Thomas Paine

The Lost Founder

Thomas Paine has often been the forgotten Founding Father.

by Harvey J. Kaye

The American Prospect magazine, July 2005


On July 17, 1980, Ronald Reagan stood before the Republican national convention and the American people to accept his party's nomination for president of the United States. Most of what he said that evening was to be expected from a Republican. He spoke of the nation's past and its "shared values." He attacked the incumbent Carter administration and promised to lower taxes, limit government, and expand national defense. And, invoking God, he invited Americans to join him n a "crusade to make America great again?'

Yet Reagan had much more than restoration in mind. He intended to transform American political life and discourse. He had constructed a new Republican alliance-a New Right-of corporate elites, Christian evangelicals, conservative and neoconservative intellectuals, and a host of right-wing interest groups in hopes of undoing the liberal politics and programs of the past 40 years, reversing the cultural changes and developments of the 1960s, and establishing a new national governing consensus.

All this was well-known. But that night, Reagan startled many by calling forth the revolutionary, Thomas Paine, and quoting Paine's words of 1776, from the pamphlet Common Sense: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again?'

American politicians have always drawn upon the words and deeds of the Founders to bolster their own positions. Nevertheless, in quoting Paine, Reagan broke emphatically with longstanding conservative practice. Paine was not like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson. Paine had never really been admitted to the most select ranks of the Founding Fathers. Recent presidents, mostly Democrats, had referred to him, but even the liberals had generally refrained from quoting Paine the revolutionary. When they called upon his life and labors, they usually conjured up Paine the patriot, citing the line with which, during the darkest days of the war for independence, he opened the first of his Crisis papers: "These are the times that try men's souls."

Conservatives certainly were not supposed to speak favorably of Paine, and for 200 years, they had not. In fact, they had for generations publicly despised Paine and scorned his memory. And one can understand why: Endowing American experience with democratic impulse and aspiration, Paine had turned Americans into radicals, and we have remained radicals at heart ever since.

However, for more than a quarter-century, we have allowed the Republican right to appropriate the nation's history, define what it means to be an American, and corral American political imagination. It is time for the left to recover its fundamental principles and perspectives and reinvigorate Americans' democratic impulse and aspiration. And we must start by reclaiming, and reconnecting with, Paine's memory and legacy and the progressive tradition he inspired and encouraged. We must redeem Paine's revolutionary vision, his confidence in his fellow citizens, and his belief in America's extraordinary purpose and promise. Doing so will help us to remember not only what we stand in opposition to but, all the more, what we stand in opposition for.

Contributing fundamentally to the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the struggles of Britain's Industrial Revolution, Thomas Paine was one of the most remarkable political writers of the modern world and the greatest radical of a radical age. Yet this son of an English artisan did not become a radical until his arrival in America in late 1774, at the age of 37. Even then he had never expected such things to happen. But struck by America's startling contradictions, magnificent possibilities, and wonderful energies, and moved by the spirit and determination of its people to resist British authority, he dedicated himself to the American cause. Through his Common Sense pamphlet and the Crisis papers, he inspired Americans not only to declare their independence and create a republic; he also emboldened them to turn their colonial rebellion into a revolutionary war, defined the new nation in a democratically expansive and progressive fashion, and articulated an American identity charged with exceptional purpose and promise.

Five feet 10 inches tall, with a full head of dark hair and striking blue eyes, Paine was inquisitive, gregarious, and compassionate, yet strong-willed, combative, and ever ready to argue about and fight for the good and the right. The story is told of a dinner gathering at which Paine, on hearing his mentor Franklin observe, 'Where liberty is, there is my country," cried out, "Where liberty is not, there is my country!" A workingman before an intellectual and author, Paine developed his revolutionary beliefs and ideas not simply from scholarly study but all the more from experience-experience that convinced him that the so-called lower orders, not just the highborn and propertied, had the capacity both to comprehend the world and to govern it. And addressing his arguments to those who traditionally were excluded from political debate and deliberation, not merely to the governing classes, he helped to transform the very idea of politics and the political nation. At war's end Paine was a popular hero, known by all as "Common Sense!' And yet he was not. 00"-.i finished. To him, America possessed extraordinary political, / - / economic, and cultural potential. But he did not see that potential as belonging to Americans alone. -o2 T He comprehended the nation's - .;-: history in universal terms-"The cause of America is the cause - of all mankind"-and believed that the actions of his fellow citizens-to-be were filled with world-historic significance. "The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth;' he wrote. "'Tis not the affair of a city, a county, a province, or a kingdom but of a continent-of at least one-eighth part of the habitable globe. 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected even to the end of time, by the proceedings now!'

