Robert G. Intersoll
North American Review, August, 1892]
"A great man's memory may outlive his life half a
year, But, by'r lady, he must build churches then."
EIGHTY-THREE years ago Thomas Paine ceased to defend himself. The
moment he became dumb all his enemies found a tongue. He was
attacked on every hand. The Tories of England had been waiting for
their revenge. The believers in kings, in hereditary government, the
nobility of every land, execrated his memory. Their greatest enemy
was dead. The believers in human slavery, and all who clamored for
the rights of the States as against the sovereignty of a Nation,
joined in the chorus of denunciation. In addition to this, the
believers in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the occupants of
orthodox pulpits, the professors in Christian colleges, and the
religious historians, were his sworn and implacable foes.
This man had gratified no ambition at the expense of his
fellow-men; he had desolated no country with the flame and sword of
war; he had not wrung millions from the poor and unfortunate; he had
betrayed no trust, and yet he was almost universally despised. He
gave his life for the benefit of mankind. Day and night for many,
many weary years, he labored for the good of others, and gave
himself body and soul to the great cause of human liberty. And yet
he won the hatred of the people for whose benefit, for whose
emancipation, for whose civilization, for whose exaltation he gave
Against him every slander that malignity could coin and hypocrisy
pass was gladly and joyously taken as genuine, and every truth with
regard to his career was believed to be counterfeit. He was attacked
by thousands where he was defended by one, and the one who defended
him was instantly attacked, silenced, or destroyed.
At last his life has been written by Moncure D. Conway, and the
real history of Thomas Paine, of what he attempted and accomplished,
of what he taught and suffered, has been intelligently, truthfully
and candidly given to the world. Henceforth the slanderer will be
He who reads Mr. Conway's pages will find that Thomas Paine was
more than a patriot -- that he was a philanthropist -- a lover not
only of his country, but of all mankind. He will find that his
sympathies were with those who suffered, without regard to religion
or race, country or complexion, He will find that this great man did
not hesitate to attack the governing class of his native land -- to
commit what was called treason against the king, that he might do
battle for the rights of men; that in spite of the prejudices of
birth, he took the side of the American Colonies; that he gladly
attacked the political abuses and absurdities that had been fostered
by altars and thrones for many centuries; that he was for the people
against nobles and kings, and that he put his life in pawn for the
good of others.
In the winter of 1774, Thomas Paine came to America. After a time
he was employed as one of the writers on the Pennsylvania
Let us see what he did, calculated to excite the hatred of his
The first article he ever wrote in America, and the first ever
published by him anywhere, appeared in that magazine on the 8th of
March, 1775. It was an attack on American slavery -- a plea for the
rights of the negro. In that article will be found substantially all
the arguments that can be urged against that most infamous of all
institutions. Every line is full of humanity, pity, tenderness, and
love of justice. Five days after this article appeared the American
Anti-Slavery Society was formed. Certainly this should not excite
our hatred. To-day the civilized world agrees with the essay written
by Thomas Paine in 1775.
At that time great interests were against him. The owners of slaves
became his enemies, and the pulpits, supported by slave labor,
denounced this abolitionist.
The next article published by Thomas Paine, in the same magazine,
and for the next month, was an attack on the practice of dueling,
showing that it was barbarous, that it did not even tend to settle
the right or wrong of a dispute, that it could not be defended on
any just grounds, and that its influence was degrading and cruel.
The civilized world now agrees with the opinions of Thomas Paine
upon that barbarous practice.
In May, 1775, appeared in the same magazine another article written
by Thomas Paine, a Protest Against Cruelty to Animals. He began the
work that was so successfully and gloriously carried out by Henry
Bergh, one of the noblest, one of the grandest, men that this
continent has produced.
The good people of this world agree with Thomas Paine.
In August of the same year he wrote a plea for the Rights of Woman,
the first ever published in the New World. Certainly he should not
be hated for that.
He was the first to suggest a union of the colonies. Before the
Declaration of Independence was issued, Paine had written of and
about the Free and Independent States of America. He had also spoken
of the United Colonies as the "Glorious Union," and he was
the first to write these words: "The United States of America."
