The Rights of Man; The Age of Reason

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Date: 1791 1802 1809

Region: Europe North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion Religious

Medium: Literature


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Artist: Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809)

Confronting Bodies: Parliament of England, People & Churches in the USA

Dates of Action: 1791, 1802, 1809

Location: England, The United States of America

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Description of Artworks: The Rights of Man was written in 1791 as a reaction to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) which was a scathing denunciation of the French Revolution. In his rebuttal, Paine attacks the notion of monarchy and privilege. Paine argues throughout that humankind can reach its full potential under republican governments which allow individuals to live free of privilege and caste.

"...The Age of Reason was written between 1792-1795 while Paine was in prison for his opposition to the execution of Louis XIV. "(The book)...is a wholesale attack on the Bible and on Christianity, written in deliberately flippant, and thus shocking style. It takes the deist point of view, epitomized by Paine's statement 'I believe in one God, and no more'... Paine condemned the Old Testament as being filled with "obscene stories and voluptuous debaucheries"; the New testament was inconsistent and the Virgin Birth "hearsay upon hearsay." (Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green pg. 3-4)

The Incident: The Rights of Man was outlawed in England in 1791. Paine was declared a traitor but escaped the Island to France before being tried. Possessing a copy of the book was continually used as evidence against those being tried for treason in England for the next fifty years.

The Age of Reason was condemned as blasphemous and, although not specifically censored by any official body, Paine, upon his return to the US in 1802, was accosted and beaten in the street, his property vandalized, and, upon his death in 1809, was refused burial in any nearby cemetery (they all being church-owned).

Results of Incident: Both books have influenced generations of thinkers in both the religious and political fields.

Source: Encyclopedia of Censorship, Jonathon Green,Pg. 3-4; internet research