Thomas Paine and The Age of Reason
[An address delivered over Radio Station WMIE,
Miami, Florida, 17 February, 1957]
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am going to make the most remarkable offer ever made over the
radio. This offer is Free. Absolutely Free. No obligations of any
kind. It concerns one of the greatest books ever written. A Book
that has done more for the emancipation of the human mind from
ignorance, and superstition than any other volume in existence. It
has been responsible for the education of some of our greatest men.
The title of the book is, "The Age of Reason" by Thomas
Paine. Do you know who Thomas Paine was? He was born in Thetford,
England in 1737. When he was 35 years old he met Benjamin Franklin
in a coffee house, in London. Benjamin Franklin sensed something
unusual in this "ingenious worthy young man" and gave him
a letter of introduction and urged him to go to America. He did.
The wisdom of Benjamin Franklin was never better exemplified than
when he recognized the rare ability of Thomas Paine. How fortunate
was that meeting.
Thomas Paine landed upon our shores penniless, and like many
immigrants he enriched our country. Not only that, but he also made
one of the most valuable contributions in behalf of Freedom in the
history of mankind.
Shortly after his arrival here he became editor of the Pennsylvania
Magazine, and could not help but feel the tyranny under which the
people were living. He saw an opportunity that never existed before.
He saw an opportunity to establish a new government and wrote the
pamphlet "Common Sense." It electrified the people as no
other writing before or since! That pamphlet, "Common Sense"
caused the Declaration of Independence to be proclaimed, provoked
the Revolutionary Was and was responsible for the establishment of
the United States of America.
No wonder Benjamin Franklin took pride in being responsible for
Thomas Paine's contribution to the cause of America's Independence.
He said, "I value myself on the share I had in procuring for
America the acquisition of so useful and valuable a citizen."
In fact, when I made a study of Thomas Paine's association with the
American Revolution, and reread his Common Sense, I was forcibly
impressed with the similarity of the writings of this pamphlet and
the language of The Declaration of Independence.
I worked for years in further research, and became convinced that
Thomas Paine wrote the ORIGINAL draft of that immortal document. I
wrote a book to prove my premise, and I am happy to say that this
book is now used in the classrooms of many colleges in the United
Sates and Europe.
But when the war started and defeat after defeat had been suffered
by the Continental Army, it became a grave question as to whether we
would be successful in the conflict. This concern was expressed time
and again by the Commander-In-Chief of the Army. On more than one
occasion, General Washington sent up moans of despair, which
culminated in his final gasp of desperation, when he cried, "I
think the game pretty well up!"
And now there has just come to public light an hitherto unknown
letter which makes us realize the desperation of Washington's
plight. This letter was written to George Mason, one of the leaders
of the Revolution. Washington wrote: "We are without money ...
without provisions ... the history of this war is a history of false
hopes ... our efforts are in vain."
If the Commander-In-Chief of the Army thought our struggle for
Independence was a "false hope," and that our efforts to
achieve Freedom "are in vain," what must have been the
temper of the people in such a hopeless situation. They too had
become discouraged, enthusiasm began to wane, many deserted the
great Cause, and mutiny had already taken place in the Army.
It was during this time, in the very depths of despair, that
General Von Stueben said that pamphlet written by Thomas Paine "would
produce a better effect than all the recommendations of Congress, in
prose and verse."
He was right. It did. It began with these immortal words:
"These are the times that try men's souls ... "
Paine called it, THE CRISIS. Washington had it read to his
soldiers, and I need not tell you what effect it produced. It was on
the lips of all the people, and a revolution in sentiment and
determination came over the American colonies. They were once more
determined that the war for Independence must be won. Whenever the
situation became desperate, whenever another defeat was suffered,
these words of Paine reverberated throughout the camps:
"These are the times that try men's souls ... He
that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
Whenever there was a shortage of food, whenever there was
insufficient clothing, whenever there were mumblings of discontent,
these words suddenly became audible:
"These are the times that try men's souls ...
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered."
Whenever plagued by anxious thoughts of home and farm, the soldier
heard these words:
"These are the times that try men's souls ... The
harder the struggle the more glorious the triumph."
Whenever in moments of loneliness, thinking of wife and child,
wondering whether his patriotic devotion to enlist in the Cause was
too high a price to pay, he was answered by the gem:
"These are the times that try men's souls ... "
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: It is dearness
only that gives everything its value."
When fighting seemed never to cease, these words rang out, drowning
all despairing thoughts:
"These are the times that try men's souls ...
Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it
would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom
should not be highly rated."
Paine's inspiring words had been mixed with the blood of
Washington's soldiers and never before had such a combination flowed
through the arteries of man.
