Chapter 2: Early American Literature 1700-1800

Thomas Paine

Paul P. Reuben
  October 15, 2016

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Thomas Paine Foundation | Author of the American Revolution |

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

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Source: The History Guide

Primary Works

Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America… (Philadelphia: Printed and sold by R. Bell, 1776; revised and enlarged edition, Philadelphia: Printed by William Bradford, 1776; expurgated edition, London: Printed for J. Almon, 1776: unexpurgated edition, Edinburgh: Sold by Charles Eliot/ Sterling: Sold by William Anderson, 1776);

The American Crisis, numbers 1-4 (Philadelphia: Printed and sold by Styner and Cist, 1776-1777); number 5 (Lancaster: Printed by John Dunlap, 1778); numbers 6-7 (Philadelphia: Printed by John Dunlap, 1778); numbers 8-9 (Philadelphia: Printed by John Dunlap?, 1780); The Crisis Extraordinary (Philadelphia: Sold by William Harris, 1780); The American Crisis, numbers 10-12 (Philadelphia: Printed by John Dunlap?, 1782); number 13 (Philadelphia, 1783); A Supernumerary Crisis (Philadelphia, 1783); A Supernumerary Crisis [number 2] (New York, 1783); numbers 2-9, 11, and The Crisis Extraordinary republished in The American Crisis, and a Letter to Sir Guy Carleton…(London: Printed and sold by D. I. Eaton, 1796?);

Public Good, Being an Examination into the Claims of Virginia to the Vacant Western Territory and of the Right of the United States to the Same…(Philadelphia: Printed by John Dunlap, 1780; London: Printed by W. T. Sherwin, 1817);

Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America…( Philadelphia: Printed by Melchior Steiner and sold by Robert Aitken, 1782:; London: Printed for C. Dilley, 1782);

Dissertations on Government; The Affairs of the Bank; and Paper-Money (Philadelphia: Printed by Charles Cist and sold by Hall and Sellers, Robert Aitken, and William Pritchard, 1786; London: W> T. Sherman, 1817);

Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr. Burke's Attack on the French Revolution (London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1791; Baltimore: Printed and sold by David Graham, 1791);

Rights of Man: Part the Second (London: Printed by J. S. Jordan, 1792; New York: Printed by Hugh Gaine, 1792);

Letter Addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamation (London, 1792; New York: Printed by Thomas Greenleaf, 1793; Philadelphia: Printed by H. P. Rice, 1793);

The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (Paris: Printed by Barrois, 1794; London: Sold by D. I. Eaton, 1794; New York: Printed by T. and J. Swords for J. Fellows, 1794);

The Age of Reason: Part the Second. Being an Investigation of True and of Fabulous Theology (Paris: Printed for the author, 1795; London: Printed for H. D. Symods, 1795; Philadelphia: Printed by Benjamin Franklin Bache for the author, 1795);

Letter to George Washington, President of the United States of America on Affairs Public and Private (Philadelphia: Printed by Benjamin Franklin Bache, 1796; London: Printed for H. D. Symods, 1797);

Thomas Payne a la legislature et au directoir. Ou la justice agraire opposee a la lor agraire, et aux privileges agraire ( Paris: Ragouleau, 1797):; republished as Agrarian Justice, Opposed to Agrarian Law, and to Agrarian Monopoly… (London: Printed for T. Williams, 1797; Philadelphia: Printed for T. Williams, 1797; Philadelphia: Printed by R. Folwell for Benjamin Franklin Bache, 1797).

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Aldridge, Alfred O. Thomas Paine's American ideology. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1984. E211 .P153 A43

Ayer, A. J. Thomas Paine. NY: Atheneum, 1988. J178 .V2 A97

Blakemore, Steven. Crisis in Representation: Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, Helen Maria Williams, and the Rewriting of the French Revolution. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997.

