Thomas Paine Timeline

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary.

He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and his influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution greatly inspired the Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain.

His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era ideals of transnational human rights and he has been called a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination.

Paine’s notable works include “Common Sense”, “The American Crisis”, and “The Rights of Man”. Despite facing significant criticism and hardship during his life, his contributions to political and societal thought have left a lasting legacy.

1737Thomas Paine is born on January 29th in Thetford, England.
1756-1759He marries Mary Lambert, who dies in childbirth along with their child.
1768Paine becomes an excise officer in England and starts advocating for better pay and working conditions for his fellow workers.
1774Meets Benjamin Franklin in London, who suggests he emigrate to America. In December, he arrives in Philadelphia.
1776Publishes “Common Sense” in January, a pro-independence pamphlet that significantly inspires the American colonies to fight for independence from Britain.
1776-1783Serves as an aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene during the American Revolutionary War. Also writes a series of pamphlets called “The American Crisis”.
1781Helps raise funds to support the Revolutionary army.
1787Returns to England and becomes involved in the French Revolution.
1791-92Publishes “Rights of Man”, defending the French Revolution against its critics and arguing in favor of democratic government, individual rights, and social equality.
1792Convicted in absentia for seditious libel against the British government, forcing him to flee to France.
1793Arrested and imprisoned in France after he opposes the execution of Louis XVI.
1794Writes and publishes the first part of “The Age of Reason” in prison, a religious work criticizing institutionalized religion and advocating for reason and free thinking.
1794-1802Lives in France after being released from prison.
1802Invited by President Thomas Jefferson, he returns to America.
1809Dies on June 8th in New York City. His contributions to the American Revolution are widely forgotten at the time of his death due to his criticism of religion and his advocacy for controversial causes.

Timeline of Thomas Paine

1. Born in Thetford, England in 1737

homas Paine was born on January 29th in Thetford, Norfolk, England. He was the son of Joseph and Frances Paine, his father being a staymaker by trade. A staymaker was a craftsman who made the stays (a type of corset) used in ladies’ clothing.

Also Read: Facts About Thomas Paine

His father was a Quaker and his mother an Anglican, contributing to Paine’s later interest in political and religious matters.

 Statue of Thomas Paine

2. Married Mary Lambert in 1759. His wife and child died during childbirth

Paine got married to Mary Lambert in 1759. His wife and child both died during childbirth. Before his marriage, he worked at sea and also as a privateer, which increased his exposure to political debates and the concept of human rights, as sailors at that time often faced brutal living conditions and treatment.

3. Became an excise officer in England in 1768

Paine moved to Lewes, East Sussex in 1768. He worked as an excise officer, a government job that involved taxing goods for the Crown. He wasn’t very successful in this career, facing several setbacks including dismissal from his post.

Also Read: The Significance of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense

However, during his time in Lewes, he began to get involved in civic matters. He participated in the local debating society, wrote articles for the local paper, and expressed his ideas about political reform.

4. Met Benjamin Franklin and emigrated to America in 1774

Paine met Benjamin Franklin in London, who was serving as a colonial representative for Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Georgia. Impressed by Paine’s intellect and passion, Franklin suggested he emigrate to America and provided a letter of introduction.

Paine arrived in Philadelphia on November 30th, 1774. His early years in America were filled with hardship as he initially worked as a school teacher and then helped to edit the Pennsylvania Magazine.

His articles and editorials started to gain attention due to their progressive views on emancipation of slaves, women’s rights, and other social issues.

Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine

5. Published “Common Sense” advocating for American independence in 1776

Thomas Paine published a 47-page pamphlet called “Common Sense” in January of this year. This highly influential piece argued passionately for American independence from Britain, and played a significant role in turning public opinion towards the cause.

The pamphlet was written in a straightforward language that was understandable to common people, which contributed greatly to its wide distribution and impact.

It’s believed that “Common Sense” sold around 500,000 copies, a phenomenal number considering the population of the Colonies at that time.

6. Served as an aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene during the American Revolutionary War from 1776-1783

During the American Revolutionary War, Paine didn’t just sit on the sidelines. He served as an aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene, one of the most respected generals of the Revolutionary force.

In December 1776, Paine started to write a series of 16 articles known as “The American Crisis” that were published throughout the war.

The first of these, famously starting with the line “These are the times that try men’s souls,” was read aloud by George Washington to his troops to boost morale during the bleak winter at Valley Forge.

Rights of Man - Thomas Paine

7. Helped raise funds to support the Revolutionary army in 1781

In 1781, Paine traveled with John Laurens to France and managed to secure a loan of 2.5 million livres, which was crucial in aiding the struggling American government to continue the war against Britain. Paine also helped in raising funds for the construction of a key Revolutionary war vessel, the USS Alliance.

8. Returned to England and got involved in the French Revolution in 1787

After the end of the war, Paine returned to England in 1787. He still had a desire for political change, and England was still ruled by a monarchy. Paine, with his radical thoughts about democracy, was ready to inspire another revolution.

9. Published “Rights of Man”, a defense of the French Revolution in 1791-92

Paine published “Rights of Man” in two parts in these years, as a response to Edmund Burke’s conservative critique of the French Revolution, which was “Reflections on the Revolution in France”.

Paine’s “Rights of Man” defended the French Revolution and argued in favor of the rights of individuals to overthrow governments if those governments fail to protect their rights. It also promoted the ideas of democratic government, social equality, and argued for a written Constitution.

10. Convicted in absentia for seditious libel against the British Crown in 1792

Paine was tried and convicted in absentia for seditious libel against the British Crown due to the radical views he expressed in the “Rights of Man”.

His conviction made him an outlaw in England and he was forced to flee to France to avoid arrest, even though he did not speak French. Despite the language barrier, he was quickly elected to the French National Convention representing the district of Pas-de-Calais.

11. Arrested and imprisoned in France for opposing the execution of Louis XVI in 1793

Paine got involved in the tumultuous politics of the French Revolution and was caught in the struggle between the Girondins and Jacobins.

He was opposed to the execution of Louis XVI and argued for the king’s exile instead, which was a position that was not favored by the faction in power. In December of this year, Paine was arrested and imprisoned in France on charges of treason.

12. Wrote and published “The Age of Reason”, a critique of institutionalized religion, while in prison in 1794

While in prison, Paine began writing “The Age of Reason,” a critique of institutionalized religion and a defense of deism. He completed and published the first part of the work before his arrest, and wrote the second part during his imprisonment.

His argument for religious freedom and rationality over revelation was controversial and widely criticized by the public and religious leaders, but it also gained a significant following and became an important text for free thinkers.

13. Lived in France from 1794-1802 after being released from prison

After James Monroe, the new American Minister to France, secured Paine’s release from prison in November 1794, Paine lived most of the next eight years in France, continuing to participate in the political upheavals there.

However, his influence and reputation were significantly diminished due to his criticism of George Washington and the backlash from “The Age of Reason”.

14. Returned to America in 1802 at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson

Paine returned to the United States in 1802 after an invitation from President Thomas Jefferson, who admired Paine’s work in the cause of independence.

However, Paine’s controversial writings on religion had tarnished his reputation among many Americans, and he had difficulty finding steady work or a place to live.

15. Died in New York City in 1809

Paine died on June 8, 1809 in New York City at the age of 72. His death went largely unnoticed in the United States. He was buried on his property in New Rochelle, New York, but his remains were later disinterred by an admirer with plans to give him a proper memorial.

The whereabouts of his remains are currently unknown. Despite the controversies during his lifetime, Paine’s legacy as a proponent of Enlightenment thinking and a champion of individual rights has continued to impact political thought to this day.