Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Reformers, 1919]
Thomas Paine was an English mechanic, of Quaker origin, born in the
year Seventeen Hundred Thirty-seven. He was the author of four books
that have influenced mankind profoundly. These books are, "Common
Sense," "The Age of Reason," "The Crisis,"
and "The Rights of Man."
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-four, when he was thirty-seven years
old, he came to America bearing letters of introduction from
On arriving at Philadelphia he soon found work as editor of "The
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-five, in the magazine just named, he
openly advocated and prophesied a speedy separation of the American
Colonies from England. He also threw a purple shadow over his
popularity by declaring his abhorrence of chattel slavery.
His writings, from the first, commanded profound attention, and on
the advice and suggestion of Doctor Benjamin Rush, an eminent
citizen of Philadelphia, the scattered editorials and paragraphs on
human rights, covering a year, were gathered, condensed, revised,
made into a book.
This "pamphlet," or paper-bound book, was called "Common
In France, John Adams was accused of writing "Common Sense."
He stoutly denied it, there being several allusions in it stronger
than he cared to stand sponsor for.
In England, Franklin was accused of being the author, and he
neither denied nor admitted it. But when a lady reproached him for
having used the fine alliterative phrase, applied to the king, "The
Royal British Brute," he smiled and said blandly, "Madame,
I would never have been so disrespectful to the brute creation as
"Common Sense" struck the keynote of popular feeling, and
the accusation of "treason," hurled at it from many
sources, only served to advertise it. It supplied the common people
with reasons, and gave statesmen arguments. The Legislature of
Pennsylvania voted Paine a honorarium of five hundred pounds, and
the University of Pennsylvania awarded him the degree of "Master
of Arts," in recognition of eminent services to literature and
human rights. John Quincy Adams said, "Paine's pamphlet,
'Common Sense,' crystallized public opinion and was the first factor
in bringing about the Revolution."
The Reverend Theodore Parker once said: "Every living man in
America in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, who could read, read
'Common Sense,' by Thomas Paine. If he was a Tory, he read it, at
least a little, just to find out for himself how atrocious it was;
and if he was a Whig, he read it all to find the reasons why he was
one. This book was the arsenal to which the Colonists went for their
As "Common Sense" was published anonymously and without
copyright, and was circulated at bare cost, Paine never received
anything for the work, save the twenty-five hundred dollars voted to
him by the Legislature.
When independence was declared, Paine enlisted as a private, but
was soon made aide-de-camp to General Greene. He was an intrepid and
effective soldier and took an active part in various battles.
In December, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, he published his second
book, "The Crisis," the first words of which have gone
into the electrotype of human speech, "These are the times that
try men's souls." The intent of the letters which make up "The
Crisis" was to infuse courage into the sinking spirits of the
soldiers. Washington ordered the letters to be read at the head of
every regiment, and it was so done.
In Seventeen Hundred Eighty-one, Paine was sent to France with
Colonel Laurens to negotiate a loan. The errand was successful, and
Paine then made influential acquaintances, which were later to be
renewed. He organized the Bank of North America to raise money to
feed and clothe the army, and performed sundry and various services
for the Colonies.
In Seventeen Hundred Ninety-one he published his third book, "The
Rights of Man," with a complimentary preface by Thomas
Jefferson. The book had an immense circulation in America and
England. By way of left-handed recognition of the work, the author
was indicted by the British Government for "sedition." A
day was set for the trial, but as Paine did not appear--those were
hanging days--and could not be found, he was outlawed and "banished
He became a member of the French Assembly, or "Chamber of
Deputies," and for voting against the death of the king came
under suspicion, and was cast into prison, where he was held for one
year, lacking a few weeks. His life was saved by James Monroe,
America's Minister to France, and for eighteen months he was a
member of Monroe's household.
In Seventeen Hundred Ninety-four, while in France, there was
published simultaneously in England, America and France, Paine's
fourth book, "The Age of Reason."
