days to conspire its destruction? Do you knot know that I have
always opposed the things called reform; to be sure, because I did
not think them reforms."
This is the last time Paine and Burke corresponded.
||March: Paine returns to
Of Burke, Paine wrote:
"I am so out of humor with Mr. Burke with respect to the
French Revolution and the Test Act [the anti-Catholic laws of
England] that I have not called on him. My idea of supporting
liberty of conscience and the rights of citizens, is that of
supporting those rights in other people, for if a man supports
only his own rights for his own sake, he does no moral duty."
||Gouverneur Morris arrives in
England, asked by George Washington to serve as unofficial
representative of American interests.
||May: A skirmish between Spanish
and British fleets off the coast of Vancouver Island results in
heated exchanges and preparations for war between the European
||May: The parts to Paine's
completed bridge arrive at London and are hauled to a small
village outside London for assembly. He works continuously through
September supervising its construction.
During this same period, Paine writes an essay entitled, "Thoughts
on the Establishment of a Mint in the United States," which
he sends to Jefferson. Jefferson sees to the publication of this
essay in pamphlet form.
||November: Edmund Burke's book,
Reflections on the Revolution in France is published.
Burke had written this book as a Whig manifesto; however, the
result was broad acceptance by tories and defenders of monarchy
and attack from republicans. The reactionary nature of what was
happening in France was not yet clear, and many Whigs had not yet
come down against the French Revolution.
||February: Paine completes the
manuscript for The Rights of Man. After some hundred
copies were sold, the publisher recalled all those that had not
yet been sold. With another publisher taking over, Paine set about
writing a new preface.
||May: Paine journeys to France
to visit Lafayette. While there, he begins working on another book
on the nature monarchy which, when completed, became the second
part of a new edition of The Rights of Man, published in
The Rights of Man became a manual for overturning the
British constitution of government and the monarchy. Mere
possession of the book was sufficient to bring charges of sedition
Paine asks why people form societies and answers the question
"Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was
before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have
those rights better secured. His natural rights are the foundation
of his civil rights."
By natural rights, Paine means "those which appertain to man
in right of his existence." These exist prior to civil
authority and are unalienable.
Paine represents a view of government at one extreme from that of
Burke. Paine writes:
"Formal government makes but a small part of civilized life."
"[Government] is a partnership in all science; a partnership
in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection."
||June: The French King and Queen
attempt to escape from Paris but are captured. Leading French
reformers (all aristocrats) form the Republican Club to oppose the
monarchy and agrgue for the establishment of the republican system
with equal representation.
||July: Paine returned to London
to learn that The Rights of Man had made him something of
a celebrity. An unflattering biography of Paine, written by
Francis Oldys, is pubished. In France, Robespierre and others form
an informal political society call the Jacobin Club.
||August: Edmund Burke replies to
The Rights of Man with his Appeal from the New to the
Old Whigs. Burke's references to Paine's work are patronizing,
centering on Paine's least supportable assertions.
||John Quincy Adams (under the
pen name "Publicola") writes a series of essays
attacking The Rights of Man.
||Thomas Jefferson inadvertently
gives Paine's book his suport by sending it to the American
publisher with a note that was printed with the book. George
Washington also acknowledged the book but in a much more cautious
||The British government orders
Paine's arrest on charges of treason, but Paine makes his escape
April: Paine leaves London to avoid the possibility of arrest.
His publisher was indicted for sedition and a summons issued for
Paine's arrest. William Pitt declared: "Principles had been
laid down by Mr. Paine which struck at hereditary nobility, and
which went to the destruction of monarchy and religion, and the
total subversion of the established form of government."
||April: In Britain, members of
the Society for Constitutional Information who have become fearful
because of the revolution in France, break off to form a more
conservative organization, Friends of the People. In London,
workers form an organization called the London Corresponding
Society to fight for what htye believed were real reforms.
||April: In France, the National
Assembly declared war on Prussia, Hungary and Bohemia. Protests
erupted among the common people.
||April: Paine is once again
briefly detained in debtors' prison until an obligation is paid to
the same creditors as previously (to whom he had given a personal
note for the balance he owed). In May, the English courts issued a
summons for Paine's arrest, charging him with "wicked and
seditious writings." The record is unclear on just how much
of an effort was then made to determine Paine's whereabouts and
bring him in for trial.
