Foner's Introduction to the Collected Works
THOMAS PAINE-WORLD CITIZEN AND DEMOCRAT
(Footnotes are located at the end of the essay)
His name is Paine, a gentleman about two years from England -a man who, General Lee says, has genius in his eyes." So John Adams described the author of the widely-discussed pamphlet, Common Sense, published anonymously early in 1776.
Thomas Paine, the man with "genius in his eyes," was born January 29, 1737, at Thetford in Norfolk, England, of a Quaker father and an Anglican mother. His father was a poor corset-maker who could barely afford to send his son to a free school where he was taught just enough to master reading, writing and arithmetic. At thirteen young Paine began to work with his father as a staymaker; three years laterhe ran away from home, went to sea and served as a sailor on a privateer in the Seven Years' War. He returned to London after two eventful voyages which included a terrific sea-battle and lived by finding such occupations as he could. He worked for a while as a staymaker; then became a government worker, holding a minor job in the collection of the excise, and, after he was dismissed from this post, was employed in 1767 in a school at Kensington. A year later he was working for the government again as an excise officer at Lewes, Sussex. He had married in 1759, but the marriage was cut short by the death of his wife a year later. His second marriage in 1771 was cut short by a legal separation.
During these years Paine took steps to supplement the meagre education he had received at the Thetford Grammar School. From his pitiful earnings as a staymaker and exciseman, he purchased books and scientific apparatus such as a pair of globes. When he lived in London during the period 1757-59, he attended in his spare time the lectures on Newtonian astronomy given by Benjamin Martin, James Ferguson, and Dr. Bevis. He continued his process of self-education throughout his life, convinced that "every person of learning is finally his own teacher." "I seldom passed five minutes of my life however circumstanced," he once observed, "in which I did not acquire some knowledge." No one who traces his lifelong pursuit of education and notes the authors he cites in his writings, will lightly accept the conventional sneer that Paine displayed an "immense ignorance" throughout his career.
Both his Quaker background and his study of Newtonian science influenced
his thinking along progressive lines, though neither probably had the effect that some writers have stressed.1 Unquestionably Paine was influenced to some degree by his acquaintance with the religion of his father, for the Quakers were pioneers in many humanitarian enterprises, including anti-slavery, women's rights and prison reform. Undoubtedly, too, by revealing to Paine a harmonious and universal order guided by divinely-created law, Newtonian science greatly influenced his political and religious thinking. But life itself was an extremely important teacher. During the first thirty-seven years of his life he saw enough misery in England, enough of the contrast between the affluence of the upper classes and the poverty and suffering of the masses to influence his thinking for the remainder of his days.
In the England of his youth and manhood Paine saw the vicious effects of the enclosure system which threw thousands of small, independent farmers into the cities and transformed them from independent yeomanry to landless factory workers and agricultural laborers. All about him he saw thousands struggling in the midst of misery and degradation to eke out an existence, and daily passed "ragged and hungry children, and persons of seventy and eighty years of age, begging in the streets." He knew too from his own intolerably inadequate salary how difficult it was to secure even a subsistence living standard at a time when commodity prices were soaring and wages remained practically stationary. He also noticed the vicious operations of the poor laws which almost reduced workers to serfs, witnessed the brutality of the savage criminal code and observed how it was directed chiefly against the lower classes. Nor could he help noticing the burdens imposed upon the poor by the Anglican Church with its tithes and privileges, the role that family influence played in English politics, the inequalities of the rotten-borough system (in Thetford alone thirty-one persons elected two members of the House of Commons), and the corruption that characterized government administration.
These experiences left their mark upon Paine. Himself a working man, he was to use his pen, time and again, in an effort to improve the status of the laboring classes. Indeed, his earliest known prose composition and his first important pamphlet, The Case of the Officers of Excise, was written to achieve this purpose. In 1772 he was chosen by excisemen to address Parliament in their behalf requesting higher wages. After the pamphlet was written, Paine spent the winter of 1772-73 trying to influence members of Parliament to grant the underpaid excisemen an increase of wages. Regarded as a trouble-maker by the authorities for attempting to organize his fellow excisemen, he was dismissed from the service.
Paine lost his government job on April 8, 1774. A week later he was forced to sell his shop and possessions to escape imprisonment for debt. Having tasted the bitter dregs of British tyranny long enough, Paine decided to begin life all over again in the New World. He left England in October, 1774, and on November 30 landed in America bearing a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin whom he had approached in London. Franklin's letter to his son-in-law, Richard Bache, recommended Paine as "an ingenious worthy young man," who might make good in Philadelphia as "a clerk, or assistant tutor in a school, or assistant surveyor."
Arriving in America armed with Franklin's letter, Paine speedily obtained
employment with Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia printer. Soon he became the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine which Aitken had started with very little success to publish. On March 4, 1775, the man who had left England branded as a ne'er-do-well wrote a joyful letter to his benefactor. "Your countenancing me," he informed Franklin, "has obtained for me many friends and much reputation . . . I have been applied to by several gentlemen to instruct their sons . . . and a printer and bookseller here, a man of reputation and property, Robert Aitken, . . . has applied to me for assistance. He had not above six hundred subscribers when I first assisted him. We now have upwards of fifteen hundred and daily increasing . . ."
For eighteen months, beginning with the second number in February, 1775, Paine served as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, and during this time he published enough important articles in this and other journals to be remembered as a significant figure in American history, even if he had never written anything else. A few weeks after his arrival in America, Paine wrote an article entitled, "African Slavery in America," which ranks as the best of the early attacks upon slavery in this country. Paine put the enslavement of the Negro people on a level with "murder, robbery, lewdness, and barbarity," and called upon Americans immediately to "discontinue and renounce it, with grief and abhorrence." When the article was printed on March 8, 1775, Paine gained a wide reputation for his liberal views, and won for himself the friendship of Dr. Benjamin Rush and other important figures in literary and philosophical circles.
The time was ripe for the activity of a lover of liberty when Paine arrived in America. The struggle between England and her colonies had been raging since 1763, and the very atmosphere breathed revolutionary slogans. In his early articles for the Pennsylvania Magazine, however, Paine did not deal with any of the pressing political problems confronting the colonists in their quarrel with the mother country. In part this was due to the insistence of his timid publisher, for Aitken was determined not to antagonize any wealthy subscribers who viewed the revolutionary movement with alarm. But it was also due to Paine's belief that it was still possible to reconcile the differences between England and her colonies. Soon a rush of events showed him the futility of this outlook. On April 19, 1775, the battle of Lexington and Concord was fought, an event which convinced Paine that "all plans, proposals, etc.," to settle the conflict by compromise were "like the almanacks of the last year; which though proper then, are superceded and useless now." And on June 15 Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental army. A day later the battle of Bunker Hill occurred.
Moved by these and other events of a similar nature, Paine started to use his pen to aid the revolutionary movement. On September 16, 1775, he published a poem in the Pennsylvania Evening Post entitled, "The Liberty Tree," the last stanza of which attacked the king as well as Parliament and issued a call
From the East to the West blow the trumpet to arms, Thro' the land let the sound of it flee: Let the far and the near all unite with a cheer, In defense of our Liberty Tree.
But Paine was already forming the outlines of a much more important call to arms, for he discovered that poetry was not enough to convince men in high circles that it was time to open a "new system" in America. He was determined to change "the sentiments of the people from dependence to Independence and from the monarchial to the republican form of government . . ." This was no simple task to accomplish. While the mass of the artisans, mechanics and day-laborers in the urban centres and many small farmers in the rural districts were prepared for such a step, many of the members of the colonial aristocracy were by no means ready to follow Paine down the road leading to Independence and Republicanism. Independence, they feared, would bring to an end the rule of the upper classes in America, and Republicanism signified nothing less than anarchy and mob-rule. Better to tolerate the tyranny of the British government, they reasoned, than to chance the dangers of a democratic upheaval in America.
Paine moved quickly to meet and overcome these fears and hesitations. In a short article, "A Serious Thought," published in the Pennsylvania Journal on October 18, 1775, he sharply projected the idea of independence. Discussing the barbaric conduct of the British in India and criticizing England for her treatment of the Indians in America band for having "employed herself in the most horrid of all traffics,' that bof human flesh . . . [and] ravaged the hapless shore of Africa, robbing it of its unoffending inhabitants to cultivate her stolen dominions in the West," he went on to say: "When I reflect on these, I hesitate not for a moment to believe that the Almighty will finally separate America from Britain. Call it Independence or what you will, if it is the cause of God and humanity it will go on."
In December, 1775, Paine showed the manuscript of a pamphlet he had finished to David Rittenhouse and Dr. Benjamin Rush, and the latter, according to his own account, suggested to him the title for the work and found a publisher, Robert Bell, with sufficient courage to print it. The work came off the press on January 10, 1776. It was entitled Common Sense.
Paine was not the first person to advocate independence in America; John Adams had done so, for example, even before Common Sense was published. Nevertheless, the influence and power of this fifty-page pamphlet can hardly be exaggerated. "With the publication of Common Sense in January 1776," writes John C. Miller in his Origins of the American Revolution (p. 468), "Tom Paine broke the ice that was slowly congealing the revolutionary movement." And Evarts B. Greene, the distinguished historian of the Revolutionary era, observes in his recently-published study, The Revolutionary Generation (p. 209), "Thomas Paine's Common Sense, more than any other single piece of writing, set Americans to thinking of the possibility and desirability of an independent place among the nations."
