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Taken from Sir Lesley Stephen & Sir Sidney Lee (eds.), Dictionary of National Biography: from the earliest times to 1900 (London, Oxford University Press, 1949).
Thomas Paine was born on 29 January 1737 at Thetford, Norfolk. Hewas the son of Joseph Paine, by his wife Frances (Cocke). The father was a freeman of Thetford, a staymaker, and a small farmer. He was a member of the Society of Friends, who had a small meeting-house at Thetford. The mother belonged to the Church of England; and though the register, which is defective at the time of Paine's birth, does not record his baptism, his sister was baptised in 1738, and Paine was himself subsequently confirmed. Paine's father was registered as a Quaker at his death, and the son, as he often avows, was much influenced by Quaker principles. He was sent to the grammar school, but did not learn Latin, on account, he says, of the objections of the Quakers to the Latin books used at school. He showed mathematical ability, and ‘rather repressed than encouraged’ a turn for poetry. At the age of thirteen Paine was put to his father's business. The usher at the school had told him stories of life at sea, and Paine tells us in his Rights of Man that he joined a privateer when ‘little more than sixteen.’ He entered on board the Terrible, commanded by Captain Death, but was brought back by his father's remonstrances. He afterwards, however, went to sea in the King of Prussia. War with France was declared 28 May 1756, and the Terrible was taken in action 28 December Paine must therefore have been nineteen at the time of these adventures.
He soon returned to staymaking. He worked for two years in London, and (at this period or in 1766-7) showed his scientific taste by buying a pair of globes and attending the lectures of the self-taught men of science, Benjamin Martin and James Ferguson (1710-1776). He also became known to the astronomer John Bevis. In 1758 he moved to Dover, and in April 1759 set up as a staymaker at Sandwich. On 17 September 1759 he married Mary Lambert. His business was unsuccessful, and he moved to Margate, where his wife died in 1760.
Paine now managed to obtain an appointment in the excise. He returned to Thetford in July 1761, where he was a supernumerary officer. In December 1762 he was sent to Grantham, and in August 1764 to Alford. His salary was £50 a year, on which he had to keep a horse. On 27 August 1765 he was discharged for neglect of duty by entering in his books examinations which had not been actually made. On 3 July 1766 he wrote an apologetic letter to the board of excise begging to be restored, and on 4 July it was ordered that he should be restored ‘on a proper vacancy.’ Meanwhile he worked for a time as a staymaker at Diss in Norfolk. He was then employed as usher, first by a Mr. Noble in Goodman's Fields, and afterwards by a Mr. Gardiner at Kensington. Oldys, a hostile biographer, reports that he preached about this time in Moorfields, and that he made some applications for ordination in the Church of England. He was appointed excise officer at Grampound, Cornwall on 15 May 1767, but asked leave to wait for another vacancy, and on 19 February 1768 was appointed to Lewes in Sussex. He lodged with a Quaker tobacconist named Samuel Ollive; here he became the friend of Thomas ‘Clio’ Rickman, afterwards his biographer.
Rickman describes him as a strong Whig, and a member of a club which met at the White Hart. Paine was an eager and obstinate debater, and wrote humorous and political poems; one upon the death of Wolfe became popular, and was published by him in his magazine at Philadelphia. On 26 March 1771 he married Elizabeth, daughter of his landlord, Ollive, who had died in 1769. Mrs. Paine and her mother, who had carried on the tobacco business, opened a grocer's shop with Paine's help. In 1772 the excisemen were agitating for a rise in their salaries; they collected money, and employed Paine to draw up a statement of their grievances, and to agitate in London. Four thousand copies of Paine's tract were printed. He distributed them to members of parliament and others, and sent one, with a letter asking for a personal interview, to Goldsmith. The agitation failed, and soon afterwards, on 8 April 1774, he was dismissed from the excise. Oldys says that he had dealt in smuggled tobacco, but the official document states simply that he had left his business without leave, and gone off on account of debts. His share in the agitation would not tend to recommend him to the board, although, according to Oldys, one of the commissioners, G. L. Scott, had been pleased by his manners, and tried to protect him. His debts were discharged by the sale of his goods, but a petition for replacement in his office was disregarded.
On 4 June 1774 a deed of separation was signed by Paine and his wife. Paine declined to explain the cause of this trouble when Rickman spoke to him, and it remains unknown. Rickman declares, however, that Paine always spoke tenderly of his wife, and sent her money without letting her know whence it came. A letter published by Oldys from his mother to his wife, and dated 27 July 1774, speaks bitterly of his ‘undutiful’ behaviour to his parents, and of his ‘secreting £30 entrusted to him’ by the excisemen. The letter was produced with a view to injuring Paine by Oldys, and is not beyond suspicion. It was published, however, when Paine might have challenged it. Oldys says that the mother was eccentric and of ‘sour temper,’ and Paine, though speaking affectionately of his father, never refers to her. Paine's wife, from whom the letter must have come, survived till 1808; and it is stated in a deed of 1800 that she did not know whether her husband was alive or dead.
