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Men Of The Revolution: 7. Thomas Paine
Common Sense was a bestseller and turned the tide of public feeling toward independence, but for its author ingratitude followed fame.
October 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 6
Fleeing to Paris, he became a French citizen, was elected a member of the Convention, and was later thrown into jail (where he completed The Age of Reason, a defense of deism that was unfairly condemned as an “atheist’s bible”). Finally he returned to the United States, only to find that most Americans had forgotten him or had turned against him because of his radicalism or his personality (he was, a contemporary said, uncouth, coarse, “loathsome in his appearance, and a disgusting egotist”).
Ignored or despised, he died in 1809. But death brought no peace to the stateless, nonconforming soul of Thomas Paine. After he was interred in a corner of his farm, vandals desecrated the tombstone before William Cobbett, the English reformer, stole his remains and shipped them to England. His bones, still unburied when Cobbett died, passed with the latter’s effects into the hands of a furniture dealer to vanish forever.