- - -. Literature, Intertextuality, and the American Revolution: From Common Sense to 'Rip Van Winkle'. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2012

Claeys, Gregory. Thomas Paine: social and political thought. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989. 178 .V2 C58

Dyck, Ian. ed. Citizen of the World: Essays on Thomas Paine. NY: St. Martin's, 1988.

Lawrence, Michael A. Radicals in Their Own Time: Four Hundred Years of Struggle for Liberty and Equal Justice in America. NY: Cambridge UP, 2010.

Loughran, Trish. The Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age of U.S. Nation Building, 1770-1870. NY: Columbia UP, 2007.

Putz, Manfred, and Jon K Adams. A Concordance to Thomas Paine's Common Sense and The American Crisis. NY: Garland, 1989.

Wilson, Jerome D., and William F. Ricketson. Thomas Paine. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989. J178 .V2 W56


| Top |Thomas Paine (1737-1809): A Brief Literary Biography

A Student Project by Heather Erwin  

Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, Norfolk, England in 1737, to Joseph and Frances Cooke Pain. Joseph Pain was employed as a staymaker in Thetford, and his religious affiliation was Quaker (Ayer 1). In contrast, Frances Cooke was a member of the Church of England, and was eleven years his senior. Thomas attended Quaker meetings as a child, and according to R. R. Palmer, it was "probably from his Quaker elders that Paine first acquired his distinctive habits of mind, in particular his humanitarian aversion to cruelty and his bold faith in his own judgments." (Wilson 16)

This early religious exposure also influenced young Paine's education at the local grammar school, in that he was restricted from studying such classical subjects as Latin. Thomas became apprenticed to his father at the age of thirteen, and in 1759 he married Mary Lambert and established his own staymaking business in the town of Sandwich (Aldridge 15). However, Paine's experience as a shopkeeper was temporary, as the business folded within a year. This experience, coupled with the death of his young wife that same year, convinced Paine to try his luck in the excise service. This stint as a customs officer was terminated by Paine's employers when it became known that he had engaged in "stamping," which involved the approval of merchandise prior to inspection. Paine spent a large portion of 1766 teaching English grammar at an academy in London, an occupation he later held at a school in Kensington, as well.

Paine would regain his customs duties at a post in Lewes, Sussex, and in 1771 he remarried. Paine's marriage to Elizabeth Ollive followed the death of her Father, with whom Paine had resided as a lodger (Aldridge 18). Both Paine and the widow of Mr. Samuel Ollive operated the deceased's tobacconist shop, even as Paine maintained his employment as an excise officer. It was the latter position which prompted Paine to write his first pamphlet, aptly entitled "Case of the Officers of Excise," which explored the various complaints held by that particular group.

In this early rhetorical work which was presented to Parliament, Paine effectively utilized such devices as repetitious phrases and exemplary diction (Wilson 6). This combination of propaganda and literary skill was a mere foreshadowing of Paine's later achievements as a political philosopher. In 1774, Paine faced bankruptcy and the termination of his second marriage followed soon thereafter. Thus, at the age of 37, armed with a letter of recommendation from a new acquaintance in London named Benjamin Franklin, Paine emigrated to America.

He arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774, at a time when colonists were experiencing the onslaught of British tyranny following the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Boston Tea Party in 1773 (12:188).

Paine became employed as an editor at the Philadelphia Magazine, and his collection of essays included such works as "Reflections on Titles" and "The Abolition of Slavery." Paine was establishing the radical approach to politics that would exemplify his career, and it was the colonial quest for independence that instigated Paine's political career in America. In 1775, Paine expressed his views concerning the necessity of women's rights in the article entitled "An Occasional Letter on the Female Sex." (Williamson 68) This article explored the various injustices which women faced in their marital relations, and demonstrated Paine's ability to address female issues with sympathy and insight. The publication of Common Sense in 1776 marked a pivotal achievement in Paine's career even as the work adhered to a stylistically simple means of persuasion, which was intended to address the common reader.

