|Thomas Paine (1737-1809)|
Laurent Dabos [Public domain]
According to sources, the celebration was devised sometime in the 1990s (by Truth Seeker magazine, the world's oldest Freethought publication, founded in 1873), the purpose being to promote appreciation of freethinking through the life and works of Thomas Paine (1737-1809), who was born on this day (at least, if one goes by the Old Style calendar). Paine, as is well known, was a seminally important figure of the Enlightenment period who, through his writings and his political activities, played an important role in both the American and French revolutions of the latter part of the 18th century.
That aside, it hardly seems right to let the day pass without also paying respect to one who might qualify for the status of 'the original freethinker'. That pedestal belongs to Irishman, John Toland (1670-1722). For, while the notion of 'freethought' has surely been around, in one form or another, since the time immemorial (whenever homo sapiens first acquired the ability to think, reason, rationalise and construct logical arguments), the terms itself appears to have been coined around the 1690s, when it was used to describe the ideas of John Toland, by his fellow Irishman fellow Irishman, Bishop (George) Berkeley (1685-1753).
Irrespective of who started it, or who's birthday it celebrates, Freethinkers Day is party time for freethinkers everywhere, past and present. Enjoy!