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Thomas Paine
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Author of "Common Sense"
Quotes on the Second Amendment
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Quotes on the Second Amendment:

"The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside... Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived of the use of them...." (I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 [1894])

"Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property...Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them." (Thomas Paine, Thoughts On Defensive War, 1775)

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Thomas Paine was born January 29, 1737 in Thetford, England, the son of a Quaker corset maker unhappily married to an Anglican attorney's daughter. Apprenticed into corset making at age 13, he entered into a monotonous occupation with scant hope of rising above poverty.

Paine left home at age 19 for a brief career as a privateer when a war broke out in 1756. Barely educated in youth (his grammar was never perfect), Paine loved ideas, absorbed insights from eclectic sources. Quaker concepts inspired his views on the sanctity of the inner citadel in consciousness, for instance. After he left school to apprentice the feminine-waist constriction trade, he devoted his free time to abstract learning, his spare cash paying for books, lectures, scientific apparatus. Such explorations suggest why he never hit it big in business. He read widely, worked his way into mathematics, worked on "mechanical contrivances" of various kinds. Historians have noted how his self-directed learning patterns immersed him into the ideas and issues of his age without his intelligence being filtered or routed by the rigors of classical education. Paine could think outside the lines.

Yet a person of ideas still must feed, clothe and house the body. From 1757 to 1774, Paine successively worked in various towns as a corset maker, tax collector, school teacher, with side ventures as a tobacconist and grocer.

Along the way, Paine married twice, both marriages childless. He'd met Benjamin Franklin and Franklin was impressed enough to give Paine letters of introduction, asking his friends in Philadelphia to help this "ingenious, worthy young man." In October 1774, at age 37, Paine sailed from England to Philadelphia. With Franklin's letters, he landed in freelance journalism, contributing to Pennsylvania Magazine for most of his livelihood. He covered diverse subjects, specializing in the latest inventions. Social issues interested him the most, however, such as his 1775 article advocating the abolition of slavery. He helped found one of the earliest abolitionist societies.

Thomas Paine first published Common Sense anonymously in Philadelphia on January 10, 1776. His 47-page pamphlet, selling for two shillings, urged an immediate declaration of independence from the English crown as a practical measure that would unite the colonies, secure French and Spanish military and economic aid, and fulfill America's moral duty to the world as a nation of free people. A continent could not stay tied to a distant island. If the colonies free themselves and declare a democracy under natural laws, responsible to nature's God, their example would inspire the world.

Paine likely consulted with his friend Franklin about the pamphlet, but the work was his own, published at his own risk. The pamphlet sold 120,000 copies within three months and his biographers have fixed total sales as high as a half million copies –impressive the total population of the 13 colonies was about 2.5 million people. Word soon spread that Paine was the author of Common Sense, giving him his greatest acclaim at age 40, and perhaps the greatest sense of fulfillment in his entire life, as he saw his writings inspire American to declare for freedom.

Paine then enlisted in the American army before the retreat across New Jersey, and served as an aide to a general under Washington. As war dragged on, public support faded and freezing troops fled from Valley Forge, Paine sat alone leaning over a drumhead, goes the legend, and wrote the first in a series, The American Crisis, opening with the immortal words, "These are the times that try men's souls."

The work was read aloud at every Army campfire and the hearths in many homes. A series of eleven more Crisis papers (plus four special editions) were published during the war. Topics included stopping American Tories from helping the British and a need for federal and state taxes to fund the war effort.

Paine was rewarded for his efforts. In April 1777, Congress appointed him a secretary to its foreign affairs committees, including work on Indian Affairs. He sabotaged his secure position during the Beaumarchais war supplies scandal as he confirmed government corruption by publishing confidential documents, making it seem France had supplied the American rebels despite its peace accord with England. Forced to resign by political pressure, Pennsylvania appointed him clerk of the state assembly. He contributed $500 of his $1700 salary to a fund for relieving Washington's weary army. In 1780, he wrote and published Public Good, expanding on the themes in Common Sense to oppose Virginia's claims on western lands.

In 1781 Paine joined John Laurens on a trip to France to raise more military support funds, returning with needed army stores. Paine was not paid for such foreign service, but his expenses were covered. When peace came and independence was won, Thomas Paine was again a poor man.

Compensating the hero of the Revolution, Congress voted £3000 in thanks, Pennsylvania £500, and New York gave him a confiscated Tory estate in New Rochelle. He re-published Common Sense in 1791, adding a lengthy appendix, earning added income. At the back, he tacked on a peevish letter to the Quakers, which angered many Pennsylvanians, among others.

