Paine: Christian values, and a patriot betrayed
By Ken La Rive
I present to you here one of the most amazing people associated with our American revolution. He was considered in his time to be a Democrat, but if he were alive today his thoughts would be considered Moderate Republican. So far left has our Democratic party become that Mr. Paine wouldn’t recognize it, and he wouldn’t be trying to get prayer out of schools, or the Ten Commandments out of public buildings. Though he saw the real dangers associated with both Secularism, and the division of Church and State, (one primary reason a lot of our ancestors fled their original homeland), but beyond that, Paine saw the real need for a unified moral code that only Christianity possessed.
Back then both parties stood for the working man, family principles, morals and ethical values based on Christian principles, small business, Capitalism, and balanced trade, that most Republicans of today hold dear and fight for. Strange, but it seems from my readings of original text and letters that it is quite evident, on a social level, that the two party’s ideals were a lot closer in reasoning than they are today. Though many of our founding fathers considered themselves Deists, Christian values were set in place by their own hand.
The far left today advocate what can’t be denied as Socialism, and looking at a span of fifty years it becomes quite evident. In essence, Socialism is the taking from the working class and giving to the non-working class, for the good of the whole. It didn’t work for Communist Russia, and it won’t work for us. Our legal system is so full of loop-holes, and there are so many societal problems never seen before, we must, for the survival of our very ideals, take pause and reflect on what labels we call ourselves. Never have the two parties been so divided, and never have the American citizen been as confused as to what party they associate with. We owe it to ourselves and the good of our country to look closely before we vote. Let’s let Thomas Paine reintroduce to us to what we once were…
The works of Thomas Paine was kept alive a hundred years ago by a controversial writer, Bertrand Russell. In his essays he once again gave life to Paine, his writings, and his amazingly adventurous life. The essence of what I have written here is a reflection of that work.
In his time he was sought to be executed by both Pitt and Robespierre, and Washington himself, in Paine’s hour of need, did nothing to help, actually disassociating himself with him. It is said that both Pitt and Washington hated him because he was a democrat, but it was a lot more complicated than that. In my opinion, the power struggle in a brand new nation was huge, and the search for a road that many differences could travel together was an enormous challenge. Many voices were raised, some in praise, some in critique, and some in protest. Paine found himself constantly teetering on the wobbly fence of the times.
With a letter of introduction from Ben Franklin he came to America and soon became editor of a journal. Paine preached democracy. A prolific writer, his first grand attempt, in 1775, was a very forceful article against slavery. It is said that because of his writings Jefferson inserted a draft into the Declaration of Independence, which was subsequently cut out. At that time slavery was sill in existence in Pennsylvania, and not abolished for another five years. It is also said that Paine wrote the Preamble for that Act.
Paine was one, if not the first, to advocate full division from England. Some of those who actually signed The Declaration of Independence thought concessions with Britain could still be made. In 1775 Paine 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 fate of those already here, and in time procure their freedom.”
Paine took up the cause of America, publishing stirring manifestoes under the label of “Common Sense.” It was a great success and helped to win the war, as his style of writing brought the ideals to the common man, the everyday worker. As the towns of Falmouth and Norfolk still smoldered by a British torch, Washington wrote to a friend in January 1776: “A few more of such flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk, added to the sound doctrine an unanswerable reasoning contained in the pamphlet Common Sense, will not leave numbers at a loss to decide upon the propriety of separation.”
In our earliest dark days of the Revolution Paine wrote a string of pamphlets called “The Crisis” that circulated heavily, and brought hope to those fighting, and on the home front. “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.”
For a time, Paine became the most popular writer in America, and Washington actually read “The Crisis” to his troops. Any paper or publication would have paid him great sums for his work, but he gave it all for free. Praise may well have been enough, more likely he felt his work’s impact to be of a higher order, as Washington wrote to him: “…living sense of the importance of your works.”
