The Father of the American Revolution: Thomas Paine – Forgotten Freedom Fighters

Fighting for the liberty of others makes you special, different. George Washington had his favorite freedom fighter. His name was Thomas Paine. Washington ordered his troops to read Paine’s pamphlet “Common Sense,” before crossing the Delaware River. John Adams said, “Without the pen of Paine, the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain.” Thomas Paine is not entirely forgotten, but his role in the struggle for liberty continues to be diminished by those who wish to stamp down the stirring hearts who desire freedom. This hero will not be turned into a footnote of a bygone era. I will hold him up and try to follow his lead.

Many students of history have read Common Sense. It is a wonderful example of Paine’s early writing and it is easy to see how it encouraged the then colonists to question the authority of Britain.

“Common sense will tell us, that the power which hath endeavored to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to defend us.”

“Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

“It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies; yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the world”

“Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

Though “Common Sense” a very good start, it was just the beginning of his pen’s call to mankind.

In the months following the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the troops led by George Washington had very low morale. They were losing most battles, and the war was almost lost. Thomas Paine wrote again. This pamphlet was called “The American Crisis.” Three days before the battle of Trenton, on December 23, 1776, to excite again the courage of the Americans weary from loss, it was read aloud to them. This is how it began.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but “bind us in all cases whatsoever” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon the earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”


These are powerful words. It is no wonder that with these words in their hearts the Continental Army was victorious and turned the tide of the war. This is the effect that the pen of this one man had.

Thomas Paine was born in England January, 29th 1736. He had a modest upbringing but was able to attend school until at 13, he was apprenticed to his father. He would later become, briefly, a privateer on a ship. The seafaring life did not suit him. Upon his return, he went to work for the government and even became an excise officer, (more or less a tax collector.) This, apparently, also was not to be a good fit. Paine was fired. Eventually he became a teacher for a time until returning to be a excise officer. It is ironic that his first political writings would come while he was employed by the government and they amounted to asking for more pay.

During this time period, he would also get married to Elizabeth Ollive, who was his landlord’s daughter. In addition, he started a tobacco business. Eventually, his marriage and business would fail. To add to that, he was fired from his excise position again. Evidently, he did not enjoy it and could not bring himself to go in to work. As a result, he was forced to sell his home to avoid going to debtor’s prison. Soon after this, a friend would introduce him to an American, Benjamin Franklin.

This legend saw something in Paine. He convinced him to come to America. At this point, what could he lose? Franklin would inspire him. The seeds for the future “Father of the American Revolution,” would be sown. He would team up with Thomas Young to cause a change in Pennsylvania politics that led to the Declaration of Independence. To read the whole story, read my post on Thomas Young.

The influence of Thomas Paine in America is undeniable in the American Revolution. He was not done here. It was his stated goal to spread liberty to every corner of the world.

“He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

His next attempt would be France. Many of the soldiers who came from France to help us against England returned home with the ideas our founding fathers preached. Before these men, people like Voltaire and Rousseau had laid the groundwork for what would eventually be the French Revolution. It was Paine’s goal to support this. He wrote “The Rights of Man.”

This would not be his last work, but it certainly is his best work on political ideas. When looking through this book, I wanted to find key quotes to exhibit the wisdom contained therein. There are more quotes than I could possibly include. I have chosen a few to illustrate the genius of Paine.

“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”

He confronts government from the perspective of the freedom movement. His opinions on taxation are clear.

“We still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry and grasping at the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without a tribute.”

His pen also wrote of peace and despised war.

“If men will permit themselves to think, as rational beings ought to think, nothing can appear more ridiculous and absurd, exclusive of all moral reflections, than to be at the expense of building navies, filling them with men, and then hauling them into the ocean, to try which can sink each other faster. Peace, which costs nothing, is attended with infinitely more advantage than any victory with all its expense. But this, though it best answers the purpose of Nations, does not that of Court Governments, whose habited policy is pretense for taxation, places, and offices.”