A difficult personality, losing friends faster than he could influence people, still a restless spirit now with coins in his pocket, Paine returned to England in 1887 seeking investors to construct an iron bridge, his own invention. Paine was in Yorkshire, talking about the benefits of modern technology, when the French masses stormed the Bastille. His bridge eventually did get built, although Paine lost money in the process.

Paine visited Paris in late 1789 to observe the new regime for himself, then he returned to London to spread his views about democracy. A tale of travel between the two cities for the next three years, Paine cast himself as an agent for world revolution, debating in parlors and in print over the virtues and vices of the French and American revolutions, the merits of monarchies, and the human capacity for self rule.

In defense of the French Revolution, Paine wrote and published The Rights of Man. Guided by his ideals more than the facts of "Madame Guillotine" and "The Terror" under Robespierre, Paine declared that governments exist to guard the natural rights of the individuals unable to ensure their rights without government's help. Four key rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. In Part I, he argued for a republic governed under a constitution with a bill of rights, elected leaders serving limited terms, and a judiciary accountable to the general public. He called for equal suffrage for all men and the end of social divisions by virtue of birth or rank or economics or religion. In Part II, Paine suggested social legislation to remove class inequities.

Paine's fervent hope was that Rights of Man would inspire in England the same revolutionary thirst for independence from monarchy as Common Sense inspired in America. Instead, despite selling about 200,000 copies by 1793, the pamphlet was suppressed by the government of William Pitt, who was unable to get his hands on Paine (still a British citizen), since Paine was safe in France. Pitt had Paine tried in absentia before the loyalists, convicting Paine of treason. England outlawed its native son in December 1792.

Paine had been in France since August when he'd joined Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and select others being made French citizens by the Assembly. In September, four departments elected Citizen Paine to the Convention, and he sat for the Pas de Calais. Paine did not speak French, so his speeches had to be read for him by translators, rendering him ineffective in the Assembly. His temperament made relations testy at best.

Paine ceased attending the Assembly when the politics changed, retreating with his friends to rural Faubourg St. Denis. He lived in peace until the Assembly stripped away his citizenship, depriving him of membership in the Convention, removing his legal immunity. A law allowed citizens of nations at war with France to be arrested, and Englishman Paine was imprisoned on December 28, 1793. Outlawed in England, he was arrested in France for being English.

Like many enemies of the Revolution left to vanish behind bars, Paine never went to trail. Confined in the Luxemborg prison, he persuaded his jailers to provide pen, ink and paper. He began writing The Age of Reason. Paine was freed after almost a year in prison once the new United States minister to France, James Madison, claimed him as an American citizen. Weak from illness and nearly penniless on his release at age 57, Paine was sheltered by James Monroe while his health returned. French citizenship and a seat in the Convention restored him and, in July 1795, Paine rose in the French Assembly to declare his faith in the Rights of Man.

The first copy of The Age of Reason to arrive in America, destined for Paine's printer for U.S. publication, was lent to Jefferson with awareness the printer was waiting. Passing the copy to the printer, Jefferson scribbled a genial note to offset the tome's "dryness," he later said. In his note, he remarked the pamphlet was useful as an antidote for "political heresies" of the time. This slam by deist Republican Virginian Jefferson was aimed at his political rivals, the Unitarian Federalist John Adams family of Massachusetts. Unexpected by both Paine and Jefferson, the note was published as an official preface. Incensed Federalists vented outrage. John Quincy Adams, writing as "Publicola" in the Columbian Sentinel, condemned Paine for his principles and Jefferson for his indiscretion.

John Adams subsequently was elected second U.S. President in 1797 and Jefferson was elected third President in 1801. In that year, Jefferson offered Paine free passage home on a public vessel. Returning to America on the private ship Maryland, landing in a political firestorm as a reviled figure. Never an easy man to love, Paine's Letter to Washington and The Age of Reason had effectively alienated his remaining allies and patrons. Rather then being welcomed into the debate between a centralized or decentralized national government, according to Henry Adams, Paine was "regarded by respectable society, both Federalist and Republican, as a person to be avoided, a person to be feared."

Now age 64, the social outcast retired alone to New Rochelle and lived his waning life in obscurity. Thomas Paine died at age 70 in New York on June 8, 1809. He did not expect a Christian burial in sacred ground after The Age of Reason. Paine was buried in a corner of his new Rochelle farm. A decade later in 1819, one of Paine's harshest critics, William Cobbett, apparently moved to atone for his attacks, had Paine's bones dug up and transported to England for re-burial under a patriotic monument that Cobbett planned to build. Cobbett died in 1835 with the memorial never erected. His English probate court assigned the old bones to a receiver. The fate of Paine's mortal remains today remains a mystery.

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Image Information:
John Wesley Jarvis, Oil on Canvas (Thomas Paine Memorial House)
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