Paine went to London. G. L. Scott, according to Oldys, introduced him to Franklin, to whom he might also have become known through his scientific friends. Franklin gave him a letter, dated 30 September 1774, to Bache (Franklin's son-in-law), describing him as an ‘ingenious, worthy young man,’ and suggesting that he might be helped to employment as clerk, surveyor, or usher. Paine reached America on 30 November 1774, and obtained many friends at Philadelphia through Franklin's introduction. He became connected with Robert Aitkin, a bookseller in Philadelphia, who was anxious to start a magazine. The first number of this, the Pennsylvania Magazine or American Museum, appeared at the end of January 1775. Paine contributed from the first, and soon afterwards became editor, with a salary of £50 a year. He wrote articles attacking slavery and complaining of the inferior position of women, and others showing his republican tendencies. He made acquaintance with Dr. Rush, who had already written against slavery. Rush claims to have suggested Paine's next performance.
The first blood of the American war was shed in the skirmish at Lexington on 19 April 1775, and Paine resolved to express the sentiment, which had long been growing up, though hitherto not avowed, in favour of independence of the colonies. Paine had already spoken out in a letter to the Pennsylvania Journal, signed ‘Humanus’ (18 October 1775). In the same month Franklin had suggested that he should prepare a history of the transactions which had led to the war. Paine was already at work upon a pamphlet, which he showed to Rush and a few friends. Bell, a Scottish bookseller, ventured to print it, other publishers having declined; and it appeared as Common Sense on 10 January 1776. Friends and enemies agree in ascribing to it an unexampled effect. In a letter dated 8 April following, Paine says that 120,000 copies had been sold. He fixed the price so low that he was finally in debt to the publisher. The pamphlet was anonymous, and was at first attributed to Franklin, John Adams, and others, though the authorship was soon known. A controversy followed in the Pennsylvania Journal, in which Paine, under the signature ‘Forester,’ defended himself against ‘Cato,’ the Rev. William Smith, Tory president of the university of Philadelphia.
Paine thus became famous. He was known to Jefferson, and is supposed by Mr. Conway to have written the suppressed clause against the slave trade in the Declaration of Independence. He resigned his magazine, and joined the provincial army in the autumn of 1776. After a short service under Roberdeau, he was appointed in September a volunteer aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene, then at Fort Lee on the Hudson. In November the fort was surprised, and Paine was in the retreat to Newark. At Newark Paine began writing his Crisis. It appeared on 19 December in the Pennsylvania Journal, and began with the often-quoted words, ‘These are the times that try men's souls.’ It was read at every corporal's guard in the army, and received with enthusiasm.
On 21 January 1777 Paine was appointed secretary to a commission sent by congress to treat with the Indians at Easton, Pennsylvania; and on 17 April he was made secretary to the committee of foreign affairs. On 26 September Philadelphia was occupied by the British forces, and congress had to seek refuge elsewhere. On 10 October Paine was requested to undertake the transmission of intelligence between congress and Washington's army. A letter to Franklin of 16 May 1778 describes his motions at this time. Paine, after sending off his papers, was present at several military operations, and distinguished himself by carrying a message in an open boat under a cannonade from the British fleet. He divided his time between Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge and York, where the congress was sitting. He published eight Crises during 1777 and 1778. The British army evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778, and Paine returned thither with the congress. The Crises, vigorously written to keep up the spirits of the Americans, had additional authority from his official position.
In January 1779 Paine got into trouble. The French government had adopted the scheme suggested by Beaumarchais for supplying funds to the insurgents under cover of an ostensible commercial transaction. The precise details are matter of controversy. The American commissioners, Silas Deane, Franklin, and Arthur Lee, had written from Paris stating that no repayment would be required for the sum advanced. Beaumarchais, however, sent an agent to congress demanding payment of his bill; and Deane was thereupon recalled to America to give explanations. Deane was suspected of complicity with Beaumarchais, and made an unsatisfactory statement to congress. He published a paper, appealing to the people, and taking credit for having obtained supplies. Paine, who had seen the official despatches, replied in the Pennsylvania Packet of 15 December 1779, declaring (truly) that the matter had been in train before Deane was sent to France, and in a later letter intimated that the supplies were sent gratuitously by the French government. This was to reveal the secret which the French, although now the open allies of the Americans, desired to conceal. The French minister, Gérard, therefore appealed to congress, who were bound to confirm his statement that the alliance had not been preceded by a gratuitous supply.