Written in simple, plain, and direct language easily read and understood
by all, Common Sense became overnight a best-seller; shortly after its publication almost a half a million copies were sold, and many of its most trenchant paragraphs were reprinted in newspapers all over the country. Soon the common people were quoting sections from the booklet which hammered home the need for separation, held up hereditary monarchy to contempt, denounced the British ruling classes for exploiting the lower classes in America and in England, and urged the colonies to declare themselves free and independent states so that they might establish in America a haven of refuge for the oppressed peoples of Europe. More cautious and conservative Americans quoted other sections, particularly the arguments Paine advanced in support of a declaration of independence: the prospect that by independence America could remain aloof from the European conflicts into which she was constantly being drawn by her connection with the British Empire; the possibilities of enormous markets in all of Europe for merchants and farmers once the restrictions imposed by the British on American economic life were broken, and the great certainty of obtaining foreign aid in the war for independence.2 Shortly after reading the booklet many upper class Americans who had hesitated to support independence for fear of meeting the power of the British singlehanded and did not yet clearly see the advantages of separation, declared with Washington that they were ready "to shake off all connections with a state so unjust and unnatural."
Terrified by the influence of Paine's booklet, the Tories sought frantically to nullify its effects upon the people. Several answers to Paine's "artful, insidious, and pernicious" work were published, the most important attack consisting of a series of letters signed "Cato," which were first printed in the Philadelphia Gazette beginning in April, 1776. Paine immediately wrote four letters in reply, known as The Forester's Letters, in which he expanded and amplified many of the arguments he had first advanced in favor of independence in Common Sense. Widely reprinted in contemporary newspapers, these articles strengthened the popular demand for immediate independence. This demand in turn influenced the appointment on June 28 by the Continental Congress of a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence.
Although primarily absorbed during these exciting months with the battle
against tyranny abroad, Paine did not entirely ignore the struggle for democracy in America. Together with Benjamin Franklin and other progressive leaders in Pennsylvania, he assisted in mobilizing the popular forces for the enactment of a liberal state constitution. Supported by the Philadelphia artisans and the western farmers, these men gradually swept away all vestiges of aristocratic rule in the state. Drawn up by Paine and Franklin, the Pennsylvania constitution, adopted late in 1776, provided for universal suffrage, democratic representation, complete religious freedom, and a unicameral legislature, elected annually. It was by far the most advanced state constitution adopted during the American Revolution, and Paine took pride in his part in shaping the document, although he later questioned the wisdom of a unicameral legislature.3#3
But Paine was doing more than writing Constitutions. In August, 1776, he
joined the Pennsylvania Associators as voluntary secretary to General Roberdeau and, on September 19 was appointed aide-de-camp to General Greene who was at Fort Lee in New Jersey. By this time Washington's army, badly defeated in the battle of Long Island, was retreating toward New Jersey and, in November and December streamed across the state in disorderly fashion toward Philadelphia. It was a dark hour for the American cause. Morale in the army and on the home front was at its lowest ebb; a feeling prevailed that the enemy was invincible and that the war might as well end now. Naturally, the Tory speakers and newspapers emphasized that there was no hope for America other than in capitulation, and the flight of Congress from Philadelphia to Baltimore made these arguments seem plausible.
Seated by a campfire near Newark, New Jersey, Paine started work on an appeal to the people in this hour of crisis. When he was finished, he rushed to Philadelphia and published in the Pennsylvania Journal of December 19, 1776, his Crisis I, and almost immediately it was issued in three pamphlet editions. His opening words in these days of adversity, "These are the times that try men's souls," rang out like a bugle and heartened the little band of patriots left with Washington. The soldiers who heard the words of Paine's great document-Washington ordered it read to his men-were inspired to face the floes, a blizzard and the swift current of the Delaware River on Christmas Eve and achieve the victory at Trenton which gave the Americans new courage.
Between 1776 and 1783 Paine published thirteen numbered essays and three extra numbers of The Crisis papers, each one signed "Common Sense." All were perfectly timed and perfectly adapted to the needs of the time. Did Lord Howe issue a proclamation urging Americans to negotiate a peace? Paine immediately answered him, exposed his proposal and attacked his Tory sympathizers in America. Did the Conway Cabal seek to oust Washington? Paine rushed to press to counteract this conspiracy. Did England send over a Commission for the purpose of winning the Americans away from the French? Paine issued a Crisis pamphlet which thoroughly ridiculed the negotiated peace ove tures and was influential in compelling the Commission to return to
England empty-handed. Was there a danger that the war would be lost because of financial difficulties? Paine published his Crisis Extraordinary to prove that it would cost more to submit than to support the war financially. "Can it then be a question," he concluded after estimating the costs of defending the country and governing it after the war as two and three-quarters millions sterling, "whether it is better to raise two millions to defend the country, and govern it ourselves, and only three quarters of a million afterwards, or pay six millions to have it conquered and let the enemy govern it?" Finally, did it appear that the American victory would be rendered valueless by the absence of a strong union? Paine reminded the people that they could not help but "be strongly impressed with the advantage, as well as the necessity of strengthening that happy union which has been our salvation."
Reprinted in most of the northern papers and in some of those in the
South, the Crisis enormously aided the American cause and contributed to no small extent to ultimate victory. George Washington, Robert Morris, and Robert R. Livingston wrote early in 1782 that Paine had been "of considerable utility to the common cause by several of his Publications," and secured from Congress a salary of $800 a year to enable him to continue to use his "abilities" in "informing the People and rousing them into action."
In addition to "informing the people and rousing them into action," Paine held various posts in the national and state governments during the war. In 1777 Congress appointed him secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, in which capacity he did much to obtain supplies, a large loan and military assistance from France. The fact that his services were appreciated moved him deeply. In a letter recently discovered, he wrote Franklin in Paris, on October 24, 177(8: "I have the pleasure of being respected and I feel a little of that satisfactory kind of pride that tells me I have some right to it." 4
A month after this letter was written Paine became involved in a
controversy with Silas Deane that abruptly brought his pleasure to an end, caused a torrent of abuse and defamation to be heaped on his head, and ultimately cost him his job as secretary to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The crux of the debate between Paine and Silas Deane centered on the question whether the supplies furnished the United States by France before the Franco-American alliance of 1778, through Caron de Beaumarchais, adventurer and playwright, were a gift from the king of France or comprised a loan to the United States. Deane, attempting to profit personally from French aid to the United States and, as it was established later, had conspired with the British (for a considerable sum) against the American Revolution, maintained that the transactions were of a purely commercial nature and demanded payment of a five percent commission on purchases made for the American government. Paine supporting the position of Arthur Lee, also American Commissioner to France, charged that Deane was simply conspiring to defraud Congress of money. On December 14, 1778, in a letter To Silas Deane, Esq're, in the Pennsylvania Packet, Paine launched his public attack upon Deane. Answers from Deane's supporters followed, and Paine was compelled to continue the controversy. As he did so, however, he was also forced, to prove his contentions, to quote from secret documents to which he had access as secretary of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Soon afterwards he had to resign his post owing to the opposition of those in Congress, who feared that his revelations jeopardized the alliance with France, as well as of those who considered Paine entirely too radical and believed he should never have been appointed in the first place. Gouverneur Morris, archconservative, told Congress that it was unseemly that the office of Secretary of Foreign Affairs should be held by "a mere adventurer from England, without fortune, without family or connexions, ignorant even of grammar."
Paine's resignation did not end the controversy over Silas Deane. For many months articles on the subject appeared daily in the Philadelphia press. Most of them were printed over pseudonyms, but it is known that Paine, Arthur Lee, Richard Henry Lee, and Timothy Matlock penned those denouncing Deane, while Deane, Robert Morris, Matthew Clarkson, William Duer, and Gouverneur Morris spoke for the opposition. As the war of words continued other issues emerged, though in many ways they were related to the general question at issue. Paine had entered the controversy over Deane not merely because he wished to save Congress money, but also because he felt that the type of profiteering disclosed by Deane's conduct was too general in the country and endangered the revolutionary cause. He developed this theme in articles to the press after his resignation, pointing particularly to Robert Morris whose firm held important public contracts while he was conducting congressional business, and who was associated with Silas Deane in personal as well as governmental transactions.5 Paine publicly attacked Morris for his business associations with Deane, suggested that the State legislatures investigate such activities by all former and present delegates to Congress, and expressed the hope that the Pennsylvania legislature would take the lead.
It is clear, therefore, that what started out as a debate over the role of an American Commissioner to France had become a struggle between radicals and conservatives in Pennsylvania. Here the wealthy merchants and professional aristocrats had been organizing since early in 1777 to overthrow the democratic State Constitution which committed the cardinal sin of allowing the common people according to their number a voice in their government. But the friends of the Constitution-mechanics and small farmers-also were organized to defend their charter of liberty. Paine, spokesman for the city artisans and mechanics, took his stand with the friends of the constitution he had helped to write. In articles to the press he defended the document and attacked those who sought to deprive the people of their democratic rights.6
Paine also spoke for the people, especially the artisans, in his articles denouncing monopolizing practices which caused the cost of living to soar and were responsible for reducing the morale of workers who found it difficult to secure wage-increases. He was present at a mass meeting held on the 27th of May in the State House yard where a series of resolutions were adopted denouncing combinations "for raising the prices of goods and provisions." He also served on a Committee of Inspection before which leading merchants suspected of unscrupulous business methods were forced to appear.