America's struggle had turned Paine into an inveterate champion of liberty, equality, and democracy, and after the war he went on to apply his revolutionary pen to struggles in Britain and France. In Rights of Man, he defended the French Revolution of 1789 against conservative attack, challenged Britain's monarchical and aristocratic polity and social order, and outlined a series of public-welfare initiatives to address the material inequalities that made life oppressive for working people and the poor. In The Age of Reason, he criticized organized religion, the claims of biblical Scripture, and the power of churches and clerics. And in Agrarian Justice, he proposed a democratic system of addressing poverty that would entail taxing the landed rich to provide grants or "stakes" to young people and pensions to the elderly.

Reared an Englishman, adopted by America, and honored as a Frenchman, Paine often called himself a "citizen of the world." But the United States always remained paramount in his thoughts and evident in his labors, and his later writings continued to shape the young nation's events and developments. And yet as great as his contributions were, they were not always appreciated, nor were his affections always reciprocated. Paine's democratic arguments, style, and appeal-as well as his social background, confidence, and single-mindedness-antagonized many among the powerful, propertied, prestigious, and pious and made him enemies even within the ranks of his fellow patriots such as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris.

Elites and aspiring elites-New England patricians and professors, Middle Atlantic merchants and manufacturers, southern slaveholders and solemn preachers-feared the power of Paine's pen and the democratic implications of his arguments. In reaction, they and their heirs sought to disparage his character, suppress his memory, and - limit the influence of his ideas. And, according to most accounts, they succeeded. For much of the 19th century, and well into the 20th, Paine's pivotal role in the making of the United States was effectively erased in the official - - telling. Writing in the 1880s, Theodore Roosevelt believed he could characterize Paine, with impunity, as a "filthy little atheist" (though Paine was neither-it, little, nor an atheist). Not only in the highest circles but also in various popular quarters, particularly among the religiously devout, Paine's name persistently conjured up the worst images, leading generations of historians and biographers to assume that memory of Paine's contributions to American history had been lost.

Yet those accounts were wrong. Paine had died, but neither his memory nor his legacy ever expired. His contributions were too fundamental and his vision of America's meaning and possibilities too firmly imbued in the dynamic of political life and culture to be so easily shed or suppressed. At times of economic and political crisis, when the republic itself seemed in jeopardy, Americans, almost instinctively, would turn to Paine and his words. Even those who apparently disdained him and what he represented could not fail to draw on elements of his vision. Moreover, there were those who would not allow Paine and his arguments to be forgotten.

Contrary to the ambitions of the governing elites, as well as the presumptions of historians and biographers, Paine remained a powerful presence in American political and intellectual life. Recognizing the persistent and developing contradictions between the nation's ideals and reality, diverse Americans - native-born and immigrant - struggled to defend, extend, and deepen freedom, equality, and democracy. Rebels, reformers, and critics such as Fanny Wright, Thomas Skidmore, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ernestine Rose, Susan B. Anthony, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Abraham Lincoln, William Sylvis, Albert Parsons, Robert Ingersoll, Mark Twain, Henry George, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Hubert Harrison, Alfred Bingham, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Howard Fast, A.J. Muste, Saul Alinsky, C. Wright Mills, George McGovern, John Kerry (of the Winter Soldiers movement years), and Todd Gitlin (among other young people of Students for a Democratic Society), along with innumerable others right down to the present generation, rediscovered Paine's life and labors and drew ideas, inspiration, and encouragement from them.

Some honored Paine in memorials. Many more honored him by adopting his arguments and words as their own. Workingmen and women's advocates, utopians, abolitionists, freethinkers (as well as democratic evangelists!), suffragists, anarchists, populists, progressives, socialists, labor and community organizers, peace activists, and liberals have repeatedly garnered political and intellectual energy from Paine, renewed his presence in American life, and served as the prophetic memory of his radical-democratic vision of America.

Ironically perhaps, in these years of conservative ascendance and the retreat of liberalism and the left, we have witnessed an amazing resurgence of interest in Paine, extending all the way across American public culture. Indeed, Paine has achieved near-celebrity status. His writings adorn bookstore shelves and academic syllabi. References to him appear everywhere, in magazine articles, television programs, Hollywood films, and even the works of contemporary musical artists, from classical to punk. Arid while Paine's image may not have become iconic, the editors of American Greats, a hall-of-fame-like volume celebrating the nation's most wonderful and fascinating creations, enshrined his pamphlet Common Sense as popular Americana, alongside the baseball diamond, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Coca-Cola recipe, and the Chevrolet Corvette. Media critic John Katz dubbed Paine the "moral father of the Internet."

Paine has definitely achieved a new status in public history and memory and come to be admired and celebrated almost universally. Nothing more firmly registered the change than the October 1992 decision by Congress to authorize the erection of a monument to Paine in Washington, D.C., on the National Mall. The lobbying campaign for the memorial involved mobilizing truly bipartisan support, from Ted Kennedy to Jesse Helms. And more recently, in 2004, while Howard Dean and Ralph Nader were issuing pamphlets modeled on Common Sense, and the online journal was publishing liberal news commentary, Republicans and Libertarians were quoting Paine in support of their own political ambitions.

