December 28

This Day in History

Crime

Dec 28, 1793:

An American hero is arrested in France

Thomas Paine is arrested in France for treason. Though the charges against him were never detailed, he had been tried in absentia on December 26 and convicted. Before moving to France, Paine was an instrumental figure in the American Revolution as the author of Common Sense, writings used by George Washington to inspire the American troops. Paine moved to Paris to become involved with the French Revolution, but the chaotic political climate turned against him, and he was arrested and jailed for crimes against the country.

When he first arrived in Paris, Paine was heartily welcomed and granted honorary citizenship by leaders of the revolution who enjoyed his antiroyalty book The Rights of Man. However, before long, he ran afoul of his new hosts. Paine was strictly opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances and he vocally opposed the French revolutionaries who were sending hundreds to the guillotine. He also began writing a provocative new book, The Age of Reason, which promoted the controversial notion that God did not influence the actions of people and that science and rationality would prevail over religion and superstition. Although Paine realized that sentiment was turning against him in the autumn of 1793, he remained in France because he believed he was helping the people.

After he was arrested, Paine was taken to Luxembourg Prison. The jail was formerly a palace and unlike any other detainment center in the world. He was treated to a large room with two windows and was locked inside only at night. His meals were catered from outside, and servants were permitted, though Paine did not take advantage of that particular luxury. While in prison, he continued to work on The Age of Reason.

Paine's imprisonment in France caused a general uproar in America and future President James Monroe used all of his diplomatic connections to get Paine released in November 1794. Ironically, it wasn't long before Paine came to be despised in the United States, as well. After The Age of Reason was published, he was called an anti-Christ, and his reputation was ruined. Thomas Paine died a poor man in 1809 in New York.

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