The authorities in power in England during Thomas Paine’s lifetime saw him as an agent provocateur who used his seditious eloquence to support the emancipation of slaves and women, the demands of working people, and the rebels of the French and American Revolutions. History, on the other hand, has come to regard him as the figure who gave political cogency to the liberating ideas of the Enlightenment. His great pamphlets, Rights of Man and Common Sense, are now recognized for what they are–classic arguments in defense of the individual’s right to assert his or her freedom in the face of tyranny.
“[Thomas Paine] accepted [no] definitions or frontiers, claiming to be the first of a new breed necessary to save mankind and womankind: a citizen of the world . . . Well beyond his own lifetime it was the power of his pen that restored his vision of the world as it might be . . . America made Thomas Paine–and he helped to make America.” –from the Introduction by Michael Foot