[Reprinted from 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 Benjamin
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
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 that."
"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 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 mental
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
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 forever."
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
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
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
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 of protest.
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
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 Pitt.
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 Women."
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
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' John
"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 enemies.
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 to burn!
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 meet again!"
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
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 church, tax-free.
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 honors.
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
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
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 Mills expounded.