Paine's new popularity truly has been astonishing, leading Paine biographer Jack Fruchtman to muse, "Who owns Tom Paine?" The very extent of it has made it seem as if it had never been otherwise. Reporting on a campaign to have a marble statue of suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Osborne Mott moved into the Capitol Rotunda, a Washington-based journalist wrote, "Imagine a statue of Benjamin Franklin shoved into a broom closet in the White House. Or a portrait of Thomas Paine tucked behind a door. That would never happen." And in Columbus, Ohio, a reporter noted without reservation: "Some politicians evoke Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Paine to express Middle America's ideal of honesty and patriotism."

Undeniably, Paine's attraction is related to the recent wave of "Founding Fathers Fever." But saying that simply raises the questions: Why have we become so intent on re-engaging the Founders, and why, specifically, Paine?

Historically, we have turned to our revolutionary past at times of national crisis and upheaval, when the very purpose and promise of the nation were at risk or in doubt. Facing wars, depressions, and other travails and traumas, we have sought consolation, guidance, inspiration, and validation. Some of us have wanted to converse with the Founders, and others to argue or do battle with them. All of which is to be expected in a nation of grand political acts and texts. As historian Steven Jaffe has noted: "The Founders have come to symbolize more than just their own accomplishments and beliefs. What did [they] really stand for? This is another way of asking, 'What is America? What does it mean to be an American?"

In recent years we have faced events and developments that once again have led us to ask ourselves, "What does it mean to be an American?" Commitment to the "American creed of liberty, equality, democracy," the "melting-pot theory of national identity," and the idea of American exceptionalism endures. We continue to comprehend our national experience as entailing the advancement of those ideals and practices. And we still want that history taught to our children. Nevertheless, globalization, immigration, ethnic diversification, the expansion of corporate power, the intensification of class inequalities, political alienation, the enervation of civic life, and domestic and international terrorism have instigated real anxiety and trepidation about the nation's future and the political alternatives available. In the 1990s, those very concerns fomented "culture wars" and a discourse of social and political crisis reflected in works with titles like The Disuniting of America; America: What Went Wrong?; Democracy on Trial; The End of Democracy?; The Twilight of Common Dreams; Bowling Alone; and Is America Breaking Apart?

In the wake of September 11, many of those titles no longer seem relevant. The Islamic terrorists' attacks on America and the nation's ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dramatically refashioned the prevailing sense of crisis and danger. However, they did not resolve the critical questions of American identity and meaning. Not at all. They simply posed them anew and in a more urgent manner.

We sense that America's purpose and promise are in jeopardy and we wonder what we can and should do. Like other generations confronting national crises and emergencies, we have quite naturally looked back to the Revolution and the Founders in search of answers and directions.

Still, why have we become so eager to reconnect specifically with Paine? Perhaps because when compared with the other Founders, he has come to look so good. He was no slaveholder or exploiter of humanity. Nor did he seek material advantage by his patriotism. But that explains his popularity in an essentially negative manner. Besides, as admirable as Paine was, the answer lies not in his life alone. It also has to do with our own historical and political longings. However conservative the times appear, we Americans remain with all our faults and failings resolutely democratic in bearing and aspiration. When we rummage through our Revolutionary heritage, we instinctively look for democratic hopes and possibilities. Arid there we find no Founder more committed to the progress of freedom, equality, and democracy than Paine. Moreover, we discover that no writer of our Revolutionary past speaks to us more clearly and forcefully. In spite of what might have seemed a long estrangement, we recognize Paine and feel a certain intimacy with his words.

Heartened and animated by Paine, progressives have pressed for the rights of workers; insisted upon freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state; demanded the abolition of slavery; campaigned for the equality of women; confronted the power of property and wealth; opposed the tyrannies of fascism and communism; fought a second American Revolution for racial justice and equality; and challenged our own government's authorities and policies, domestic and foreign. We have suffered defeats, committed mistakes, and endured tragedy and irony. But we have achieved great victories, and far more often than not, as Paine himself fully expected, we have in the process transformed the nation and the world for the better.

Now, after more than two centuries-facing our own "times that try men's souls"-it seems we have all become Painites. Today, references to Paine abound in public debate and culture; in contrast to the past, not only the left but also the right claims him as one of their own.

Yet appearances and rhetoric can deceive, for if we all truly revered Paine, we surely would have built the promised monument to him on the Mall in the nation's capital. We would have placed his statue where it belongs, near the images of and memorials to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and the veterans of the Second World War, as well as those of Vietnam whose lives and acts he so powerfully informed and motivated. And we would have engraved Paine's words in marble to remind us of how it all began, and to keep us from forgetting that "much yet remains to be done."