||July: Prussian troops moved
into French territory. In August, the government in Paris was
overturned by a Revolutionary Commune, who then marched on the
National Assembly. Under pressure from the Commune leaders, the
king was ut under guard and a National Convention called to create
a republican constitution.
disgusted with the turn of events, attempts to escape through
Belgium, is captured by the Austrians and imprisoned. He remains
imprisoned until freed by Napoleon Bonaparte. In the interim,
his family is also arrested by the Jacobins, and his mother is
executed as a counter-revolutionary.
||August: Paine (along with James
Madison, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington) are made
honorary French citizens.
Paine, while still in England, is chosen to represent the "department"
of Calais as a delegate to the National Convention, charged with
writing and adopting a new constitution. The invitation is
delivered personally to him, and -- despite his horror over the
recent murders -- he accepts.
||September: Prussian troops take
Verdun and set about to march on Paris. Mob violence explodes in
Paris, with priests and Catholic aristocrats the first to be
||Mid-September: Paine leaves for
France. He comes very close to being detained, and some of his
papers are confiscated prior to his departure. He arrives in
Calais to a warm reception, then makes his way to Paris where he
receives a similar welcome by the new Assembly. On 21 September he
attends the first session of the National Convention.
||September: The French
resistance against the Prussians holds at Valmy, and the Prussians
||Late September: Paine delivers
his first speech before the French National Assembly. He argues
against the wholesale removal of the existing judiciary. He
believed in checks and balances and the need for a trained
judiciary. He also writes a Letter of Thomas paine to the
People of France, his plea for all oppressed peoples to rise
up to overthrow tyranny.
||October: Paine is selected for
the committee drafting the new French constitution. He
collaborates with the mathematician and philosopher Condorcet.
They used the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution as their model.
Condorcet and Paine worked on what they viewed as the Pennylvania
Constitution's deficiencies, but the final document -- eighty-five
pages long -- reflected Condorcet's view of French needs. In
Paine's view, the exposition of principle was sacrificed in the
elaboration of administrative detail.
||December 18: Paine is tried
in absentia in England for sedition, and convicted.
||December: Louis XVI is put on
trial in Paris for conspiracy against the revolution, convicted
and sentenced to death. The execution was carried out on January
Paine added his voice to those who urged leniency and thereby
came under suspicion by the radicals. He told the Convention that
their vote to execute Louis XVI would be viewed in the future as "performed
from a spirit of revenge rather than from a spirit of justice."
He expressed concern for French honor.
||February: The French declare
war on Britain and Holland. In March, the French army was defeated
near Brussels. Scarcities and rising food rpices brought unrest,
and the National Convention responded by creating a Committee of
Public Safety. The Reign of Terror was then initiated.
||May: Paine writes to Jefferson:
"Had this Revolution been conducted consistently with its
principles, there was once a good prospect of extending liberty
through the greatest part of Europe; but I now reqlinquish that
||June: Paine is removed as a
delegate to the National Convention. That summer, he assists the
French foreign office in an effort to bring food from America to
help remove the threat of famine.
||August: Robespierre is elected
to head the Committee of Public Safety.
||October 3: Paine is denounced
on the floor of the National Convention as "an Englishman"
and -- along with prominent Girondin leaders -- declared an enemy
of France. Robespierre then plans his arrest.
During October Marie Antoinette and many of Paine's French
friends are sent to the guillotine.
||Expecting to be arrested, Paine
rushes to complete his attack on established religion -- The
Age of Reason -- which he had begun early in the year.
The Age of Reason is condemned (on both sides of the
Atlantic) as an atheistic manifesto, although wht it really
condemns is the influence of organized religion. Similar views are
quietly held by Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and others. Paine
challenged the Bible as a book of second hand tales interpreted
and rewritten to serve those who sought to put themselves between
the individual and their god.
COMMENTS: Philip S.
