The Vindication of Thomas Paine by Robert Ingersoll
"To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, is like administering medicine to the dead." -- THOMAS PAINE.
PEORIA, October 8, 1877.
To the Editor of the N.Y. Observer:
SIR: Last June in San Francisco, I offered a thousand dollars in gold – not as a wager, but as a gift – to any one who would substantiate the absurd story that Thomas Paine died in agony and fear, frightened by the clanking chains of devils. I also offered the same amount to any minister who would prove that Voltaire did not pass away as serenely as the coming of the dawn. Afterward I was informed that you had accepted the offer, and had called upon me to deposit the money. Acting upon this information, I sent you the following letter:
Peoria, Ill., August 31st, 1877.
To the Editor of the New York Observer:
I have been informed that you accepted, in your paper, an offer made by me to any clergyman in San Francisco. That offer was, that I would pay one thousand dollars in gold to any minister in that city who would prove that Thomas Paine died in terror because of religious opinions he had expressed, or that Voltaire did not pass away serenely as the coming of the dawn.
For many years religious journals and ministers have been circulating certain pretended accounts of the frightful agonies endured by Paine and Voltaire when dying; that these great men at the moment of death were terrified because they had given their honest opinions upon the subject of religion to their fellow-men. The imagination of the religious world has been taxed to the utmost in inventing absurd and infamous accounts of the last moments of these intellectual giants. Every Sunday school paper, thousands of idiotic tracts, and countless stupidities called sermons, have been filled with these calumnies.
Paine and Voltaire both believed in God – both hoped for immortality – both believed in special providence. But both denied the inspiration of the Scriptures – both denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. While theologians most cheerfully admit that most murderers die without fear, they deny the possibility of any man who has expressed his disbelief in the inspiration of the Bible dying except in an agony of terror. These stories are used in revivals and in Sunday schools, and have long been considered of great value.
I am anxious that these slanders shall cease. I am desirous of seeing justice done, even at this late day, to the dead.
For the purpose of ascertaining the evidence upon which these death-bed accounts really rest, I make to you the following proposition: –
First – AS TO THOMAS PAINE: I will deposit with the First National Bank of Peoria, Illinois, one thousand dollars in gold, upon the following conditions: This money shall be subject to your order when you shall, in the manner hereinafter provided, substantiate that Thomas Paine admitted the Bible to be an inspired book, or that he recanted his Infidel opinions – or that he died regretting that he had disbelieved the Bible – or that he died calling upon Jesus Christ in any religious sense whatever.
In order that a tribunal may be created to try this question, you may select one man, I will select another, and the two thus chosen shall select a third, and any two of the three may decide the matter.
As there will be certain costs and expenditures on both sides, such costs and expenditures shall be paid by the defeated party.
In addition to the one thousand dollars in gold, I will deposit a bond with good and sufficient security in the sum of two thousand dollars, conditioned for the payment of all costs in case I am defeated. I shall require of you a like bond.
From the date of accepting this offer you may have ninety days to collect and present your testimony, giving me notice of time and place of taking depositions. I shall have a like time to take evidence upon my side, giving you like notice, and you shall then have thirty days to take further testimony in reply to what I may offer. The case shall then be argued before the persons chosen; and their decisions shall be final as to us.
If the arbitrator chosen by me shall die, I shall have the right to choose another. You shall have the same right. If the third one, chosen by our two, shall die, the two shall choose another; and all vacancies, from whatever cause, shall be filled upon the same principle.
The arbitrators shall sit when and where a majority shall determine, and shall have full power to pass upon all questions arising as to competency of evidence, and upon all subjects.
Second. – AS TO VOLTAIRE: I make the same proposition, if you will substantiate that Voltaire died expressing remorse or showing in any way that he was in mental agony because he had attacked Catholicism – or because he had denied the inspiration of the Bible – or because he had denied the divinity of Christ.
I make these propositions because I want you to stop slandering the dead.
If the propositions do not suit you in any particular, please state your objections, and I will modify them in any way consistent with the object in view.
If Paine and Voltaire died filled with childish and silly fear, I want to know it, and I want the world to know it. On the other hand, if the believers in superstition have made and circulated these cruel slanders concerning the mighty dead, I want the world to know that.
As soon as you notify me of the acceptance of these propositions I will send you the certificate of the bank that the money has been deposited upon the foregoing conditions, together with copies of bonds for costs.
Yours truly, R.G. INGERSOLL.
In your paper of September 27, 1877, you acknowledge the receipt of the foregoing letter, and after giving an outline of its contents, say: “As not one of the affirmations, in the form stated in this letter, was contained in the offer we made, we have no occasion to substantiate them. But we are prepared to produce the evidence of the truth of our own statement, and even to go further; to show not only that Tom Paine ‘died a drunken, cowardly, and beastly death,’ but that for many years previous, and up to that event he lived a drunken and beastly life.”