“That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations is as shocking as it is true…”

“But any war is harvest to such Governments, however ruinous it may be to a nation. It serves to keep up deceitful expectations, which prevent a people looking into the defects and abuses of Government. It is the “lo here!” and the “lo there!” that amuses and cheats the multitude.”

“…taxes are not raised to carry on wars, but that wars are raised to carry on taxes”

In my post on Locke, I recognized that he lived long ago and though he certainly changed thoughts on government, he was just a step in the direction of a Libertarian philosophy. I can, without any worry, say that Thomas Paine was a Voluntaryist. His dreams and aspirations are being echoed today by people like Adam Kokesh, Ron Paul, and even me. He is one of us.

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

“Man did not enter society to be worse off, or to have fewer rights, but rather to have those rights better secured”

“It is not because a part of the government is elective, that makes it less a despotism, if the persons so elected possess afterwards, as a parliament, unlimited powers. Election, in this case, becomes separated from representation, and the candidates are candidates for despotism.”

Paine was thrown into prison in France, and almost died there, because of his ideas, not only about government, but religion. He was seen as a threat to everyone in power. While he was imprisoned, he begged the then president, Washington, to help. The man, who used his words to win in battle, certainly would have been in a position to apply pressure in order to free Paine. The first president did not come to his long time friend’s aid. Fearing that it could damage the relationship between France and The United States, he left Paine to die.

Eventually, the disheartened freedom fighter was released. He was angry with both his old friend and with himself for failing. His hopes to spread liberty past his own country were not as successful as he had hoped. Still, he did not give up. Paine turned his attention to religious matters. He was a Deist, and he wrote one of the most widely read books on the subject called, “The Age of Reason.” Within its pages, you can still hear the longing for freedom.

“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”

Thomas Paine died June 8th, 1809, alone. When his friend Benjamin Franklin died, there were thousands who attended the funeral. At Thomas Paine’s funeral there were less than ten people present. Those in power sought to destroy his reputation. This man who had helped to start America on a path towards freedom was reviled. Again, those in power in the halls of government and those in the pulpit assassinated his character. His obituary in the American Citizen read, “He had lived long, did some good, and much harm.” I ask, what harm did he do? He challenged authority. He was attacked for his religious beliefs. Paine himself spoke of tolerance.

“I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine…”

But he said this as well, “He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

In many of these Forgotten Freedom Fighter posts, I have attempted to link the work of those brave men and women to our current struggle. I consider Adam Kokesh to be more than just another activist who I am helping. He is my friend. Maybe that makes me too emotional or idealistic. I, frankly, don’t care. It takes those bonds of Love between those in the fight to help us evolve as a society. Many times Adam sounds like so many of these people. I know that it is just the force of this movement coming through him. That being said, in a letter to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America, Thomas Paine said, “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” I myself have heard Adam say similar words.

This time I find Thomas Paine in myself, and I model my activism after him. It is my job, as Press Secretary for Adam Kokesh American Referendum Project, to spread the message of Freedom! I have children, and I hope for a better world for them. Paine said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

As a movement, I think this applies to us all, “An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot. Neither the Channel nor the Rhine will arrest its progress. It will march on the horizon of the world and it will conquer.” Going forward, it may be hard. Those in power, as Paine’s later life proves, are unlikely to just give up and go home. But according to Paine, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”

This has been a long road and I hope we never forget those who walked it before us. I can envision the end of the road. We are picking up speed as we get ever closer to a society without the force and coercion of government. It is just over the hill.

“I do not choose to be a common person. It is my right to be uncommon– if I can. I seek opportunity–not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the State look after me. I want to take the calculated risk–to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole; I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence, the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid, to think and to act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say, This, with God’s help, I have done.” – Thomas Paine

Written by @marcus.pulis (Press Secretary)

Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty, Albert Marrin
The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine
The American Crisis, Thomas Paine
Common Sense, Thomas Paine
The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine
Paine and Jefferson on Liberty, Lloyd Kramer

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