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Thomas Paine's Thetford legacy
Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine's ideas helped shape the French and American revolutions

Thomas Paine, one of the instrumental figures in the American and French revolutions, was born in Thetford.

A writer and political thinker, he was one of the first to add his voice to the abolition of slavery.

As well as the role he played in the revolutions, he also popularised the term the United States of America.

As a democratic campaigner and writer, the corset-maker's son was one of the first people to add his voice to the anti-slavery fight while in America.

Paine's 1775 essay African Slavery in America was published in the Pennsylvania Journal.

The piece paved the way for the country's first anti-slavery society to be set up just a few weeks later, with Paine one of its founders.

Permanent testament

The equal rights champion was born in 1737 and left Thetford when he was 19 years of age.

Today, a statue of Thomas Paine stands in Thetford as a permanent testament to the political free-thinker, who frightened the British establishment with his ideas of democracy and republicanism.

The statue also helped to spark the creation of the Thomas Paine Society in 1963.

The organisation was founded in response to a national headline-hitting row over whether there should be a tribute to a man, who some people in the town still regarded as a traitor.

Close to 300 years later, the Thomas Paine Society works to keep his memory alive, especially in his birthplace where the inequality of the voting and legal systems helped to shape his radical views.

In 2009, Thetford marked the bicentenary of the death of Thomas Paine with a seven month programme of celebratory events.

Best sellers

Thomas Paine penned the 18th Century's three best-selling books including Rights of Man, which sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler set upside down in his Thetford statue to create a talking point.

Thomas Paine statue in Thetford
Thomas Paine wrote the three best-selling books of the 18th Century

It was in this work that Paine gave strong support to the French Revolution before entering the country's parliament - after being hounded out of England - and then prison under the Reign of Terror.

Sentenced to death, a stroke of luck, combined with ingenuity, saved him from the guillotine.

An ill Paine had the door of his shared prison cell opened when the guard was putting a chalk cross on the cells of those to be executed that day.

After the guard disappeared, Paine's fellow inmates shut the door so the cross couldn't be seen.

Days later, one of the architects of The Terror, Robespierre, fell from position which meant Paine then walked free.

Benjamin Franklin

Having emigrated to America in 1774 on the advice of one of the country's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, Paine's 1776 pamphlet Common Sense is said to have swung American popular opinion in favour of independence from Britain.

After establishing his position as one of the country's key political thinkers and now unwelcome in Britain, Paine returned to America in 1802. He died just a few years later in 1809 in New York.

Towards the end of his life he was shunned for his ideas and his funeral was attended by just six people, two of whom were believed to be freed slaves.



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