In order to refresh your memory as to what you had published, I call your attention to the following, which appeared in the N. Y. Observer, July 19, 1877:
“PUT DOWN THE MONEY.
“Col. Bob Ingersoll, in a speech full of ribaldry and blasphemy, made in San Francisco recently, said:
“I will give a $1,000 in gold coin to any clergyman who can substantiate that the death of Voltaire was not as peaceful as the dawn; and of Tom Paine whom they assert died in fear and agony, frightened by the clanking chains of devils – in fact frightened to death by God. I will give $1,000 likewise to any one who can substantiate this ‘absurd story’ – a story without a word of truth in it.”
“We have published the testimony, and the witnesses are on hand to prove that Tom Paine died a drunken, cowardly and beastly death. Let the Colonel deposit the money with any honest man, and the absurd story, as he terms it, shall be shown to be an ower true tale. But he won’t do it. His talk is Infidel ‘buncombe’ and nothing more.”
On the 31st of August I sent you my letter, and on the 27th of September you say in your paper: “As not one of the affirmations in the form stated in this letter was contained in the offer we made, we have no occasion to substantiate them.”
What were the affirmations contained in the offer you made? I had offered a thousand dollars in gold to any one who would substantiate “the absurd story” that Thomas Paine died in fear and agony, frightened by the clinking chains of devils – in fact, frightened to death by God.
In response to this offer you said: “Let the Colonel deposit the money with an honest man and the ‘absurd story’ as he terms it, shall be shown to be an ‘ower true tale.’ But he won’t do it. His talk is infidel ‘buncombe’ and nothing more.”
Did you not offer to prove that Paine died in fear and agony, frightened by the clanking chains of devils? Did you not ask me to deposit the money that you might prove the “absurd story” to be an “ower true tale” and obtain the money? Did you not in your paper of the twenty-seventh of September in effect deny that you had offered to prove this “absurd story”? As soon as I offered to deposit the gold and give bonds besides to cover costs, did you not publish a falsehood?
You nave eaten your own words, and, for my part, I would rather have dined with Ezekiel than with you.
You have not met the issue. You have knowingly avoided it. The question was not as to the personal habits of Paine. The real question was and is, whether Paine was filled with fear and horror at the time of his death on account of his religious opinions. That is the question. You avoid this. In effect, you abandon that charge and make others.
To you belongs the honor of having made the most cruel and infamous charges against Thomas Paine that have ever been made. Of what you have said you cannot prove the truth of one word.
You say that Thomas Paine died a drunken, cowardly and beastly death.
I pronounce this charge to be a cowardly and beastly falsehood.
Have you any evidence that he was in a drunken condition when he died?
What did he say or do of a cowardly character just before, or at about the time of his death?
In what way was his death cowardly? You must answer these questions, and give your proof, or all honest men will hold you in abhorrence. You have made these charges. The man against whom you make them is dead. He cannot answer you. I can. He cannot compel you to produce your testimony, or admit by your silence that you have cruelly slandered the defenseless dead. I can and I will. You say that his death was cowardly. In what respect? Was it cowardly in him to hold the Thirty-Nine Articles in contempt? Was it cowardly not to call on your Lord? Was it cowardly not to be afraid? You say that his death was beastly. Again I ask, in what respect? Was it beastly to submit to the inevitable with tranquillity? Was it beastly to look with composure upon the approach of death? Was it beastly to die without a complaint, without a murmur – to pass from life without a fear?
DID THOMAS PAINE RECANT?
Mr. Paine had prophesied that fanatics would crawl and cringe around him during his last moments. He believed that they would put a lie in the mouth of Death.
When the shadow of the coming dissolution was upon him, two clergymen, Messrs. Milledollar and Cunningham, called to annoy the dying man. Mr. Cunningham had the politeness to say, “You have now a full view of death – you cannot live long, and whosoever does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will assuredly be damned.” Mr. Paine replied, “Let me have none of your popish stuff. Get away with you. Good morning.”
On another occasion a Methodist minister obtruded himself when Willet Hicks was present. This minister declared to Mr. Paine “that unless he repented of his unbelief he would be damned.” Paine, although at the door of death, rose in his bed and indignantly requested the clergyman to leave his room. On another occasion, two brothers by the name of Pigott, sought to convert him. He was displeased and requested their departure. Afterward Thomas Nixon and Captain Daniel Pelton visited him for the express purpose of ascertaining whether he had, in any manner, changed his religious opinions. They were assured by the dying man that he still held the principles he had expressed in his writings.