Paine, ordered to appear before congress, was only permitted to say ‘Yes’ in answer to the question whether he was the author of letters signed Common Sense. He offered his resignation on 6 January 1779, and applied for leave to justify himself. He desired to prove that Deane was a ‘rascal,’ and had a private ‘unwarrantable connection’ with members of the house. The letters were suppressed; and though a motion for dismissing him was not carried, the states being equally divided, he resigned his post. Gérard, according to his despatches, fearing that Paine would ‘seek to avenge himself with his characteristic impetuosity and impudence,’ offered to pay him one thousand dollars yearly to defend the French alliance in the press. Paine, he adds, accepted the offer, and began his functions. Afterwards, however, Paine's work proved unsatisfactory, and Gérard engaged other writers. Paine stated in the following autumn that Gérard had made him such an offer, but that he had at once declined to accept anything but the minister's ‘esteem’. Paine's conduct in the affair was apparently quite honourable, though certainly very indiscreet. Deane was dishonest, and Paine was denouncing a job. The revelation was not inconsistent with the oath which he had taken to disclose nothing ‘which he shall be directed to keep secret;’ but it showed a very insufficient appreciation of the difference between the duty of a journalist and of a public official. Discretion was never one of Paine's qualities.
Paine, who had published his Crises, like his Common Sense, at prices too low to be remunerative, was now in difficulties. His salary, which had been only seventy dollars a month, had hitherto supported him, and he was now obliged to become a clerk in the office of Owen Biddle. He appealed to the executive council of Pennsylvania to help him towards a proposed collection of his works. He asked for a loan of £1,500 for a year, when he would be able to propose a publication by subscription. The council asked Gérard whether he would be offended by their employing Paine. He replied in the negative, though making some complaints of Paine's conduct.
On 2 November 1779 the Pennsylvania assembly appointed Paine their clerk, and in that capacity he wrote a preamble to the act for the abolition of slavery in the state, which was passed on 1 March 1780. He published three more Crises in the course of this year. On 4 July the university of Pennsylvania gave him the degree of M.A. The financial position of the insurgents was becoming almost desperate, and Washington addressed a letter to the assembly, speaking of the dangerous state of feeling in the army. Paine had to read it, and he suggested next day a voluntary subscription. He drew his own salary, amounting to £1,699 1s. 6d., and started the subscription with a sum of five hundred dollars. Mr. Conway gives accounts according to which Paine received over £5,500 between November 1779 and June 1780; but the currency was so depreciated that the true value cannot be inferred, and pounds seem to be confused with dollars. A subscription was raised of £400‘hard money’ and £101,360 ‘continental.’ At a meeting held soon afterwards it was decided to abandon this plan and form a bank, which was of service in the autumn, and led in the next spring to the constitution by Robert Morris of the Bank of North America. Paine published at the end of the year a pamphlet called Public Good in opposition to the claims of Virginia to the north-western territory. After the war a motion in the Virginian legislature to reward Paine for his services was lost on account of this performance.
Paine resigned his position as clerk at the end of the year, stating his intention to devote himself to a history of the revolution. He had also a scheme for going to England, where he imagined he could open the eyes of his countrymen to the folly of continuing the struggle by a pamphlet as effective as Common Sense. Congress now resolved to make an application to the French government for a loan, and entrusted the mission to Colonel Laurens, an aide-de-camp of Washington. Laurens took Paine as his secretary, Paine intending to make his expedition to England after completing the business. They sailed from Boston in February 1781, and had a favourable reception in France. Paine was persuaded to give up the English plan, and returned with Laurens in a French frigate, reaching Boston on 25 August 1781, with 2,500,000 livres in silver, besides military stores. Sixteen ox teams were sent with the money to Philadelphia. Washington was meanwhile advancing with Rochambeau upon Yorktown, and the surrender of Cornwallis ended the campaign. He had to obtain a loan from Rochambeau, which was repaid from the money brought by Laurens. Paine refers to this mission in his published Letter to Washington, 1796.
In 1808 he asked a reward from congress, claiming to have made the original suggestion of applying for a loan, and stating that the advance upon Yorktown was only made possible by the money obtained. Americans were probably capable of asking for loans without Paine's suggestion. On the virtual conclusion of the war, Paine appealed to Washington for some recognition of his services, and stated that he thought of retiring to France or Holland. At the suggestion of Washington, Robert Morris, and Livingston (10 February 1782), a salary of eight hundred dollars was allowed to him from the secret service money in order to enable him to write. He received one year's salary under this arrangement, and wrote five more Crises in 1782. The last appeared on 19 April 1783, the eighth anniversary of Lexington.
