Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Happy birthday, pamphleteer Thomas Paine

It is the birthday of American activist Thomas Paine (1737), whose pamphlet Common Sense (1776) inspired American colonists to take up arms against Great Britain. Scholars say it became the first American bestseller. As a percentage of population, more people had read Common Sense than watch the Super Bowl today. Paine also wrote The American Crisis (1776), which begins "These are the times that try men's souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country …" George Washington had it read to his soldiers. While living in England, Paine wrote The Rights of Man (1791), a defense of the French Revolution. That got him kicked out of England. Later, while imprisoned in France, he wrote The Age of Reason (1794), a treatise on theism and criticism of the church. When he returned to America, he discovered that his religious views had ruined his reputation. He died at age 72, abandoned by his friends and ridiculed by the public.

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