“I have always regarded Paine as one of the greatest of all
Americans. Never have we had a sounder intelligence in this republic
. . ."
Thomas Paine, a key founder of the American Republic
and a strong Deist.
was my good fortune to encounter Thomas Paine's works in my boyhood
. . . it was, indeed, a revelation to me to read that great
thinker's views on political and theological subjects. Paine
educated me then about many matters of which I had never before
thought. I remember very vividly the flash of enlightenment that
shone from Paine's writings and I recall thinking at that time,
‘What a pity these works are not today the schoolbooks for all
children!' My interest in Paine was not satisfied by my first
reading of his works. I went back to them time and again, just as I
have done since my boyhood days.”
Thomas Paine, the great
writer and thinker praised by the above quote of Thomas A. Edison,
was born in Thetford, England on January 29, 1737. His father,
Joseph Pain, worked as a staymaker and belonged to the
Society of Friends, or Quakers. His mother, Frances Cocke, was a
member of the Church of England. As a boy Tom Paine was required to
read and study the Bible, and was made a member of the Church of
Like most people in that time who belonged to the
financial lower class, Thomas Paine worked in his father's line of
business as a staymaker. He opened his own shop in the village of
Sandwich, and there he met and married Mary Lambert in September
1759. She died less than a year latter during premature childbirth.
His business failed and in 1764 he began working as an exciseman
for the Crown. He kept that position until 1774 when he was
discharged after taking up the unsuccessful struggle to win a pay
raise for the excisemen. Between 1764 and 1774 he married Elizabeth
Ollive, was divorced, operated a tobacco shop and watched as this
business, too, failed. Years later he said, “trade I do not
This period of his life, though generally
negative, was not completely so. A positive turning point took place
when George Lewis Scott, who was a superior of his in the excise
office, introduced him to Benjamin Franklin in December of 1772
while in London. They attended scientific lectures together, and it
was here that Thomas Paine began to develop Deist ideas. He wrote of
this time, “After I had made myself master of the use of the globes,
and of the orrery, and conceived an idea of the infinity of space,
and of the eternal divisibility of matter, and obtained, at least, a
general knowledge of what was called natural philosophy, I began to
compare, or confront, the internal evidence those things afford with
the Christian system of faith.”
With a letter of introduction
from his benefactor and mentor Ben Franklin in his possession, and
repeated failures in England recently behind him, Thomas Paine
sailed for America in late September 1774. He arrived in
Philadelphia on November 30 stricken with typhus. While bedridden
and receiving care from a doctor who was a friend of Mr. Franklin,
he wrote an essay entitled “Dialogue Between General Wolfe and
General Gage in a Wood near Boston” which, a year and a half before
the U.S. Declaration of Independence was written, encouraged the
separation of the Colonies from Britain.
After regaining his
health, he worked at various jobs and eventually settled on one at a
print shop owned by Robert Aitken. He ran the routine operations of
the business and also wrote essays and poetry for the owner's
magazine, the Pennsylvania Magazine.
Paine was instrumental in getting the fence sitters off the fence on
the side of revolution with his work, Common Sense.
Revolutionary War broke out, “Shouldering a musket, Paine joined the
rank and file, and won reputation as a brave soldier.” But he made
an even bigger contribution to the American Revolution when, in its
darkest hours, he wrote The Crisis. The ideas in The Crisis, which
is a total of fifteen separate essays each written when an obstacle
arose which to weaker hearts and minds seemed insurmountable,
strengthened the beleaguered Americans. They planted hope in the
hearts of the active idealists even as thousands of Continental
soldiers were deserting, those loyal to the legally established
government were harassing the rebels whenever possible, and no other
nation was willing to assist the radicals fighting and struggling
against the most powerful government on earth to bring forth not
only a new nation, but a new ideal and way of life. Thomas Paine's
writings were so successful and vitally important to the success of
the American Revolution, John Adams wrote, “Without the pen of
Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.”
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After the Revolution was finally
won, the New York legislature, to show its appreciation, gave Tom
Paine a 300 acre farm, which had been confiscated from a Tory, in
New Rochelle, New York.
Working towards his goals and
interests in science, inventing, designing, and writing, Thomas
Paine invented the first iron bridge to be constructed in Europe.
While in Europe he wrote Rights of Man which was directed against
the anti-people writings of Edmund Burke of England, who blasted the
French Revolution in order to insure his pension.
THE AGE OF
Tom Paine wanted to write about religion for a long
time. However, he wanted to save it for his last writing, believing
that when a person is facing imminent death, they will be most
honest about their beliefs concerning God and theology. He also felt
his ideas would be attacked by revealed religion, which they were
and still are, and the fact that he wrote them when he did would
strengthen his arguments put forth in the work.