Paine took part in a controversy excited by the refusal of Rhode Island to join in imposing a continental duty upon imports, and was present at discussions with a view to the formation of a stronger union. He was not proposed for the convention elected in 1787 to frame the constition of the United States. Paine had retired to a small house at Bordentown, New Jersey, on the east bank of the Delaware, and was devoting himself to mechanical contrivances. In 1784 the state of New York presented to him the estate of New Rochelle, of about 277 acres, the confiscated property of a loyalist. Washington wrote letters on his behalf, Pennsylvania voted £500 to him in December, and congress in October 1785 gave him three thousand dollars.
Paine, at the beginning of 1786, wrote his Dissertations, mainly in defence of the Bank of North America. He was now, however, devoting himself to an invention for an iron bridge. He consulted Franklin, and his plans were considered by a committee of the Pennsylvania assembly, who were proposing a bridge over the Schuylkill. At the end of March 1787 he wrote to Franklin that he intended to go to Europe with the model of his bridge, and was anxious to see his parents. He sailed in April, went to Paris, where he was received as a distinguished guest, and laid his model before the academy of sciences. In August he reached London. His father, who had shortly before written an affectionate letter to him, had died in 1786; but he went to Thetford, where his mother was still living, and made her an allowance of 9s. a week. She died in May 1790.
Paine had brought to London some papers, approved by Cardinal de Brienne, in favour of friendly relations between France and England, and presented it to Burke. The real purpose of this overture is explained by a pamphlet called Prospects on the Rubicon, which Paine published on his arrival. The French were in close alliance with the Dutch republican party; but the Prussians intervened in the autumn to support the stadtholder, who represented the opposite politics. Pitt made a secret treaty with the king of Prussia, and was prepared to support him if necessary in a war with France. Paine's pamphlet is directed against Pitt's scheme, and insists chiefly upon the incapacity of England to stand another French war. De Brienne naturally wished to stimulate the English opposition against Pitt's policy, which, however, succeeded, as the French shrank from war. Paine thus became known to Burke, Fox, the Duke of Portland, and other Whig politicians. He employed himself, however, chiefly upon his bridge, the construction of which was undertaken by Messrs. Walker of Rotherham, Yorkshire. It was brought to London and set up in June 1790 at Leasing (now Paddington) Green for exhibition. The failure of an American merchant, Whiteside, who had some interest in the speculation, caused Paine's arrest for debt, but he managed to pay the money. The bridge was finally broken up in 1791. The first attempt at an iron bridge was made at Lyons in 1755, but it failed. In 1779 the first iron bridge, constructed by Abraham Darby, was opened at Coalbrookdale. According to Mr. Smiles, the bridge over the Wear at Sunderland, opened in 1796, was constructed from the materials of Paine's bridge, and his designs were adopted with some modification. The credit has also been given to Rowland Burdon, who actually executed the plan. It would seem that, in any case, Paine's scheme must have helped to suggest the work. He wrote about other scientific projects to Jefferson, and had a strong taste for mechanical inventions. But his attention was diverted to other interests.
In the early part of 1790 Paine was in Paris, where he was entrusted by Lafayette with the key of the Bastille for transmission to Washington. In November appeared Burke's Reflexions on the Revolution, and Paine immediately replied by the first part of the Rights of Man. Johnson, the radical publisher, had undertaken it, but became frightened after a few copies had been issued with his name, and handed it over to Jordan. Paine went over to Paris, leaving his book to the care of Godwin, Holcroft, and Brand Holles. It appeared 13 March 1791, and succeeded rapidly. Paine, writing to Washington on 2 July 1791, to whom the book was dedicated, says that he has sold over eleven thousand out of sixteen thousand copies printed. It was reprinted in America with a preface, stating that it was approved by ‘the secretary of state’ - i.e. Jefferson. Jefferson and Mallison made some attempt to secure a place in the cabinet for Paine. The federalists disapproved. Washington replied diplomatically to Paine's letter, and ‘Publicola,’ who was supposed to be John Adams, and was really his son, John Quincy Adams, attacked him in the Columbian Sentinel.
Paine went to Paris directly after the publication, and gave the work to Lanthenas for translation. He was present at the return of the king from the flight to Varennes on 26 June, and was assailed by the crowd for not having a cockade in his hat. He was one of five who formed themselves into the Société Républicaine. Condorcet, and probably Brissot, published a placard on 1 July suggesting the abolition of monarchy, and started Le Républicain, a journal of which only one number appeared, containing a letter from Paine. Paine returned to London, but abstained from attending a meeting to celebrate the fall of the Bastille for fear of compromising supporters. Another meeting was to be held on 4 August to celebrate the abolition of feudal rights in France. The landlord of the Crown and Anchor closed his doors. A meeting was then held at the Thatched House tavern on 20 August, and a manifesto, signed by Horne Tooke as chairman, and written by Paine, was issued, expressing sympathy with the French revolution and demanding reforms in England.
