History knows a lot of instances when people who made a huge contribution to the development of society were rejected by contemporaries because of a simple misunderstanding of the scale. Such a fate befell one of the most intelligent persons of Thomas Paine. Having been at the height of his fame, towards the end of his life, contrary to all the results, Thomas was subjected to “exile,” both morally and physically. A thinker and tireless traveler, more famous and revered in faraway America than in his homeland, he struggled to the very end to create a society of justice, for true freedom, for the rights of the people.
Thomas Paine, an Englishman by birth, was born on January 29, 1737, in the city of Thetford, and grew up in the Quaker family. After receiving primary education at a local school, he went to the apprenticeship at the age of 13, but a provincial life did not attract him. Having enlisted in a privateer ship, he went into the sea. Only three years later the father of a young adventurer managed to find him and bring home.
The next few years after Paine’s return to his homeland could hardly be called successful and happy. He began working first with his father, then with the tax service but both times turned into a failure for him. In 1772, it was he who, at the request of his colleagues, compiled and sent out to all members of parliament a collective letter demanding an increase in wages. In it, Paine convincingly argued that only a higher salary can save low-paid officials of the tax service from the temptation to take bribes and thereby protect it from corruption. Soon after this incident, he was dismissed under a plausible pretext.
Up to 37 years old, Thomas wandered about various jobs and actually lived in poverty, but luck turned to him when, in 1774 in London, fate brought him to Benjamin Franklin. He advised him to immigrate to Philadelphia, accompanied with a recommendation letter.
From this moment, Paine decided to devote himself to journalism. In 1775 he became editor of Pennsylvania Magazine, in which there were published his articles about the need to abolish slavery. These works largely influenced the formation of the anti-slavery movement in Philadelphia, where Paine was actually a member. Although the abolitionists existed before that, it was with the publication of Paine’s article that the movement became widespread among the American people.
The Master of Minds
The greatest response in the revolutionary-minded society of the United States was caused by Paine’s pamphlet entitled “Common Sense.” In it, the author severely criticizes the English constitution and the monarchy as such. He argued that “they are vicious remnants of two ancient tyrannies,” and concludes that the constitution is nothing more than “absurdity.” He urged the people to resort to extreme measures, namely, to launch armed actions against the colonialists.
The pamphlet “scattered” with incredible speed throughout America. Each of the 500,000 copies published has become literally a reference book in many homes. And this is not surprising, because such a thorough description of all shortcomings of an existing situation in America, firmly convinced the already rising people to struggle, that active action is necessary for the final establishment of an independent democratic republic. George Washington literally forced reading before the troops of Paine’s proclamations about the creation of the United States. As a result, in 1776 at the Second Continental Congress of the 13 colonies on July 4, the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
With special power, Paine’s brilliant publicist talent manifested itself in a series of brochures under the general title “Crises.” The arguments contained in them about essence of the struggle for independence were so encouraging to the soldiers. The first pamphlet began with a phrase that soon became a winged one: “Our time is testing people’s hearts!” Paine’s works, included in various publications, disperse instantly, and it would be only natural to assume that he will quickly become a rich man. However, since, at the insistence of the author himself, who was striving for maximum accessibility of his works to every person, all his publications were published on the cheapest paper and were sold at the lowest price, he still remained mired in debt by the poor.
Paine’s works made him incredibly famous and, in fact, the second most popular after G. Washington. After the formation of the United States, he was only for his services received the post of secretary of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 1780, he initiated and successfully held a national subscription company to conduct military operations in support of Washington, and in 1781 he coped well with the mission of obtaining a loan from France. But because of his relative lack of professionalism for such work, Paine made some irreparable mistakes. He was accused of divulging state secrets, and as a result, fired.
By researchers, Thomas Paine is among the most radical representatives of a political, democratic legal audience, developing during the War of Independence. It was he who raised the issue of separating the colonies from England, as well as creating an independent country.
Paine distinguished civil and natural human rights. The latter were inherent in person from birth by his/her nature. These included freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, the right to happiness, etc. These rights were fully possessed by a person only in his/her natural state, which, he believed, was an undeniable historical fact. With the formation of the state and society, people sacrificed part of their natural freedom and rights in a “common fund,” establishing an alliance for the development of society. Thus, the rights that a person received for membership in the society were formed. To such ones, Paine attributed the right of ownership.
According to the mentioned author, the state arose because of the union of people into an alliance. It was precisely the fact that the new allies could not maintain justice in relations, and became the reason for concluding a treaty, which was the only way of the emergence of the state. Because of this, all power in the state should, in his opinion, always belong to the people.
Thomas Paine, analyzing the state forms of government, distinguished republican and monarchical ones. This classification was based on the so-called principles of the formation of a government as election and inheritance. According to his ideas, the Republican administration should be formed on the principle of popular representation, since the basis of the sovereignty of the masses.
Also, Paine was very critical of the US Constitution adopted in 1787. The main drawback he considered the creation of a bicameral legislative body, which was formed on the fundamental of census voting rights. Also, in his opinion, the six-year term of office of senators was unjustifiably great. Paine said that every generation of people should determine what reflects and corresponds to its interests and it must have the right to make changes in the Constitution.
In French territory
In 1791 Thomas Paine published his book “Human Rights,” in which for the first time the principles of building a democratic society were thoroughly expounded. The outstanding creation of pre-socialist reformism, this work, nicknamed by the people “the Bible of the poor,” for many years has become a teaching aid and a banner of British radicals. Unlike the reformers who proceeded him, whose ideas, as a rule, were too philosophical and difficult for a semi-literate working people of those times, the style and phraseology of “Human Rights” were so simple that they were accessible to almost any person.
Frightened by the responses that Paine’s book found in England itself, Pitt’s government banned “Human Rights” as subversive literature. At the same time, an order was issued for the arrest of Paine on charges of treason, but, warned by friends, he managed to escape to Dover, leaving English territory only 20 minutes before the arrival of the constables. He was tried in absentia, convicted of treason and outlawed.
Paine’s treatise received approval in France because it reflected completely innovative ideas for the time: the equality of women, the separation of religion from the state, the abolition of a monarchical order. But trying to promote his ideas in France in the same way as he did in America, Paine was recognized by the Convention as a “hostile alien.” After the seizure of power by supporters of Robespierre, Paine in December 1793 was imprisoned for ten months for acting against the execution of Louis XVI.
In prison, Paine wrote a great work “The Age of Reason,” in which the author rejected all churches and ironically treated the Bible. Paine offered his own deism: the universe is the creation of a certain higher being, which, without manifesting to mankind either itself or its desires, could become perceptible through the rational comprehension of its deeds in the physical world. The proponarchic supporters of Anglicanism and Calvinism in America declared this treatise Paine “the bible of atheism” and blasphemy. With the help of the US ambassador, Thomas was released, and he departed back to the United States of America nearly 15 years later.
Disenchantment with politics
The famous publicist arrives in America, counting on a warm welcome. However, the American religious society was hostile to the “Age of Reason,” even friends stopped cooperating with Paine. He curtailed socio-political and journalistic activities, tried to find composure with the help of alcohol.
In 1803, last Paine’s work to the Citizens of the United States was published, consisting of 7 messages to President Jefferson. He was actually ahead of his time a hundred years ahead, trying to describe the model of an international organization (the prototype of which was much later the League of Nations, and then the UN), which, in his opinion, was vital for the whole world. But Paine’s letters were not understood by people and not taken seriously. So without receiving back approval, Thomas was forgotten by his contemporaries and died by everyone left on June 8, 1809.