Thomas Paine was one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution. A philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary Paine authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the Revolution, “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis”. His ideals reflected Enlightenment-era Humanistic ideals including believing in the ability of people to govern themselves. A total of around 500,000 copies of “Common Sense” alone were sold. An attack against the monarchy it supported the idea that ordinary people can indeed make sound judgments on major political issues and that there exists a body of popular wisdom that is readily apparent to anyone. It was passed around and read aloud in taverns contributing significantly to spreading the idea of a representational government and the start of the American Revolution. Paine had the ability to render complex ideas intelligible to the average reader with a clear, concise writing style. He went on to serve with Washington’s army during the war where he wrote “The American Crisis” during a particularly low point which was a great encouragement to the troops.
After the war, Paine initially became engrossed in the French Revolution and wrote his “Rights of Man” while visiting England. The book began as a defense of the French Revolution but evolved into an analysis of the basic reasons for discontent in European society and a remedy for the evils of arbitrary government, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and war. The publication advocated, among other things, for little money for the military, lower taxes on and subsidized education for the poor, a progressive income tax on the wealthy, opposition to the monarchy in favor of democracy and denied that man is inherently corrupt in nature. He was indicted for treason by England as the government felt the book advocated “bloody revolution” but he had already left the country. Later, after visiting France and despite generally supporting the French Revolution, he was imprisoned there due to his opposition to the death penalty deployed by the French Revolutionaries against their opposition, including the King.
A long-time hater of the Bible and Christianity, he wrote the “Age of Reason” later in life, an assault on organized religion including a compilation of many inconsistencies he claimed to have found in the Bible and questioning the divinity of Jesus. He wrote “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God.”
Paine died in 1809 and was buried on his property in New Rochelle. Paine’s remains were stolen in 1819 by British radical newspaperman, William Cobbett, and shipped to England in order to give Paine a more worthy burial than he got in America where he had fallen out of favor toward the end of his life being regarded there as one of the world’s greatest infidels. However, due to a lack of funds for a proper memorial the bones remained in Cobbett’s cellar until he died and then were lost with no clear evidence of their fate ever being discovered.
2 thoughts on “Thomas Paine”
This is an interesting summary of Paine. It is surprising that so many casual, weak believers and humanists participated to establish the first nation founded upon Christian values and principles. Perhaps, America was God’s doing, through the generations of ordinary Believers during that period. As you pointed out Paine’s anti-religious sentiments were not adopted by the masses. How did the humanists of those days, differ from humanists today, that seem to hate tolerance, liberty, and self determination?
Yes, the American Revolution was as much a humanist event as Christian. The Revolution was started primarily by men similar to today’s Cancel Culture – they would not tolerate any opinion other than their own and this when a proper Christian would have likely supported Britain as a Loyalist. There is generally no provision in the Scriptures to rebel against a government God has allowed over a Christian. Having said that, God allowed these revolutionaries to be pushed aside after the war and thankfully a more Conservative and Christian lot arose to establish the Constitution and our government. However, just a few years later the American people widely supported the French Revolution even after word came of all the wicked murders associated with it including the King and many church leaders. This Revolution was unequivocally Humanist and anti-Christian but the American people largely cheered it on. America has been mythologized and, although most Americans considered themselves Christians, they often did not live it out. In regard to your question, the more Humanist Americans were just like the Humanists of today. They were intolerant and only allowed for liberty within parameters they set. Those that wanted to remain loyal, a reasonable and really correct Christian position, were tortured and harassed. See my article on “Desperate Sons”.