Thomas Paine

Why are Thomas Paine‘s philosophies important to democratic thought?

English political philosopher and author Thomas Paine (1737–1809) believed that a democracy is the only form of government that can guarantee natural rights. Paine arrived in the American colonies in 1774. Two years later he wrote Common Sense, a pamphlet that galvanized public support for the American Revolution (1775–83), which was already underway. During the struggle for independence, Paine wrote and distributed a series of 16 papers, called Crisis, upholding the rebels’ cause in their fight. Paine penned his words in the language of common speech, which helped his message reach a mass audience in America and elsewhere. He soon became known as an advocate of individual freedom. The fight for freedom was one that he waged in letters: In 1791 and 1792 Paine, now back in England, released The Rights of Man (in two parts), a work in which he defended the cause of the French Revolution (1789–99) and appealed to the British people to overthrow their monarchy. For this he was tried and convicted of treason in his homeland. Escaping to Paris, the philosopher became a member of the revolutionary National Convention. But during the Reign of Terror (1793–94) of revolutionary leader Maximilien Robespierre (1758–1794), Paine was imprisoned for being English. An American minister interceded on Paine’s behalf, insisting that Paine was actually an American. Paine was released on this technicality. He remained in Paris until 1802, and then returned to the United States. Though he played an important role in the American Revolution by boosting the morale of the colonists, he nevertheless lived his final years as an outcast and in poverty.


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