Thomas Paine: 8 Major Accomplishments
Most known as the author of Common Sense (1776), one of the most famous pamphlets during the American Revolution, Thomas Paine was a Norforlk, English-born political theorist and philosopher who ended up fighting gallantly for the cause of the American Revolutionaries.
All throughout the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Paine shared and championed many of the ideals of the Founding Fathers of the United States. However, in his later years, he increasingly became critical of many of those allies he fought with in the War, including the likes of George Washington, whom he tagged as a treacherous man and a hypocrite.
In addition to his criticisms of many of the Founding Fathers, Paine did a lot of harm to his reputation by writing a number of scathing remarks against institutionalized religion. As a result, he found himself ostracized by the American society, a society that had once loved and been inspired by him.
Major Achievements of Thomas Paine
The following are 8 major accomplishment of Thomas Paine, the English-born American philosopher and political theorist whose Enlightenment-era ideas inspired inspired many American Revolutionaries.
Editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine
Thomas Paine arrived in Philadelphia in November, 1774. Seasick from his travel across the Atlantic, Paine was attended to by Benjamin Franklin’s personal physician. After recovering, he went ahead and immersed himself into the political life of Pennsylvania. It also did not take too long for him to become a citizen of Pennsylvania.
Facilitated by Benjamin Franklin’s recommendation, Thomas Paine was able to secure a job as the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine in March, 1775. The job served as an opportunity to get his ideas of the Enlightenment Era across to the American public. He published many articles that criticized slavery in America. He also tore into the coercive policies of Great Britain in the colonies. With themes of freedom, justice and humanity, Paine’s magazine articles in so many ways defended the cause of Patriots in Boston.
Relying heavily on contents and stories from around the colonies, Paine helped increase the magazine’s readership, making it number one in the colonies at the time.
Thomas Paine’s anti-slavery campaign began during his time as the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. The British-born philosopher was of the view that the liberty that the colonies were fighting for should be extended to enslave Africans in America. His March 8, 1775 essay titled African Slavery in America in the magazine was well received by abolitionists at the time. He demonstrated in the essay how slavery smeared the colonies’ fight for justice and liberty, calling slavery an “execrable commerce”.
It is also possible that Paine’s strong aversion to slavery caused him to be ostracized by an American society that could not do away with the institution. In the first place, many of his Republican friends and associates in government were slave owners themselves. Perhaps this is why Paine tagged someone like George Washington as a treacherous, unsympathetic man.
Thomas Paine ‘Common Sense’ (1776)
As a result of the immense impact his Common Sense pamphlet had on the nation before independence, Thomas Paine is to this day revered as The Father of the American Revolution.
Published on January 10, 1776, Common Sense was a huge success from the get go. It sold over 100,000 copies in just a few months after its publication. Thomas Paine did not put his name to the pamphlet as he preferred to sign it with the words “by an Englishman”.
Basically Common Sense called on all the colonies to fight to win complete independence from Great Britain. And by the time American War of Independence was over in 1783, over half a million copies of the pamphlet had been sold.
As more and more American colonists read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense the enthusiasm for an all-out revolt against British rule increased. Since it called for an immediate and total break with Great Britain, the pamphlet was a huge inspiration to soldiers and military leaders of the Revolutionary War.
Paine often deployed a clear and concise writing style to communicate his republican ideas
At a time when the frustrations of the leaders of the Revolution were directed primarily at the British government and members of Parliament, Thomas Paine’s straight-to-the-point and lively style of writing laid the blame squarely on King George III. He called on Americans to reject the corrupt British government and transform the colonies into a safe haven for admirers of liberty.
Inspired courage and patriotism among American Revolutionaries
Thomas Paine’s works during the Revolution helped whip up a sense of patriotism, courage and humanism among Americans. His Common Sense appealed to every colonist that loathed tyranny and monarchical system of governance. On several occasions, he bemoaned the despotism of Europe and hereditary monarchy, calling those institutions as absurd and creations of the devil. Paine was not shy to take aim at aristocracy, describing it as a bedfellow of monarchy – the “two ancient tyrannies”.
Thomas Paine’s pamphlet series – The American Crisis (1776-1783)
The American Crisis (1776-1783) is a pamphlet series written by Thomas Paine to keep the ideas of the Revolution fresh in the minds of Americans. The first pamphlet came on toward the late 1776, a time when Thomas Paine’s reputation was skyrocketing, with many of his newspaper publishing and articles receiving wide readership.
Such was the brilliance of The American Crisis that the commander of the Revolutionary army General George Washington encouraged Revolutionary soldiers to read it. The pamphlet series contained themes of liberty and freedom, as well describing what the civic virtues that Americans needed to have in order to win against Britain.
