January 29, 1737 - June 8, 1809
One of the strongest cases made in history for the "power of the pen" are the collective works of Thomas Paine. The son of a Quaker father and an Anglican mother, Thomas Paine was born January 29, 1737, at Thetford in Norfork, England. His father was a poor corset maker which gave Thomas no option beyond a free school where only a basic education was available. However, as Thomas Paine wisely stated; "Every person of learning is finally his own teacher". Whenever he could he attended lectures on Newtonian physics, and despite the meager earnings of his youth, purchased books and scientific apparatus. He continued this process of self education throughout his life. "I seldom passed five minutes of my life, however circumstanced, in which I did not acquire some knowledge".
The Americans and the French can both claim Thomas Paine as the true father and philosopher of their revolutions. His pamphlet, "Common Sense", united the colonies behind the cause of independence and his words were also on the lips of the French as they stormed the Bastille. "The American Crisis", a series of pamphlets, gave the needed strength to the American revolutionary army when it was at the point of defeat. From one of these works came the well known and oft repeated phrase, "These are the times that try men's souls". His controversial treatise, "The Age of Reason", was a plea to step back from orthodoxy and a literal interpretation of the Bible. It was also a cry for tolerance of beliefs outside one's own. "Every religion is good that teaches man to be good". "The Rights of Man", to many his greatest work, included plans for nations to work harmoniously together for the betterment of all their peoples. A radical idea in his time.
Thomas Paine has yet to receive his due homage from the peoples and nations of the world. He was a true revolutionary and cosmopolitan whose passion for freedom and distaste for injustice is apparent in everything he wrote. As his friend Thomas Jefferson stated in 1821: "No writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language". That "simple and unassuming language", when studied today, speaks to the modern man as well as it did to the readers of colonial America, and to any place or time where the highest ideals of human liberty face the dangerous realities of power. Few people have spoken to all the ages, to all peoples and nations. Thomas Paine was, without qualifacation, one who did.