But the truth is that not all of us are Painites. For all of their many citations of Paine and his lines, conservatives really do not-and truly cannot-embrace him and his arguments. Bolstered by capital, firmly in command of the Republican Party, and politically ascendant for a generation, they have initiated and instituted policies and programs that fundamentally contradict Paine's own vision and commitments. They have subordinated the republic-the res publica, the public good - to the marketplace and to private advantage. They have furthered the interests of corporations and the rich over those of working people, their families, unions, and communities, and they have overseen a concentration of wealth and power that, recalling the Gilded Age, has corrupted and debilitated American democratic life and politics. They have carried on culture wars that have divided the nation and undermined the wall separating church and state. Moreover, they have pursued domestic and foreign policies that have made the nation both less free and less secure politically, economically, environmentally, and militarily. Even as they have spoken of advancing freedom and empowering citizens, they have sought to discharge, or at least constrain, America's democratic impulse and aspiration. In fact, while poaching lines from Paine, they and their favorite intellectuals have disclosed their real ambitions and affections by once again declaring the "end of history" and promoting the lives of Founders like Adams and Hamilton, who, in decided contrast to Paine, scorned democracy and feared "the people?'

Still, conservatives do, in their fashion, end up fostering interest in Paine. It's not just that, aware of his iconic status, they insist on quoting him. It's also that their very own policies and programs, by effectively denying and threatening America's great purpose and promise, propel us, as in crises past, back to the Revolution and the Founders, where once again we encounter Paine's arguments and recognize them as our own. Arguably, the heightened popular interest in Paine we have witnessed these past several years reflects anxieties and longings generated not simply by the grave challenges we face but also by the very triumph of right-wing politics.

Yet those of us who might make the strongest historical claim on Paine have yet to properly reappropriate his memory and legacy. In the course of the late '60s and early '70s, the left not only fell apart; it also lost touch with Paine. And, while we continue to cite him and his words, we have failed to make his vision and commitments once again our own. In contrast both to the majority of our fellow citizens and to generations of our political predecessors, liberals and radical reformers no longer proclaim a firm belief in the nation's exceptional purpose and promise, the prospects and possibilities of democratic change, and ordinary citizens' capacities to act as citizens rather than subjects. We have lost the political courage and conviction that once motivated our efforts.

Electrified by America and its people, and the originality of thought and action unleashed by the Revolution, Paine argued that the United States would afford an "asylum for mankind," provide a model to the world, and support the global advance of republican democracy. But many on the left have eschewed notions of American exceptionalism and patriotism and allowed politicians and pundits of the right to monopolize and define them. Presuming that such ideas and practices can only serve to justify the status quo or worse, and ignoring how, historically, progressives have articulated them to advocate the defense and extension and deepening of freedom, equality, and democracy, many of us have failed to recognize their critical value as weapons against injustice and oppression.

Moreover, whereas Paine declared that Americans had it in their power to "begin the world over again," too many of us seem to have all but abandoned the belief that democratic transformation remains both imperative and possible. While we reject the right's end-of-history declarations, we do not actually counter them with an overarching public philosophy, a grand vision of democratic possibilities, or fresh ideas and initiatives-ideas and initiatives that would stir the American imagination and offer real hope of addressing the threats to our freedom and security, the causes of our deepening inequalities, and the forces undermining our public life and solidarities by enhancing the authority of democratic government and the power of citizens against the authority of the market and the power of corporations. We must rediscover and reinvigorate the optimism, energy, and imagination that led Paine to declare, "We are a people upon experiments;' and, "From what we now see, nothing of reform on the political world ought to be held improbable. It is an age of revolutions, in which everything may be looked for?'

And while Paine had every confidence in working people and wrote to engage them in the Revolution and nation building, we, for all our rhetoric, have remained alienated from, if not skeptical of, our fellow citizens. Asking labor unions to underwrite their campaigns and appealing to working people for their votes, Democrats-the party of the people-hesitate to actually mobilize them to fight for democratic political and social change. Taking office in January 1993, eager to signal a new, progressive direction in public life after 12 years of Republican administrations, William Jefferson Clinton-who would also speak of Paine at various times in his two terms-made every effort to identify himself with the revolutionary author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. En route from Arkansas to the capital to take the oath of office, Clinton retraced Jefferson's inaugural trek from Monticello to Washington and filled his inaugural address with Jeffersonian references. But the way Clinton presented the Founder and third president, however stirring it may have sounded, revealed an elitist dread of popular democratic energies and a desire to keep "the people" at some distance from power. Calling on Americans to "be bold, embrace change, and share the sacrifices needed for the nation to progress," he stated, "Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time?' Yet as Clinton surely knew, Jefferson did not say that we needed merely change to sustain the republic. What Jefferson said was, "I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical" [emphasis added]. Committed to cultivating democratic life, liberals and other progressives must ensure that Democrats not only commission expert panels, draft plans, and line up legislative votes in a top-down fashion but also engage American aspirations and energies and enhance public participation in the political and policy-making process.

