Tucked away in a gray-brown room, across a white marble hall from statesmanlike portraits of Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, is "One Life: Thomas Paine—The Radical Founding Father," an exhibition appearing at the National Portrait Gallery from August 7 to November 29. The exhibition, part of a surge of renewed interest in Paine, follows the author of Common Sense as he flees England for America in 1774, joins the French revolutionary cause, and tries unsuccessfully to bring the more radical age of revolution to his native land.
When Paine finally made it back to America, after a near-guillotining in France, the man who wrote this country into revolution found he had been written out of the Founders' pantheon for his anti-church tract The Age of Reason. Museumgoers will learn that today's politics are downright civilized compared with those of Paine's day. Cartoons show the man drunk on brandy and embraced by the devil, tarted up in French revolutionary garb, and crucifying Jesus.