Eric Paine on The Life and Work of Thomas Paine, 14 October 1995
No relation to his illustrious namesake, Eric Paine vividly brought Thomas Paine to life for us, and even sang us a brief heartfelt song, composed from Paine's own words.
Tom Paine had a lifelong commitment to reducing the oppression of severe taxation and campaigned vigorously against hereditary privilege. Raised by a Quaker father, and an Anglican mother, Paine went to Thetford Grammar School, worked as a stay-maker and then joined the navy during the Anglo-French wars. He married but his relatively unknown first wife died in childbirth, leaving much speculation about the survival of the infant. Developing a strong interest in astronomy and science generally, he started working as a customs official, but he quickly bankrupted himself calling for better pay and working conditions for customs officials. This was a pioneering act of trade unionism. Paine left England and sailed for Philadelphia (a refuge for Quakers) in 1774. He took up an ailing newsletter, which quickly revived its sales because of the quality of his angry protests against British politics. Common Sense, one of his most famous works, came out at this time. Working next in a Foreign Affairs Committee, Paine began to expose the corruption within the office (Eric compared it to "Iran gate"), and severely jeopardised his promotion prospects. He moved to Pennsylvania, where he advocated the abolition of slavery. He was also the first to use the phrase "United States of America" - then only thirteen. He had plans to build the first iron bridge, but he wasn't taken seriously. He did invent a new woodwork planing method, an improved plough and cheaper candles. He claimed to receive no money from his editorial work, but undoubtedly claimed expenses in some way: His expensive travelling would not have been possible otherwise.
The Age of Reason, inspired by Voltaire, was looked on as atheistic, though Paine was a Deist. He did regard Jesus as a great man, but dismissed the Bible as a grand fanciful myth. Paine travelled often between England and France, and met Edmund Burke, whom he criticises extensively as an opponent of human rights in Rights of Man. This pamphlet was quickly banned. Tipped off that he was in danger of arrest (possibly by William Blake), Paine fled to become a citizen of France. The Revolution before 1793 was not so violent; after-
wards it was indiscriminate slaughter. Paine argued that La Guillotine was no way to introduce the Brotherhood of Man.
Arrested and imprisoned, Paine was left to rot, narrowly avoiding the guillotine himself George Washington and other allegedly supportive Americans ignored his impassioned plea for assistance in securing his release from a French prison, and only when Monroe was elected was he finally rescued. Agrarian Justice, published in 1797 advocated a social welfare system years ahead of its time. With his republican vision unattained, Paine spent his last years supporting calls for a United Nations organization, and in Eric Paine's words, whinged a great deal about his brutal treatment and betrayals in later years. He died in Greenwich, England, and was buried in unconsecrated ground. The Quakers snubbed him for questioning the validity of their pacifism in the American Revolution. Many scurrilous biographies of him were published, some with the full support of the British Government. The Thomas Paine Society, founded in 1963, has done much to correct the damage done to the great man's reputation.
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