Paine lodged with his friend Rickman, a bookseller, and met many of the reformers: Lord Edward FitzGerald, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sharp the engraver, Romney, ‘Walking’ Stewart, Horne Tooke, and others, are mentioned by Rickman. He was toasted by the societies which were beginning to spring up; and began the second part of the Rights of Man. His printer, Chapman, became alarmed, and handed over the sheets which he had printed to Jordan. Paine also gave a note to Jordan (dated 16 February 1692). In it Jordan was directed, if questioned by any one in authority, to give Paine's name as author and publisher. On 14 May Jordan received a summons; he pleaded guilty, and gave up his papers. Paine was summoned on 21 May. He wrote to the attorney-general stating that he was prepared to meet the case fully, and had ordered his attorney to put in an appearance. He appeared in court on 8 June, when the trial was postponed to December. He also published letters to Dundas (6 June), to Lord Onslow (17 and 21 June), who had summoned a county meeting at Epsom, and to the sheriff of Sussex (20 June), who had summoned a meeting at Lewes. He spoke at a meeting of the ‘Friends of the People’ on 12 September. His friends heard that he would be arrested for his speech. The next evening he was at the house of Johnson, the publisher, when William Blake told him that he would be a dead man if he went home. He started at once with John Frost (1750-1842), who took him by a circuitous route to Dover. They were searched by the custom-house officer, upon whom Paine made an impression by a letter from Washington, and were allowed to sail, twenty minutes before a warrant for Paine's arrest arrived from London.
The attorney-general, Archibald Macdonald, explained in the trial that he had not prosecuted the first part, because he thought that it would only reach the ‘judicious reader.’ The second had been industriously circulated in all shapes and sizes, even as a wrapper for ‘children's sweetmeats.’ It was said, in fact, that two hundred thousand copies had been circulated by 1793. The real reasons were obvious. The respectable classes had taken alarm at the events in France. The old and new Whigs had fallen out, and the reforming societies were becoming numerous. The ‘Society for Constitutional Information,’ of which Horne Tooke was the leading member, thanked Paine on the appearance of each part of his book. The ‘Corresponding Society,’ formed at the beginning of 1792, and affiliated to the ‘Constitutional,’ with numerous other societies which now sprang up throughout the country, joined in commending Paine's books, and circulated copies in all directions. The Rights of Man was thus adopted as the manifesto of the party which sympathised with the French revolution. Although they disavowed all intentions of violence, the governing classes suspected them of Jacobinism, and a prosecution of Paine was inevitable. Paine on 4 July handed over £1,000, produced by the sale of the Rights of Man to the Constitutional Society. Chapman had offered him successively £100, £500 and £1,000l for the second part at different stages of the publication, but Paine preferred to keep the book in his own hands. It was suggested that the money was really to be paid by government with a view to suppressing the book. It is, however, highly improbable that government would guarantee to pay hush-money with so little security for permanent effect. The trial took place on 18 December 1792. Paine wrote a letter from Paris on 11 November 1792 to the attorney-general, saying that he had business of too much importance to be present, and cared nothing for the result. He suggested that the attorney-general and ‘Mr. Guelph’ [the king] might take warning from the examples made of similar persons in France. Erskine, who defended him, tried to treat this letter as a forgery, but conviction, if before doubtful, became now inevitable.
Several prosecutions for publishing or circulating the Rights of Man followed in 1793, as the alarm in England became more intense. Paine was welcomed enthusiastically in France. On 26 August the title of French citizen had been conferred upon him and other celebrities by the national assembly. On 6 September he was elected by the Pas de Calais a member of the convention. The departments of Oise and Puy de Dôme also elected him. Paine was met by salutes and public addresses, and on 19 September reached Paris. He appeared that night at the national assembly. Frost reports next day that Paine was in good spirits, though ‘rather fatigued by the kissing.’ On 21 September the abolition of royalty was decreed, and on 11 October a committee was appointed to frame a constitution, which included Paine. Brissot, another member, had already become known to him in America. The king's trial was now the absorbing question. Paine published several papers on the subject. He was unable to speak French, but gave in translations of his addresses. He voted for the ‘detention of Louis during the war, and his perpetual banishment afterwards.’