At the end of the War of Independence, Paine’s penniless standing was recognized, and one state legislature voted him a sum of money, and another an estate, so that he could live in comfort. His mind was of a restless and creative type however, and to him leisure comforts brought on a lethargic domineer. With the same energy and insight he gave to politics he now gave to engineering, and developed models of his ideas for using iron to build bridges. This brought him to England where he was well received by Burke, the Duke of Portland, and other distinguished Whigs. He set up his large model in Paddington, and engineers came from all around to see his creative concepts. From there he went to France at the same time the Bastille fell and Paine was stirred by the opportunity for freedom these sweeping changes brought. Lafayette gave the key of Bastille prison to Paine to give to Washington, but Payne wrote Washington that he would have to send it by another carrier, as his business in France was not yet complete. In his long letter to Washington he excitedly stated what he saw in France: “The early trophy of the spoils of despotism, and the first ripe fruits of American principles transplanted in Europe.”
What better place for Paine than a revolution, and while he gave attention to his bridge; he wrote what cemented him as a Democrat of the time, “The Rights of Man.” This individual work was blasted by anti-Jacobin opposition to be radically subversive, and yet is read today as mild and to the point. The main positions, however, are complicated but for the well educated of the times, i.e., contemporary political thought, and French history. In essence, he wrote in two parts, published in 1791 and 1792, and his friend Burke agreed …that the revolution of 1688 bound Britton forever to the sovereigns appointed by the Act of Settlement. (Type in ACT OF SETTLEMENT in Google.) This idea was plausible, and showed that it was impossible to hold posterity enslaved, and that constitutions must be designed by ratification to change with the times presented. Clearly written, his ideas were pure genius, and needed for the times. He said that governments “…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.”
Now his time from fleeing England to France is very complicated and very exciting. I suggest an essay of about twenty pages from Bertrand Russell called “The Fate of Thomas Paine,” published in 1935, where a true precise rendering of Paine and his life is drawn. Russell identified with Paine, as both men were persecuted for their thoughts, mostly about religion, and other ideas thought radical for the times.
Paine was imprisoned and narrowly escaped the guillotine in France. An American Federalist minister, Governor Morris, sided with England against France. At the same time Washington was secretly promoting Jay’s treaty with England, and didn’t come to Paine’s aid. Payne escaped only by a slim chance. Though Paine didn’t know that Morris did him far more harm, when Payne found out that a statue of Washington was commissioned after his death, he wrote the sculpture’s artist:
Take from the mine the coldest, the hardest of stone,
It needs no fashion: it is Washington.
But if you chisel, let the stroke be rude,
And on his heart engrave-Ingratitude.
This letter to Washington, written in 1796 shows the anger and bitterness that remained with Paine to his death: “And to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for you have done 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 imposter; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any”
Just before his eminent arrest in France, Paine set out to write another work, entirely different from politics and Engineering, “The Age of Reason.” This composition got the attention of a faction of humanity who had previously been neutral, the Church. In this Paine critiques the Old Testament from a moralistic point of view. Probably this, above all that Paine had done, got the attention of Russell, who throughout his life is known as an Atheist. Today, however, few clergy would disagree. He starts off chapter one with: “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.” Seems tame and true, but the clerics of that day took grave offence for putting the Israelites in a bad light.
According to Russell, Paine was consistent with these ideas to the day he died. His words inspired and influenced the American Revolution by instilling a cohesive process of thought easily understood by the masses. He was shunned by his former friends and patriots when he finally returned to America, from fleeing France and a long illness. His voting privileges were taken away three years before his death, on the grounds of being a foreigner. Accused of “immorality and intemperance” he spent his few remaining years alone and in poverty... But then, finally, it is the men that he has inspired who pick up his clear ideas today. His self sacrifice went unrewarded in his time, but today his writings are seen for what they are, pure insight. Even his most controversial writing “The Age of Reason” might not lift an eyebrow of a Cardinal today.
Russell wrote: “…to this day his fame is less than what 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”
It is said that few people attended Paine’s funeral in 1809 and that Clergy invaded his room trying to convert him. He said, “Let me alone: good morning!” Interesting footnote was a man named Cobbett who was imprisoned along with his wife for illegality publishing Paine’s work. Cobbett is the one responsible for bringing Paine’s bones back to England, where he was more kindly thought of, but finally did not give them up. They remained in his effects until 1836 and passed through many until a Unitarian Minister by the name of Rev. R. Ainslie in 1854 came into the picture. He confided with a friend that he had the skull and right hand of Thomas Paine. Though he further evaded all inquiries after that, Thomas Paine’s bones were never seen again.
Woodcut of Thomas Paine.