Paine would assure us that the struggle to expand American freedom, equality, and democracy will continue, for as he proudly observed of his fellow citizens after they turned out the Federalists in 1800, "There is too much common sense and independence in America to be long the dupe of any faction, foreign or domestic?' Indeed, we have good reason not only to hope but also to act, for Americans' persistent and growing interest in and affection for Paine and his words signify that our generation, too, still feels the democratic impulse and aspiration that he inscribed in American experience. Responding to those yearnings, we might well prove-as Paine himself wrote in reaction to misrepresentations of the events of 1776-that, "It is yet too soon to write the history of the Revolution?'


Harvey J. Kaye is the Rosenberg Professor of Social Change and Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and author of the forthcoming Thomas Paine and the Promise of America from which this article is drawn.




The Fate of Thomas Paine

(written by Bertrand Russell)

Thomas Paine, though prominent in two revolutions and almost hanged for attempting to raise a third, is grown, in our day, somewhat dim. To our greatgrandfathers, he seemed a kind of earthly Satan, a subversive infidel rebellious alike against his God and his King. He incurred the bitter hostility of three men not generally united: Pitt, Robespierre, and Washington. Of these, the first two sought his death, while the third carefully abstained from measures designed to save his life. Pitt and Washington hated him because he was a democrat; Robespierre, because he opposed the execution of the King and the Reign of Terror. It was his fate to be always honored by opposition and hated by governments: Washington, while he was still fighting the English, spoke of Paine in terms of highest praise; the French nation heaped honors upon him until the Jacobins rose to power; even in England, the most prominent Whig statesmen befriended him and employed him in drawing up manifestoes. He had faults, like other men; but it was for his virtues that he was hated and successfully calumniated.

Paine's importance in history consists in the fact that he made the preaching of democracy democratic. There were, in the eighteenth century,, democrats among French and English aristocrats, among Philosophes and nonconformist ministers. But all of them presented their political speculations in a form designed to appeal only to the educated. Paine, while his doctrine contained nothing novel, was an innovator in the manner of his writing, which was simple, direct, unlearned, and such as every intelligent workingman could appreciate. This made him dangerous; and when he added religious unorthodoxy to his other crimes, the defenders of privilege seized the opportunity to load him with obloquy.

The first thirty-six years of his life gave no evidence of the talents which appeared in his later activities. He was born at Thetford in 1739, of poor Quaker parents, and was educated at the local grammar school up to the age of thirteen, when he became a stay-maker. A. quiet life, however, was not his taste, and at the age of seventeen he tried to enlist on a privateer called The Terrible, whose captain's name was Death. His parents fetched him back and so probably saved his life, as 175 out of the crew of 200 were shortly afterward killed in action. A little later, however, on the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, he succeeded in sailing on another privateer, but nothing is known of his brief adventures at sea. In 1758, he was employed as a staymaker in London, and in the following year he married, but his wife died after a few months. In 1763 he became an exciseman, but was dismissed two years later for professing to have made inspections while he was in fact studying at home. In great poverty, he became a schoolmaster at ten shillings a week and tried to take Anglican orders. From such desperate expedients he was saved by being reinstated as an exciseman at Lewes, where he married a Quakeress from whom, for reasons unknown, he formally separated in 1774. In this year he again lost his employment, apparently because he organized a petition of the excisemen for higher pay. By selling all that he had, he was just able to pay his debts and leave some provision for his wife, but he himself was again reduced to destitution. In London, where he was trying to present the excisemen's petition to Parliament, he made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, who thought well of him. The result was that in October 1774 he sailed for America, armed with a letter of recommendation from Franklin describing him as an "ingenious, worthy young man." As soon as he arrived in Philadelphia, he began to show skill as a writer and almost immediately became editor of a journal. His first publication, in March 1775, was a forcible article against slavery and the slave trade, to which, whatever some of his American friends might say, he remained always an uncompromising enemy. It seems to have been largely owing to his influence that Jefferson inserted in the draft of the Declaration of Independence the passage on this subject which was afterward cut out. In 1775, slavery still existed in Pennsylvania; it was abolished in that state by an Act of 1780, of which, it was generally believed, Paine wrote the preamble. Paine was one of the first, if not the very first, to advocate complete freedom for the United States. In October 1775, when even those who subsequently signed the Declaration of Independence were still hoping for some accommodation with the British Government, he wrote:

I hesitate not for a moment to believe that the Almighty will finally separate America from Britain. Call it Independency or what you will, if it is the cause of God and humanity it will go on. And when the Almighty shall have blest us, and made us a people dependent only upon him, then may our first gratitude be shown by an act of continental legislation, which shall put a stop to the importation of Negroes for sale, soften the hard fate of those already here, and in time procure their freedom.

It was for the sake of freedom-freedom from monarchy, aristocracy, slavery, and every species of tyranny_ that Paine took up the cause of America.