In the State elections which took place on October 12, 1779, the Constitutionalists won a resounding victory and, as a reward for his part in arousing popular support for the Constitution, the new Assembly elected Paine its Clerk. Actually, his position was more important than the name implies, for he was the close friend and advisor of Assembly leaders and influenced important legislation.
In his new position Paine soon had an opportunity to see one of his dreams realized. Late in 1775, in his short article entitled "A Serious Thought," he had looked forward to the day when God "shall have blest us, and made us a people dependent only upon Him, then may our 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." Five years later, as Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Paine wrote the "Pre-amble to the Act Passed by the Pennsylvania Assembly March 1, 1780," which provided for the gradual emancipation of Negro slaves in the state. It was the first legislative measure passed in America for the emancipation of slaves.
While serving as Clerk, Paine was called upon to read to the Assembly Washington's appeal, dated May 28, 1780, for assistance to pay, feed and clothe his troops. "I assure you," Washington wrote in this letter, "every idea you can form of our distresses will fall short of the reality. There is such a combination of circumstances to exhaust the patience of the soldiery that it begins at length to be worn out, and we see in every line of the army the most serious features of mutiny and sedition." Paine did not forget this appeal after he finished reading. Leaving the assembly hall he drew out one thousand dollars due him on salary, sent five hundred dollars to Blair McClenaghan, a prominent merchant, and included a plea for the men of wealth to rally to aid the cause. "I feel the utmost concern," Paine wrote, "that the fairest cause that men ever engaged in, and with the fairest prospect of success should now be sunk so low, and that not from any new ability in the enemy but from a wilful neglect and decay of every species of public spirit in ourselves." He went on to point out that much financial assistance could not be expected from the artisans and small farmers, since it was "now hard time with many poor people." It remained, therefore, for the wealthy to fill the gap, which they should rush to do for "as it is the rich that will suffer most by the ravages of an Enemy it is not only duty but true policy to do something spirited." He hoped his five hundred dollars- "and if that is not sufficient I will add 500 more"-would inaugurate a movement to rescue the cause in this dark hour. He was willing to bury all past political differences and cooperate with any patriotic society "no matter who may complete it." 7 Acting upon Paine's suggestion, several wealthy merchants and bankers in Philadelphia, with Robert Morris at their head, started the Bank of Pennsylvania to supply the army with provisions.
Undoubtedly Paine's action in this crisis marked a change in his attitude toward men like Morris whom he had publicly denounced only a few months before. It does not, however, mark, as some writers have asserted, the beginning of a conservative trend in Paine's thinking. The simple fact is that the author of Common Sense had enough common sense to realize that the American Revolution could not be successful un- less all classes willing to support the war were united, and he did not exclude men of wealth from this unity. Paine fully appreciated what Washington had meant when he wrote that everything had to give way to the primary task of winning the war-factional disputes, class antagonisms, even personal quarrels. "The present situation of our public affairs," the commander-in-chief once observed, "affords abundant causes of distress, we should be very careful how we aggravate or multiply them, by private bickerings. . . . All little differences and animosities, calculated to increase the unavoidable evils of the times, should be forgotten, or at least postponed." 8 Paine was not merely willing to forget or postpone but even to cooperate with his former enemies to rescue "the fairest cause that Men ever engaged in."
National unity meant unity among the states as well as among different classes. Paine, therefore, turned his attention late in 1780 to the problem of eliminating state antagonisms and rivalries in the hope that he could convince them to cooperate for the well-being of the entire nation. The immediate issue that aroused his attention was the delay in the ratification of the Articles of Confederation because of a conflict over claims to land in the west. Congress had adopted the Articles on November 17, 1777, and submitted them to the several states for ratification. Maryland, having definite western limits, refused to ratify the new frame of government until Virginia ceded her claims to western land to the national government.
Paine's pamphlet, Public Good, published in Philadelphia on December 30, 1780, demolished Virginia's claims to land in the west, contended that the land should belong not to the individual states but to the United States because they had been secured by the united effort of all the states during the war, and concluded by calling for a stronger central government. He urged the convening of "a continental convention, for the purpose of forming a continental constitution, defining and describing the powers and authority of Congress."
Two years later, in 1782-83, Paine spoke out again for a stronger central government and once again emphasized the need to adhere to "the principle of union," which he correctly regarded as "our magna charta-our anchor in the world of empires." In an effort to obtain a revenue to carry on the war Congress proposed a five-per-cent duty on imported articles, the money to be used to pay the interest on loans to be made in Holland. Unanimous consent of the states was necessary to grant Congress the power to levy this duty, and, when Rhode Island refused her assent an impasse was created. In this situation Paine once again demonstrated his grasp of the needs of the time by publishing a series of letters addressed to the people of Rhode Island urging them to consent to the five-per-cent impost plan. Signing himself "A Friend to Rhode Island and the Union," he reminded his readers that all the embarrassments faced by the new Republic "are ascribable to the loose and almost disjointed condition of the Union. . . ." We need "to talk less about our independence," he argued, "and more about our union." Independence without a strong union would be meaningless, for "the union of America is the foundation-stone of her independence; the rock on which it is built." It was "the great Palladium of our liberty and
To bring this message to the people of Rhode Island, Paine even went to the trouble to visit the state at his own expense. He made the trip in the dead of winter on a horse he borrowed from a friend in New Jersey. Unfortunately neither his presence nor his letters to the Providence Gazette produced any effect and he was forced to leave the state without accomplishing anything.
It is clear that Paine was among the first to point out, even before the American Revolution was over, the need for a stronger central government to replace the weak Articles of Confederation. Little wonder, therefore, that in later years he was enraged to discover the Federalists claiming for themselves the sole distinction of having favored a stronger central government to take the place of the Articles of Confederation. He observed in 1802 that if "by Federalist is to be understood one who was for cementing the Union by a general government operating equally over all the States, in all matters that embraced the common interest,... I ought to stand first on the list of Federalist!' For had he not as early as 1780 and 1782 recognized that "the continental belt was too loosely buckled"?
At the end of the Revolution Paine found himself poverty-stricken. In a moving memorial to Congress, endorsed by Washington, he set forth his services to America and begged for financial assistance. His revolutionary writings had circulated widely, but he had not profited from their sale. Indeed, he had contributed from his own pocket to; make them available to as wide a reading public as possible. Referring to the phenomenal distribution of Common Sense, Paine wrote in his memorial :
"As my wish was to serve an oppressed people, and assist in a
just and good cause, I conceived that the honor of it would be promoted by my declining to make even the usual profits of an author, by the publication, and therefore I gave up the profits of the first edition into the hands of Col. Joseph Deane and Mr. Thomas Pryor both of the city of Philadelphia to be disposed of by them in any public service or private charity. After this I printed six thousand at my own expense and directed Mr. Bradford to sell them at the. price of the printing and paper. It may, perhaps, be said, that as I had made a dangerous step, it was my interest to make it as little so as possible by promoting by every means, the success of the principle on which my own safety rested, but this would be an uncandid way of accounting for public spirit and conduct." 10
Yet for all his public spirit and conduct he faced a desperate future. "I cannot help viewing my situation as singularly inconvenient," he frankly informed Congress. "Trade I do not understand. Land I have none, or what is equal to none. I have exiled myself from one country without making a home of another; and I cannot help sometimes asking myself, what am I better off than a refugee, and that of the most extraordinary kind, a refugee from the country I have obliged and served, to that which can owe me no good will."
Paine's enemies in Congress were still too powerful and the memorial was buried. Fortunately, two states came to his aid. Pennsylvania gave him -L-500 in cash, and New York presented him with a confiscated Loyalist farm at New Rochelle, the last grant being recommended because "his literary works, and those especially under the signature of Common Sense, and the Crisis, inspired the citizens of this state with unanimity, confirmed their confidence in the rectitude of their cause, and have ultimately contributed to the freedom, sovereignty, and independence of the United States." He remained on his farm and in the village of Bordentown, New Jersey until 1787, devoting most of his time to inventions such as an iron bridge without piers, and a smokeless candle. These were years when he could truly say, "the natural bent of my mind was to science."
Yet he could not remain entirely aloof from the political scene. Independence did not overnight usher in the era of national prosperity Paine had predicted in Common Sense. A few men, to be sure, made money through speculation and investments, but the mass of the small farmers and city mechanics found it difficult to make ends meet. The dumping of British goods on the American market caused a serious amount of unemployment in urban areas. In the rural districts the farmers faced foreclosures and imprisonment for debt.