He suggested that the United States might be the ‘guard and the asylum of Louis Capet [Louis XVI], and urged, on the final vote for immediate execution, that the United States would be offended by the death of their benefactor. Paine's courage exposed him to the denunciations of Marat, but his friends, the Girondists, were not yet crushed. Paine used his influence to obtain the release of a Captain Grimston, by whom he had been struck at a restaurant; and another instance of his interference on behalf of an arrested person is told by Landor. The constitution framed by the committee was ready during the winter, but postponed by the influence of the Jacobins, and, though adopted by the convention in June, never came into operation. Paine co-operated in forming it with Condorcet, and was instructed to prepare, with Condorcet and others, an address to the people of England. The fall of the Girondins put an end to this and to Paine's influence. He had been denounced by Marat for his attempt to save the king's life, and gave some evidence at Marat's trial in April. On 20 April, during the crisis of the struggle, he wrote to Jefferson expressing despondency, and saying that he meant to return to America when the constitution was settled.
Paine, however, was not personally involved in the catastrophe which befell the Girondists in June. He was greatly depressed, and for a time sought for consolation in brandy. He lodged in a house which had formerly belonged to Mme. de Pompadour, saw a few friends, and rarely visited the convention. He now occupied himself in writing his Age of Reason. He had just finished the first part when he was arrested on 27 December 1793. His arrest was caused by certain intrigues of the American minister, Gouverneur Morris. Morris was hostile to the revolution, and desired to break off the French alliance for the United States. Certain American ships had been detained at Bordeaux, and when their captains appealed to Morris, he was slow to interfere in such a way as to remove their grievance. They applied to Paine, who suggested a petition to congress, which succeeded. Morris thought that Paine was intriguing against him, and intimated to a French official his objections to an influence ‘coming from the other side of the Channel.’ Shortly afterwards Paine was denounced in the convention (3 October), and in December it was decreed that ‘foreigners should be excluded from public functions during the war;’ and Paine, thus excluded from the convention, was considered liable to arrest under a previous law as citizen of a country at war with France.
Some Americans resident in Paris petitioned for Paine's release, but received an evasive answer. Paine applied to Morris, who made, in consequence, a very formal and lukewarm remonstrance. Paine in vain requested a further ‘reclamation.’ He remained in prison, and Robespierre made a memorandum for his trial. He seems to have been marked for execution by the committee of public safety, during their struggle with Robespierre, and thinks that he owed his escape to a fever which made him unconscious for a month. He also says that a chalk-mark placed against the door of his room as a signal for the guillotine escaped notice by an accident. After the death of Robespierre, appeals were made to Merlin de Thionville by Lanthenas, who had translated the Age of Reason; and Paine himself wrote to the committee of public safety and to the convention. Monroe had arrived in Paris as Morris's successor in August. Upon hearing of this, Paine sent him a memorial, to which Monroe replied cordially; Monroe claimed Paine as a citizen of the United States, in a letter (2 November 1794) to the ‘committee of general surety,’ and Paine was immediately set free, after an imprisonment of over ten months. He had employed part of the time in the composition of the second part of the Age of Reason.
Paine became the guest of Monroe, and was restored to the convention. On 3 January 1795 he was first on a list of persons recommended for pensions on account of literary services. He did not accept the offer. The convention declined to sanction a proposal from Monroe that Paine should be employed on a mission to America. He was still in bad health, but on 7 July was present at the convention, when the secretary read a speech of his protesting against the limitation of the franchise to direct taxpayers. This was also the subject of his pamphlet on The first Principles of Government, published in July. Paine was naturally aggrieved by the neglect of the American government to interfere on his behalf. He wrote a reproachful letter to Washington on 22 February 1795, which he suppressed at Monroe's request. On 20 September he wrote another, calling upon Washington to clear himself from the charge of ‘treachery;’ and, having received no answer to this, he wrote and published a letter, dated 3 August 1796. It is a long and bitter attack upon Washington's military career, as well as upon his policy as president. Paine's very intelligible resentment at Morris's inaction is some palliation, though not an adequate excuse.
Paine's Age of Reason had strengthened the feeling against him in England. Thomas Williams was convicted for the publication in June 1797, when Paine published a vigorous letter to Erskine, who was counsel for the prosecution. During the following years the publication of Paine's books in England was a service of danger, and by all the respectable writers he was treated as the typical ‘devil's advocate.’ Paine remained at Paris till the peace of Amiens. He stayed with Monroe for a year and a half. In 1831 a sum of $1,118 was paid to Monroe by act of congress for moneys paid to Paine or on his account.
After finishing the second part of the Age of Reason, Paine had a severe relapse in the autumn of 1795. Early in 1796 he went into the country to recover his health, and in April published a pamphlet against the English System of Finance. Cobbett, who had fiercely attacked Paine, and in his earlier writings defended Washington against him, became the panegyrist of his old enemy upon long afterwards reading this pamphlet, which expressed his own views of paper money.