In May, 1775, Washington said: "If you ever hear of me joining
in any such measure (as separation from Great Britain) you have my
leave to set me down for everything wicked." He had also said: "It
is not the wish or interest of the government (meaning
Massachusetts), or of any other upon this continent, separately or
collectively, to set up for independence." And in the same year
Benjamin Franklin assured Chatham that no one in America was in
favor of separation. As a matter of fact, the people of the colonies
wanted a redress of their grievances -- they were not dreaming of
separation, of independence.
In 1775 Paine wrote the pamphlet known as "Common Sense."
This was published on the 10th of January, 1776. It was the first
appeal for independence, the first cry for national life, for
absolute separation. No pamphlet, no book, ever kindled such a
sudden conflagration, -- a purifying flame, in which the prejudices
and fears of millions were consumed. To read it now, after the lapse
of more than a hundred years, hastens the blood. It is but the
meager truth to say that Thomas Paine did more for the cause of
separation, to sow the seeds of independence, than any other man of
his time. Certainly we should not despise him for this. The
Declaration of Independence followed, and in that declaration will
be found not only the thoughts, but some of the expressions of
During the war, and in the very darkest hours, Paine wrote what is
called "The Crisis," a series of pamphlets giving from
time to time his opinion of events, and his prophecies. These
marvelous publications produced an effect nearly as great as the
pamphlet "Common Sense." These strophes, written by the
bivouac fires, had in them the soul of battle.
In all he wrote, Paine was direct and natural. He touched the very
heart of the subject. He was not awed by names or titles, by place
or power. He never lost his regard for truth, for principle -- never
wavered in his allegiance to reason, to what he believed to be
right. His arguments were so lucid, so unanswerable, his comparisons
and analogies so apt, so unexpected, that they excited the
passionate admiration of friends and the unquenchable hatred of
enemies. So great were these appeals to patriotism, to the love of
liberty, the pride of independence, the glory of success, that it
was said by some of the best and greatest of that time that the
American cause owed as much to the pen of Paine as to the sword of
On the 2d day of November, 1779, there was introduced into the
Assembly of Pennsylvania an act for the abolition of slavery. The
preamble was written by Thomas Paine. To him belongs the honor and
glory of having written the first Proclamation of Emancipation in
America -- Paine the first, Lincoln the last.
Paine, of all others, succeeded in getting aid for the struggling
colonies from France. "According to Lamartine, the King, Louis
XVI., loaded Paine with favors, and a gift of six millions was
confided into the hands of Franklin and Paine. On the 25th of
August, 1781, Paine reached Boston bringing two million five hundred
thousand livres in silver, and in convoy a ship laden with clothing
and military stores."
"In November, 1779, Paine was elected clerk to
the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. In 1780, the Assembly
received a letter from General Washington in the field, saying
that he feared the distresses in the army would lead to mutiny in
the ranks. This letter was read by Paine to the Assembly. He
immediately wrote to Blair McClenaghan, a Philadelphia merchant,
explaining the urgency, and inclosing five hundred dollars, the
amount of salary due him as clerk, as his contribution towards a
relief fund. The merchant called a meeting the next day, and read
Paine's letter, A subscription list was immediately circulated,
and in a short time about one million five hundred thousand
dollars was raised. With this capital the Pennsylvania bank --
afterwards the bank of North America -- was established for the
relief of the army." In 1783 "Paine wrote a
memorial to Chancellor Livingston, Secretary of Foreign Affairs,
Robert Morris, Minister of Finance, and his assistant, urging the
necessity of adding a Continental Legislature to Congress, to be
elected by the several States. Robert Morris invited the Chancellor
and a number of eminent men to meet Paine at dinner, where his plea
for a stronger Union was discussed and approved. This was probably
the earliest of a series of consultations preliminary to the
"On the 19th of April, 1783, it being the eighth anniversary
of the Battle of Lexington, Paine printed a little pamphlet entitled
'Thoughts on Peace and the Probable Advantages Thereof.'" In
this pamphlet he pleads for "a supreme Nationality absorbing
all cherished sovereignties." Mr. Conway calls this pamphlet
Paine's "Farewell Address," and gives the following
"It was the cause of America that made me an
author. The force with which it struck my mind, and the dangerous
condition in which the country was in, by courting an impossible
and an unnatural reconciliation with those who were determined to
reduce her, instead of striking out into the only line that could
save her, -- a Declaration of Independence, -- made it impossible
for me, feeling as I did, to be silent; and if, in the course of
more than seven years, I have rendered her any service, I have
likewise added something to the reputation of literature, by
freely and disinterestedly employing it in the great cause of
mankind... But as the scenes of war are closed, and every man
preparing for home and happier times, I therefore take leave of
the subject. I have most sincerely followed it from beginning to
end, and through all its turns and windings; and whatever country
I may hereafter be in, I shall always feel an honest pride at the
part I have taken and acted, and a gratitude to nature and
providence for putting it in my power to be of some use to
Paine had made some enemies, first, by attacking African slavery,
and, second, by insisting upon the sovereignty of the Nation.
