Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The American Crisis pamphlets, was born January 29, 1737. His writings were instrumental in rousing the inhabitants of the British colonies in North America to take up the cause of liberty, declare themselves independent, and engage in the greatest experiment in democracy and freedom the world has yet seen. His reputation as a Founding Father has been unduly stained by controversy connected with his monumental indictment of Christianity (The Age of Reason) and today not a single monument to his memory exists in Washington, DC a city whose government he had as much a place in creating as Benjamin Franklin or John Adams.
In a similar post, Ed Brayton quotes from The American Crisis I:
These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.This is eloquence; this is rhetoric at its very best. How stark the contrast between these moving words, poetic in their composition, and the speeches and writings of today's political figures!
Paine stands as one of the paramount figures of not only the American revolution, but also of the Enlightenment in general. It's a genuine shame that he's not better known than he is.
Additional information can be found at the Thomas Paine National Historical Association website.