In every state the small farmers organized a campaign to obtain paper money and stay laws. Pennsylvania was no exception. Here, however, the battle for paper money legislation merged into a movement to revoke the charter of the Bank of North America which had grown out of the Bank of Pennsylvania founded by Paine, Robert Morris and a group of merchants in 1780. The back-country farmers feared that it would be valueless to obtain paper money legislation if the bank was still in existence, for if the institution refused to accept paper money on the same terms as specie, the public would have no faith in the bills. Accordingly, a bill to repeal the bank's charter was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature and by April 4, 1786, passed its second reading.
The pro-bank forces now rallied to defeat the repeal bill. James Wilson wrote a pamphlet supporting the bank, but the material was so heavy and couched in such complicated legal terminology that it had little popular appeal. This was the situation when Paine's Dissertations on Government, The Affairs of the Ban\, and Paper Money came off the press in February, 1786.
Paine was reluctant to enter the controversy over the bank. "It was my intention/' he wrote to his "Old Friend," Daniel Clymer, in September, 1786, "at the conclusion of the war to have laid down the pen and satisfied myself with silently beholding the prosperity of my country, in whose difficulties I had done my share, and in the raising of which, to an independent Empire, I had added my mite . . ." l1
Paine did not join in the popular agitation conducted by the backcountry farmers in favor of paper money legislation and in opposition to the bank, because he believed that these measures were unwise and harmful to the general well-being of the country. He felt that the bank was essential for commercial development in Pennsylvania and that its services were indispensable for the growth of the state. To destroy a financial institution did not seem to him to be either progressive or necessary. "The whole community," he wrote in his Dissertations, "derives benefit from the operation of the bank . . ." As for paper money, it was nothing more than an unjust balm for those debtors who were determined to steal by depreciation "the widow's dowry and children's portion." In any event, neither a legislature nor the people had the right to revoke certain kinds of economic contracts agreed to by a preceding legislature and another party. This, however, did not mean that a contract could last forever. A legislature could not grant a contract forever, for the simple reason that the present generation could no more bind its children to economic contracts than it could set up a government for posterity.
Paine knew that by joining the pro-bank forces he would invite the charge that he had sold out the people. Such charges were made. A representative from the West referred to him as "an unprincipled author, who let his pen out for hire," and a writer who called himself "Atticus" attacked him as a turn-coat, adding: "I cannot conceive in the wide extent of creation, a being more deserving of our abhorrence and contempt, than a writer, who having formerly vindicated the principles of freedom, abandons them to abet the cause of a faction, who exerts the little talent which Heaven has alloted him, . . . to vilify measures which it is his duty to respect, and . . . [devotes] his pen to the ruin of his country."
These attacks did not halt Paine in his determination to fight the battle to the bitter end, and his will was strengthened by the realization that if the farmers had turned against him the city mechanics and artisans as well as merchants and bankers supported him. The urban workers also opposed paper money legislation fearing the effects of inflation on their living standards and favored the continued existence of the bank as essential for business expansion which meant employment opportunities. In a series of letters to the Philadelphia papers Paine attacked the repeal of the bank's charter and called for its restoration.12 In the fall elections of 1786 Paine's position was upheld by a majority of the voters. A few months later the bank's charter was restored.
In April, 1787, Paine left for Europe to promote his plan to build a single-arch bridge across the Schuylkill river in Philadelphia. He expected to remain abroad no more than a year and to spend most of his time in France where engineering was best understood. He met Jefferson in France, was hailed as a friend of Franklin and a distinguished writer and became acquainted with leading scientists and political liberals. The Academy of Science appointed a committee to study the plans for his bridge and, after an investigation this body reported that "Mr. Paine's Plan of an Iron Bridge is ingeniously imagined, that the construction of it is simple, solid, and proper to give it the necessary strength for resisting the effects resulting from its burden, and that it is deserving of a trial . . ." The report was presented on August 29th. The next day Paine left for England.
In the land of his birth Paine visited his aged mother at Thetford, met and was enthusiastically received by Charles Fox, Lord Landsdowne, Lord Shelburne and Edmund Burke, and began to make plans for the construction of his bridge. But soon he was thinking less and less about his bridge and more and more about the exciting events in France. 13 Science, after all, could not flourish without democracy.
The news of the French Revolution filled Paine with joy. But he was not surprised. He had never regarded the American Revolution as a local affair, "but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected." In his celebrated Letter to the Abbe Raynal, published in 1782, Paine had predicted that the American Revolution would influence England and France until "every corner of the mind is swept of its cobwebs, poison and dust, and made fit for the reception of generous happiness."
Paine spent four months in France at the invitation of Lafayette and Condorcet. He gave advice on the formation of a constitution, aided in drawing up the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and witnessed the uprisings to overthrow despotism and feudal privileges. His heart "leaped with joy" when he received from Lafayette the key of the Bastille for presentation to Washington. "That the principles of America opened the Bastille," he wrote in his letter forwarding the key, "is not to be doubted, and therefore the Key comes to the right place."
Even when he returned to England, Paine's mind was still riveted on events across the channel. He continued to send Lafayette suggestions to be incorporated in the new government, and reported on reactions in England to developments in France. "Here is a courtly and an aristocratical hatred against the principles of the French Revolution . . . ," he wrote to William Short, American representative in France, from London early in June, 1790.14
In the fall of 1790 Paine returned to Paris where he mingled again with Brissot, Condorcet, Lafayette and other leaders of the Revolution. A business crisis seat him back again to England. In November he began work on his greatest pamphlet, The Rights of Man, in answer to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution which appeared on November 1, 1790.
Burke's speech "On Reconciliation with America" in 1775 had aroused Paine's admiration for the man who was considered America's greatest English friend. His personal contacts with Burke in England after the American Revolution increased this feeling, and he considered him "a friend to mankind." But he was both terribly shocked and speedily disillusioned after he read Burke's vicious denunciation of the French Revolution in his parliamentary speech on February 9, 1790. Soon after this Paine saw an advertisement of the forthcoming publication of Burke's pamphlet, and promised his friends in France that whenever it appeared he would answer it.15
Paine finished the pamphlet in February, 1791, and turned it over to a friend, Johnson, to have it published. After a few copies were issued, this publisher became frightened. Paine then gave the pamphlet to a committee consisting of William Godwin, Thomas Holcroft, and Thomas Hollis, and left for France. From Paris he forwarded a preface for the English edition, and the work appeared on March 13, 1791. The pamphlet sold for three shillings, the same price as Burke's Reflections, and it was believed in Tory circles that this expensive format would give it a limited circulation.
The pamphlet immediately gained a wide circulation. Within a few weeks the book sold fifty thousand copies, and on April 5th, Sir Samuel Romilly wrote to a friend in France that "in the course of a fortnight it has gone through three editions; and, what I own has a good deal surprised me, has made converts of many persons who were before enemies to the revolution." The Society for Constitutional Information and other popular societies in England, to whose support Paine gave the large income from the sale, distributed the book all over the British Isles. Soon Englishmen were quoting passages from the Rights of Man with as much fervor as Americans had once recited sections from Common Sense. Workers, small farmers and liberal members of the middle and upper class used Paine's words to deny Burke's contention of the right of the Parliament of 1688 to bind posterity forever to their settlement, to defend the French Revolution, and many even quoted him to urge Englishmen to follow the example set by their brothers across the channel.
While popular societies in England sang Paine's praises, toasted his name and adopted resolutions thanking him for his "most masterly book," the author himself was busy in France fighting for Republicanism. Louis XVI had been intercepted in his flight to join the royalist emigres and had been brought back to Paris. On July 1, 1791, Paine and Achille Duchatelet placarded the streets of Paris with a manifesto which denounced the king and monarchy and boldly proclaimed that the time had come to establish a republic. A few days later Paine published in Le Re'publicain, which he and Condorcet had founded, an attack on the monarchy. He elaborated his attack on the monarchy in a public letter to the Abbe Sieyes, who had replied to Paine's article and had advocated the retention of the king.
Paine returned to England on July 13, 1791. A month later he issued his Address and Declaration of the Friends of Universal Peace and Liberty in which he again defended the French Revolution. "We have nothing to apprehend from the poor; for we are pleading their cause," he wrote. "And we fear not proud oppression, for we have truth on our side. We say, and we repeat it, that the French Revolution opens to the world an opportunity in which all good citizens must rejoice-that of promoting the general happiness of man."
After the appearance of Burke's reply to the first part of Rights of Man, entitled An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, Paine started work on Part II of his great book. It was more of an exposition of Paine's principles of government and society than a reply to Burke and, as Vernon L. Parrington has pointed out, was "the maturest elaboration of Paine's political philosophy. . . ." In this work Paine analyzed the basic reasons for discontent in contemporary society and offered his remedy for the misery he saw all about him.
"When in countries that we call civilized," he writes, "we see age going to the workhouse and youth to the gallows, something must be wrong in the system of government." "Why is it," he asks, "that scarcely any are executed but the poor"? Poverty and an evil environment-"lack of education for the young and a decent livelihood for the old" -were the reasons" for this unfortunate state of affairs, and these conditions prevailed because the government failed to provide for the happiness of the people. In England, of course, one could not expect the government to act otherwise, for it consisted only of representatives of special privileges and special interests. "No better reason can be given," he declares, "why the house of legislature should be composed entirely of men whose occupations is in letting landed property than why it should be composed of those who hire, or brewers, or bakers, or of any other separate class of men."