During the most difficult years of the War of Independence he spent his days campaigning and his evenings composing rousing manifestoes published under the signature "Common Sense." These had enormous success and helped materially in winning the war. After the British had burned the towns of Falmouth in Maine and Norfolk in Virginia, Washington wrote to a friend (January 37, 7776): "A few more of such flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk, added to the sound doctrine and unanswerable reasoning contained in the pamphlet Common Sense, will not leave numbers at a loss to decide upon the propriety of separation."

The work was topical and. has now only a historical interest, but there are phrases in it that are still telling. After pointing out that the quarrel is not only with the King, but also with Parliament, he says: "There is no body of men more jealous of their privileges than the Commons: because they sell them." At that date it was impossible to deny the justice of this taunt.

There is vigorous argument in favor of a Republic, and triumphant refutation of the theory that monarchy prevents civil war. "Monarchy and succession," he says, after his summary of English history, "have laid . . . the world in blood and ashes. 'Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it." In December at a moment when the fortunes of war were adverse, Paine published a pamphlet called The Crisis, beginning: "These are the times that try men's souls The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

This essay was read to the troops, and Washington expressed to Paine a "living sense of the importance of your works." No other writer was so widely read in America, and he could have made large sums by his pen, but he always refused to accept any money at all for what he wrote. At the end of the War of Independence, he was universally respected in the United States but still poor; however, one state legislature voted him a sum of money and another gave him an estate, so that he had every prospect of comfort for the rest of his life. He might have been expected to settle down into the respectability characteristic of revolutionaries who have succeeded. He turned his attention from politics to engineering and demonstrated the, possibility of iron bridges with longer spans than had previously been thought feasible. Iron bridges led him to England, where he was received in a friendly manner by Burke, the Duke of Portland, and other Whig notables. He had a large model of his iron bridge set up at Paddington; he was praised by eminent engineers and seemed likely to spend his remaining years as an inventor.

However, France as well as England was interested in iron bridges. In 1788 he paid a visit to Paris to discuss them with Lafayette and to submit his plans to the Academic des Sciences, which, after due delay, reported favorably. When the Bastille fell, Lafayette decided to present the key of the prison to Washington and entrusted to Paine the task of conveying it across the Atlantic. Paine, however, was kept in Europe by the affairs of his bridge. He wrote a long letter to Washington informing him that he would find someone to take his place in transporting "this early trophy of the spoils of despotism, and the first ripe fruits of American principles transplanted into Europe." He goes on to say that "I have not the least doubt of the final and compleat success of the French Revolution," and that "I have manufactured a bridge (a single arch) of one hundred and ten feet span, and five feet high from the cord of the arch."

For a time, the bridge and the Revolution remained thus evenly balanced in his interests, but gradually the Revolution conquered. In the hope of rousing a responsive movement in England, he wrote his The Rights of Man on which his fame as a democrat chiefly rests.

This work, which was considered madly, subversive during the anti-Jacobin reaction, will astonish a modern reader by its mildness and common sense. It is primarily an answer to Burke and deals at considerable length with contemporary events in France. The first part was published in 1791, the second in February 1792; there was, therefore, as yet no need to apologize for the Revolution. There is very little declamation about Natural Rights, but a great deal of sound sense about the British Government. Burke had contended that the Revolution of z688 bound the British for ever to submit to the sovereigns appointed by the Act of Settlement. Paine contends that it is impossible to bind posterity, and that constitutions must be capable of revision from time to time.

Governments, he says, "may all be comprehended under three heads. First, superstition. Secondly,, power. Thirdly, the common interest of society and the common rights of man. The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, the third of reason." The two former amalgamated: "the key of St. Peter and the key of the Treasury became quartered on one another, and the wondering, cheated multitude worshiped the invention." Such general observations, however, are rare. The bulk of the work consists, first, of French history from 1789 to the end of 1791 and, secondly, of a comparison of the British Constitution with that decreed in France in 179 , of course to the advantage of the latter. It must be remembered that in 1791 France was still a monarchy. Paine was a republican and did not conceal the fact, but did not much emphasize it in The Rights of Man.

Paine's appeal, except in a -few short passages, was to common sense. He argued against Pitt's finance, as Cobbett did later, on grounds which ought to have appealed to any Chancellor of the Exchequer; he described the combination of a small sinking fund with vast borrowings as setting a man with a wooden leg to catch a hare-the longer they run, the farther apart they are. He speaks of the "Potter's field of paper money"-a phrase quite in Cobbett's style. It was, in fact, his writings on finance that turned Cobbett's former enmity into admiration. His objection to the hereditary principle, which horrified Burke-and Pitt, is now common ground among all politicians, including even Mussolini and Hitler. Nor is his style in any way outrageous: it is clear, vigorous, and downright, but not nearly as abusive as that of his opponents.

