Thomas Paine was born in England in 1737, to a Quaker father and an Anglican mother. Paine received little proper education, but did learn to read, write and perform arithmetic. He attended Thetford Grammar School (1744–49), at a time when there was no compulsory education.
At age thirteen, he was apprenticed to his corset maker father; in late adolescence, he enlisted and briefly served as a privateer,before returning to Britain in 1759.In 1767, he was appointed to a position in Gram pound, Cornwall; subsequently, he asked to leave this post to await a vacancy, thus, he became a schoolteacher in London.
In the summer of 1772, Paine published “The Case of the Officers of Excise,” a 21-page article in defence of higher pay for excise officers. It was his first political work, and he spent that winter in London, handing out the 4,000 copies of the article to members of Parliament and other citizens.
He met Benjamin Franklin, who advised him to move to America and provided him with letters of introduction to the recently formed nation. Paine had arrived in America as the conflict between the colonists and England had reached a fever pitch, although events had not yet become violent.
Within five months of Paine’s arrival, however, the precipitating event to his most famous work would occur. As the author of two highly influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, he inspired the Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Britain.
In 1777, Congress named Paine secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs. In April 1787, Paine headed back to England, where he soon became ensnared with what he heard of the roiling French Revolution.
He immediately and passionately supported the Revolution, so when he read Edmund Burke’s 1790 attack on it, he was inspired to write the book Rights of Man(1791) in a scathing response. In December 1793, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris, then released in 1794.
He became notorious because of his pamphlet The Age of Reason (1793–94), in which he advocated deism, promoted reason and freethinking and argued against institutionalized religion in general and Christian doctrine in particular.
In 1802, he returned to America where he died on June 8, 1809. Not many people attended his funeral, it has been reported that only six did. After his death, Paine’s body was brought to New Rochelle, but as the Quakers would not allow it to be buried in their grave-yard per his last will, so his remains were buried under a walnut tree on his farm.
In 1819, the English agrarian radical journalist William Cobbett, who in 1793 had published a hostile continuation of Francis Oldys (George Chalmers)’s The Life of Thomas Paine, dug up his bones and transported them back to England with the intention to give Paine a heroic reburial on his native soil, but this never came to pass. The bones were still among Cobbett’s effects when he died over twenty years later, but were later lost.