Paine did not confine himself to advocating a reform in the composition of the government. He outlined a plan for popular education, for the relief of the poor, for pensions for aged people, for donations, or premiums, to be given for births and marriages, together with an allowance for funeral expenses of people dying out of work and away from their friends, and for State employment and lodging-houses to aid unemployed workingmen.
To raise a revenue for the operation of his plan, Paine proposed the levying of a progressive income tax. Not only would this secure the funds necessary for the proper functioning of the government, but it would bring about the abolition of primogeniture which was both "unnatural and unjust" and a great waste of the national wealth.
In Part II of the Rights of Man Paine also outlined his suggestions for peaceful and harmonious relations among nations to render wars unnecessary. He advocated the signing of a treaty between England, France, the United States and Holland under which no new ships were to be built by any of the signers, while their existing naval establishments were to be reduced one-half of their existing strength. "If men will permit themselves," he wrote, "to think as rational beings ought to think, nothing can appear more ridiculous and absurd . . . than to be at the expense of building navies, filling them with men, and then hauling them out into the ocean to see which can sink each other the fastest." Thus though not the first Paine was one of the earliest advocates of an international association of nations to outlaw war.16 He was also one of the first to prophesy, as he does in Part II of Rights of Man, "the independence of South America, and the opening of those countries of immense extent and wealth to the general commerce of the world."
Part Two had a phenomenal circulation. Thirty thousand copies were distributed by the political clubs at their own expense among the poor. Although living in poverty Paine turned over to the London Constitutional Society the thousand pounds which he had received from royalties, enabling it to distribute the book even more widely. Not only did he arrange for the printing of a cheap edition because the original cost too much, thereby preventing it from reaching the common people, but he even gave up the copyright to the public. At least one hundred thousand copies of the cheap edition were sold in England, Ireland and Scotland.
The influence of Rights of Man was by no means confined to England. In America, for example, it became the book of the hour, greatly influenced the rise of the Democratic-Republican Societies, and in turn was scattered broadcast throughout the country by these popular clubs.17 Thomas Jefferson welcomed the book as an antidote to the "political heresies" of the reactionary Federalists and, when attacked for upholding Paine's principles, wrote that he merited the same censure visited upon the author of Rights of Man, "for I profess the same principles." Philip Freneau, editor and poet of the Jeffersonian movement, ran excerpts from Paine's work in his National Gazette, and proudly announced on May 31,1792, as his reason that "there is no American newspaper but might, with credit to itself, now and then occupy part of a column with extracts from a work that so forcibly inculcates the genuine principles of natural and equal liberty." Freneau even wrote a poem entitled "Lines Occasioned by Reading Mr. Paine's Rights of Man," in which he assured the author that America would "Remain the guardian of the Rights of Man."
In the meantime in England a storm was breaking over Paine's head. As Paine himself pointed out later, the first part of Rights of Man was met by the government with "profound silence," because they "beheld it as an unexpected gale that would soon blow over." When the Second Part appeared, they tried at first to follow the same course, but their silence had no "influence in stifling the progress of the work." As long, however, that it was published in an expensive edition they were not too worried. But when it began to be distributed in cheap editions at cost, the attitude changed. From "that moment," wrote Paine, "and not before, I expected a prosecution, and the event has proved that I was not mistaken."
There is more to the story. At first Premier Pitt tried to prevent the publication of Part II by bribing the publisher. When this failed, the government sponsored and paid for the publication of a slanderous biography of Paine. Then the press began to raise the false bogey of Jacobinism and instituted a cry against seditious doctrines said to be circulated by emissaries from France who were bribed by "Paris Gold" to overthrow British institutions. Mobs were inspired to burn Paine in effigy; individuals were instructed to wear boots whose hobnails were marked "T.P.," so that they could trample upon Paine and his principles, and a great outcry was organized against "the notorious Tom Paine." A Royal Proclamation against seditious writings was issued on May 21, 1792, and on June 8 Paine himself was charged with sedition and his trial was set for December18.
While British royalty was persecuting Paine, the French nation hailed him as their champion and claimed him for herself. During the first week of September he was elected to represent. Calais, Oise, Somme, and Puy de Dome in the National Assembly. "Come, friend of the people," they wrote him, "to swell the number of patriots in an assembly which will decide the destiny of the human race. The happy period you have predicted for the nation has arrived. Come! do not deceive their hopes."
On September 12 Paine made a revolutionary speech to the society of the "Friends of Liberty." The next day, warned by the poet William Blake to flee at once to avoid arrest, Paine went to Dover. There he was able to get by the customs officials and depart for France by showing a letter from Washington. Twenty minutes after he got out to sea the authorities arrived to arrest him. He left behind in the hands of a customs officer at Dover "a printed proof copy" of his Letter to the Addressers which he wrote in the summer of 1792 in reply to the charges of seditious libel. In this pamphlet he boldly proceeded to inform his persecutors :
"If to expose the fraud and imposition of monarchy and every species of hereditary government-to lessen the oppression of taxes-to propose plans for the education of helpless infancy, and the comfortable support of the aged and distressed-to endeavor to conciliate nations to each other-to extirpate the horrid practice of war-to promote universal peace, civilization, and commerce-and to break the chains of political superstition, and raise degraded man to his proper rank;-if these things be libellous, let me live the life of a libeller, and let the name of libeler be engraven on my tomb!"
On December 18 Paine's Rights of Man was prosecuted in England. The author was found guilty of seditious libel before a pensioned judge and a packed jury in London. Since the defendant was absent, the English ruling classes had to content themselves with outlawing him.
The defendant at this very time was receiving a rousing reception in France. Soon after his arrival at Calais, Paine took his seat in the Convention. He speedily discovered that much had happened in France since his last visit to the country, and much of what had happened he could not understand.
In England Paine was associated with the extreme Left, but in France his associates were already becoming the Right. The Girondists, with whom Paine was associated, represented the bourgeoisie of France who viewed the Revolution as their property to be used for their profit and interests. They did not believe in a truly democratic government, and were mainly concerned with keeping the Revolution in check so that the common people would not have too much of a voice in affairs of state. Meanwhile, they were not averse to lining their own pockets through speculation, profiteering and sheer corruption. They frequently mouthed revolutionary slogans, but their conduct indicated that these were merely words. They used Paine and his reputation as a spokesman for the common man for their own purposes, and on more than one occasion pushed him forward to defend a program that they did not dare to advocate openly.18
Paine does not appear to have understood much of what was taking place behind the scenes in France. For one thing, he knew nothing of the language; for another, he had never experienced a movement as advanced as that represented by the Jacobins, led by men like Marat, Robespierre, and Saint-Just. Nor for that matter did he fully grasp the changing character of the revolution after 1792. He did not, for example, see that a dictatorship of the people was necessary to save France at a time when the reactionary forces in Europe were uniting with counter-revolutionary elements inside France to destroy the revolution. Nor did he fully grasp the fact that the French Revolution was not and could not be merely a duplication of the American Revolution, for the simple reason that the French masses were fighting to overthrow the burden of centuries of oppression and tyranny, and were compelled to meet the power of reaction throughout Europe in their efforts to achieve their goal.
Paine's difficulties in France came quickly. He arrived in Paris on September 19, 1792, just after the September massacres during which many of the Royalist conspirators in Paris had been executed. Three days later the Convention, responding to the demand of the Parisian masses led by the Jacobins, proclaimed the Republic. On September 25, in an "Address to the People of France," Paine congratulated the Convention "on the abolition of Royalty," but revealed the influence of his Girondist associations by deploring the terror which had been directed against the Royalists.
The Convention had been convened primarily to draft a new constitution and to dispose of the case of Louis XVI. Paine was one of the nine members of the committee for drawing up a Constitution for France. He worked with Danton, Brissot, Condorcet, Sieyes and four others in writing the document, but it was not adopted. Soon afterwards he invited the enmity of the Jacobins by his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI.
After it was revealed during his trial that the king had been conspiring with the French emigres and the courts of Europe to wage war upon the people of France, the Jacobins demanded the death of the king as a traitor to the country. Having failed to avoid the trial, and having been defeated in their maneuvers to adjourn it, the Girondists sought to soften the verdict on the king. The Girondist leaders themselves did not dare to oppose the death penalty directly, but left it to less important speakers to propose banishment or internment.
In taking his stand in opposition to the execution of the king, Paine was unconsciously doing just what the Girondist leaders wanted him to do. But he had his own reasons for taking his stand. Nor did he share the Girondist attitude on every aspect of the problem. In his letter to the President of the Convention, November 20, 1792, Paine had urged that "Louis Capet" be tried for his role in the conspiracy of the "crowned brigands" against liberty. This was hardly in keeping with the Girondist position at this time. On January 14, 1793, when voting took place on the Girondist proposal that the question of the king's fate be referred to the people, Paine voted with the Mountain (Jacobins) against his own party. When he arose in the Convention to make his plea against the execution of the king (it was read for him in French to the delegates), he made it clear that he did not do so out of any deference to Royalty but because he feared that the execution would give England a useful pretext for declaring war against France, and because he still could not forget that the king had once aided America to gain her independence. He pleaded with the delegates that they should not give "the tyrant of England the triumph of seeing the man perish on the scaffold who had aided my much-beloved America to break his chains."
