"I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last 30 years than Thomas Paine." – John Adams, 1805
Bad American Revolutionary! – Some freedom fighters just don’t know when to quit! Paine was a staunch and outspoken abolitionist. In this essay African Slavery in America, Paine, not one to mince words, published one of the very first articles in the US advocating the emancipation of all slaves. Its publishing date of March 8, 1775 may be just as significant as the essay itself. Paine also believed that women should be afforded equal rights and participation in the political process. And unlike many other founders, by 1895 Paine had come to advocate universal suffrage. Paine was a free thinker and philosopher whose writings supported every forthcoming freedom movement (Civil War, Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, etc.) on American soil. While he was initially beloved for his role in the American Revolution, he was told to go back to his corner the more he kept talking all crazy about freedom for ALL its citizens. And when he openly criticized Christianity (see AGE of REASON) which, in his time, formed the backbone for monarchy, slavery, and inequality, well THAT was the last straw. Ultimately, he was ostracized, his hero status withdrawn, and his accomplishments minimized in our history books in the early 1800s. By 1809 he died broke and only a handful attended his funeral.
“Men of Their Times”: While our country continues to pay homage to popular slave-holding founders through schools, streets signs, and memorials, Paine is not nearly as well-known or celebrated in comparison (although gaining some recent ground). The sins of slaveholders are often overlooked, and iconic status is often granted through the common “men of their times” (MOTT) pass. This pass, otherwise known as the “but-mommy-everyone-else-is-doing-it” pass, has an awful lot of holes in it. For starters, the founders weren’t “men of their times” at all: They were REVOLUTIONARIES! “Men of their time” liked to sip tea, not throw it overboard. Their chosen specialty was freedom fighting. Besides that, Jefferson’s writings and Washington’s freeing of his own slaves at death offer a pretty good clue about their actual belief systems vs. their actual actions. Finally, the other founders were quite familiar with Thomas Paine. His ideas and writings (honorable mention to Benjamin’s “Rush” and “Franklin”) were not only well-known, but also served as the central backdrop that informed the Declaration of Independence. ...Many slave-holding founders didn’t suffer from “ignorance of their era”, they suffered from being spoiled from spending a lifetime never having to plow the fields, plant crops, pick cotton, clean their house, install a new deck, mow the lawn, wash dishes, do the laundry, and take out the garbage. The benefit package of human bondage was nothing to sneeze at, and not all freedom-fighters were ready to give up those perks. And even if the “men of their times” pass was actually true, shouldn’t we raise the bar a tad bit before assigning iconic status? (Note: This is not to suggest that that we no longer teach historical facts about TJ’s writings or GW’s military generalship, this is a commentary on who our country decides to glorify and memorialialize all across America.)
Man of OUR Times: Thomas Paine was ahead of his time, and this fact gives us options that few know exist. If saddled with “men of their times” vs. “men of our times”, shouldn’t it be a no-brainer who gets the historical love? Shouldn’t our history books make it self-evident that all white men in white wigs were not created equal? Unfortunately, I never did learn anything about Thomas Paine “the abolitionist” or “women’s rights activist” in school. And I wonder why that is.
Reversing History’s Hit Job: With 230 years hindsight, why have we not adjusted who is most deserving of our historical praise? Are the textbook-writing, building-naming, and monument-sculpting communities just really lazy or is there something else? While
 Nelson, Craig, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations Fleming, Thomas, Liberty! The American Revolution, p. 369 Keyssar, Alexander, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States p. 10