Paine always made it his practice to keep abreast of the latest
developments in the field of science, so that when he prepared
to begin writing The Age of Reason he was in the position to
apply all the discoveries in the field of scientific knowledge
to incidents related in the Old and New Testaments. In essence,
therefore, the work is an application of reason to the Bible, in
the light of the Newtonian principles of science, and is devoted
chiefly to a careful analysis of the revelations, prophecies,
miracles and stories related in that book. Actually, Paine was
doing for the English world what had already been done in France
by men like Voltaire and Diderot. Moreover, he was doing what
Jefferson had advised his nephew Peter Carr to do as early as
August 10, 1787. "Fix reason firmly in her seat,"
wrote Jefferson in his letter of advice, "and call to her
tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even
the existence of a God; because if there be one, He must more
approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfold fear.
You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own
country. Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy or
Tacitus. . . . Your own reason is the only oracle given you by
heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but the
uprightness of the decision." (Philip S. Foner, editor,
Thomas Jefferson Selections from His Writings, p. 76.)
||December 28: Paine is arrested
on order by Robespierre and imprisoned at Luxembourg palace. His
only hope of release rested with Gouveneur Morris, who believed
Paine had essentially given up his American citizenship by
becoming a delegate to the French National Convention.
Robespierre regards Paine as a paid journalist, dangerous because
journalists mislead the people with their writings.
||July: After months of
executions, Robespierre falls and is himself executed.
||August: James Monroe is
appointed to replace Gouverneur Morris as the American minister to
||September: Paine writes a
forty-three page essay supporting his assertion of American
citizenship, which he sends to James Monroe.
||October: A letter written by
Monroe in mid-September finally reached Paine in prison. The
letter stated that Monroe solidly believed Paine to be an American
citizen and would do all he could to obtain Paine's release.
||November 4: After ten months in
prison and without any financial resources left, Paine is
Monroe invites Paine to stay at his home; he stays for more than
||January: Paine is reinstated to
the French National Convention, although he did not attend any
sessions until the later part of the year.
||June: Paine's essay, Dissertation
on the First Principles of Government, written when he first
arrived in France, is published.
Paine wrote this essay to guide Dutch republicans in their own
struggle for a new form of government. Of property, Paine
acknowledges that some have small desire for material goods while
to others the accumulation of property is "the sole business
of their lives, and they follow it as a religion." He argues
against making property ownership the criterion for the right to
vote. He writes:
"An avidity to
punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch,
to misinterpret and to misapply even the best of laws. He that
owuld make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy
from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a
precedent that will reach to himself."
||July: Paine speaks to the
National Convention on the fundamental importance of discarding
expediency in fvor of adherence to principles.
||July: A new French Constitution
is adopted, creating two legislative bodies, the Council of Five
Hundred and the Council of Elders.
||October: The second part of
The Age of Reason is published.
In this second part, he challenges the assertion that the Bible
is the word of God. "I totally disbelieve that the Almighty
ever did communicate anything to man by any mode of speech, in any
language, or by any kind of vision or appearance, or by any means
which our senses are capable of receiving, otherwise than by the
universal display of himself in the works of the creation, and by
that repugnance we feel in ourselves to bad actions, and
disposition to good ones."
Paine is a believer in moral sense, that we are born with an
instinctive understanding of right and wrong -- but an
understanding that is subject to nurturing that can be necessary
and appropriate or wholly inappropriate and repugnant.
||Over the winter of 1795-96,
Paine writes his pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, in response
to a sermon by the bishop of Llandaff that attempts to give divine
sanction to the maldistribution of wealth.
Paine refers to the societal structure of the indigenous tribes
of North America as an example of the "natural and primitive
state of man." He writes:
"There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of
human misery which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the
towns and streets of Europe. Poverty, therefore, is a thing
created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in
the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without
those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, sciences, and
Paine also understands the fundamental conflict between the
indigenous societies and that of European-Americans:
"[M]an in a natural state, subsisting by hunting, requires
ten times the quantity of land to range over to procure himself
sustenance, than would support him in a civilzed state, where the
earth is cultivated. When, therefore, a country becomes populous
by the additional aids of cultivation, arts, and science, there is
a necessity of preserving things in that state; without it there
cannot be sustenance of more, perhaps, than a tenth part of its
inhabitants. The thing, therefore, now to be done is to remedy the
evils and preserve the benefits that have arisen to society by
passing from the natural to that which is called the civilized
Paine recognizes clearly the principle that the earth is the
birthright of all humankind; and, he is sufficiently perceptive to
recognize the practical problems of preserving this birthright:
"[A]s it is impossible to separate the improvement made by
cultivation from the earth itself, upon which that improvement is
made, the idea of landed property arose from that inseparable
connection; but it is nevertheless true that it is the value of
the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual
Paine's solution to the dilemma is one championed by others,
including Herman Spencer and Henry George. He writes:
"Every proprietor ... of cultivated land owes to the
community a ground rent .. for the land which he holds..."