In these Crisis papers, thirteen in all, are to be found not only
messages of inspiration, comforting and reassuring words, but sound
military advice, valuable suggestions of administration, and equally
as important precious knowledge that was so essential for the proper
guidance of the people during so serious a time. They also cemented
the diverse forces when the country was so dangerously divided.
While words can cheer, while words can inspire, while words can dry
eyes wet with sorrow and soothe the heart gripped with fear, words
cannot feed you, they cannot clothe you, they cannot protect you
from the chills of night, the winter's blast, the cold of snow, nor
can they stay the pangs of hunger. While words can fortify the mind
and make the timid courageous, something more practical is needed to
meet the realities of life. More than words are needed to plant the
food, fell the forests, turn the wheels of machinery, provide
transportation for an Army, sustain the soldiers in battle, and
achieve victory in the struggle.
Many a genius has been lost because he needed first the wherewithal
to feed and clothe his body.
Many a cause has failed because of the lack of the means of
achieving it. Thomas Paine combined inspiration with action and
deeds. And so at the crucial moment when the Army was without food
and clothing and ammunition, Thomas Paine went to France to secure
those things which we lacked, and which were so essential to hold
our Army together.
His plea to the French Government resulted in a shipload of
ammunition, clothing and money.
Such help in such a crisis is beyond the measure of words to tell.
Only let it be known that it was Thomas Paine's efforts which
accomplished these results!
No wonder John Adams said, that "History will ascribe the
American Revolution to Thomas Paine."
Through seven long years of this struggle Paine continued his
labors, both as a soldier and author until the publication of the
thirteenth and last crisis, beginning with these cherished words:
"The times that tried men's souls are over, and
the greatest and completest revolution the world has ever known,
gloriously and happily accomplished."
I have no hesitation in stating emphatically, that if there had
been NO Thomas Paine, there would have been no United States of
Recently, a prominent citizen of Miami, and a well known writer,
Mr. Tom Thursday, referred to Thomas Paine as "Mr. U.S.A."
In my opinion, this is the most appropriate name ever applied to
this great patriot.
When the war was over, Benjamin Franklin said to Paine:
"Where liberty is, that is my country," and
Paine replied, "Where liberty is not, that is mine."
And so Thomas Paine left these shores for Europe to
help establish Republics in England and in France.
When Thomas Paine arrived on French soil he was hailed as the "Symbol
So great was his fame, that he was elected by four "departments,"
that is, four separate constituents, to represent them in the new
Paine wrote the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, a
manifesto similar to our own Declaration of Independence.
He also wrote the new Constitution of France, and if the French
Deputies had heeded his advice, there would have been no "Reign
Paine wanted the French people to adopt a Constitution as their
first order of business, while Robespierre and Murat, and other
fanatical leaders of the Revolution, demanded, as the first act of
the new government, the death of Louis the sixteenth.
Thomas Paine, with, I believe, some knowledge that it might mean
his death, stood up in the National Assembly and made an eloquent
plea for the life of the French ruler in the face of a fanaticism
that demanded the King's death. The enraged Assembly, upon the
slightest provocation, was ready to tear limb from limb any who
dared to interfere with their mad determination, to make the King
pay the supreme penalty, because of the accident of birth.
Nevertheless, Thomas Paine stood firm and said, "I would rather
record a thousand errors, dictated by humanity, than one of severe
justice"; and at the conclusion of his impassioned plea, he
cried, "Kill the King; but not the man."
By this act, Thomas Paine not only proved his love for mankind, but
gave the world an example of unparalleled courage.
Thomas Paine stood before that hostile convention and pleaded for
the life of a man for whom he had no personal regard, and for no
other purpose whatever, except to save a life -- to prevent an
injustice, and to heal the scars of battle with the salve of mercy.
The Bible says what greater act can a man do than lay down his life
for his friend. Thomas Paine performed even a greater deed -- he
faced the ire and fanaticism of blood thirsty tyrants, not to fight
for the life of a friend, on the contrary, he fought for one whom he
detested and whose office he abhorred.
To Thomas Paine, justice and humanity were above personal safety.
When you consider the circumstances, when you consider Paine's
detestation for monarchy, when you consider Paine's hatred of
tyranny, then it is the inevitable conclusion that this was one of
the grandest acts of moral courage ever performed by a single
individual. Thomas Paine was ready to die that the principles of
just might prevail.
This heroic act of Thomas Paine shall be remembered forever as
unequaled in the annals of man's struggle for Freedom and Justice.
For this sublime deed Thomas Paine was arrested, thrown into
prison, and condemned to be guillotined.
