Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (title page and p. 69)

Published in two parts, in 1791 and 1792, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man was a direct rebuke to Edmund Burke's condemnation of the French Revolution. The book proposed a more democratic and open process of politics, and sought to provide a programme for equal political rights. Paine argued that unless parliament was controlled by a majority of ordinary people it would never work in the majority's interests and, in colourful language, emphasised the evils of hereditary government: 'A banditti of ruffians overrun a country, and lay it under contributions. Their power being thus established, the chief of the band contrived to lose the name of robber in that of Monarch; and hence the origin of Monarchy and Kings.'

Paine recommended that men over 21 should have the vote, that the House of Lords should be abolished, and that taxation should be graduated and based on wealth. He also advocated the introduction of old age pensions ('not as a matter of grace and favour, but of right') and maternity grants.

Paine renounced any profits from the book, making possible cheap editions, which allowed the book to reach a large working-class readership. It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of Rights of Man. It gave huge encouragement to the corresponding societies and other radical groups of the 1790s and beyond. The second part (which appeared in 1792) was thought by contemporaries to have sold 200,000 copies, and by the time of his death in 1809 it is estimated that 1,500,000 copies had been sold throughout Europe. The readership was in fact undoubtedly much higher, as copies were passed around between groups of people and sections of the book were read out aloud to stimulate discussions at political meetings.
Catalogue reference: TS 24/3/9 (1792)


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