On January 19,1793, the Convention heard an address in opposition to the execution delivered for Paine by a delegate who had translated it from the original. Marat interrupted the speaker to charge that the translation was incorrect and that the sentiments could not be those of Paine. The incident revealed that troubled times were in store for Paine.
When the Girondists were overthrown by the Mountain, Paine attended fewer and fewer meetings of the Convention, and after June 2 ceased altogether to appear in the legislative body. Not understanding that the party with which he had been allied had brought misery and hardship upon the people of France, he could not be expected to grasp the necessity for the new radical measures introduced by the Jacobins to cope with enemies of the revolution at home and abroad.
Although Robespierre and his associates took action against most of Paine's former friends directly after the Girondists were overthrown, they did not arrest him until December 28, 1793. And then it is more than likely that had not Gouverneur Morris, the American minister to France from 1792 to 1794, conspired to keep Paine imprisoned, he would have been speedily released. After his arrest Paine appealed to his rights as an American citizen,19 but Morris, who hated both Paine and his writings and the French Revolution, turned a deaf ear. As one of Morris's biographers puts it: "But the American minister was too clever to let such a fish escape. He told Robespierre that he did not acknowledge Mr. Paine's right to pass as an American." 20 He had also intimated to the Jacobins, who were anxious to gain the support of America against England, that Paine was thoroughly disliked in America and that the United States would not be disturbed if Paine were kept in prison. Meanwhile, Morris let his own government believe that he had done everything possible to help Paine. Not realizing the role the American minister was playing with respect to the government of the United States, Paine later placed the blame for his prolonged stay in prison on Washington and in his Letter to the President launched a bitter attack charging him with having deserted both his former friend and supporter and the cause of freedom.
Paine remained in the Luxembourg prison until November 4, 1794. He expected every day would be his last on earth, and it is probable that he was once saved from the guillotine by the mistake of a guard in marking his door. He nearly died because of an ulcer in his side and was more dead than alive when rescued from prison by James Monroe who replaced Morris as American minister to France. Even ten months after his release Monroe, who nursed Paine at his own home, did not believe he would live long. "The symptoms have become worse," Monroe wrote on September 15, 1795, "and the prospect now is that he will not be able to hold out more than a month or two at the farthest. I shall certainly pay the utmost attention to this gentleman, as he is one of those whose merits in our Revolution were most distinguished."
Paine eventually recovered, was readmitted to the convention in 1795, offered a pension which he refused, and remained in France until September 1, 1802, when he sailed for the United States.
On his way to prison, December 28, 1793, Paine delivered into the hands of his friend Joel Barlow a manuscript which when published in English in 1794 brought upon him a barrage of vituperation that has lasted until the present day. The work was the first part of The Age of Reason. Part II was written during his stay in Monroe's home after his release from prison.
Written when Paine was in his fifty-seventh year, The Age of Reason represented the results of years of study and reflection by its author on the place of religion in society. When, at the age of twenty, he attended lectures in London on Newtonian astronomy, he must have been influenced by the thought that as Newton found the laws which govern the world of physics so man could find the laws which govern society by observing nature. Again, he probably reached the conclusion some time later that since the clergy in many countries were on the side of oppression and served the vested interests in the interest of reaction, it was essential for the future of progress that their influence be destroyed. As early as Common Sense in 1776, he writes that he "saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion." Although he says nothing in Rights of Man about the need for this "revolution in the system of religion," he makes it clear that the idea was still with him. He states that he has avoided the subject "because I am inclined to believe that what is called the present ministry wish to see contention about religion kept up to prevent the nation turning its attention to subjects of government."
During his stay in France, Paine became convinced that it was no longer possible to avoid the subject. As he noticed the reactionary activities of the clergy as plotters against the Revolution, he became even more convinced that to preserve republican principles it was necessary to destroy the priesthood. He was also worried by the fact that in their hatred of the counter-revolutionary role played by the clergy the people of France "were running headlong into Atheism . . ." At one stroke he might save the true religion, Deism, from atheism and republicanism from despotism. With this in mind he wrote his famous theological treatise.
Thomas Paine was no Atheist, Theodore Roosevelt to the contrary. Together with the foremost liberals and intellectuals in America and Europe, he believed in Deism. 21 And like many of these thinkers, Franklin, Jefferson, Wollaston, etc., he was influenced by the intellectual revolution achieved by Newton and Locke in their discovery of a systematic and harmonious universe whose laws could be ascertained by human reason. After seeing the application of the light of rationalism in the political revolutions in America and in France, it seemed to him that the next step was to apply this same rationalism in religion. In his Letter to Erskjne, Paine wrote: "Of all the tyrannies that effect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity."
Paine's views about the Bible and religion were in no sense original for every one of them had been expressed by Deists before him. But these men had written heavy treatises for scholars. Paine wrote in his usual simple and clear language for the common man. He took Deism out of the sphere of academic discussions and made it a living creed for the average man. By doing so, of course, he threatened the hold of the clergy upon the people. As long as Deism was confined to intellectuals in the upper middle class and liberal sections of the nobility there was no danger to the vested interests of the priesthood. But once it became, as it did after the publication of The Age of Reason, a subject for discussion among the common people, the outlook was entirely different. Men, who had said many times before the same things Paine set down in his work, had been ignored. Paine was forced to endure a barrage of calumny and vituperation such as has been visited upon few men in our history.
In one other respect Paine was different from others who had written on the subject. He did not bother to use diplomatic language in expressing the things he did not believe and the reasons for his disbelief in them. As he himself said, he went "marching through the Christian forest with an axe." And as he marched through the Christian forest he destroyed with his axe the stories of creation, the garden of Eden, the Resurrection, Mysteries and Miracles, prophecies and Prophets, and everything else through to Revelation, basing all his arguments on science and reason. After completing his journey through the forest, he concludes: "Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity." All this does not mean, however, that Paine denies the greatness of Jesus as a man. "Nothing that is said here can apply," he writes, "even with the most distant disrespect, to the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and amiable man. The morality that he preached and practised was of the most benevolent kind . . ."
Paine's entire religious creed is put quite simply. By unaided reason man could know that there is a God, that he has certain duties toward Him and his fellow-man, and that the performance of these duties made for his welfare in the present life and hereafter. He ends his work on a note of hope: "Certain . . . I am that when opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail." He could not foresee that there were those who were not interested in allowing opinions to be free and, because he transformed Deism from an aristocratic into a popular movement, would make life miserable for him.
In the winter of 1795-96, shortly after he completed the second part of The Age of Reason, and while he was still at the home of Monroe in Paris, Paine wrote his last great pamphlet, Agrarian Justice. The work resulted from two separate motivating factors. Paine wished, in the first place, to answer a sermon printed by the Bishop of Llandaff, on "The wisdom and goodness of God in having made both rich and poor." He dismissed this remark with the statement that God "made only male and female, and gave them the earth for their inheritance." He was also moved to write his pamphlet by the struggle in France over the confiscation of emigre property. After the local communes had initiated a campaign to enforce the laws calling for the confiscation of such property, the Directory, representing the bourgeoisie who had engineered the overthrow of Robespierre, put a stop to this procedure. At the same time a movement was initiated by the Directory to crush the remnants of the radical forces among the masses to pave the way for the unchallenged rule of the upper classes. In an effort to overthrow the counter-revolution and to seize power to wield it against the upper classes, the radical forces, led by Babeuf, made preparations for a coup d'etat. Included in the program of the Babouvists were the demands for the abolition of inheritance and the confiscation of the properties of counter-revolutionists, of those who had accumulated wealth from public office, of persons who neglected to cultivate their lands, and of individuals who lived without working. The conspiracy was discovered and crushed in May, 1796.
This was the situation when Paine's Agrarian Justice was published. He did not go as far as Babeuf, although he approved of the objective of the insurrection in aiming to remove social inequalities in property. Paine held that there were two kinds of property: natural property (the earth in its uncultivated stage), and "improved" property. He had no intention of taking away "improved" property, but argued that the "earth, in its natural uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race!' The introduction of private property added, through cultivation, a "tenfold" value to created earth. At the same time, however, it "dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing . . . an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before." To remedy this situation and assist the persons thus dispossessed, Paine maintained that every proprietor "of cultivated land" owed to the community a ground-rent for the land which he held. With this sum Paine aimed to set up a National Fund, out of which there would be paid to every person, "when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the system of landed property," and "the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age."
The system he proposed, Paine maintained, would so organize civilization "that the whole weight of misery can be removed." It would aid the blind, the lame and the aged poor, and at the same time guarantee that the new generation would never become poor. And all this would not be achieved through charity. "It is not charity, but a right," he cried, "not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for." 22 In a burst of indignation over the exploitation of workingmen by employers, he wrote: ". . . if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labour that produced it; the consequence of which is, that the working hand perishes in old age, and that the employer abounds in affluence."