Before being taken to the Luxembourg Prison, Paine gave Joel Barlow
the manuscript of his book "The Age of Reason," with the
request that if anything should happen go him, Barlow should see to
it that the book was published.
On the very first page of the book, Paine wrote: "It has been
my intention, for several years, to publish my thoughts upon
religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the
subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more
advanced period of my life ... and at a time when the purity of my
motives could not admit of a question ... "
However, the book had not been completed, and from all appearances,
only the First Part, would ever see the light of publication.
While Paine was in prison, orders had been issued, to mark, with a
white cross, the door of the cell of each prisoner, who was to be
taken out at daybreak, to be guillotined!
That night, Paine's cell was extremely hot, and he opened the door
to get some air.
Now it happened, that the doors of the prison cells, were so
constructed that, when open, or closed, they looked alike.
During the night, when the guards came to mark the doors of the
doomed men, they made a white cross on the door of Paine's cell,
while it was open!
Just before daybreak, his cell having cooled off, Paine closed the
door. Thus, the white cross was on the inside, which left the
outside of his cell door, unmarked!
At daybreak, when the guards came to take the prisoners to be
guillotined, there being no white cross on the outside of the door
of Paine's cell, they passed him by!
Because of this strange coincidence, Thomas Paine escaped without
being guillotined! Without the slightest knowledge of what was
taking place, Thomas Paine was saved from death!
Through the connivance of the detestable Gouverneur Morris, our
then Ambassador to France, Paine remained in the Luxembourg Prison
for over nine tortuous months.
However, while in prison he wrote the second part of The Age of
Fortunately, for the world, Gouverneur Morris was recalled as our
Ambassador from France and was replaced by the distinguished James
When James Monroe arrived in Paris, he wrote to Paine while still
in prison this letter.
"The crime of ingratitude has not yet stained, and I trust
never will stain, our national character. You are considered by them
as not only having rendered important service in our own revolution,
but as being, on a more extended scale, the friend of human rights,
and able advocate of public liberty. To the welfare of Thomas Paine,
the Americas are not, nor can they be, indifferent ...
To liberate you will be the object of my endeavors, as soon as
After much effort, Ambassador Monroe secured the release of Paine.
He took him to his home, and he, and Mrs. Monroe, nursed Paine back
Now it is this world famous book, The Age of Reason, which Thomas
Paine finished while in prison, that we want to send to you
But another word concerning Thomas Paine before giving you the
Thomas Paine wanted to abolish slavery at the same time that
American Independence was won, but the pressure from slave owners
was too great to overcome, and so it was left to another man to
finish the job. Early in life Abraham Lincoln was inspired by
Paine's writings, particularly his essay advocating the abolition of
Negro slavery. Lincoln said, "I never tire of reading Paine."
As a result of Paine's influence, Abraham Lincoln became the Great
Emancipator and saved the Union.
And in view of the statement which I am about to read I think I can
rightfully ask -- what was the secret of Thomas A. Edison's
greatness? He tells it in his own words. In a letter to me shortly
before his death, he wrote:
"I have always regarded Thomas Paine as one of the
greatest of all Americans. Never have we had a sounder
intelligence in this republic ... It was my good fortune to
encounter Thomas Paine's works in my boyhood ... it was, indeed, a
revelation to me to read that great thinker's views on political
and theological subjects. Paine educated me then about many
matters of which I had never before thought. I remember very
vividly the flash of enlightenment that shone from Paine's
writings, and I recall thinking at that time, "What a
pity these works are not today the schoolbooks for all children!"
My interest in Paine was not satisfied by my first reading of his
works. I went back to them time and again, just as I have done
since my boyhood days."
These are Mr. Edison's own words acknowledging his indebtedness to
What Thomas Paine did for Abraham Lincoln and Thomas A. Edison, he
can do for you!
Through the generosity of a friend who attributes his success in
life to the reading of Paine's works, and who has made a very
substantial contribution to The Thomas Paine Foundation, we will
send you, absolutely free, as part of an educational campaign, a
copy of the complete and unexpurgated edition of this remarkable
book The Age of Reason, containing 190 pages, beautifully
printed and finely bound. It is yours to keep. You will read it and
treasure it as have hundreds of thousands of others. In it you too
will find inspiration and courage, and who knows, you too may be
inspired by its great logic to become another Lincoln or another
In sending for your copy, we would appreciate your enclosing 10
cents to cover the cost of mailing and handling. This is all you
have to do to get your FREE copy of The Age of Reason.
Address The Thomas Paine Foundation, 370 West 35th street, New York,
1, New York, and simply enclose 10 cents to cover the cost of
mailing and handling.
Don't miss this rare opportunity -- as this offer may never be made
Thank you for listening. Good night.