Nevertheless, Pitt decided to inaugurate his reign of terror by prosecuting Paine and suppressing The Rights of Man. According to his niece, Lady Hester Stanhope, he "used to say that Tom Paine was quite in the right, but then, he would add, what am I to do? As things are, if I were to encourage Tom Paine's opinions we should have a bloody revolution." Paine replied to the prosecution by defiance and inflammatory speeches. But the September massacres were occurring, and the English Tories were reacting by increased fierceness. The poet Blake-who had more worldly wisdom than Paine-persuaded him that if he stayed in England he would be hanged. He fled to France, missing the officers who had come to arrest him by a few hours in London and by twenty minutes in Dover, where he was allowed by the authorities to pass because he happened to have with him a recent friendly letter from Washington.

Although England and France were not yet at war, Dover and Calais belonged to different worlds. Paine, who had been elected an honorary French citizen, had been returned to the Convention by three different constituencies, of which Calais, which now welcomed him, was one. "As the packet sails in, a salute is fired from the battery; cheers sound along the shore. As the representative for Calais steps on French soil soldiers make his avenue, the officers embrace him, the national cockade is presented"-and so on through the usual French series of beautiful ladies, mayors, etc.

Arrived in Paris, he behaved with more public spirit than prudence. He hoped-in spite of the massacres-for an orderly and moderate revolution such as he had helped to make in America. He made friends with the Girondins, refused to think ill of Lafayette (now in disgrace), and continued, as an American, to express gratitude to Louis XVI for his share in liberating the United States. By opposing the King's execution down to the last moment, be incurred the hostility of the Jacobins. He was first expelled from the Convention and then imprisoned as a foreigner; he remained in prison throughout Robespierre's period of power and for some months longer. The responsibility rested only partly with the French; the American Minister, Gouverneur Morris, was equally to blame. He was a Federalist and sided with England against France; he had, moreover, an ancient personal grudge against Paine for exposing a friend's corrupt deal during the War of Independence. He took the line that Paine was not an American and that he could therefore do nothing for him. Washington, who was secretly -negotiating Jay's treaty with England, was not sorry to have Paine in a situation in which he could not enlighten the French Government as to reactionary opinion in America. Paine escaped the guillotine by accident but nearly died of illness. At last Morris was replaced by Monroe (of the "Doctrine"), who immediately procured his release, took him into his own house, and restored him to health by eighteen months' care and kindness.

Paine did not know how great a part Morris had played in his misfortunes, but he never forgave Washington, after whose death, hearing that a statue was to be made of the great man, he addressed the following lines to the sculptor:

Take from the mine the coldest, hardest stone,
It needs no fashion: it is Washington.
But if you chisel, let the stroke be rude,
And on his heart engrave-Ingratitude.

This remained unpublished, but a long, bitter letter to Washington was published in 1796, ending:

And as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for so you have been to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.

To those who know only the statuesque Washington of the legend, these may seem wild words. But 1796 was the year of the first contest for the Presidency, between Jefferson and Adams, in which Washington's whole weight was thrown into support of the latter, in spite of his belief in monarchy and aristocracy; moreover, Washington was taking sides with England against France and doing all in his power to prevent the spread of those republican and democratic principles to which he owed his own elevation. These public grounds, combined with a very grave personal grievance, show that Paine's words were not without justification.

It might have been more difficult for Washington to leave Paine languishing in prison if that rash man had not spent his last days of liberty in giving literary expression to the theological opinions which he and Jefferson shared with Washington and Adams, who, however, were careful to avoid all public avowals of unorthodoxy. Foreseeing his imprisonment, Paine set to work to write The Age of Reason, of which he finished Part 1 six hours before his arrest This book shocked his contemporaries, even many of those who agreed with his politics. Nowadays, apart from a few passages in bad taste, there is very little that most clergymen would disagree with. In the first chapter he says:

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.

These were not empty words. From the moment of his first participation in public affairs-his protest against slavery in 1775---down to the day of his death, he was consistently opposed to every form of cruelty, whether practiced by his own party or by his opponents. The Government of England at that time was a ruthless oligarchy, using Parliament as a means of lowering the standard of life in the poorest classes; Paine advocated political reform as the only cure for this abomination and had to fly for his life. In France, for opposing unnecessary bloodshed, he was thrown into prison and narrowly escaped death. In America, for opposing slavery and upholding the principles of the Declaration of Independence, he was abandoned by the Government at the moment when he most needed its support. If, as he maintained and as many now believe, true religion consists in "doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy," there was not one among his opponents who had as good a claim t: J be considered a religious man.

The greater part of The Age of Reason consists of criticism of the Old Testament from a moral point of view. Very few nowadays would regard the massacres of men, women, and children recorded in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua as models of righteousness, but in Paine's day it was considered impious to criticize the Israelites when the Old Testament approved of them. Many pious divines wrote answers to him. The most liberal of those was the Bishop of Liandaff, who went so far as to admit that parts of the Pentateuch were not written by Moses, and some of the Psalms were not composed by David. For such concessions he incurred the hostility of George III and lost all chance of translation to a richer see. Some of the Bishop's replies to Paine are curious For example, The Age of Reason ventured to doubt whether God really commanded that all males and married women among the Midianites should be slaughtered, while the maidens should be preserved. The Bishop indignantly retorted that the maidens were not preserved for immoral purposes, as Paine had wickedly suggested, but as slaves, to which there could be no ethical objection. The orthodox of our day have forgotten what orthodoxy was like a hundred and forty years ago. They have forgotten still more completely that it was men like Paine who, in face of persecution, caused the softening of dogma by which our age profits. Even the Quakers refused Paine's request for burial in their cemetery, although a Quaker farmer was one of the very few who followed his body to the grave.