Paine remained in France despite his dislike for the reaction that set in with the Directory and continued during Napoleon's Consulate. He felt that France deserved enthusiastic support for seeking to end feudalism and autocracy, and was convinced that even though democracy was not developing as completely as he had hoped, the basic advances of the Revolution in destroying feudal privileges would remain. France was still to him, therefore, the revolutionary republic of Europe and as such merited the assistance of all true democrats, especially in its efforts to defeat England which Paine regarded as the bulwark of reaction in the western world. Britain's defeat in war, he was convinced, would end the rule of the English aristocracy, and pave the way for a democratic republic in England which, in alliance with the United States and France, would guarantee the spread of republicanism throughout the world and international peace. "There will be no lasting peace for France, nor for the world," wrote Paine, "until the tyranny and corruption of the English government be abolished, and England, like Italy, become a sister republic."
Paine submitted a plan to the French Directory for a military expedition against England, whose purpose would be to overthrow the monarchy and assist the people to proclaim a democratic republic. Napoleon, who had not yet revealed his plans of becoming a military dictator, received Paine's proposal enthusiastically and even visited the writer to discuss the possibilities. Paine himself contributed funds he could hardly spare toward the expedition, but it never materialized.
Eventually Paine realized that his usefulness in France was over. He was not molested under the Consulate, but his democratic views such as his support of the Haitian revolution led by Touissant L'Ouverture and his agitation against the slave trade, were looked upon unfavorably. He waited to return to the country which had made him an author.
The fifteen years Paine had spent in Europe since his departure from America had been crowded with world-shaking events, and in most of them he had been an active participant. He had seen the French Revolution uproot hallowed traditions, sweep away feudal remnants and revolutionize class and property relations. He had witnessed the up- surge of the revolutionary movement in England and saw how it was pulverized after Pitt's repressive laws of 1796. He had not fully understood the need for stern measures adopted by the people in meeting and defeating counter-revolution, and his prediction of an easy triumph for republican principles had not been realized. But his faith in the people and the cause of democracy was still unshaken. The measures adopted by the people in their striving for freedom had caused many liberals to blanch and revise their ideas. But they had left his convictions undisturbed. He returned to America convinced that in the end freedom would triumph all over the world.
Soon after his inauguration as President in 1801, Jefferson wrote Paine a cordial letter inviting him to return to the United States on the American warship, Maryland, the honored guest of the nation he had helped to found. He assured Paine that the attitude of his presidential predecessors towards him had not been a true reflection of the sentiment of a grateful nation. "I am in hopes you will find us returned generally to sentiments worthy of former times," wrote Jefferson. "In these it will be your glory steadily to have laboured, and with as much effect as any man living. That you may long live to continue your useful labours, and to reap their reward in the thankfulness of nations, is my sincere prayer. Accept assurances of my high esteem and affectionate attachment."
Paine sailed from France on September 1 and landed at Baltimore on October 30, 1802. He was hailed by the Jeffersonians and especially by the advocates of Deism, the "Republican Religion." But the Federalists, the reactionary clergy and others in the anti-democratic camp began the vile attack upon him that was to follow him to his grave. Every paper, Paine wrote to a friend in London, was "filled with applause or abuse."
The abuse, however, soon drowned out the applause. The Federalists hated everything Paine stood for, and they did not forget that he had vigorously denounced Washington and condemned the Alien and Sedition laws of the Adams administration. But primarily they considered his return as a useful stick with which to beat and possibly defeat the Jeffersonians. Hence the Federalist press began a campaign of vilification that probably has no equal in our history. As one student has put it, "the reactionary press exhausted the resources of the dictionary to express the unutterable, only to sink back at last with impotent rage." These newspapers called Paine "the scavenger of faction," "lilly-livered sinical rogue," "loathsome reptile," "demi-human archbeast," "an object of disgust, of abhorrence, of absolute loathing to every decent man except the President of the United States." "What! invite to the United States that lying, drunken, brutal infidel," cried the New England Palladium of Boston, "who rejoices in the opportunity of basking and wallowing in the confusion, devastation, bloodshed, rapine and murder, in which his soul delights?" The Philadelphia Portfolio urged "every honest and insulted man of dignity . . . to shake off the very dust of his feet and to abandon America" the moment "the loathsome Thomas Paine" started to express his views in this country.23
Even Paine's former friends in America began to avoid him. Samuel Adams broke off his friendship and Benjamin Rush refused to have anything to do with him, both giving as their reason that the principles set forth in The Age of Reason were too "offensive." For a time Paine even thought that Jefferson had turned against him. When the President postponed their meeting after his arrival in Washington, Paine wrote to Jefferson asking him to return his models. He had hoped, he added, to discuss his scientific plans with the President: "But you have not only shown no disposition towards it, but have, in some measure, by a sort of shyness, as if you stood in fear of federal observation, precluded it. I am not the only one, who makes observations of this kind."
Jefferson replied immediately assuring Paine that he was mistaken and only the fact that he had been busy had prevented their meeting. Praising his models, the President went on: "You have certainly misunderstood what you deem shyness. Of that I have not a thought towards you, but on the contrary have openly maintained in conversation the duty of showing our respect to you and of defying federal calumny in this as in other cases by doing what is Right. As to fearing it, if I ever could have been weak enough for that, they have taken care to cure me of it thoroughly." 24
Paine visited Jefferson and discussed political and scientific issues. He refused to accept any public office, but continued to advise the President through correspondence on many important political issues of the day as well as to supply him with ideas on the European situation based on his rich experience abroad. Most of his time, however, was devoted to activity in aiding Elihu Palmer promote the religion of Deism in New York. He contributed articles and letters to the Prospect expanding some of the themes he had touched upon in The Age of Reason. It was unfortunate in one sense that he concentrated so largely upon religious issues, for it rendered his political activities less useful. But he was forced to elaborate his position to clear himself of unjustified charges, and he believed that the struggle against the reactionary clergy was essential for the further progress of the Jeffersonian cause in America.
But the campaign of slander increased the more he ventured to attack the strong-hold of reaction. On one occasion, when he tried to engage passage from New York to Trenton, the stagedriver refused him a seat. "My stage and horses were once struck by lightning, and I don't want him to suffer again," he told Paine to the amusement of his well-to-do passengers. Later a singer in a New York Presbyterian church was suspended for having visited him. His moderate appetite for brandy was distorted into drunkenness by cartoonists and writers. In 1806 came the greatest effrontery of all when he was denied the right to vote by Federalist officials in New Rochelle on the charge that he was not an American citizen.
Although he led an increasingly harried life, Paine enjoyed the company of "the laboring class of emigrants," and spent many enjoyable days with Robert Fulton, who shared his democratic views, observing his steamboat experiments on the Hudson. For several months in the winter of 1807 he lived with John Wesley Jarvis. The painter wrote to a friend on May 2nd, "I have had Tom Paine living with me for these five months. He is one of the most pleasant companions I have met with for an old man." 25
Paine spent his last years in poverty. Broken in health and reduced in finances, he was forced to move to a miserable lodging house on Fulton Street in New York City. Just before he died on June 8, 1809, two clergymen gained access to his room hoping to hear him recant his heresies. To their question concerning his religious opinions, Paine simply said: "Let me alone; good morning."
Paine was buried on his farm in New Rochelle. But even in the grave it was not considered fitting that the great, militant democrat, Thomas Paine, should enjoy peace and dignity. Curiosity-seekers desecrated his tombstone, and twenty years after his death, William Cobbett, the English reformer who had once joined in the campaign of vilification, stole Paine's bones and shipped them to England. Sometime later the remains disappeared. "As to his bones," wrote Moncure Daniel Conway, "no man knows the place of their rest to this day. His principles rest not. His thoughts, untraceable like his dust, are blown about the world which he held in his heart." 26
Three years before his death, in a letter to the mayor of Philadelphia, Paine summarized these principles:
"My motive and object in all my political works, beginning with Common
Sense, the first work I ever published, have been to rescue man from tyranny and false systems and false principles of government, and enable him to be free, and establish government for himself; and I have borne my share of danger in Europe and in America in every attempt I have made for this purpose. And my motive and object in all my publications on religious subjects, beginning with the first part of the Age of Reason, have been to bring man to a right reason that God has him; to impress on him the great principles of divine morality, justice, mercy, and a benevolent disposition to all men and to all creatures; and to excite in him a spirit of trust, confidence and consolation in his creator, unshackled by the fable and fiction of books, by whatever invented name they may be called. I am happy in the continual contemplation of what I have done, and I thank God that he gave me talents for the purpose and fortitude to do it. It will make the continual consolation of my departing hours, whenever they finally arrive."
For years following his death Paine remained forgotten by so-called respectability. But in working class circles he was remembered. Paine's birthday was celebrated annually by the early American labor movement, and toasts were regularly offered in honor of "The author of Common Sense and the Crisis: His Rights of Man effective artillery for tearing down rotten Despotisms; his Agrarian Justice excellent material for building up democratic and social republics." 27 The working-men who attended the annual celebration of Paine's birthday could recite his works from memory, and in their homes copies of these books and pamphlets were handed down from generation to generation. They loved this hard-hitting pamphleteer who had fought the people's fight against tyranny, and they understood what he had meant when he had said, "My country is the world: to do good, my religion."