Paine was for a time the guest of Sir Robert Smith, a banker in Paris. Lady Smith had made Paine's acquaintance just before his arrest, and they carried on a complimentary correspondence. Monroe was recalled at the end of 1796, and Paine, after preparing to return with him, was deterred by a prospect of British cruisers in the Channel. He afterwards took up his abode with Nicolas de Bonneville, a French journalist, who had translated some of Paine's works, and been one of the five members of his ‘Republican Club.’ Paine wrote a few papers, made suggestions to French ministers, and subscribed a hundred livres in 1798 towards a descent upon England. Napoleon, it is said, invited him to join the expedition, and Paine hoped to proclaim liberty at Thetford under Napoleon's wing. The hope of such a consummation recurred to him in 1804, when he published a pamphlet in America upon the then expected invasion. Paine's philanthropy had quenched any patriotic weakness. In 1797 he established in Paris a sect of ‘Theophilanthropists,’ consisting of five families, and delivered an inaugural address. It was supported by Larévellière-Lépeaux of the Directory, but was suppressed in October 1801.
Jefferson, now president of the United States, offered Paine a passage to America in a ship of war. Paine declined the offer, upon hearing a report that Jefferson had apologised for making it. He decided, however, to return; his friend Sir Robert Smith died, and the Bonnevilles promised to follow him to America. He landed at Baltimore on 30 October 1802. His property had risen in value, and was expected to produce £400 a year. Some of his friends, such as Rush and Samuel Adams, had been alienated by the Age of Reason. He stayed, however, with Jefferson, who consulted him about the Louisiana purchase and other political affairs, and published various pamphlets and articles in the following years, but without any marked effect.
He went to Bordentown early in 1803, and, though welcomed by his own party, was hooted by an orthodox mob on a visit to New York shortly afterwards. Mme. Bonneville, with her three children, reached America in the autumn. She settled in Paine's house at Bordentown, as a teacher of French. Finding Bordentown dull, she followed Paine to New York in 1804. Her husband was under surveillance in France, and could neither follow her nor send her money. Paine had to prove that he was not legally responsible for her debts. He now resolved to settle at New Rochelle, where Mme. Bonneville began to keep house for him. Here, at Christmas 1804, a man named Derrick, who owed him money, fired a gun into Paine's room. Derrick appears to have been drunk, and, although he was arrested, the charge was not pressed. Mme. Bonneville again went to New York to teach French. Paine put her younger children to school in New Rochelle, and went into a lodging. He found his income insufficient, and applied to Jefferson to obtain for him some reward for past services from Virginia.
He spent the winter 1805-6 in New York, in the house of William Carver, where he joined Elihu Palmer in a ‘deistic propaganda.’ He wrote for Palmer's organ, The Prospect. Palmer died in 1806. Paine gave a part of his reply to Bishop Watson to Palmer's widow, who published it in the Theophilanthropist in 1810. Another part, given to Mme. Bonneville, disappeared. Early in 1806 Paine returned to New Rochelle, and had to sell the house at Bordentown for three hundred dollars. Paine was dejected by his unsatisfactory position, and his health was beginning to fail. His vote was rejected at New Rochelle, on the ground that he was not an American citizen; and, in spite of his protests, he failed to get his claim recognised. He let his farm at New Rochelle, and lodged with a painter named Jarvis in New York.
In August 1806 he writes that he has had a fit of apoplexy. His last book, an Essay on Dreams, continuing the argument of the Age of Reason, had been written previously, and was published in 1807. In the autumn of that year he was much irritated by attacks in a New York paper, which led, in the next year, to a bitter controversy with James Cheetham, editor of the American Citizen. Cheetham was an Englishman, and had been a disciple of Paine. Paine now attacked him for deserting Jefferson while still enjoying the government patronage. Paine, in the beginning of 1808, again applied to congress for some reward. He was anxious about money. He lodged during ten months of 1808 with a baker named Hitt in New York. He afterwards went to a miserable lodging at 63 Partition Street, and contracted to sell his farm at New Rochelle for ten thousand dollars. In July 1808 he moved to a better house in Herring Street, near Mme. Bonneville. In January 1809 he made his will, leaving all his property to Mme. Bonneville and her children; and in April moved to a house, now 59 Grove Street, where Mme. Bonneville came to nurse him. He died there on 8 July 1809.