During the Revolution our forefathers, in order to justify making
war on Great Britain, were compelled to take the ground that all men
are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In no
other way could they justify their action. After the war, the meaner
instincts began to take possession of the mind, and those who had
fought for their own liberty were perfectly willing to enslave
others. We must also remember that the Revolution was begun and
carried on by a noble minority -- that the majority were really in
favor of Great Britain and did what they dared to prevent the
success of the American cause. The minority, however, had control of
affairs. They were active, energetic, enthusiastic, and courageous,
and the majority were overawed, shamed, and suppressed. But when
peace came, the majority asserted themselves and the interests of
trade and commerce were consulted. Enthusiasm slowly died, and
patriotism was mingled with the selfishness of traffic.
But, after all, the enemies of Paine were few, the friends were
many. He had the respect and admiration of the greatest and the
best, and was enjoying the fruits of his labor.
The Revolution was ended, the colonies were free. They had been
united, they formed a Nation, and the United States of America had a
place on the map of the world.
Paine was not a politician. He had not labored for seven years to
get an office. His services were no longer needed in America. He
concluded to educate the English people, to inform them of their
rights, to expose the pretenses, follies and fallacies, the crimes
and cruelties of nobles, kings, and parliaments. In the brain and
heart of this man were the dream and hope of the universal republic.
He had confidence in the people. He hated tyranny and war, despised
the senseless pomp and vain show of crowned robbers, laughed at
titles, and the "honorable" badges worn by the obsequious
and servile, by fawners and followers; loved liberty with all his
heart, and bravely fought against those who could give the rewards
of place and gold, and for those who could pay only with thanks.
Hoping to hasten the day of freedom, he wrote the "Rights of
Man" -- a book that laid the foundation for all the real
liberty that the English now enjoy -- a book that made known to
Englishmen the Declaration of Nature, and convinced millions that
all are children of the same mother, entitled to share equally in
her gifts. Every Englishman who has outgrown the ideas of 1688
should remember Paine with love and reverence. Every Englishman who
has sought to destroy abuses, to lessen or limit the prerogatives of
the crown, to extend the suffrage, to do away with "rotten
boroughs," to take taxes from knowledge, to increase and
protect the freedom of speech and the press, to do away with bribes
under the name of pensions, and to make England a government of
principles rather than of persons, has been compelled to adopt the
creed and use the arguments of Thomas Paine. In England every step
toward freedom has been a triumph of Paine over Burke and Pitt. No
man ever rendered a greater service to his native land.
The book called the "Rights of Man" was the greatest
contribution that literature had given to liberty. It rests on the
bed-rock. No attention is paid to precedents except to show that
they are wrong. Paine was not misled by the proverbs that wolves had
written for sheep. He had the intelligence to examine for himself,
and the courage to publish his conclusions. As soon as the "Rights
of Man" was published the Government was alarmed. Every effort
was made to suppress it. The author was indicted; those who
published, and those who sold, were arrested and imprisoned. But the
new gospel had been preached -- a great man had shed light -- a new
force had been born, and it was beyond the power of nobles and kings
to undo what the author-hero had done.
