A man with a modern view of the past
I was amazed when I stumbled across a reference to “Thomas Paine” in a biography of William Blake. Apparently they were contemporaries working as writers for the same magazine in London. Blake had the fitful appreciation for Paine, mostly from their shared critique of monarchy and religious institutions. The historical connection wholly pervaded my interest in Paine so I purchased a collection of his works “Common Sense and Other Essays.”
“Common sense”, “natural rights of man”, “enlightenment”, “revolutionary” are typical phrases bundled with an introduction to Thomas Paine. Despite being an English outsider, he was fundamental in fashioning the birth of America alongside Benjamin Franklin. His work “Rights of Man” was printed in over 150,000 pamphlets and distributed within the colonies, which at the time did not exceed 700,000 in population. “Rights of Man” was well read and quoted amongst revolutionaries in opposition to British rule.
His first major American work was actually a piece detailing his abhorrence to slavery, “African Slavery in America.” It was published in 1775 almost 100 years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. This was possibly the first public work denouncing slavery and promoting emancipation. It was key to the abolition of slavery in the northern colonies and the establishment of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1763.
Thomas Paine was particularly skilled in poetry, mathematics, and natural science at a young age. He had difficulty maintaining a career due to his open political critiques of Britain’s monarchy. He fled to France and lived there for a periods as a British exile, an honorary citizen, and later a prisoner.