The Age of George III

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Thomas Paine and the French Revolution

There were a number of different reactions in Britain to the events in France after 1789. They can be separated into the reactions of

Tom Paine was the most pro-French Revolution propagandist. He had helped the Americans in their conflict against Britain with his pamphlet Common Sense and possibly had also had a hand in writing the Declaration of Independence. He had tried to encourage democracy in England. Later he went to France and was almost executed by the Jacobins on the grounds that he was a royalist. Paine then returned to America. He helped to light the spark of two revolutions and attempted a third. Paine read Edmund Burke's pamphlet, Reflections on the Revolution in France and replied with Rights of Man which was published in two parts in 1791 and 1792. Like Common Sense before it, it was aimed at the craftsmen and artisans. Paine said that all men were equal and any non-equaliser such as money, power, prestige or titles, were wrong. He felt that governments should reflect social equality.

Rights of Man was written in plain, forceful English that allowed it to be accessible for ordinary people. It was issued and published in précis pamphlet form and acquired a large following for Paine who wanted to stimulate a democratic revolution. He was a pure democrat and believed in the ability of the ordinary man to make decisions for himself. Paine was responsible for politicising the lower orders, to a great extent and demanded social reforms including universal and free education, old age pensions and family allowances, all of which were to be financed from income tax. Paine was well in advance of his time with these demands:

Paine encouraged the re-formed Society for the Promotion of Constitutional Information in 1791. The various branches became Corresponding Societies and were the first national effort to organise public democratic radicalism. The first of these societies was the Sheffield Corresponding Society, followed by the London Corresponding Society.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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