Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an American Founding Father. As a pamphleteer, Paine elucidated the Patriot cause and gave direction to the American Revolution, causing his readers to think about the issues in terms of fundamental principles.
His pamphlet Common Sense convinced many Americans, including George Washington to seek redress in political independence from the United Kingdom. Published in January of 1776, it was instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence. Paine also has the distinction of being the man who proposed the name United States of America for the new nation.
During the Revolutionary War Paine published a series of pamphlets called The American Crisis that served to inspire Americans during the long struggle. The first Crisis paper, published December, 1776, began with the immortal line, "These are the times that try men's souls". Following a series of military failures, morale was wavering among the Patriot army. The first Crisis paper was so uplifting that Washington had it read to all of his troops.
In 1791, Paine published Rights of Man, an abstract political tract published in support of the French Revolution. The book was so controversial that the British government put Paine on trial in absentia for seditious libel.
Imprisoned and sentenced to death by Maximilian Robespierre during the French Revolution, Paine escaped beheading apparently by chance. A guard walked through the prison placing a chalk mark on the doors of the condmened prisoners. He placed one on Paine's door - but because a doctor was treating Paine at that moment, the prison door was open. When the doctor left, the door was swung closed, such that the chalk mark faced into the cell. Later, when he condemned prisoners were rounded up for execution, Paine was spared because there was no apparent chalk mark on his cell door.
In prison, convinced he would soon be dead, Paine wrote The Age of Reason, an assault on organized relgion. A second part was written and published after his release from prison.