To avoid arrest and probable death, Paine left England. He had sown
with brave hand the seeds of thought, and he knew that he had
lighted a fire that nothing could extinguish until England should be
The fame of Thomas Paine had reached France in many ways --
principally through Lafayette. His services in America were well
known. The pamphlet "Common Sense" had been published in
French, and its effect had been immense. "The Rights of Man"
that had created, and was then creating, such a stir in England, was
also known to the French. The lovers of liberty everywhere were the
friends and admirers of Thomas Paine. In America, England, Scotland,
Ireland, and France he was known as the defender of popular rights.
He had preached a new gospel. He had given a new Magna Charta to the
So popular was Paine in France that he was elected by three
constituencies to the National Convention. He chose to represent
Calais. From the moment he entered French territory he was received
with almost royal honors. He at once stood with the foremost, and
was welcomed by all enlightened patriots. As in America, so in
France, he knew no idleness -- he was an organizer and worker. The
first thing he did was to found the first Republican Society, and
the next to write its Manifesto, in which the ground was taken that
France did not need a king; that the people should govern
themselves. In this Manifesto was this argument:
"What kind of office must that be in a government
which requires neither experience nor ability to execute? that may
be abandoned to the desperate chance of birth; that may be filled
with an idiot, a madman, a tyrant, with equal effect as with the
good, the virtuous, the wise? An office of this nature is a mere
nonentity; it is a place of show, not of use."
"I am not the personal enemy of kings. Quite the
contrary. No man wishes more heartily than myself to see them all
in the happy and honorable state of private individuals; but I am
the avowed, open and intrepid enemy of what is called monarchy;
and I am such by principles which nothing can either alter or
corrupt, by my attachment to humanity, by the anxiety which I feel
within myself for the dignity and honor of the human race."
One of the grandest things done by Thomas Paine was his effort to
save the life of Louis XVI. The Convention was in favor of death.
Paine was a foreigner. His career had caused some jealousies. He
knew the danger he was in -- that the tiger was already crouching
for a spring -- but he was true to his principles. He was opposed to
the death penalty. He remembered that Louis XVI. had been the friend
of America, and he very cheerfully risked his life, not only for the
good of France, not only to save the king, but to pay a debt of
gratitude. He asked the Convention to exile the king to the United
States. He asked this as a member of the Convention and as a citizen
of the United States. As an American he felt grateful not only to
the king, but to every Frenchman, He, the adversary of all kings,
asked the Convention to remember that kings were men, and subject to
human frailties. He took still another step, and said: "As
France has been the first of European nations to abolish royalty,
let us also be the first to abolish the punishment of death."
Even after the death of Louis had been voted, Paine made another
appeal. With a courage born of the highest possible sense of duty he
"France has but one ally -- the United States of
America. That is the only nation that can furnish France with
naval provisions, for the kingdoms of Northern Europe are, or soon
will be, at war with her. It happens that the person now under
discussion is regarded in America as a deliverer of their country.
I can assure you that his execution will there spread universal
sorrow, and it is in your power not thus to wound the feelings of
your ally. Could I speak the French language I would descend to
your bar, and in their name become your petitioner to respite the
execution of your sentence on Louis. Ah, citizens, give not the
tyrant of England the triumph of seeing the man perish on the
scaffold who helped my dear brothers of America to break his
This was worthy of the man who had said: "Where Liberty is
not, there is my country."
Paine was second on the committee to prepare the draft of a
constitution for France to be submitted to the Convention. He was
the real author, not only of the draft of the Constitution, but of
the Declaration of Rights.
In France, as in America, he took the lead. His first thoughts
seemed to be first principles. He was clear because he was profound.
People without ideas experience great difficulty in finding words to
From the moment that Paine cast his vote in favor of mercy -- in
favor of life -- the shadow of the guillotine was on him, He knew
that when he voted for the King's life, he voted for his own death.
Paine remembered that the king had been the friend of America, and
to him ingratitude seemed the worst of crimes. He worked to destroy
the monarch, not the man; the king, not the friend. He discharged
his duty and accepted death. This was the heroism of goodness -- the
sublimity of devotion.