In Eighteen Hundred Two, Thomas Jefferson, then President of the
United States, offered Paine passage to America on board the man-of-
war "Maryland," in order that he might be safe from
capture by the English, who had him under constant surveillance and
were intent on his arrest, regarding him as the chief instigator in
the American Rebellion. Arriving in America, Paine was the guest for
several months of the President at Monticello. His admirers in
Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York gave banquets in
his honor, and he was tendered grateful recognition on account of
his services to humanity and his varied talents. He was presented by
the State of New York, "in token of heroic work for the Union,"
a farm at New Rochelle, eighteen miles from New York, and here he
lived in comparative ease, writing and farming.
He passed peacefully away, aged seventy-two, in Eighteen Hundred
Nine, and his body was buried on his farm, near the house where he
lived, and a modest monument erected marking the spot. He had no
Christian burial, although, unlike Mr. Zangwill, he had a Christian
name. Nine years after the death of Paine, William Cobbett, the
eminent English reformer, stung by the obloquy visited upon the
memory of Paine in America, had the grave opened and the bones of
the man who wrote the first draft of our Declaration of Independence
were removed to England, and buried near the spot where he was born.
Death having silenced both the tongue and the pen of the Thetford
weaver, no violent interference was offered by the British
Government. So now the dead man slept where the presence of the
living one was barred and forbidden. A modest monument marks the
spot. Beneath the name are these words, "The world is my
country, mankind are my friends, to do good is my religion."
In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-nine, a monument was erected at New
Rochelle, New York, on the site of the empty grave where the body of
Paine was first buried, by the lovers and admirers of the man. And
while only one land claims his birthplace, three countries now
dispute for the privilege of honoring his dust, for it so happened
that in France a strong movement was on foot demanding that the
remains of Thomas Paine be removed from England to France, and be
placed in the Pantheon, that resting-place of so many of the
illustrious dead who gave their lives to the cause of Freedom, close
by the graves of Voltaire, Rousseau and Victor Hugo. And the reason
the bones were not removed to Paris was because only an empty coffin
rests in the grave at Thetford, as at New Rochelle. Rumor says that
Paine's skull is in a London museum, but if so, the head that
produced "The Age of Reason" can not be identified. And
the end is not yet!
The genius of Paine was a flower that blossomed slowly. But life is
a sequence, and the man who does great work has been in training for
it. There is nothing like keeping in condition--one does not know
when he is going to be called on. Prepared people do not have to
hunt for a position--the position hunts for them. Paine knew no more
about what he was getting ready for than did Benjamin Franklin, when
at twenty he studied French, evenings, and dived deep into history.
The humble origin of Paine and his Quaker ancestry were most
helpful factors in his career. Only a working-man who had tasted
hardship could sympathize with the overtaxed and oppressed. And
Quakerdom made him a rebel by prenatal tendency. Paine's schooling
was slight, but his parents, though poor, were thinking people, for
nothing sharpens the wits of men, preventing fatty degeneration of
the cerebrum, like persecution. In this respect, the Jews and
Quakers have been greatly blessed and benefited--let us congratulate
them. Very early in life Paine acquired the study habit. And for the
youth who has the study habit no pedagogic tears need be shed. There
were debating-clubs at coffeehouses, where great themes were
discussed; and our young weaver began his career by defending the
Quakers. He acquired considerable local reputation as a weaver of
thoughts upon the warp and woof of words. Occasionally he occupied
the pulpit in dissenting chapels.
These were great times in England--the air was all athrob with
thought and feeling. A great tidal wave of unrest swept the land. It
was an epoch of growth, second only in history to the Italian
Renaissance. The two Wesleys were attacking the Church, and calling
upon men to methodize their lives and eliminate folly; Gibbon was
writing his "Decline and Fall"; Burke, in the House of
Commons, was polishing his brogue; Boswell was busy blithering about
a book concerning a man; Captain Cook was sailing the seas finding
continents; the two Pitts and Charles Fox were giving the king
unpalatable advice; Horace Walpole was setting up his private press
at Strawberry Hill; the Herschels--brother and sister--were sweeping
the heavens for comets; Reynolds, West, Lawrence, Romney and
Gainsborough were founding the first school of British Art; and
David Hume, the Scotchman, was putting forth arguments irrefutable.
