Who was Thomas Paine?

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It's 200 years since the British-born "father of the American revolution" died. His words also helped shape modern Britain and France and yet few people know much about him at all.

There are statues of him in Paris and New Jersey and a monument to him in New York - though we still haven't reached a situation where, as French leader Napoleon Bonaparte said: "A statue of gold should be erected to him in every city in the universe."

Yet no high-level commemorations of his death have been planned. His writings rarely appear on the national curriculum in the UK. And ask a man or woman in the average British street who he is, and they are likely to reply "Er…"

Paine worked in various positions in America's early revolutionary government. But he was never accepted as one of the founding fathers largely because his restless spirit and appetite for revolution led him to another mass revolt, this time in France.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, associate editor of the right-leaning, Washington-based magazine Reason, says Paine is enjoying a comeback amongst both left-wing and right-wing American thinkers.

Cheryl Hudson of Oxford University says Paine, the history-shaping Brit, should be taught more widely in British schools: "At the centre of his thought was a profound trust in the people and in their 'common sense'. He encouraged the public's aspirations for a better, more democratic world and he expressed his support in a rigorous and robust vernacular style.

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