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The Rights of Man
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Thomas Paine wrote the first part of The Rights of Man in 1791 as a response to the furious attack on the French Revolution by the British parliamentarian Edmund Burke in his pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France, published the previous year. Paine carefully dissects and counters Burke’s arguments and provides a more accurate description of the events surrounding the revolution of 1789. He then reproduces and comments on the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens” promulgated by the National Assembly of France.
The manuscript of The Rights of Man was placed with the publisher Joseph Johnson, but that publisher was threatened with legal action by the British Government. Paine then gave the work to another publisher, J. S. Jordan, and on the advice of William Blake, Paine went to France to be out of the way of possible arrest in Britain. The Rights of Man was published in March 1791, and was an immediate success with the British public, selling nearly a million copies.
A second part of the book, subtitled “Combining Principle and Practice,” was published in February 1792. It puts forward practical proposals for the establishment of republican government in countries like Britain.
The Rights of Man had a major impact, leading to the establishment of a number of reform societies. After the publication of the second part of the book, Paine and his publisher were charged with seditious libel, and Paine was eventually forced to leave Britain and flee to France. Today The Rights of Man is considered a classic of political writing and philosophy.
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