Born on January 29, 1737, in Norfolk, England, Thomas Paine was the only surviving child of Frances and Joseph. His father was Quaker, his mother was Anglican; Paine learned respect for both, but identified more with his father’s Quakerism. He left England for the colonies in 1774 where he became an author, pamphleteer, revolutionary and leading intellectual in pre-Revolutionary War efforts.
His most recognized work, Common Sense, first published in 1776, promoted the revolutionary notions of independence, equal rights for citizens and much more. Paine became friends with Joseph Kirkbride, a Quaker, who became his lifelong friend. When the British destroyed their home in Bucks County, Kirkbride moved his family to Bordentown, a Quaker town founded in 1682. Paine followed, and in 1783, bought the only house and property he ever owned. A statue of Paine was sculpted by Lawrence Holofcener and remains in town. The statue contains the following written message: “Father of the American Revolution.” Paine’s words and deeds put the concepts of independence, equality, democracy, abolition of slavery, representative government and a constitution with a bill of rights on the American agenda. Another statue of Paine, created by Georg Lober, is located in Burnham Park, Morristown. The statue shows Paine in 1776, using a drum as a table during the withdrawal of the army across New Jersey, while composing the first of the Crisis Papers. The statue was dedicated on July 4, 1950, the 174th Anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence.
Paine’s ideas and profound impact on society continue today with the recent release of The Great Debate, historian Yuval Levin’s examination of how the left/right political divide developed in this country, stemming from the progressive liberal sensibilities promoted by Paine and the reforming conservatism of Edmund Burke.