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Thomas Paine

(1737—1809) author and revolutionary


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(1737–1809),

son of a Quaker staymaker of Thetford. He was dismissed as an exciseman in 1774 for agitating for an increase in excisemen's pay. He sailed for America, where he published his pamphlet Common Sense (1776) and a series of pamphlets, The Crisis (1776–83), encouraging American independence and resistance to England, he also wrote against slavery and in favour of the emancipation of women. In 1787 he returned to England (via France), and published in 1791 the first part of The Rights of Man in reply to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France; the second part appeared in 1792. Paine left for France, to avoid arrest, where he was warmly received and elected a member of the Convention. However, he opposed the execution of Louis XVI, was imprisoned for nearly a year, and narrowly escaped the guillotine. The Age of Reason (1793) greatly increased the violent hatred with which he was regarded in England. He returned to America in 1802, where his views on religion and his opposition to Washington had made him unpopular. His writings became a textbook for the radical party in England; his connection with the American struggle and the French Revolution gave him a unique position as an upholder of the politics of the Enlightenment.

Subjects: Literature.


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