And into this seething discontent came Thomas Paine, the weaver,
reading, studying, thinking, talking, with nothing to lose but his
reputation. He was twenty-seven years of age when he met Ben
Franklin at a coffeehouse in London. Paine got his first real mental
impetus from Franklin. Both were workingmen. Paine listened to
Franklin one whole evening, and the said, "What he is I can at
least in part become." Paine thought Franklin quite the
greatest man of his time, an opinion which, among others held by
him, the world now fully accepts.
Paine at twenty-four, from a simple weaver, had been called into
the office of his employer to help straighten out the accounts. He
tried storekeeping, but with indifferent success. Then it seems he
was employed by the Board of Excise on a similar task. Finally he
was given a position in the Excise. This position he might have held
indefinitely, and been promoted in the work, for he had clerical
talents which made his services valuable. But there was another
theme that interested him quite as much as collecting taxes for the
Government, and that was the philosophy of taxation. This was very
foolish in Thomas Paine--a tax-collector should collect taxes, and
not concern himself with the righteousness of the business, nor
about what becomes of the money.
Paine had made note of the fact that England collected taxes from
Jews, but that Jews were not allowed to vote because they were not "Christians,"
it being assumed that Jews were not as fit, either intellectually or
morally, to pass on questions of state as members of the "Church."
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-one, in a letter to a local paper, he
used the phrase, "The iniquity of taxation without
representation," referring to England's treatment of the
Quakers. About the same time he called attention to the fact that
the Christian religion was built on the Judaic, and that the reputed
founder of the established religion was a Jew and his mother a
Jewess, and to deprive Jews of the right of full citizenship, simply
because they did not take the same view of Jesus that others did,
was a perversion of the natural rights of man. This expression, "the
natural rights of man," gave offense to a certain clergyman of
Thetford, who replied that man had no natural rights, only
privileges--all the rights he had were those granted by the Crown.
Then followed a debate at the coffeehouse, followed by a rebuke from
Paine's superior officer in the Excise, ordering him to cease all
political and religious controversy on penalty.
Paine felt the smart of the rebuke; he thought it was
unjustifiable, in view of the fact that the excellence of his work
for the Government had never been questioned. So he made a speech in
a dissenting chapel explaining the situation. But explanations never
explain, and his assertion that the honesty of his service had never
been questioned was put out of commission the following week by the
charge of smuggling. His name was dropped from the official payroll
until his case could be tried, and a little later he was
peremptorily discharged. The charge against him was not pressed--he
was simply not wanted--and the statement by the head exciseman that
a man working for the Government should not criticize the Government
was pretty good logic, anyway. Paine, however, contended that all
governments exist for the governed, and with the consent of the
governed, and it is the duty of all good citizens to take an
interest in their government, and if possible show where it can be
strengthened and bettered.
It will thus be seen that Paine was forging reasons--his active
brain was at work, and his sensitive spirit was writhing under a
sense of personal injustice.
One of his critics--a clergyman--said that if Thomas Paine wished
to preach sedition, there was plenty of room to do it outside of
England. Paine followed the suggestion, and straightway sought out
Franklin to ask him about going to America.
Every idea that Paine had expressed was held by Franklin and had
been thought out at length. Franklin was thirty-one years older than
Paine, and time had tempered his zeal, and beside that, his tongue
was always well under control, and when he expressed heresy he
seasoned it with a smile and a dash of wit that took the bitterness
out of it. Not so Paine--he was an earnest soul, a little lacking in
humor, without the adipose which is required for a diplomat.