Paine was more or less ‘ostracised’ by society during his last stay in America. Political and theological antipathies were strong, and Paine, as at once the assailant of Washington and the federalists and the author of the Age of Reason, was hated by one party, while the other was shy of claiming his support. It has also been said that his conduct was morally offensive, and charges against him have been accepted without due caution. His antagonist, Cheetham, made them prominent in a life published in 1809. He accused Paine of having seduced Mme. Bonneville, of habitual drunkenness, and of disgustingly filthy habits. The charges were supported by a letter to Paine from Carver, with whom Paine had lodged. Mme. Bonneville immediately sued Cheetham for slander. Cheetham made some attempt to support his case with the help of Carver, but Carver retracted the charge; it completely broke down, and the jury at once found Cheetham guilty. Cheetham was sentenced to the modest fine of $150. The judge, said to be a federalist, observed in mitigation that his book ‘served the cause of religion.’ It is very intelligible that Mme. Bonneville's position should have suggested scandal, but all the evidence goes to show that it was groundless. Paine's innumerable enemies never accused him of sexual immorality, and in that respect his life seems to have been blameless. The special charges of drunkenness made by Cheetham and Carver are discredited by this proof of their character; Carver's letter to Paine was written or dictated by Cheetham, and seems to have been part of an attempt to extort money. Carver afterwards confessed that he had lied as to the drink.
It is admitted, however, that the charge of drinking was not without foundation. Paine confessed to Rickman that he had fallen into excesses in Paris. Mr. Conway thinks that this refers solely to a few weeks in 1793. Even Cheetham admits that the habit began at the time of the French revolution. It seems, indeed, that Paine had occasionally yielded to the ordinary habits of the day. His publisher, Chapman, at the trial in 1792, spoke of Paine's intoxication on one occasion. It was ‘rather unusual,’ he says, for Paine to be drunk, but he adds that when drunk he was given to declaiming upon religion. A similar account of an after-dinner outburst upon religion is given by Paine's friend, Henry Redhead Yorke, who visited him in Paris in 1802, found him greatly broken in health, and speaks also of the filthy state of his apartment. Mr. Conway says that his nose became red when he was about fifty-five, i.e. about 1792. In America Paine changed from brandy to rum. Bale was told that he took a quart of rum a week at New Rochelle, and in 1808 his weekly supply seems to have been three quarts. He had, it appears, to be kept alive by stimulants during one of his illnesses, and his physical prostration may account for the stimulants and for some of the slovenly habits of which Carver gives disgusting, and no doubt grossly exaggerated, details. Paine had been neat in his dress, ‘like a gentleman of the old school’; but after coming to New York, the neglect of society made him slovenly. Barlow's account, though Mr. Conway attributes it to an admission of a statement by Cheetham, indicates a belief that Paine's habits of drinking had excluded him from good society in his last years. On the other hand, various contemporary witnesses, including Jarvis, with whom Paine lodged for five months, deny the stories of excessive drinking altogether; and Rickman, who was with him, says that he had given up drinking and objected to laying in spirits for his last voyage. The probability is that the stories, which in any case refer only to the last part of his career, were greatly exaggerated. Various stories circulated to show that Paine repented of his opinions on his deathbed were obviously pious fictions meant to ‘serve the cause of religion.’
Paine was buried at New Rochelle on 10 June 1809. His bones were dishumed by Cobbett in 1819, and taken to Liverpool. They were left there till after Cobbett's death, and were seized in 1836 as part of the property of his son, who became bankrupt in 1836. They were last heard of in possession of a Mr. Tilly in 1844. A monument was erected at New Rochelle in 1839.
Paine was about five feet nine inches in height, with a lofty forehead and prominent nose, and a ruddy complexion, clean shaven till late in life, well made and active, a good rider, walker, and skater.
Paine is the only English writer who expresses with uncompromising sharpness the abstract doctrine of political rights held by the French revolutionists. His relation to the American struggle, and afterwards to the revolution of 1789, gave him a unique position, and his writings became the sacred books of the extreme radical party in England. Attempts to suppress them only raised their influence, and the writings of the first quarter of the century are full of proofs of the importance attached to them by friends and foes. Paine deserves whatever credit is due to absolute devotion to a creed believed by himself to be demonstrably true and beneficial. He showed undeniable courage, and is free from any suspicion of mercenary motives. He attached an excessive importance to his own work, and was ready to accept the commonplace that his pen had been as efficient as Washington's sword. He attributed to the power of his reasoning all that may more fitly be ascribed to the singular fitness of his formulae to express the political passions of the time. Though unable to see that his opponents could be anything but fools and knaves, he has the merit of sincerely wishing that the triumph should be won by reason without violence.
With a little more ‘human nature,’ he would have shrunk from insulting Washington or encouraging a Napoleonic invasion of his native country. But Paine's bigotry was of the logical kind which can see only one side of a question, and imagines that all political and religious questions are as simple as the first propositions of Euclid. This singular power of clear, vigorous exposition made him unequalled as a pamphleteer in revolutionary times, when compromise was an absurdity. He also showed great shrewdness and independence of thought in his criticisms of the Bible. He said, indeed, little that had not been anticipated by the English deists and their French disciples; but he writes freshly and independently, if sometimes coarsely.
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