A fictionalized autobiography, Citizen Tom Paine
is the best-selling work of historical fiction by author Howard Fast about the life and work of Thomas Paine, particularly in the years before and during the American Revolution. The book follows Tom Paine during his upbringing, journey to America, and his appreciation for the new democracy emerging in his soon-to-be home country. Fast focuses on the realities of Tom Paine's life, portraying him as a relatable hero with a passion for writing, and a revolutionary spirit that Fast argues defines the American way of life.
The book begins in England. Thomas Paine was raised in abject poverty in Sussex, where his father worked as a tenant farmer and stay-maker – he made the ropes, called “stay ropes,” that were used on sailing ships. Tom experienced a number of tragedies that lead to his eventual emigration to America. His first wife, Mary Lambert, had a difficult pregnancy and birth, and both she and their child died during the labor. Around the same time, his business as a stay-maker failed, and he was forced to give up his first occupation and work in another field, as a supernumerary officer.
Tom's work brought him to Thetford, Cornwall, and elsewhere, where he held a number of odd jobs and started a tobacco shop, which failed. He began his work in the political sphere when he started working with a church group that distributed tithes to the poor. He was deeply passionate about caring for the poor, as he had sold his own home and all his property to avoid going to debtors prison after a series of failed businesses and family struggles. He married again, to a woman named Elizabeth, but the marriage was short-lived, and eventually, Tom was introduced to Ben Franklin by way of mathematician George Lewis Scott. Franklin suggested Paine move to America, and so he did.
Paine moved to Pennsylvania, where Benjamin Franklin greeted him. He nearly died on the voyage over – five people on the ship died of typhoid fever, and it took Paine six weeks to recover from an illness he caught on board. He soon became an early citizen of the new colony, by pledging his allegiance to the state, and began to work for Pennsylvania Magazine
, where he became a prominent and successful editor.Pennsylvania Magazine
was known for its influential and revolutionary writings on abolitionism, workers rights, taxes, and much more. It was Paine's mission to bring the working class into political life, mobilizing the masses to make changes to their burgeoning nation. He was highly successful, eventually, making a name for himself as an author with the publication of Common Sense
, which was published in 1776, on the eve of the American Revolution.
After the American Revolution, Paine's Common Sense
and other pamphlets greatly influenced the American Constitution, a fact that made him proud. However, he didn't stop there. After a solid footing had been established in America, Paine moved back to England and to France, where he fought avidly for the Rights of Man in other settings, as a prominent political figure and writer. A member of the French convention, he spent some time in prison in Luxembourg for his revolutionary writings and behaviors.
Tom Paine's life came to an end back in America, where he crawled home, poor, dirty, often drunk, but an accomplished revolutionary. He found America a land of freedom. Howard Fast argues that Paine has every right to be called a Father of the American Revolution, though he is often forgotten among the richer and more lucrative forefathers.
Howard Fast was an American author and television writer. He was a part of the war effort during World War II, where he wrote for Voices of America, but later was blacklisted by the U.S. Government when he became a Communist in 1943. After his political leanings became clear, many of his books were banned and removed from public libraries, including Citizen Tom Paine
, and his book Spartacus
was sent to dozens of publishers before Fast eventually self-published the novel in desperation. He wrote more than two dozen novels under various pen names.