Franklin's letters of introduction show how he admired the
man--what faith he had in him--and it is now believed that Franklin
advanced him money, that he might come to America.
William Cobbett says:
As my Lord Grenville has introduced the name of Edmund
Burke, suffer me, my Lord, to introduce the name of a man who put
this Burke to shame, who drove him off the public stage to seek
shelter in the pension-list, and who is now named fifty million
times where the name of the pensioned Burke is mentioned once. The
cause of the American Colonies was the cause of the English
Constitution, which says that no man shall be taxed without his
own consent. A little cause sometimes produces a great effect; an
insult offered to a man of great talent and unconquerable
perseverance has in many instances produced, in the long run, most
tremendous effects; and it appears to me very clear that the
inexcusable insults offered to Mr. Paine while he was in the
Excise in England was the real cause of the Revolution in America;
for, though the nature of the cause of America was such as I have
before described it, though the principles were firm in the minds
of the people of that country, still it was Mr. Paine, and Mr.
Paine alone, who brought those principles into action.
Paine's part in the Revolutionary War was most worthy and
honorable. He shouldered a musket with the men at Valley Forge,
carried messages by night through the enemy's country, acted as
rear-guard for Washington's retreating army, and helped at break of
day to capture Trenton, and proved his courage in various ways. As
clerk, secretary, accountant and financier he did excellent service.
Of course, there had been the usual harmonious discord that will
occur among men hard-pressed and over-worked, where nerve-tension
finds vent at times in acrimony. But through all the nine long,
weary years before the British had had enough, Paine was never
censured with the same bitterness which fell upon the heads of
Washington and Jefferson. Even Franklin came in for his share of
blame, and it was shown that he had expended an even hundred
thousand pounds in Europe, with no explanation of what he had done
with the money. When called upon to give an accounting for the "yellow-dog
fund," Franklin simply wrote back, "Thou shalt not muzzle
the ox that treadeth out the corn." And on the suggestion of
Thomas Paine, the matter was officially dropped.
Paine was a writing man--the very first American writing man--and I
am humiliated when I have to acknowledge that we had to get him from
England. He was the first man who ever used these words, "The
American Nation," and also these, "The United States of
America." Paine is the first American writer who had a literary
style, and we have not had so many since but that you may count them
on the fingers of one hand. Note this sample of antithesis: "There
are but two natural sources of wealth--the earth and the ocean--and
to lose the right to either, in our situation, is to put the other
up for sale."
Here is a little tribute from Paine's pen to America which some of
our boomers of boom towns might do well to use:
America has now outgrown the state of infancy. Her
strength and commerce make large advances to manhood; and science
in all its branches has not only blossomed, but even ripened upon
the soil. The cottages as it were of yesterday have grown into
villages, and the villages to cities; and while proud antiquity,
like a skeleton in rags, parades the streets of other nations,
their genius, as if sickened and disgusted with the phantom, comes
hither for recovery. America yet inherits a large portion of her
first-imported virtue. Degeneracy is here almost a useless word.
Those who are conversant with Europe would be tempted to believe
that even the air of the Atlantic disagrees with the constitution
of foreign vices; if they survive the voyage they either expire on
their arrival, or linger away with an incurable consumption. There
is a happy something in the climate of America which disarms them
of all their power both of infection and attraction.
Ease, fluidity, grace, imagination, energy, earnestness, mark his
work. No wonder is it that Franklin said, "Others can rule,
many can fight, but only Paine can write for us the English tongue."
And Jefferson, himself a great writer, was constantly, for many
years, sending to Paine manuscript for criticism and correction. In
one letter to Paine, Jefferson adds this postscript, "You must
not be too much elated and set up when I tell you my belief that you
are the only writer in America who can write better than your
obliged and obedient servant--Thomas Jefferson."