||April: Paine's pamphlet, The
Decline and Fall of the English system of Finance is completed
This essay may have been commissioned by the French government.
He compared Britain's national debt of some 400 million pounds
with the hard money on deposit with the Bank of England --
estimated to be 1 million pounds. As things turned out, the Bank
of England was forced to suspend convertibility in 1797, although
the Bank and government survived the crisis.
||July: Paine writes an open Letter
to George Washington, which attacks Washington and blames him
for his long imprisonment in France. The letter was delivered in
Philadelphia to Benjamin Frnaklin Bache, who released portions in
October and November, then the entire pamphlet in February 1797.
Freeman Hawke reports that one of Paine's American supporters in
France concluded that Paine "was, like many other geniuses
advanced in life, both vain and obstinate to an extreme degree."
||November: James Monroe is
recalled by Washington, replaced as minister in France by Charles
||December: John Adams is elected
to succeed George Washington if president of the united States.
||In Philadelphia, Paine's
complete works are published by Thomas Carey.
||September: Upheaval in France
results in the purging of anti-republicans from the government.
Napoleon Bonaparte's armies emerge victorious over the Austrians
||October: An American
commission, composed of Pinckney, John Marhsall and Elbridge
Gerry, arrived in France to settle the differences between the two
Paine is not trusted to maintain confidences. Pinckney believes
that much that makes its way to the French does so by way of
||December: After being called
upon by Napoleon Bonaparte, Paine wrote an essay on how to
successfully invade England.
||September: An embittered Paine
writes an essay published in a French newspaper offering a plan
for the conquest of America.
||October: Thomas Jefferson is
elected to succeed John Adams as president of the united States.
||During the year, Paine writes a
series of essays outlining a model maritime compact to govern
Paine is now isolated from any influence in Franco-American
affairs and prevented from writing anything on the subject in the
He also wrote to Jefferson that he was working to complete a
third part to The Age of Reason, which he planned to have
published once he returned to America. This manuscript and other
writings entrusted to Madame Bonneville as executrix of Paine's
will, are thought to have been destroyed by her after she reverted
||A bridge incorporating Paine's
design is completed over the River Wear in England. Paine begins
work on an improved design.
||March: The French and English
sign a truce, creating a very tentative peace and an opportunity
for Paine to return to America.
||August: Paine departs from
France for his return to America. His ship arrives in Baltimore on
He arrived to a host of sneers and jeers rather than applause.
||November: Paine begins a series
of open letters To the Citizens of the United States,
charging Federalists with subverting the principles of the
revolution, attacking John Adams and George Washington
||December: Paine responds to a
friendly but questioning letter from Samuel Adams concerning
Paine's religious beliefs. Paine has the letter along with his
Paine's letter ends with the following:
"Our relations to each other in this world is as men and the
man who is a friend to man and to his rights, let his religious
opinions be what they may, is a good citizen to whom I can give,
as I ought to do, and as every other ought, the right hand of
||January: Spain cedes the
Louisiana Territory to France, and the French close off access to
the Mississippi River to American commerce.
||March: Paine made his way to
New York City, where he was treated by repubicans to a banquet in
||May: Paine wrote a public
letter supporting the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory.
||August: The American purchase
of the Louisiana Territory from France is consummated.
||October: Paine moves to his
farm in New Rochelle but ends up staying in the village.
||January: Paine moves back to
New York City. During the year he writes several essays which he
contributes to a deist journal.
