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Thomas Paine's Early Years in England
Thomas Paine was 39 years
old and he had not succeeded in any work he
tried. First, he tried stay making, a trade his
father taught him. Then he ran away to sea for
two years. Then he became a tax collector. So
far, no success.
But when he moved to Lewes,
England, he began to change. He was still a tax
collector but he became more than that. He spoke
about how ordinary people were mistreated by the
law and the English government. He joined the
Headstrong Club, a debating club that met every
month in the White Hart Hotel.
He became such a good
debater that hardly anyone could win an argument
against him. William Lee, a Headstrong Club
member, wrote this ode to Paine:
While might reasoners jar,
We crown thee General of the Headstrong War;
Thy logic vanquish'd error, and thy mind
No bounds, but those of right and truth,
Thy soul of
fire must sure ascend the sky,
Immortal PAINE, thy fame can never die;
For men like thee their names must ever save
From the black edicts of the tyrant grave.
In Lewes, a group of tax
collectors asked him to write a petition to ask
Parliament for better working conditions, higher
salary, etc. While writing that, he also wrote a
song for a local politician running for office.
When he took the petition to London to present it
to Parliament, he met Benjamin Franklin, a member
of the Club of Honest Whigs. Franklin and others
noticed that Thomas Paine spoke with a deep
passion and even a rage about the abused English
people encountered in everyday life. Perhaps,
even Thomas Paine had not yet realized that his
father's Quaker sensibilities had by now become
his own. He also shared the Americans' complaints
against the King.
George Fox started the
Society of Quakers in England in 1688. To be a
Quaker in England was to be an outsider because
the main religion in England was Anglican, a
protestant faith. Because Quakers were different
in the conduct of their lives, they were jailed,
fined and finally :helped" to leave England.
Quaker ways meant that none of them would bow to
anyone. Not one of them would take a hat off in
the presence of royalty. Those behaviors often
meant a jail sentence in England.
In America, many Quakers
settled in the western part of southern New
Jersey and founded Pennsylvania, named for the
Quaker Penn family. They built their
meetinghouses, many of which still stand today.
The Quakers still practice their religion. Today,
they also are called the Society of Friends, or
simply Friends. Their most well known belief is
against war - against violence, beating, and
execution. Arguments become settled by talking it
through and out among themselves, not through
law. Behaviors of drinking alcohol, dressing
fancy, speaking ill of one]s neighbors and
family, having slaves, being tardy, stealing,
lying, etc., were not accepted. The Circle of
Friends made their own rules of conduct and
expected all in the Circle to abide by thee
rules. If someone broke a rule it was reported to
the Circle. A committee would be appointed to
help the person correct that misbehavior.
At a time in the 1700 and
1800s when towns had no police, no hospitals, no
schools and other services we have today, the
Quaker way held their community together in
safety. They also prospered. Friends founded
schools for both boys and girls and because they
did not believe in slavery, they helped slaves
find their freedom. Their sensitivity included
Native American Indians with who they had good
relations in America. While the Quakers do not
agree with everyone, they believe that everyone
should be heard and their beliefs should be
respected. Their tolerance for differences was
and is very strong.
Sometimes, when one is young
and learning from someone, he or she is so busy
learning that he doesn't realize how important a
certain person is in helping him to grow up. This
was probably true for Thomas Paine. He learned
much from his Quaker father. His sensitivity
about social injustice, against capital
punishment, caring for the sick, poor and elderly
became topics he wrote about all through his
life. His passion and his anger at abuse fired
his written language so brightly that his words
written long ago still shine as brilliantly
today. Then there was another Quaker way that
Thomas Paine adopted.
In America, outstanding
Quakers like John Woolman and Susan B. Anthony
were traveling promoters of freedom and liberty.
Often they arrived in hostile land where many
feared for their safety. But their faith in the
goodness of people provided them protection.
Thomas Paine saw himself as an itinerant helper,
a revolutionary writer. His credo was:
"My country is
My religion is to do good."
Thomas Paine joined people
forming new governments in America and in France
where he helped them write their constitutions.
He also helped write the constitution for the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He traveled
wherever his passionate words and restless pen
Some people called Thomas
Paine a propagandist: one who has thoughts to
sell. One thought he promoted was unity of the
colonies. He reasoned, as did others, that all
colonies had to work together to affect a victory
over the British. Another thought was a
suggestion that the colonies had to support the
emerging new American government with money.
Taxation is never popular; however, General
George Washington said the Continental Army
needed funds to function and so did the
Paine's ideas, like the one
for the first bank, were solutions to problems
the new America faced. As he learned about these
needs from those in the new government, he became
their advocate and their cheerleader for
solutions. He also wrote in great detail about
government or Army problems that needed a
solution from all the colonies. Thomas Paine
behaved then much like today's Presidential press
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Benjamin Franklin's Influence on
Thomas Paine and Benjamin
Franklin met in London during Paine's time there
in the years of 1772-1773.
Franklin was the colonies'
representative who hoped to reconcile differences
between America and England.
The elder statesman
surrounded himself with like-minded supporters of
the American cause, and Thomas Paine soon became
one of them.
Paine was in London to
advocate on behalf of the tax collectors of
Lewes, England. He had written a petition asking
for higher wages and better working conditions
and presented it to Parliament.
While the petition moved
through committees of Parliament, Paine used his
free time by attending scientific lectures and
joining in lively discourses at coffee houses and
Soon his debating skills
shone brightly and, perhaps, he was surprised
when he found himself surrounded by attentive
audiences to his passionate pleas on behalf of
the common people and for the common good.
One in his attentive
audience was Benjamin Franklin.
A consummate networker,
Franklin had a knack for finding talented people.
Wherever he went in the
world, he'd convince them to come to America.