Paine was living in peace at Bordentown in the year Seventeen
Hundred Eighty-seven. The war was ended, the last hostile Britisher
had departed, and the country was awakening to prosperity. Paine
rode his mettlesome old war-horse "Button," back and forth
from Philadelphia, often stopping and seating himself by the roadway
to write out a thought while the horse that had known the smell of
powder quietly nibbled the grass. The success of Benjamin Franklin
as an inventor had fired the heart of Paine. He devised a plan to
utilize small explosions of gunpowder to run an engine, thus
anticipating our gas and gasoline engines by nearly a hundred years.
He had also planned a bridge to span the Schuylkill. Capitalists
were ready to build the bridge, provided Paine could get French
engineers, then the greatest in the world, to endorse his plans. So
he sailed away to France, intending also to visit his parents in
England, instructing his friends in Bordentown with whom he boarded,
to take care of his horse, his rooms and books with all his papers,
for he would be back in less than a year. He was fifty years old. It
was thirteen years since he had left England, and he felt that his
transplantation to a new soil had not been in vain. England had
practically exiled him, but still the land of his birth called, and
unseen tendrils tugged at his heart. He must again see England, even
for a brief visit, and then back to America, the land that he loved
and which he had helped to free.
And destiny devised that it was to be fifteen years before he was
again to see his beloved "United States of America."
Arriving in France, Paine was received with honours. There was much
political unrest, and the fuse was then being lighted that was to
cause the explosion of Seventeen Hundred Eighty-Nine. However, of
all this Paine knew little.
He met Danton, a freemason, like himself, and various other
radicals. "Common Sense" and "The Crisis" had
been translated into French, printed and widely distributed, and
inasmuch as Paine had been a party in bringing about one revolution,
and had helped carry it through to success, his counsel and advice
were sought. A few short weeks in France, and Paine having secured
the endorsement of the Academy for his bridge, went over to England
preparatory to sailing for America.
Arriving in England, Paine found that his father had died but a
short time before. His mother was living, aged ninety-one, and in
full possession of her faculties. The meeting of mother and son was
full of tender memories. And the mother, while not being able to
follow her gifted son in all of his reasoning, yet fully sympathized
with him in his efforts to increase human rights. The Quakers, while
in favor of peace, are yet revolutionaries, for their policy is one
Paine visited the old Quaker church at Thetford, and there seated
in the silence, wrote these words:
When we consider, for the feelings of Nature can not be
dismissed, the calamities of war and the miseries it inflicts upon
the human species, the thousands and tens of thousands of every
age and sex who are rendered wretched by the event, surely there
is something in the heart of man that calls upon him to think!
Surely there is some tender chord, tuned by the hand of the
Creator, that still struggles to emit in the hearing of the soul a
note of sorrowing sympathy. Let it then be heard, and let man
learn to feel that the true greatness of a nation is founded on
principles of humanity, and not on conquest. War involves in its
progress such a train of unforeseen and unsupposed circumstances,
such a combination of foreign matters, that no human wisdom can
calculate the end. It has but one thing certain, and that is to
increase taxes. I defend the cause of the poor, of the
manufacturer, of the tradesman, of the farmer, and of all those on
whom the real burden of taxes fall--but above all, I defend the
cause of women and children--of all humanity.
Edmund Burke, hearing of Paine's presence in England, sent for him
to come to his house. Paine accepted the invitation, and Burke
doubtless got a few interesting chapters of history at first hand. "It
was equal to meeting Washington, and perhaps better, for Paine is
more of a philosopher than his chief," wrote Burke to the elder
Paine saw that political unrest was not confined to France--that
England was in a state of evolution, and was making painful efforts
to adapt herself to the progress of the times. Paine could remember
a time when in England women and children were hanged for poaching;
when the insane were publicly whipped, and when, if publicly
expressed, a doubt concerning the truth of Scripture meant exile or
to have your ears cut off.
