Thomas Paine, a staymaker's son, was born in 1737 in the small country town of Thetford in Norfolk. He attended the local school until he was twelve and left to become his father's apprentice. The probability of him becoming anything other than a country tradesman seemed minimal.
At nineteen, however, with his apprenticeship over, he ran away to London to begin an eventful life full, equally, of fame and notoriety. He escaped death several times including once as an English sailor, once as an American soldier and once, narrowly dodging the guillotine, as an elected Deputy to the French National Convention.
His radical ideas about freedom, justice, equality, republicanism and the importance of reason were expressed in the plainest of language and published in the cheapest possible editions to reach ordinary people. All of his three major publications - Common Sense (1776), Rights of Man (1791-2) and Age of Reason (1794-5) - became immediate best sellers.
When the first edition of Rights of Man, the most incendiary of his books, was first sold in 1791 it cost three shillings. It drew very little response from the political authorities because only the wealthy could afford it. When he brought out a cheap sixpenny edition, however, he was prosecuted and a Royal Proclamation condemning the book was issued. The Attorney General condemned it as ‘thrust into the hands of subjects of every description, even children's sweetmeats being wrapped in it'.
Far ahead of his time, Paine wrote against slavery and poverty and in favour of Amerindian freedom, an old age pension, family allowances, maternity benefits and free education. His ideas were a source of inspiration across two continents two hundred years ago and are still an inspiration today.
Related Object of the Month
April 2009: Commemorative Jug
Click here for a description of the Thomas Paine collection that was assembled by Adrian and Christopher Brunel and then donated to the library.
3 Greater Manchester schools take a contemporary look at the ideas of Thomas Paine
Are you a teacher? See KS3/4 lesson plans to accompany these films.
|'Dragon's Den' Part 1 -Ashton Sixth Form College||'Dragon's Den' Part 2 -Ashton Sixth Form College|
|'Equality' -Oasis Media Academy, Salford||
'Violence': the personal and political'
-Lostock College, Stretford
Resources about Thomas Paine in the library collection
Peter Porcupine, The life of Thomas Paine, interspersed with remarks and reflections (1797) - Shelfmark: D70
James Cheetham, The life of Thomas Paine (1809) - Shelfmark: D67
Thomas Clio Rickman, The life of Thomas Paine: author of Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason, Letter to the addressers, &c. &c (1819) - Shelfmark: D68
WT Sherwin, Memoirs of the life of Thomas Paine: with observations on his writings, critical and explanatory - to which is added, an appendix, containing several of Mr. Paine's unpublished pieces (1819) - Shelfmark: D67
The life of Thomas Paine: interspersed with sundry letters, &c. not before published, and containing his last will and testament - with notices of the American and French revolutions (1833) - Shelfmark: D33
G Vale, The life of Thomas Paine: author of "Common sense", "Rights of man", "Age of reason", &c., &c.: with critical and explanatory observations on his writings and an appendix, containing his letters to Washington (1841) - Shelfmark: D05
Calvin Blanchard, The life of Thomas Paine... (1860) - Shelfmark: D67
FJ Gould, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) (1925) - Shelfmark: B22
William M Van der Weyde, The life and works of Thomas Paine (1925) - Shelfmark: D68
Mary Agnes Best, Thomas Paine: prophet and martyr of democracy (1927) - Shelfmark: B23
George Creel, Tom Paine: Liberty Bell (ca. 1932) - Shelfmark: D68
Hesketh Pearson, Tom Paine: friend of mankind - a biography (1937) - Shelfmark: D05
JM Robertson, Thomas Paine: an investigation (1937) - Shelfmark: D68
Frank Smith, Thomas Paine: liberator (1938) - Shelfmark: D68
JM Connell, Thomas Paine (1939) - Shelfmark: D70
Howard Fast, Citizen Tom Paine (1943) - Shelfmark: D71
WE Woodward, Tom Paine: America's godfather, 1737-1809 (1946) - Shelfmark: B23
Joseph Lewis, Thomas Paine, author of the Declaration of Independence (1947) - Shelfmark: D67
Hildegarde Hawthorne, His country was the world: a life of Thomas Paine (1949) - Shelfmark: D68
Alfred Owen Aldridge, Man of reason: the life of Thomas Paine (1960) - Shelfmark: B21
Philip S. Foner (ed.), The life and major writings of Thomas Paine (1961) - Shelfmark: D68
Robin McKown, Thomas Paine (1962) - Shelfmark: D68
Audrey Williamson, Thomas Paine: his life, work and times (1973) - Shelfmark: B23
Samuel Edwards, Rebel!: a biography of Thomas Paine (1974) - Shelfmark: B23
Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (1977) - Shelfmark: D83
David Powell, Tom Paine: the greatest exile (1985) - Shelfmark: D68
Gregory Claeys, Thomas Paine: social and political thought (1989) - Shelfmark: Q04
Mark Philp, Paine (1989) - Shelfmark: D68
John Vail, Thomas Paine (1990) - Shelfmark: D83
John Keane, Tom Paine: a political life (1995) - Shelfmark: FR03
Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine's Rights of man: a biography (2007) - Shelfmark: D70
Craig Nelson, Thomas Paine: enlightenment, revolution and the birth of modern nations (2007) - Shelfmark: D70
Ellery Sedgewick, Thomas Paine (no date) - Shelfmark: D68