It was impossible then for
Franklin to know of Paine's eventual effect on
Nor did either he or Thomas
Paine know that their friendship, indeed their
father-son relationship, would last their entire
At Paine's requests
throughout his life, Franklin would point him in
the right direction.
During their meetings
together in London, Thomas Paine must have
presented himself to Franklin as a person not
sure of himself, not clear as to where he was
going in life.
So Franklin obliged Paine
with his first direction: "Go to
Philadelphia! Go to my adopted home town ...
Thomas Paine sailed for
Philadelphia in September 1774 and arrived on
Benjamin Franklin returned
to Philadelphia from England a year later ... in
He then joined delegates of
the Continental Congress as they met to discuss
their complaints about England. Franklin's
assignment to England had been to fix the
arguments between the colonists and the English
Mostly, the colonists did
not like to pay taxes to the English. They wanted
well-qualified people appointed to run their
local government and they disliked obeying
English laws that restricted their ability to
Franklin was not pleased
when the English ignored the colonists'
complaints and he wasn't pleased that he couldn't
fix these arguments between the colonists and the
English government. Privately, he thought the
only way to resolve the argument was for the
colonists to become independent.
Independence. That was a bad
word to utter publicly.
Publicly, Franklin said
nothing. He listened to the delegates who
received strict orders from their home states not
to talk about that "no-no" word ...
independence. Franklin made a suggestion,
however, and it was to Thomas Paine.
He might have said something
like this: "Thomas, write something about
Through the fall of 1775,
Paine wrote what he titled The Plain Truth.
He gave it to his two best
friends, both named Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin
Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush.
Franklin and Rush approved,
but Rush thought Common Sense was a better
Sense was sent to the Philadelphia printer,
Robert Bell, and on January 10, 1776, Common
Sense hit the Philadelphia streets like a
bullet from a gun.
Common Sense became
America's first bestseller, and within the first
100 days, in towns and farms across the 13
colonies, people had bought 120,000 copies.
This happened at a time when
5,000 copies of any pamphlet would be the most
copies expected to be sold.
The same day Common Sense
was published, a letter arrived in the colonies
from England's King George III.
The letter from the King to
the colonies, along with Common Sense,
created a great commotion of talk among the
people of the colonies.
The directions from the
colonies to the delegates to the Continental
Congress began to change. One by one, delegates
heard a new call for ... independence,
independence, independence, independence.
Even George Washington, who
before was unsure about that "no-no"
word, changed his mind in favor of independence.
Within six months, Common
Sense had "run" all over the 13
colonies and jumped the Atlantic Ocean to
England, France, Germany, Poland, Russia,
Ireland, Scotland and other countries.
The first foreign language
translation was into German.
Thousands of people read Common
Sense and it was said that more than 500,000
copies were sold in six months.
Paine's written words
changed the talks, arguments, discussions,
sermons and others' writing through the next
months in America - until July 1776 when the
Declaration of Independence said it finally:
Independence for all of the colonies.
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Writes The American Crisis
Paine joined the Continental
Army in the fall of 1776 and became aide-de-camp
to Gen. Nathaniel Greene. He wrote and read
orders and letters for the general.
Paine not only thanked
and encouraged the American troops during the
Revolutionary War, but he wrote details about the
retreat of Washington]s army. Never before had
reports of battles been so timely printed in
He wrote on the front
line of the battles of the war and so became
America]s first war correspondent.
General Washington ordered Crisis
I read to all his men before crossing the
Delaware River at on Christmas Night 1776, on
their way to Trenton where they surprised and
captured a regiment of Hessian soldiers in their
That was the turning point
of the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Paine's words lifted
the spirits of those tired, poorly clothed
soldiers and sparked their resolve to fight on.
Their American victory in Trenton truly stunned
the watching world.
The European military
strategists scratched their heads. How could the
rag-tag Americans beat the best of the
European-trained expert soldiers?
Even though he reported
about the war, strategies, outcomes, etc., he
also wrote about his feelings about the war and
always stressed how important it was for the
colonies to act together in unity.
"I call not upon a few,
but upon all; not on this state or that
state, but on every state: up and help us;
lay your shoulders to the wheel; better to have
too much force than too little, when so great an
object is at stake."
Thomas Paine had respect for
the printed word and even thought words had great
power. Crisis II began with these words:
"Universal empire is
the prerogative of a writer. His concerns are
with all mankind, and though he cannot command
their obedience, he can assign them their duty.
The Republic of Letters is more ancient than
monarchy, and of far higher character in the
world that the vassal court of Britain; he that
rebels against reason is a real rebel, but he
that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny
and has a better title to 'Defender of the
Faith,' that George the Third."
Through the war, Paine wrote
13 Crisis and three extra Crisis
articles until the very end of the war. His first
extra Crisis was in 1780 when a shortage
of money to continue the war was, indeed, a
crisis of extra proportions.
He calculated: "The
peace established then will, on an average, be
five shillings per head."
In 1782 he pled for national
unity in Crisis X: " Each state is to
the United States what each individual is the
state he lives in."
In May 1782, in Crisis XI,
Paine became exasperated when the British tried
to break the partnership between the Americans
and French by offering bribes to both sides
against the other.
He wrote: "We
sometimes exercise sensations to which language
is not equal.... Our feelings, imprisoned by
their magnitude, find no way out ... and, in the
struggle of expression, every finger tries to be
In Supernumerary Crisis,
May 31, 1782, Common Sense begged for the
dismissal of a death sentence to a British
officer. The Americans released the officer. Crisis
XIII congratulated the colonies at the end of
the war: "The times that tried men's souls
are over ... and the greatest and completest
revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and
In Crisis XIII, Paine reminded all,
"It was the cause of America that made me an
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