Now he saw the old custom reversed and the nobles were bowing to
the will of the people. It came to him that if the many in England
could be educated, the Crown having so recently received its rebuke
at the hands of the American Colonies, a great stride to the front
could be made. Englishmen were talking about their rights. What are
the natural rights of a man? He began to set down his thoughts on
the subject. These soon extended themselves into chapters. The
chapters grew into a book--a book which he hoped would peacefully do
for England what "Common Sense" had done for America. This
book, "The Rights of Man," was written at the same time
that Mary Wollstonecraft was writing her book, "The Rights of
In London, Paine made his home at the house of Thomas Rickman, a
publisher. Rickman has given us an intimate glimpse into the life of
the patriot, and told us among other things that Paine was five feet
ten inches high, of an athletic build, and very fond of taking long
walks. Among the visitors at Rickman's house who came to see Paine
were Doctor Priestly, Home Tooke, Romney, Lord Edward Fitzgerald,
the Duke of Portland and Mary Wollstonecraft. It seems very probable
that Mrs. Wollstonecraft, as she styled herself, read to Paine parts
of her book, for very much in his volume parallels hers, not only in
the thought, but in actual wording. Whether he got more ideas from
her than she got from him will have to be left to the higher
critics. Certain it is that they were in mutual accord, and that
Mrs. Wollstonecraft had read "Common Sense" and "The
Rights of Man" to a purpose.
It was too much to expect that a native-born Englishman could go
across the sea to British Colonies and rebel against British rule
and then come back to England and escape censure. The very
popularity of Paine in certain high circles centered attention on
him. And Pitt, who certainly admired Paine's talents, referred to
his stay in England as "indelicate."
England is the freest country on earth. It is her rule to let her
orators unmuzzle their ignorance and find relief in venting
grievances upon the empty air. In Hyde Park any Sunday one can hear
the same sentiments for the suppression of which Chicago paid in her
Haymarket massacre. Grievances expressed are half-cured, but England
did not think so then. The change came about through thirty years'
fight, which Paine precipitated.
The patience of England in dealing with Paine was extraordinary.
Paine was right, but at the same time he was as guilty as Theodore
Parker was when indicted by the State of Virginia along with Ol'
"The Rights of Man" sold from the very start, and in a
year fifty thousand copies had been called for.
Unlike his other books, this one was bringing Paine a financial
return. Newspaper controversies followed, and Burke, the radical,
found himself unable to go the lengths to which Paine was logically
trying to force him.
Paine was in Paris, on a visit, on that memorable day which saw the
fall of the Bastile. Jefferson and Adams had left France, and Paine
was regarded as the authorized representative of America; in fact,
he had been doing business in France for Washington. Lafayette in a
moment of exultant enthusiasm gave the key of the Bastile to Paine
to present to Washington, and as every American schoolboy knows,
this famous key to a sad situation now hangs on its carefully
guarded peg at Mount Vernon. Lafayette thought that, without the
example of America, France would never have found strength to throw
off the rule of kings, and so America must have the key to the
detested door that was now unhinged forever.
"And to me," said Lafayette, "America without her
Thomas Paine is unthinkable." The words were carried to England
and there did Paine no especial good. But England was now giving
Paine a living--there was a market for the product of his pen--and
he was being advertised both by his loving friends and his rabid
Paine had many admirers in France, and in some ways he felt more at
home there than in England. He spoke and wrote French. However, no
man ever wrote well in more than one language, although he might
speak intelligently in several; and the orator using a foreign
tongue never reaches fluidity. "Where liberty is, there is my
home," said Franklin. And Paine answered, "Where liberty
is not, there is my home." The newspaper attacks had shown
Paine that he had not made himself clear on all points, and like
every worthy orator who considers, when too late, all the great
things he intended to say, he was stung with the thought of all the
brilliant things he might have said, but had not.
And so straightway he began to prepare Part Two of "The Rights
of Man." The book was printed in cheap form similar to "Common
Sense," and was beginning to be widely read by workingmen.
