Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791)

Rights of man

The Rights of Man: Prompted mobs, hate meetings, and burnings in effigy after its publication in England.

Thomas Paine is most famous for his widely-read pamphlet Common Sense, which greatly influenced American public opinion during the American Revolution. In 1791, he wrote The Rights of Man in defense of the French Revolution. In this work, he argued against the institution of monarchy and proposed a reformation of English government.

Sensing imminent controversy, Paine fled to France just before The Rights of Man was published in England. It caused an immediate sensation in England, prompting mobs, hate meetings, and burnings in effigy. Paine was tried in absentia and convicted of seditious libel against the Crown. A contemporary account of the trial is provided in The trial of Thomas Paine; for writing and publishing a seditious pamphlet, entitled the Rights of man. His trial also created an occasion for a famous speech by his lawyer, Sir Thomas Erskine, on freedom of speech.

Clements Library copy of The Rights of Man