A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.


Thomas Paine

29 January 1737 - 8 June 1809

Thomas Paine was born in Thetford England. As a revenue officer for the British government, Paine witnessed firsthand the plight of ordinary people during the economic slump of the 1760s. During this time he joined a political discussion group and penned his first pamphlet, a plea for higher salaries for revenue officers. After losing his job in 1774, he sailed to Philadelphia and became editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. He was eager to support the American cause and worked closely with patriot leaders who suggested that Paine write a pamphlet supporting American independence. Common Sense, published in January 1776, presents a straightforward argument against British governance of the colonies. Unlike most political writing of the time, Common Sense was written for the average citizen, and it had an enormous impact on public opinion. During the Revolution, Paine served in the Continental Army and held several government posts. By the 1780s, his pamphlets focused on American economic development and the necessity of a strong federal government. He spent his later career in England and revolutionary France, and his increasingly radical writings eventually tarnished his reputation in America.