"Philosophy is all right," said Pitt, "but it should
be taught to philosophical people. If this thing is kept up London
will re-enact the scenes of Paris."
Many Englishmen thought the same. The official order was given, and
all of Paine's books that could be found were seized and publicly
used for a bonfire by the official hangman. Paine was burned in
effigy in many cities, the charge being made that he was one of the
men who had brought about the French Revolution. With better truth
it could have been stated that he was the man, with the help of
George the Third, who had brought about the American Revolution. The
terms of peace made between England and the Colonies granted amnesty
to Paine and his colleagues in rebellion, but his acts could not be
forgotten, even though they were nominally forgiven. This new
firebrand of a book was really too much, and the author got a
left-handed compliment from the Premier on his literary style--books
Three French provinces nominated him to represent them in the
Chamber of Deputies. He accepted the solicitations of Calais, and
took his seat for that province.
He knew Danton, Mirabeau, Marat and Robespierre. Danton and
Robespierre respected him, and often advised with him. Mirabeau and
Marat were in turn suspicious and afraid of him. The times were
feverish, and Paine, a radical at heart, here was regarded as a
conservative. In America, the enemy stood out to be counted: the
division was clear and sharp; but here the danger was in the hearts
of the French themselves.
Paine argued that we must conquer our own spirits, and in this new
birth of freedom not imitate the cruelty and harshness of royalty
against which we protest. "We will kill the king, but not the
man," were his words. But with all of his tact and logic he
could not make his colleagues see that to abolish the kingly office,
not to kill the individual, was the thing desired.
So Louis, who helped free the American Colonies, went to the block,
and his enemy, Danton, a little later, did the same; Mirabeau, the
boaster, had died peacefully in his bed; Robespierre, who signed the
death-warrant of Paine, "to save his own head," died the
death he had reserved for Paine; Marat, "the terrible dwarf,"
horribly honest, fearfully sincere, jealous and afraid of Paine,
hinting that he was the secret emissary of England, was stabbed to
his death by a woman's hand.
And amid the din, escape being impossible, and also undesirable,
Thomas Paine wrote the first part of "The Age of Reason."
The second part was written in the Luxembourg prison, under the
shadow of the guillotine. But life is only a sentence of death, with
an indefinite reprieve. Prison, to Paine, was not all gloom.
The jailer, Benoit, was good-natured and cherished his unwilling
guests as his children. When they left for freedom or for death, he
kissed them, and gave each a little ring in which was engraved the
single word, "Mizpah." But finally Benoit, himself, was
led away, and there was none to kiss his cheek, nor to give him a
ring and cry cheerily, "Good luck, Citizen Comrade! Until we
A great deal has been said by the admirers of Thomas Paine about
the abuse and injustice heaped upon his name, and the prevarications
concerning his life, by press and pulpit and those who profess a
life of love, meekness and humility. But we should remember that all
this vilification was really the tribute that mediocrity pays
genius. To escape censure, one only has to move with the mob, think
with the mob, do nothing that the mob does not do--then you are
safe. The saviors of the world have usually been crucified between
thieves, despised, forsaken, spit upon, rejected of men. In their
lives they seldom had a place where they could safely lay their
weary heads, and dying their bodies were either hidden in another
man's tomb or else subjected to the indignities which the living man
failed to survive: torn limb from limb, eyeless, headless, armless,
burned and the ashes scattered or sunk in the sea.
And the peculiar thing is that most of this frightful inhumanity
was the work of so-called good men, the pillars of society, the
respectable element, what we are pleased to call "our first
citizens," instigated by the Church that happened to be in
power. Socrates poisoned; Aristides ostracized; Aristotle fleeing
for his life; Jesus crucified; Paul beheaded; Peter crucified head
downward; Savonarola martyred; Spinoza hunted, tracked and cursed,
and an order issued that no man should speak to him nor supply him
food or shelter; Bruno burned; Galileo imprisoned; Huss, Wyclif,
Latimer and Tyndale used for kindling--all this in the name of
religion, institutional religion, the one thing that has caused more
misery, heartaches, bloodshed, war, than all other causes combined.