Believing that his life was near its close, he made up his mind to
give to the world his thoughts concerning "revealed religion."
This he had for some time intended to do, but other matters had
claimed his attention. Feeling that there was no time to be lost, he
wrote the first part of the "Age of Reason," and gave the
manuscript to Joel Barlow. Six hours after, he was arrested. The
second part was written in prison while he was waiting for death.
Paine clearly saw that men could not be really free, or defend the
freedom they had, unless they were free to think and speak. He knew
that the church was the enemy of liberty, that the altar and throne
were in partnership, that they helped each other and divided the
He felt that, being a man, he had the right to examine the creeds
and the Scriptures for himself, and that, being an honest man, it
was his duty and his privilege to tell his fellow-men the
conclusions at which he arrived.
He found that the creeds of all orthodox churches were absurd and
cruel, and that the Bible was no better. Of course he found that
there were some good things in the creeds and in the Bible. These he
defended, but the infamous, the inhuman, he attacked.
In matters of religion he pursued the same course that he had in
things political. He depended upon experience, and above all on
reason. He refused to extinguish the light in his own soul. He was
true to himself, and gave to others his honest thoughts. He did not
seek wealth, or place, or fame. He sought the truth.
He had felt it to be his duty to attack the institution of slavery
in America, to raise his voice against dueling, to plead for the
rights of woman, to excite pity for the sufferings of domestic
animals, the speechless friends of man; to plead the cause of
separation, of independence, of American nationality, to attack the
abuses and crimes of monarchs to do what he could to give freedom to
He thought it his duty to take another step. Kings asserted that
they derived their power, their right to govern, from God. To this
assertion Paine replied with the Rights of Man. Priests
pretended that they were the authorized agents of God. Paine replied
with the Age of Reason.
This book is still a power, and will be as long as the absurdities
and cruelties of the creeds and the Bible have defenders. The Age
of Reason affected the priests just as the Rights of Man
affected nobles and kings. The kings answered the arguments of Paine
with laws, the priests with lies. Kings appealed to force, priests
to fraud. Mr. Conway has written in regard to the "Age of
Reason" the most impressive and the most interesting chapter in
Paine contended for the rights of the individual, -- for the
jurisdiction of the soul. Above all religions he placed Reason,
above all kings, Men, and above all men Law.
The first part of the Age of Reason was written in the
shadow of a prison, the second part in the gloom of death. From that
shadow, from that gloom, came a flood of light. This testament, by
which the wealth of a marvelous brain, the love of a great and
heroic heart were given to the world, was written in the presence of
the scaffold, when the writer believed he was giving his last
message to his fellow-men.
The Age of Reason was his crime.
Franklin, Jefferson, Sumner and Lincoln, the four greatest
statesmen that America has produced, were believers in the creed of
The Universalists and Unitarians have found their best weapons,
their best arguments, in the Age of Reason.
Slowly, but surely, the churches are adopting not only the
arguments, but the opinions of the great Reformer.
Theodore Parker attacked the Old Testament and Calvinistic theology
with the same weapons and with a bitterness excelled by no man who
has expressed his thoughts in our language.
Paine was a century in advance of his time. If he were living now
his sympathy would be with Savage, Chadwick, Professor Briggs and
the "advanced theologians." He, too, would talk about the "higher
criticism," and the latest definition of "inspiration."
These advanced thinkers substantially are repeating the Age of
Reason. They still wear the old uniform -- clinging to the
toggery of theology -- but inside of their religious rags they agree
with Thomas Paine.
Not one argument that Paine urged against the inspiration of the
Bible, against the truth of miracles, against the barbarities and
infamies of the Old Testament, against the pretensions of priests
and the claims of kings, has ever been answered.
His arguments in favor of the existence of what he was pleased to
call the God of Nature were as weak as those of all Theists have
been. But in all the affairs of this world, his clearness of vision,
lucidity of expression, cogency of argument, aptness of comparison,
power of statement and comprehension of the subject in hand, with
all its bearings and consequences, have rarely, if ever, bean
He had no reverence for mistakes because they were old. He did not
admire the castles of Feudalism even when they were covered with
ivy. He not only said that the Bible was not inspired, but he
demonstrated that it could not all be true. This was "brutal."
