Thomas Paine was born in 1737 in Thetford, Norfolk, the son of a Quaker. After a short education, he worked for a time with his father but this proved to be a disaster, as did several other jobs he tried.
At the age of 31 he became an excise officer and although this proved to be just as much of a disaster (he was sacked twice during his time there), it was during this time that he published The Case of the Officers of Excise - a leaflet that argued for a pay rise for the officers.
In 1774 a chance meeting with Benjamin Franklin was to change his life. Franklin advised him to emigrate to America, and gave him letters of recommendation.
On arrival in Philadelphia he became a journalist. This was a time of unrest in America. The episode known as The Boston Teaparty was a sign of the increased tension between America and England. In 1776 Paine published Common Sense in which he put forward his ideas for the independence of America which had a lot of influence on the formulation of the Declaration of Independence.
During the War of Independence he joined the Continental Army during which time he wrote a collection of papers on The Crisis. His stay in the army was short. In 1777 he became Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, but two years later he was forced to resign for disclosing secret information.
In 1787 Paine returned to England to pursue other interests. The French Revolution then caught his attention and he wrote The Rights of Man defending the revolution. This brought him into conflict with the authorities in England because of his anti-monarchy views so he fled to France before he could be arrested.
He was elected to the National Convention, but again upset those he supported by voting against the execution of Louis XVI and he was arrested. During his time in prison he wrote the first part of The Age of Reason. On his release from prison he stayed in France until 1802 when returned to America after an invitation by Thomas Jefferson.
But his strong views had brought him into conflict with so many people, and derided by the press and ignored by his former friends, he died in New York in 1809 at the age of 72.
The works of Thomas Paine can be read on-line at ushistory.org