Thomas Paine was an English/American political activist, author and political theorist and revolutionary who emigrated to America in 1774. On January 10 1776, his pamphlet Common Sense was published for the first time ( though anonymously,because of its treasonous content.). Here he delivered his uncompronising message to the common people, which set the seeds for the American Revolution.In this important document, he passionately urged the American to create a new form of government - a modern republic, based entirely on popular consent. He believed all men were born equal, so saw no need for Kings and Queens, he also distinguished between governments and society, at the root of all governments is evil but the root of society lay good. The pamphlet called for the end of British tyranny in the American colonies and a break with a country ruled by kings. Common Sense made its appearance at a crucial moment as the debate for American independence reached a tipping point.
He became a champion of equality and liberty and went on to support struggles in Britain and France, going on to critisise organised religion and the role of the Church. Inspired by Paine, radicalism reached a new audience in the early 1790s, a mass expansion into 'members unlimited' which soon prompted the moderate reformers, the patrician 'Friends of the People', to draw away and apart from the democratic radicals, the plebeian 'Friends of Liberty'.
Thomas Edison 150 years later would write ' we never had a similar intelligence in this Republic. In Common Sense Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history. As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today.With the publication of this pamphlet, Paine not only galvanized Americans, but gave them a voice. His pamphlet changed the American outlook on the war. Although Paine denounced the many British injustices in the pamphlet, the English constitution was the issue that he primarily wrote about in Common Sense. This was not enough on its own to bring about the radical thoughts to the people, so he continued to argue that the people ought to blame the King. Paine stated, “it is simple common sense to break away from such a corrupt and brutal government,” which gives support to his claims that the only solution left is that of independence.
Returning to Europe in 1787, and in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, he published his most famous work, The Rights of Man, 1791-2, which advocated the constitutional guarantee of the civil rights of individuals. Paine fled to France and was briefly elected to the French National Convention. Imprisoned for opposing the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, he returned to America in 1802. His promotion of the concept of human rights influenced the American Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Sadly Paine died in miserable circumstances in New York in 1809, having spent his last years in America often depressed, drunk and diseased. Ten years later William Cobbett dug up the bones and brought them to England - they have since disappeared - for a national memorial which, alas, has never materialised.
Of the Origin and Design of Government in General. With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution.
' Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; wheras they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by ourwants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, our calamities are heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistably obeyed, man would need no other law giver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least.'
Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession
' MANKIND being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be detroyed by some subsequent circumstance, the distinctions of rich and poor may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh ill-sounding names of oppression and avarice. Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the Means of riches, and tho' avarice will preserve a man from being necessitiously poor, it generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy.
But there is another and great distinction for which 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 distinctions 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 of misery to mankind.'
On the legitimacy of the English Monarchy
' England, since the conquest, has known some few good monarchs, but groaned beneath as much larger number of bad ones, yet no man in his senses can say that their claim under William the Conqueror is a very honorable one. A French bastard, landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original. It certainly hath no divinity in it. However, it is needless to spend much time in exposing the folly of hereditary right, if there are any so weak as to believe it, let them promiscuously worship the ass and lion, and welcome. I shall neither copy their humility, nor disturb their devotion.'
On the Cause of Revolution
' O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.'