French Revolution he went against popular sentiment and publicly
admonished the provisional government not to execute the King and
Queen. He said to abolish the title and position, but to spare the
lives of the persons who hold the positions. This didn't sit well
with those in power who were jealous of him. He was aware of his
powerful enemies, as well as the guillotines they were making
frequent use of on a daily basis. Believing he would soon meet the
same fate as thousands of others the government didn't approve of,
he began writing The Age of Reason.
At about 4:00 a.m. on
December 29, 1793 Thomas Paine was arrested by French authorities.
The reluctant guards and interpreter went through his papers. After
examining the manuscript of The Age of Reason, the interpreter said,
“It is an interesting work; it will do much good.” Paine was then
taken to the prison of the Luxembourg.
On page 58 of The Age
of Reason, The Complete Edition (for the Kindle version click here)
Mr. Paine writes concerning an illness he contracted while in
prison. “. . . I was seized with a fever that in its progress had
every symptom of becoming mortal, and from the effects of which I am
not recovered. It was then that I remembered with renewed
satisfaction, and congratulated myself most sincerely, on having
written the former part of “The Age of Reason.” I had but little
expectation of surviving, and those about me had less. I know,
therefore, by experience, the conscientious trial of my own
After Paine spent ten months and nine days in
the Luxembourg prison, James Monroe, who was the new American
Minister to France, won the release of Thomas Paine. Paine was very
ill due to the inhumane conditions he was subjected to in prison.
James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth took him in and nursed him back
to health. While a guest of the Monroes he wrote the second part of
The Age of Reason. This time he had a Bible in his possession and
used it most aptly against itself. Irate religious leaders tried,
all in vain, to refute the solid and sound arguments Thomas Paine
unleashed against superstition. It seems what upset that day's
System the most was his bringing Deism to the masses of people.
After Thomas Paine, Deism was no longer just an intellectual parlor
topic. However, the System prevailed by slanderous sermons of
damnation against Mr. Paine and anyone who followed his demonic
Deism. He was viciously and unreasonably attacked not only from
pulpits around the world, but also from the press. In particular,
the Federalist press attacked him as well as his good friend Thomas
Jefferson, who was running for the presidency. He was hanged in
effigy by good Christians the world over, and in England The Age of
Reason was banned as blasphemy and the government
prosecuted/persecuted a bookseller who carried the work.
he returned to America Paine was vilified by almost everyone. People
threatened him, mocked him, and some attempted to ostracize him.
They did everything but successfully counter his arguments against
“revealed” religion. Elihu Palmer, a blind ex-Presbyterian minister,
published a Deist monthly called The Prospect, or View of the Moral
World. He printed many essays written by Tom Paine in this journal,
some of which came from works Mr. Paine intended for a third part of
The Age of Reason. These essays are all included in their entirety
The Age of Reason, the Complete Edition.
everything he had to America, France, and in fact to all humanity in
the most altruistic way, Thomas Paine died . His friend Clio Rickman
wrote concerning his death, “On the eighth of June, 1809, about nine
in the morning, he placidly, and almost without a struggle, died, as
he had lived, a Deist.” Because his public ideas regarding religion
were so radical and in direct opposition to superstition
(superstition equalling all man-made revealed religions), he died
virtually alone. Only seven people attended his funeral, and the
Quakers refused to allow his burial in a Quaker cemetery, so he was
buried on his farm. Ten years later a one time adversary turned
admirer, William Cobbett, dug up his earthly remains and brought
them to England, where they were later lost.
The following is
a list of major accomplishments of Thomas Paine taken largely from
Life and Writings of Thomas Paine.
- He was the first to
advocate the end of slavery.
- He was the first to say “the
American nation,” and “the Free and Independent States of America.”
- He was the first to propose constitutional government for the
- He was first to form a plan of international
- He was a pioneer in national and international
- He was a pioneer in the fight for equal rights for
- Had France heeded him the Reign of Terror never would
- He proposed equitable, progressive, and
workable land reforms, and industrial and wage systems.
invented the first iron bridge used in Europe.
- He inferred
that the fixed stars were suns, twenty years before Herschel.
- He correctly surmised the cause of, and thereby pointed to the
remedy for yellow fever.
- He, more than anyone else, presented
Deism to all the people, thus breaking the old confines that had
previously limited Deism to the few bold intellectuals who were
primarily of the financial upper class.
By Bob Johnson
Reprinted from Veterans Today
About Author: Bob Johnson is a
freelance writer in the Tampa area of Florida. He was raised Roman
Catholic, but after a stint in Marine Corps Infantry and reading
Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason he became a Deist. In 1993 he
founded the World Union of Deists, and in 1996 he launched the first
website devoted to
Deism. He is the author of
A Revolution in Religion, A Revolution in You and
An Answer to C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. He has also written
the introduction to
Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition and
Principles of Nature by Elihu Palmer.
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