Thomas Paine: Patriot with a Pen

More of this Feature

• Part 2: From Hero to Outcast

Also On This Site

• The American Revolutionary War
• The French Revolution

Share This Page

Follow This Site

Follow SocStudies4Kids on Twitter

Part 1: Failures and Success

One of early America's most important and influential patriots wielded not a sword or a gun but a pen. Thomas Paine, famous for his writings Common Sense and The Crisis, did more to inspire the troops and the folks at home by writing than he ever did by wielding a gun or marching in formation. He didn't start out that way but managed to find his claim to fame after trying nearly everything else.

He wasn't even American-born, which was the case with many of America's most fervent patriots. Young Tom Paine was born in Thetford, England, on January 29, 1737. His father had the unusual yet profitable job of making corsets, clothes that women wore to keep their figures looking slim and trim.

Tom turned out to be a poor student, despite his father's best hopes, and flunked out at age 12. An attempt to follow in his father's footsteps at the corset shop also failed eventually, although it took a few more years. Like many young men of the age, Tom wanted adventure. He found it at age 19, when he went to sea.

He discovered after a few voyages, however, that the seafaring life wasn't one he wanted, either. By strange circumstance, he found himself back in England and occupying the job of a tax officer. Again, his pattern of failure surfaced. In the span of four years, he managed to get himself fired twice. One thing he did during that time, however, is publishing an influential paper. It was The Case of the Officers of Excise, and it appeared in 1772. In this paper, Paine argued for a pay raise for military officers. The appeal was largely ignored.

In one of fate's momentous occasions, he met Benjamin Franklin two years later, and the famous publisher helped him get to America, specifically to Philadelphia. The two men no doubt discussed their shared love of writing, and Paine was inspired both by Franklin and by the revolutionary fever sweeping the country. His first writing was African Slavery in America, a condemnation of slavery. A year later came perhaps his most famous work, Common Sense, which appeared in 1776. In this paper, he argues strongly and logically the case for independence from Great Britain, saying that a government that denies its subjects representation must be replaced and that government is a necessary evil, one that must be tolerated but countered by frequent adjustments (elections). Among his closing remarks is this: "The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months."

Common Sense was read widely, and Paine was so fired up by what he had written that he joined the Continental Army. Here again, though, he discovered that he just wasn't very good at something. In this case, it was being a soldier. He did continue to serve with the army, but he as well began writing The Crisis, a large pamphlet containing a series of descriptions of the American cause and the need for independence. The Crisis was so wildly popular that by the time the war had ended, Paine's name was as well-known as that of George Washington.

Next page > From Hero to Outcast > Page 1, 2

Search This Site

Custom Search

Get weekly newsletter


Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2023
David White