After The Age of Reason Paine's work ceased to be important. For a long time he was very ill; when he recovered, he found no scope in the France of the Directoire and the First Consul. Napoleon did not ill-treat him, but naturally had no use for him, except as a possible agent of democratic rebellion in England. He became homesick for America, remembering his former success and popularity in that country and wishing to help the Jeffersonians against the Federalists. But the fear of capture by the English, who would certainly have hanged him, kept him in France until the Treaty of Amiens. At length, in October 1802, he landed at Baltimore and at once wrote to Jefferson (now President):

I arrived here on Saturday from Havre, after a passage of sixty days. I have several cases of models, wheels, etc., and as soon as I can get them from the vessel and put them on board the packet for Georgetown I shall set off to pay my respects to you. Your much obliged fellow citizen,

He had no doubt that all his old friends, except such as were Federalists, would welcome him. But there was a difficulty: Jefferson had a hard fight for the Presidency, and in the campaign the most effective weapon against him unscrupulously used by ministers of all denominations had been the accusation of infidelity. His opponents magnified his intimacy with Paine and spoke of the pair as "the two Toms." Twenty years later, Jefferson was still so much impressed by the bigotry of his compatriots that he replied to a Unitarian minister who wished to publish a letter of his: "No, my dear Sir, not for the world! . . . I should as soon undertake to bring the crazy skulls of Bedlam to sound understanding as to inculcate reason into that of an Athanasian . . . keep me therefore from the fire and faggot of Calvin and his victim. Servetus." It was not surprising that, when the fate of Servetus threatened them, Jefferson and his political followers should have fought shy of too close an association with Paine. He was treated politely and had no cause to complain, but the old easy friendships were dead.

In other circles he fared worse. Dr. Rush of Philadelphia, one of his first American friends, would have nothing to do with him: ". . . his principles" he wrote, "avowed in his Age of Reason, were so offensive to me that I did not wish to renew my intercourse with him." In his own neighborhood, he was mobbed and refused a seat in the stagecoach; three years before his death he was not allowed to vote, on the alleged ground of his being a foreigner. He was falsely accused of immorality and intemperance, and his last years were spent in solitude and poverty. He died in 1809. As he was dying, two clergymen invaded his room and tried to convert him, but he merely said, "Let me alone; good morning!" Nevertheless, the orthodox invented a myth of deathbed recantation which was widely believed.

His posthumous fame was greater in England than in America. To publish his works was, of course, illegal, but it was done repeatedly, although many men went to prison for this offense. The last prosecution on this charge was that of Richard Carlile and his wife in 1819 he was sentenced to prison for three years and a fine of fifteen hundred pounds, she to one year and five hundred pounds. It was in this year that Cobbett brought Paine's bones to England and established his fame as one of the heroes in the fight for democracy in England. Cobbett did not, however, give his bones a permanent resting place. "The monument contemplated by Cobbett," says Moncure Conway,* "was never raised." There was much parliamentary and municipal excitement. A Bolton town crier was imprisoned nine weeks for proclaiming the arrival. In 1836 the bones passed with Cobbett's effects into the hands of a receiver (West). The Lord Chancellor refusing to regard them as an asset, they were kept by an old day laborer until 1844, when they passed to B. Tilley, 13 Bedford Square, London, a furniture dealer. In 1854, Rev. R. Ainslie (Unitarian) told E. Truelove that he owned "the skull and the right hand of Thomas Paine," but evaded subsequent inquiries. No trace now remains, even of the skull and right hand.

Paine's influence in the world was twofold. During the American Revolution he inspired enthusiasm and confidence, and thereby did much to facilitate victory. In France his popularity was transient and superficial, but in England he inaugurated the stubborn resistance of plebeian Radicals to the long tyranny of Pitt and Liverpool. His opinions on the Bible, though they shocked his contemporaries more than his Unitarianism, were such as might now be held by an archbishop, but his true followers were the men who worked in the movements that sprang from him those whom Pitt imprisoned, those who suffered under the Six Acts, the Owenites, Chartists, Trade-Unionists, and Socialists. To all these champions of the oppressed he set an example of courage, humanity, and single-mindedness. When public issues were involved, he forgot personal prudence. The world decided, as it usually does in such cases, to punish him for his lack of self-seeking; to this day his fame is less than it would have been if his character had been less generous. Some worldly wisdom is required even to secure praise for the lack of it.

Democracy in America


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