Leo Tolstoy says, "Love, truth, compassion, service, sympathy,
tenderness, exist in the hearts of men, and are the essence of
religion, but try to encompass these things in an institution and
you get a church--and the Church stands for and has always stood for
coercion, intolerance, injustice and cruelty."
No man ever lifted up his voice or pen in a criticism against love,
truth, compassion, service, sympathy and tenderness. And if he had,
do you think that love, truth, compassion, service, sympathy,
tenderness, would feel it necessary to go after him with stocks,
chains, thumbscrews and torches?
You can not imagine it.
Then what is it goes after men who criticize the prevailing
religion and shows where it can be improved upon? Why, it is hate,
malice, vengeance, jealousy, injustice, intolerance, cruelty, fear.
The reason the Church does not visit upon its critics today the
same cruelties that it did three hundred years ago is simply because
it has not the power. Incorporate a beautiful sentiment and hire a
man to preach and defend it, and then buy property and build costly
buildings in which to preach your beautiful sentiment, and if the
gentleman who preaches your beautiful sentiment is criticized he
will fight and suppress his critics if he can. And the reason he
fights his critics is not because he believes the beautiful
sentiment will suffer, but because he fears losing his position,
which carries with it ease, honors and food, and a parsonage and a
Just as soon as the gentleman employed to defend and preach the
beautiful sentiment grows fearful about the permanency of his
position, and begins to have goose-flesh when a critic's name is
mentioned, the beautiful sentiment evaporates out of the window, and
exists only in that place forever as a name. The Church is ever a
menace to all beautiful sentiments, because it is an economic
institution, and the chief distributor of degrees, titles and
Anything that threatens to curtail its power it is bound to oppose
and suppress, if it can. Men who cease useful work, in order to
devote themselves to religion, are right in the same class with
women who quit work to make a business of love. Men who know history
and humanity and have reasonably open minds are not surprised at the
treatment visited upon Paine by the country he had so much
benefited. Superstition and hallucination are really one thing, and
fanaticism, which is mental obsession, easily becomes acute, and the
whirling dervish runs amuck at sight of a man whose religious
opinions are different from his own.
Paine got off very easy; he lived his life, and expressed himself
freely to the last. Men who discover continents are destined to die
in chains. That is the price they pay for the privilege of sailing
on, and on, and on, and on.
The moral duty of a man consists in imitating the moral goodness
and beneficence of God manifested in the creation towards all
creatures. That seeing as we daily do, the goodness of God to all
men, it is an example calling upon all men to practise towards each
other, and consequently that everything of persecution and revenge
between man and man, and everything of cruelty to animals, is a
violation of moral duty.
The pen of Paine made the sword of Washington possible. And as
Paine's book, "Common Sense," broke the power of Great
Britain in America, and "The Rights of Man" gave free
speech and a free press to England, so did "The Age of Reason"
give pause to the juggernaut of orthodoxy. Thomas Paine was the
legitimate ancestor of Hosea Ballou, who founded the Universalist
Church, and also of Theodore Parker, who made Unitarianism in
America an intellectual torch.
Channing, Ripley, Bartol, Martineau, Frothingham, Hale, Curtis,
Collyer, Swing, Thomas, Conway, Leonard, Savage--yes, even Emerson
and Thoreau--were spiritual children, all, of Thomas Paine. He
blazed the way and made it possible for men to preach the sweet
reasonableness of reason. He was the pioneer in a jungle of
superstition. Thomas Paine was the real founder of the so-called
Liberal Denominations, and the business of the liberal denominations
has not been to become great, powerful and popular, but to make all
other denominations more liberal. So today in all so-called orthodox
pulpits one can hear the ideas of Paine, Henry Frank and B. Fay