He presented arguments so strong, so clear, so convincing, that they
could not be answered. This was "vulgar."
He stood for liberty against kings, for humanity against creeds and
gods. This was "cowardly and low." He gave his life to
free and civilize his fellow-men. This was "infamous."
Paine was arrested and imprisoned in December, 1793. He was, to say
the least, neglected by Gouverneur Morris and Washington. He was
released through the efforts of James Monroe, in November, 1794. He
was called back to the Convention, but too late to be of use. As
most of the actors had suffered death, the tragedy was about over
and the curtain was falling. Paine remained in Paris until the "Reign
of Terror" was ended and that of the Corsican tyrant had
Paine came back to America hoping to spend the remainder of his
life surrounded by those for whose happiness and freedom he had
labored so many years. He expected to be rewarded with the love and
reverence of the American people.
In 1794 James Monroe had written to Paine these words:
It is unnecessary for me to tell you how much all your
countrymen, I speak of the great mass of the people, are
interested in your welfare. They have not forgot the history of
their own Revolution and the difficult scenes through which they
passed; nor do they review its several stages without reviving in
their bosoms a due sensibility of the merits of those who served
them in that great and arduous conflict The crime of ingratitude
has not yet stained, and I hope never will stain, our national
character. You are considered by them as not only having rendered
important services in our own Revolution, but as being on a more
extensive scale the friend of human rights and a distinguished and
able advocate of public liberty. To the welfare of Thomas Paine we
are not and cannot be indifferent."
In the same year Mr. Monroe wrote a letter to the Committee of
General Safety, asking for the release of Mr. Paine, in which, among
other things, he said:
"The services Thomas Paine rendered to his
country in its struggle for freedom have implanted in the hearts
of his countrymen a sense of gratitude never to be effaced as long
as they shall deserve the title of a just and generous people."
On reaching America, Paine found that the sense of gratitude had
been effaced. He found that the Federalists hated him with all their
hearts because he believed in the rights of the people and was still
true to the splendid principles advocated during the darkest days of
the Revolution. In almost every pulpit he found a malignant and
implacable foe, and the pews were filled with his enemies. The
slave-holders hated him. He was held responsible even for the crimes
of the French Revolution. He was regarded as a blasphemer, an
Atheist, an enemy of God and man. The ignorant citizens of
Bordentown, as cowardly as orthodox, longed to mob the author of
Common Sense and The Crisis. They thought he had
sold himself to the Devil because he had defended God against the
slanderous charges that he had inspired the writers of the Bible --
because he had said that a being of infinite goodness and purity did
not establish slavery and polygamy.
Paine had insisted that men had the right to think for themselves.
This so enraged the average American citizen that he longed for
In 1802 the people of the United states had exceedingly crude ideas
about the liberty of thought and expression. Neither had they any
conception of religious freedom. Their highest thought on that
subject was expressed by the word "toleration," and even
this toleration extended only to the various Christian sects. Even
the vaunted religious liberty of colonial Maryland was only to the
effect that one kind of Christian should not fine, imprison and kill
another kind of Christian, but all kinds of Christians had the
right, and it was their duty, to brand, imprison and kill Infidels
of every kind.
Paine had been guilty of thinking for himself and giving his
conclusions to the world without having asked the consent of a
priest -- just as he had published his political opinions without
leave of the king. He had published his thoughts on religion and had
appealed to reason -- to the light in every mind, to the humanity,
the pity, the goodness which he believed to be in every heart. He
denied the right of kings to make laws and of priests to make
creeds. He insisted that the people should make laws, and that every
human being should think for himself. While some believed in the
freedom of religion, he believed in the religion of freedom.
If Paine had been a hypocrite, if he had concealed his opinions, if
he had defended slavery with quotations from the "sacred
Scriptures" -- if he had cared nothing for the liberties of men
in other lands -- if he had said that the state could not live
without the church -- if he had sought for place instead of truth,
he would have won wealth and power, and his brow would have been
crowned with the laurel of fame.