Today Thomas Paine is just beginning to receive the homage due him. The studies of the late Professor Parrington, whose essay on Paine in his The Colonial Mind, 1620-1800 is one of the best, and of Professor Harry Hayden Clark, whose extensive examinations of Paine's economic religious and political theories are replete with meaning, have contributed vastly to break down the tradition of the religious infidel and the ignoramus who was merely a flowery demagogue. This is as it should be, for Paine merits a lasting place in the democratic tradition. Like Jefferson he believed in the dignity of the common man, and with Jefferson urged that all men should have an equal opportunity to shape their own destinies and the destiny of the world in which they lived. Those who honor Jefferson as the Father of Democracy would do well to remember that he professed "the same principles" as those expounded by Paine in the Rights of Man.
"No writer," Jefferson observed in 1821, "has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language." Paine's writings inspired men of his day in America, in England and in France to live and die for freedom, and left behind in these countries a vision of a world of men free in body and mind. At a time when men and women are fighting to realize that type of world it would be well to read again the words of Thomas Paine who wrote so much and so well to build the heritage of freedom we are battling to preserve and extend.
Philip S. Foner
Moncure Daniel Conway, Paine's indefatigable biographer, contended that the most important source for his religious and many of his political ideas was Quakerism. It is generally conceded today by Paine scholars that Conway greatly exaggerated this influence.
Professor Harry Hayden Clark, the most important student of Paine since Conway, argues that Paine's religious concepts and even many of his economic and social ideas had their source in the Newtonian concept of the universe. Although Professor Clark had made a great contribution to the study of Paine in revealing the Newtonian influence on his thought, it is the opinion of the present writer that he has erred in the same manner that Conway did by overemphasizing this influence. Certainly Professor Clark succeeds only in turning Paine upside down when he argues that his political ideas grew out of his religious ideas. See his important article, "Toward a Reinterpretation of Thomas Paine," American Literature, vol. V, May, 1933, pp. 133-145, and his valuable introduction to Thomas Paine: Representative Selections, New York, 1944.
Paine argued that France would aid America if she declared herself independent. Common Sense was itself an important factor in helping mobilize French support for the American cause. It was translated promptly into French, with the expurgation of anti- monarchist passages, and published in Paris on May 4, 1776. Silas Deane, American Commissioner to France, wrote home on August 18, 1776, that the booklet "has a greater run, if possible here than in America." Professor Aulard, historian of the French Revolution, has observed that "the bold phrases of Thomas Paine's republican pamphlet, Common Sense, resounded throughout France." See "The Deane Papers . . . ," New York. Historical Society Collections, vol. I, p. 214, and A. Aulard, The French Revolution: A Political History, London, 1910, vol. I, p. 112.
For an excellent analysis of the Pennsylvania Constitution, see J. Paul Selsam, The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, Philadelphia, 1936.
Dixon Wecter, "Thomas Paine and the Franklins," American Literature, vol. XII, November, 1940, p. 313.
On one occasion Morris wrote to Deane, then in France: "It seems to me that the present oppert'y of improving our fortunes ought not to be lost, especially as the very means of doing it will contribute to the service of our country at the same time." See Thomas P. Abernathy, "Commercial Activities of Silas Deane in France," American Historical Review, vol. XXXIX, pp. 477-485,
All of Paine's letters and articles on the Deane controversy appear in the second volume of the present edition of his writings. For excellent background material see Robert L. Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1942.
Thomas Paine Mss., New York Historical Society.
Philip S. Foner, editor, George Washington: Selections from His Writings, New York,
1944, pp. 22-23.
Paine's letters to the people of Rhode Island appear in the second volume of the present edition of his writings. See also Harry Hayden Clark, editor, Six New Letters of Thomas Paine, Madison, Wisconsin, 1939.
"A Representation of the Services of Thomas Paine, 1783," Mss., New York Historical Society. The entire memorial appears in the second volume of the present edition of Paine's writings.
Paine to Daniel Clymer, September, 1786, Paine Mss., Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Paine's letters to the press during the controversy over the bank appear in the second volume of the present edition of his writings. For an interesting discussion of the conflict in Pennsylvania over the bank, see Janet Wilson, "The Bank of North America and Pennsylvania Politics, 1781-1787," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. LXVI, January, 1942, pp. 3-28.
Paine's role in supporting the bank and in calling for a stronger Union has been cited by several recent students as proof of his conservatism before he left America in 1787, and it is argued that during this period he tended to align himself with men like Hamilton, John Adams, Robert Morris and others who were known as conservatives (see Harry Hayden Clark's introduction to Six New Letters of Thomas Paine and J. Dorfman, "The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine," Political Science Quarterly, vol. LIII, September,1938- pp.37 2 ~386). Neither of these writers take into account the fact that Paine's views were supported by the urban artisans for whom he was a spokesman. Moreover, to argue that Paine's economic objectives were much the same as Hamilton's is entirely to ignore the fact that Paine, even in the bank controversy, wanted property to serve the welfare of all classes in society, while Hamilton always spoke out for protection only for the "rich and well-born." See the excellent refutation of J. Dorfman's contention by Howard Penniman in the American Political Science Review, vol. XXXVII, April, 1943, pp. 244-262.
Although Paine and Hamilton both supported a stronger central government at this time, it must be remembered that the former, like Jefferson, did so because he believed that it was necessary to preserve Republicanism in America. He certainly would never have favored the type of central government proposed by Hamilton in the Federal Convention. Evidently the Hamiltonians thought so too, for they were not anxious to have Paine attend the Convention. Unlike some present-day writers they did not regard him as a conservative.
Paine's bridge was eventually constructed in England, but he himself received no credit for it and made no profits. When Sir Robert Smyth, Paine's friend, attempted to secure some reward for the original inventor, he received a letter from a subscriber to the construction company admitting that "the first idea was taken from Mr. Paine's bridge exhibited at Paddington." Nothing, however, could be done to compensate Mr. Paine. Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson, October 1, 1800, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
Paine to William Short June i, 1790, Short Papers, Library of Congress. See also Harold W. Landin, editor, "Some Letters of Thomas Paine and William Short on the Nootka Sound Crisis," Journal of Modern History, vol. XIII, September, 1941, pp. 357-374
Burke's impassioned Reflections on the French Revolution also called forth replies from writers like Mary Wollstonecraft, James Mackintosh, Joel Barlow and William Godwin. All of them like Paine argued that governmental institutions were not sacred and unalterable. For a discussion of these booklets, see Walter P. Hall, British Radicalism, 1791-97, New York, 1912 and C. H. Lockett, The Relations of French and English Society, 1763-1793, London, 1920. See also Frederick Sheldon, "Thomas Paine in England and France," Atlantic Monthly, vol. IV, December, 1859, pp. 690-709.
Paine first presented his views on the value of an international association of nations to preserve peace in his Letter to the Abbe Raynal. This work may be said to mark an important transition in Paine's thinking in the sense that after it he began to think more and more in internationalist terms. See Darrel Abel, "The Significance of the 'Letter to the Abbe Raynal' in the Progress of Thomas Paine's Thought," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. LXVI, April, 1942, pp. 176-190.
In his excellent study of these popular societies Eugene P. Link says that it was "the internationalist Thomas Paine who deserves the credit for fathering the democratic societies." See his Democratic-Republican Societies, iygo-1800, New York, 1942, p. 104.
For an excellent analysis of the role of the Girondists together with several penetrating comments on Paine, see Albert Mathiez, The French Revolution, New York, 1928.
Paine had been arrested under a law directed against aliens of hostile nations.
Daniel Walther, Gouverneur Morris, New York, 1934, pp. 247-248.
The evolution of Paine's religious opinions toward deism has been recently discussed by Robert P. Falk in the article "Thomas Paine: Deist or Quaker," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. LXII, January, 1938, pp. 52-63.
Dorfman (op.cit. p. 380) argues that in Agrarian Justice Paine was primarily concerned with the protection of property from the dangerous masses and sought to convince the property-holders to give up some of their holdings in order that they might be able to save the rest. This rather than the improvement of the condition of the poor was his aim, he concludes. A mere reading of the book reveals how unjustified is this conclusion. See, however, Penniman, op.cit., p. 251, for an abler refutation of this conclusion.
For interesting accounts of Paine's return to the United States, see G. Adolph Koch, Republican Religion, New York, 1933, pp. 130-146; Frederick Sheldon, "Thomas Paine's Second Appearance in the United States," Atlantic Monthly, vol. IV, July, 1859, pp. 1-17, and Dixon Wecter, "Hero in Reverse," Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. XVIII, Spring, 1942, pp. 243-259.
Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, January 13, 1803, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
H. E. Dickson, "Day vs. Jarvis," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. lxiii, April, 1939, p. 187.
Frencau predicted as much in his poem, Stanzas, At the Decease of Thomas Paine . . . ;
"Princes and kings decay and die
And, instant rise again:
But this is not the case, trust me
With men like THOMAS PAINE.
"To tyrants and the tyrant crew,
Indeed, he was the bane:
He writ, and gave them all their due,
And signed it-THOMAS PAINE.
"Oh! how we loved to see him write
And curb the race of Cain!
They hope and wish that Thomas P
May never rise again.
"What idle hopes!-yes-such a man
May yet appear again.-
When they are dead, they die for aye:
Not so with THOMAS PAINE."
Wording Man's Advocate, February 5, 1828; National Laborer, February 4, 1836;
Young America, February 5, 1846; Boston Investigator, February 13, 1850.