On January 10, 1776, Paine published what is undoubtedly his most famous work, ‘Common Sense’. The 47-page pamphlet was an instant success as it had the ability to communicate the ideas of liberalism and republicanism. The book quickly became one of the best read-works at the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.
Thomas Paine was expertly good at communicating the ideas of the Revolution in a manner that both intellectuals and the average Joe at the time could understand.
Sought funding for the American Revolutionary War
During the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine accompanied Col. John Laurens to France to secure funding for the war. He was able to get 2.5 million livres in silver of the 6 million livres that France had promised to gift the American Revolutionaries.
Aided by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Pain also worked very hard for a loan of 10 million livres from France.
In order not to set a bad precedent, he declined to be paid by Congress for the work he did in securing funding for the American Revolutionary War. However, in 1785, the U.S. Congress compensated him with an amount of $3,000 for his service to the nation.
Paine supported the French Revolution and was elected to French National Convention
Although he pleaded with the Revolutionaries to spare the lives of many French Royals, including King Louis XVI, Thomas Paine still supported the French Revolution.
Paine’s Rights of Man had a tremendous influence on the French Revolutionaries. And although he could not even speak French, he was elected to the French National Convention, representing the district of Pas-de-Calais. His reputation in France increased as he was part of the nine-member Constitutional Committee of the Convention tasked to draft a new constitution for the French Republic.
He was not in favor of executing Louis XVI. Rather he suggested that the deposed ruler be exiled to the US because of the support the king and other French royalist gave to the U.S. during the American Revolution. Secondly, Paine was not a fan of capital punishment, hence that suggestion.
Other famous works by Thomas Paine
- Agrarian Justice (1795): Published in the winter of 1795, Paine’s Agrarian Justice delves into agrarian law and agrarian monopoly, which he felt robbed the average citizen of his natural inheritance and access to land properties. Hence Paine proposed in the book that some sort of compensation (i.e. pension) should be given to every citizen of a nation. Just to show how important this work was, the U.S. Social Security Administration credits it as the first American proposal for pension.
- Rights of Man(published in 1791): This work was Paine’s way of responding to Britain’s sharp criticism of the French Revolution. The 90,000-word book was a sharp rebuttal to English writers and philosophers like Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who were not impressed by how things panned out in France. In the book, Paine discredits monarchies and aristocracy. The book was a huge success, selling over a million copies after its release in 1791. It was read mainly by democrats, craftsmen, and protestant dissenters in Europe and across America.
- Public Good (1780): In this pamphlet, Thomas Paine refutes ownership claims by wealthy Virginian families of large swathes of lands west of the 13 colonies. Paine argues that those territories were part of the British Empire, and hence should be owned by the U.S. government following America’s independence. His submissions in the Public Good did not sit well with the Washington, Lee and Randolph families, who laid claim to huge parts of those territories. As a result, Paine incurred the anger of some of his friends in Virginia, including Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
More Thomas Paine Facts
- On September 27, 1759, Thomas Paine married Mary Lambert; however, Mary died during child birth. On March 26, 1771, he got married again: to Elizabeth Olive.
- Following his death, a newspaper article at the time claimed that only 6 people attended his funeral. The obituaries at the time praised him for the good work he did during the American Revolution; however, he was bashed for incessant criticisms of many of Founding Fathers of America.
- Thomas Paine’s ideas and works had tremendous influence on many great thinkers and personalities of the 18th century and beyond. Some of the people that he influenced include Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Christopher Hitchens. Renowned inventor Thomas Edison and Civil War hero Abraham Lincoln even subscribed to some extent to Paine’s views on institutionalized religion.
- Loyalists were the biggest critics of Common Sense, as they described the ideas espoused in the Common Sense pamphlet as anything but false. A staunch Loyalist from Maryland, James Chalmers, called Paine a conman.
- There were also some Revolutionaries, such as John Adams, who reasoned that Paine’s Common Sense was too radical in some regard. Adams countered Paine’s argument by calling for (in his 1776 Thoughts on Government) a more tempered approach to democracy and republicanism.
- In 1785, Thomas Paine was elected member of the American Philosophical Society.
- In a 2002 poll taken by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Thomas Paine was ranked No. 34 in the list of 100 Greatest Britons. The top 10 included the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, and John Lennon.
- In the Age of Reason, Thomas Paine stated that he “believed in one God and no more”; however, he simply could not condone the sheer amount of violence in the Bible. Paine described himself as a deist, calling Deism the only true religion.