||Spring: Paine returns to his
farm in New Rochelle. His tenant had decided to leave, and he was
put to the task of settling affairs. He sold off part of the farm
for $4,000, which he planned to use to build a workshop.
||September: Paine writes an
essay attacking missionaries who used the Bible to proselytize
among the indigenous peoples of North America. He also wrote an
essay responding to a petition from the French inhabitants of
Louisiana, who asked for approval of their involvement in the
slave trade. Paine wrote:
"Will the prisoners they take in war be treated the better
by their knowing the horrid story of Samuel's brewing Agog in
pieces like a block of wood, or David's putting them under the
harrows of iron?"
||Late December: Paine's former
tenant attempts to shoot him through the window of his cottage,
||January: Paine accepts an
invitation to come live with William Carver in New York City. He
now contemplates assembling his own writings for publication.
||April: Paine returns to his
farm in New Rochelle.
||June: He wrote another letter
to The Citizens of the United States, again restating old
greviences against the Federalists and John Adams, in particular.
He also wrote a short pamphlet entitled Constitutions,
Governments, and Charters.
This pamphlet was written in response to the disclosure that
elected officials in New York had accepted bribes in return to
voting to give certain individuals a lucrative bank charter. Paine
wrote of the need for laws dealing with the incorporation of
||Fall: Most of his $4,000 gone,
Paine petitions Jefferson for a grant of land. His health is
failing and it is reported by biographers that he begins to drink
||Spring: Paine's health is
failing and he is in serious financial difficulty. He is forced to
sell his property in Bordentown, New Jersey. He comes to board
with William Carver in New York City. Carver helps him to recover.
||June: He wrote an essay on the
cause of yellow fever, published in the newspaper, The
Although he had no idea that the disease was being carried by the
mosquito, he was pretty sure that it somehow traveled in ships
from the tropics.
||October: Paine writes another
essay, A Challenge to the Federalists to Declare Their
||November: While visiting his
property in New Rochelle, New York (leased to Andrew Dean), Paine
attempts to vote in a local election but is refused on the ground
that he is not an American citizen..
He reports that his health is failing. He writes: "I have
passed through an experiment of dying, and I find death has no
terrors for me. ...As I am well enough to sit up some hours in the
day, though not well enough to get up without help, I employ
myself as I have always done, in endeavoring to bring man to the
right use of the reason that God has given him, and to direct his
||After several months sharing
quarters with a young artist named John Wesley Jarvis (who painted
Paine's portrait), Paine moved into rooms with a man named
Zakarias Hitt, a baker, a disciple of Paine. He stayed for ten
||January: Paine was forced to
sell his farm in New Rochelle, for which he received $10,000. He
then moved to a tavern, where he stayed until July, when he was
persuaded to sell the remainder of his assets (his house and small
parcel of land in Bordentown) and went to live with a man named
Ryder in Greenwich.
||January 18: Ill and thinking he
would soon die, Paine makes out his will. He writes nothing more.
He dies the morning of 8 June.
||BIOGRAPHY: James Cheetham
describes Paine as a drunkard and an athiest.
||BIOGRAPHY: Cleo Rickman
||William Cobbett, who had become
a disciple of Paine, removed Paine's remains from his burial plot
in New Rochelle and took them to England.
||BIOGRAPHY: Robert G. Ingersoll
||BIOGRAPHY: Moncure Daniel
||BIOGRAPHY: Thomas Alva Edison
COMMENTS: His book
is titled The Philosophy of Thomas Paine
||BIOGRAPHY: William van der
works are a crystallization of acute human reasoning, and they
will surely be appreciated more and more as the awakening world
reads what he has written."
||BIOGRAPHY: Frank Smith
||Paine's collected works, edited
by Philip S. Foner, are published.
||BIOGRAPHY: Arnold Kinsey King
details of Paine's years in America during the war for
||BIOGRAPHY: Alfred Owen Aldridge
||BIOGRAPHY: David Freeman Hawke
had known virtually every important political figure in England,
France, and the United States during his lifetime. Not one of
them publicly praised him after his death."
||BIOGRAPHY: Jack Fruchtman
Paine: Apostle of Freedom.
||BIOGRAPHY: Brian McCartin
Paine: Common Sense and Revolutionary Pamphleteering.