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Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine, an English political philosopher and writer, had immigrated to Philadelphia in 1774 and soon became acquainted with advocates of political change. In January 1776, he published “Common Sense,” the first pamphlet to advocate American independence. It outlined ideas that would remain central to Paine’s thought: the superiority of republican government over a monarchical system, equality of rights among all citizens, and the world significance of the American Revolution. He believed America would be “an asylum for mankind.”

Common Sense sold about 150,000 copies, a tribute to both the persuasiveness of Paine’s argument and the clarity and the power of his prose. Paine strove for simplicity. His message was simple: to understand the nature of politics, all it takes is common sense.

For the next several years, Paine threw himself into the struggle for independence, writing the Crisis papers (which begin with the famous phrase, “These are the times that try men’s souls”) to bolster the morale of Washington’s army.

Returning to Europe in 1787, Paine soon entered the political debate launched by the French Revolution. His “Rights of Man” offered a new vision of the republican state as a promoter of the social welfare.

After his return to America in 1802, Paine came under constant assault by evangelical Christians for his deist writings. Only six mourners attended his funeral. But Paine’s writings became part of the intellectual foundation for nineteenth-century radicalism.


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