He made what the pious call the "mistake" of being true
to himself -- of living with an unstained soul. He had lived and
labored for the people. The people were untrue to him. They returned
evil for good, hatred for benefits received, and yet this great
chivalric soul remembered their ignorance and loved them with all
his heart, and fought their oppressors with all his strength.
We must remember what the churches and creeds were in that day,
what the theologians really taught, and what the people believed. To
save a few in spite of their vices, and to damn the many without
regard to their virtues, and all for the glory of the Damner: --
this was Calvinism. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear,"
but he that hath a brain to think must not think. He that believeth
without evidence is good, and he that believeth in spite of evidence
is a saint. Only the wicked doubt, only the blasphemer denies. This
was orthodox Christianity.
Thomas Paine had the courage, the sense, the heart, to denounce
these horrors, these absurdities, these infinite infamies. He did
what he could to drive these theological wipers, these Calvinistic
cobras, these fanged and hissing serpents of superstition from the
heart of man.
A few civilized men agreed with him then, and the world has
progressed since 1809. Intellectual wealth has accumulated; vast
mental estates have been left to the world. Geologists have forced
secrets from the rocks, astronomers from the stars, historians from
old records and lost languages. In every direction the thinker and
the investigator have ventured and explored, and even the pews have
begun to ask questions of the pulpits. Humboldt has lived, and
Darwin and Haeckel and Huxley, and the armies led by them, have
changed the thought of the world.
The churches of 1809 could not be the friends of Thomas Paine. No
church asserting that belief is necessary to salvation ever was, or
ever will be, the champion of true liberty. A church founded on
slavery -- that is to say, on blind obedience, worshiping
irresponsible and arbitrary power, must of necessity be the enemy of
The orthodox churches are now anxious to save the little that Paine
left of their creed. If one now believes in God, and lends a little
financial aid, he is considered a good and desirable member. He need
not define God after the manner of the catechism. He may talk about
a "Power that works for righteousness," or the tortoise
Truth that beats the rabbit Lie in the long run, or the "Unknowable,"
or the Unconditioned," or the "Cosmic Force," or the "Ultimate
Atom," or "Protoplasm," or the "What" --
provided he begins this word with a capital.
We must also remember that there is a difference between
independence and liberty. Millions have fought for independence --
to throw off some foreign yoke -- and yet were at heart the enemies
of true liberty. A man in jail, sighing to be free, may be said to
be in favor of liberty, but not from principle; but a man who, being
free, risks or gives his life to free the enslaved, is a true
soldier of liberty.
Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one
most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned
on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred -- his virtues
denounced as vices -- his services forgotten -- his character
blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a
victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was
still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten
and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death, Even
those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend -- the friend
of the whole world -- with all their hearts.
On the 8th of June, 1809, death came -- Death, almost his only
At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no
military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived
on the bounty of the dead -- on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of
whose heart dominated the creed of his head -- and, following on
foot, two negroes filled with gratitude -- constituted the funeral
cortege of Thomas Paine.
He who had received the gratitude of many millions, the thanks of
generals and statesmen -- he who had been the friend and companion
of the wisest and best -- he who had taught a people to be free, and
whose words had inspired armies and enlightened nations, was thus
given back to Nature, the mother of us all.
If the people of the great Republic knew the life of this generous,
this chivalric man, the real story of his services, his sufferings
and his triumphs of what he did to compel the robed and crowned, the
priests and kings, to give back to the people liberty, the jewel of
the soul; if they knew that he was the first to write, "The
Religion of Humanity"; if they knew that he, above all others,
planted and watered the seeds of independence, of union, of
nationality, in the hearts of our forefathers -- that his words were
gladly repeated by the best and bravest in many lands; if they knew
that he attempted, by the purest means, to attain the noblest and
loftiest ends -- that he was original, sincere, intrepid, and that
he could truthfully say: "The world is my country, to do good
my religion" -- if the people only knew all this -- the truth
-- they would repeat the words of Andrew Jackson: "Thomas Paine
needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the
hearts of all lovers of liberty."