Ward's Book of Days.
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What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense.
Paine was a failure as a corset-maker, tax collector, seaman and clergyman but was adept at inventions and excellent at causing revolutions.
Paine was born in 1737 in Thetford, Norfolk, and the son of a corset-maker. He had a simple education, learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. At the age of thirteen he entered his fatherís trade of corset-maker but at the age of nineteen gave it up as a bad job and went to sea. At the age of twenty-two, Paine settled in Margate where he married Mary Lambert but sadly his wife died the next year. Paine moved home to Thetford where he became an exciseman, collecting taxes for several years before he was dismissed for failing to check inventories of taxable items. Paine applied to become a clergyman in the Anglican Church and actually did some preaching before being fired for heresy. Paine married again but separated from his wife after a brief interval.
In 1774, Paine chanced to meet Benjamin Franklin in London, who advised him to seek his fortune in the American Colonies. Paine left for Pennsylvania where he obtained employment on a magazine. He published African Slavery in America, a scarifying indictment of the slave trade, and several other pamphlets in the same vein. In 1776, he published Common Sense, a fifty-page booklet that argued that the colonists should not only recoil at unjust taxation but should declare total independence. He had the ability to write in a clear concise form as opposed to the stylised rhetoric popular at the time. The pamphlet was an immediate success, selling half a million copies and persuaded the colonists to go for a full rebellion. The Declaration of Independence was ratified later that year on July 4th.
Paine wrote several other pamphlets on the same theme, in a series named The American Crisis. Washington ordered that these should be read to his troops before battle. At the end of the revolution, Paine was granted a farm in La Rochelle, New York State, where he spent his time in inventing, making a smokeless candle and a design for a bridge without piers.
In 1791, Paine returned to Britain where he published Rights of Man, a defence of the French Revolution and a plan for revolutions elsewhere. Paine was summoned for sedition but fled to France before he faced trial. In France, he was elected to the National Convention, despite the fact that he could not speak French. But Paine spoke out of turn concerning the French king, saying that he should be exiled and not executed, thereby earning himself a term of imprisonment.
Paine was broken by his prison term and, on release, returned to his farm in America. He found himself reviled by the local population as a deserter and a renegade and died in 1809, where he was buried on his farm. Ten years later, the reformer William Cobbett, exhumed his body and sent the bones back to his native soil for a heroís burial. Sadly the coffin never arrived home. There is a mystery as to what happened to the bones. Some say that they were lost at sea, others that Cobbett had them in his possession at the time of his death and his executors buried them furtively. Some say that the bones were distributed amongst Paineís many admirers.
Paine never had a funeral in Britain or an honoured grave but there is statue of him in Thetford. [King Street, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2AN]. The effigy holds a quill pen in a solemn manner composing the book Rights of Man. Sadly, the book is upside down.
Larkin, Edward. Thomas Paine and the Literature of Revolution.
Powell, David. Tom Paine, The Greatest Exile.
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