In this piece, which called for independence from Great Britain, Paine sought to formulate an argument for independence which was based on man's ability to use reason to bring about the common good. John Locke originally examined this concept involving man's reason, or "sense," in his work entitled On Human Understanding. In this way, Paine sought to persuade readers to utilize their judgment in regards to the political fate of the nation, in so doing he presented readers with a sense of personal duty to country (12:189). The pamphlet was received with a fury of public receptivity, and a contemporary of Paine remarked that it "struck a string which required but a touch to make it vibrate." (Hawke 47) Admirers of the political work included such persons as John Hancock and John Adams, and the latter referred to the work as "a very meritorious production" which possessed "elegant simplicity."(47) Paine's firm adherence to the Revolution was further reflected in the articles entitled "The American Crisis," which addressed the notions of tyranny and triumph, as well as the need for "perseverance and fortitude."(12:190) In these sixteen articles which were written from 1776 to 1783, Paine was able to use his own experiences as Secretary of Foreign Affairs in order to present the various nuances of war. Together with Common Sense, "The American Crisis" established Paine as a dominant force in Revolutionary propaganda, and both effectively displayed his rhetoric style. The latter offered both clarity and persuasiveness, and reflected both independence of thought and assertiveness of convictions.

In 1790 Edmund Burke wrote a pamphlet entitled Reflections on the Revolution in France, and it was this work which prompted Paine to produce his own interpretation of the monarchy and aristocracy, entitled Rights of Man. The latter addressed the advantages of both the American and French revolutions, as they pertained to the desire for representative governments. Once again, Paine drew on the political philosophy of John Locke, in particular the latter's notions of social compact and natural rights (12:194). Paine referred to the French enlightenment as a means of demonstrating a burgeoning emphasis on reason, and declared "An Age of Revolution." Paine's publication of Rights of Man: Part the Second in 1792 further examined the topic of monarchial rule and its infringement on a "natural" form of government, yet in this work he differentiates from earlier writings such as Common Sense. This is accomplished by means of an increased emphasis on the responsibility of government as it relates to the good of society (196). This second part created a great deal more controversy than its predecessor, and Britain considered the essay seditious. To this charge Paine responded with the article entitled Letter Addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamation, in which he openly called for an English Revolution. This incident erupted into a court trial, which Paine avoided by relocating permanently to France. Upon his arrival, Paine was elected as a representative by the Convention, and cooperated with Marquis Jean de Condorcet in the production of a new constitution. Following a controversy concerning Paine's negative views concerning the French royal family, Paine was sent to prison after being charged with impeding the Revolution. Paine would produce The Age Of Reason upon his release from prison in 1794 (198). In this work, Paine attributed the cause of controlling governments to organized religion, as opposed to the positive aspects of deism. In addition, he presented biblical scriptures as false, and demonstrated the association between oppressive governments and biblical verse. American receptivity to this final work was decidedly unfavorable, and many considered it outright blasphemy. Paine resided with the American James Monroe during this time, but in 1802 Paine left Paris for a final departure to America. His health steadily deteriorating, he resided at an estate in New Rochelle. Thomas Paine died on June 8, 1809, and his burial was a small affair. His controversial reputation during his later years continued after his death, and his legacy declined along with his health. Nevertheless, Paine's literary and political achievements, as reflected in such patriotically stirring works as The American Crisis Essays and Common Sense, present an aspect of American independence and enlightenment which is equally compelling for modern readers.

Works Cited

Aldridge, Alfred Owen. Man of Reason: The Life of Thomas Paine. London: The Cresset Press, 1959.

Ayer, A.J. Thomas Paine. New York: Atheneum, 1988.

Goldman, Maureen. "Thomas Paine." Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Colonial Writers. 12 vols. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1982.

Hawke, David Freeman. Paine. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.

Philp, Mark. Paine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work and Times. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1973.

Wilson, Jerome D. and William F. Ricketson. Thomas Paine. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 2 - Thomas Paine." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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