Afterward, these gentlemen hearing that William Cobbett was about to write a life of Paine, sent him the following note:
New York, April 24, 1818.
“SIR: We have been informed that you have a design to write a history of the life and writings of Thomas Paine. If you have been furnished with materials in respect to his religious opinions, or rather of his recantation of his former opinions before his death, all you have heard of his recanting is false. Being aware that such reports would be raised after his death by fanatics who infested his house at the time it was expected he would die, we, the subscribers, intimate acquaintances of Thomas Paine since the year 1776, went to his house. He was sitting up in a chair, and apparently in full vigor and use of all his mental faculties We interrogated him upon his religious opinions, and if he had changed his mind, or repented of anything he had said or wrote on that subject. He answered,”Not at all,” and appeared rather offended at our supposition that any change should take place in his mind. We took down in writing the questions put to him and his answers thereto before a number of persons then in his room, among whom were his doctor, Mrs. Bonneville, &c. This paper is mislaid and cannot be found at present, but the above is the substance which can be attested by many living witnesses.”
THOMAS NIXON. DANIEL PELTON.
Mr. Jarvis, the artist, saw Mr. Paine one or two days before his death. To Mr. Jarvis he expressed his belief in his written opinions upon the subject of religion. B.F. Haskin, an attorney of the city of New York, also visited him and inquired as to his, religious opinions. Paine was then upon the threshold of death, but he did not tremble. He was not a coward. He expressed his firm and unshaken belief in the religious ideas he had given to the world.
Dr. Manley was with him when he spoke his last words. Dr. Manley asked the dying man if he did not wish to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and the dying philosopher answered: “I have no wish to believe on that subject.” Amasa Woodsworth sat up with Thomas Paine the night before his death. In 1839 Gilbert Vale hearing that Mr. Woodsworth was living in or near Boston, visited him for the purpose of getting his statement. The statement was published in the Beacon of June 5, 1839, while thousands who had been acquainted with Mr. Paine were living.
The following is the article referred to.
“We have just returned from Boston. One object of our visit to that city, was to see a Mr. Amasa Woodsworth, an engineer, now retired in a handsome cottage and garden at East Cambridge, Boston. This gentleman owned the house occupied by Paine at his death – while he lived next door. As an act of kindness Mr. Woodsworth visited Mr. Paine every day for six weeks before his death. He frequently sat up with him, and did so on the last two nights of his life. He was always there with Dr. Manley, the physician, and assisted in removing Mr. Paine while his bed was prepared. He was present when Dr. Manley asked Mr. Paine”if he wished to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God,” and he describes Mr. Paine’s answer as animated. He says that lying on his back he used some action and with much emphasis, replied, “I have no wish to believe on that subject.” He lived some time after this, but was not known to speak, for he died tranquilly. He accounts for the insinuating style of Dr. Manley’s letter, by stating that that gentleman just after its publication joined a church. He informs us that he has openly reproved the doctor for the falsity contained in the spirit of that letter, boldly declaring before Dr. Manley, who is yet living, that nothing which he saw justified the insinuations. Mr. Woodsworth assures us that he neither heard nor saw anything to justify the belief of any mental change in the opinions of Mr. Paine previous to his death; but that being very ill and in pain chiefly arising from the skin being removed in some parts by long lying, he was generally too uneasy to enjoy conversation on abstract subjects. This, then, is the best evidence that can be procured on this subject, and we publish it while the contravening parties are yet alive, and with the authority of Mr. Woodsworth.
A few weeks ago I received the following letter which confirms the statement of Mr. Vale:
NEAR STOCKTON, CAL., GREENWOOD COTTAGE, July 9, 1877.
COL. INGERSOLL: In 1842 I talked with a gentleman in Boston. I have forgotten his name; but he was then an engineer of the Charleston navy yard. I am thus particular so that you can find his name on the books. He told me that he nursed Thomas Paine in his last illness, and closed his eyes when dead. I asked him if he recanted and called upon God to save him. He replied, “No. He died as he had taught. He had a sore upon his side and when we turned him it was very painful and he would cry out ‘O God!’ or something like that.” “But,” said the narrator, “that was nothing, for he believed in a God.” I told him that I had often heard it asserted from the pulpit that Mr. Paine had recanted in his last moments. The gentleman said that it was not true, and he appeared to be an intelligent, truthful man. With respect, I remain, &c.,
PHILIP GRAVES, M.D.
The next witness is Willet Hicks, a Quaker Preacher. He says that during the last illness of Mr. Paine he visited him almost daily, and that Paine died firmly convinced of the truth of the religious opinions he had given to his fellow-men. It was to this same Willet Hicks that Paine applied for permission to be buried in the cemetery of the Quakers. Permission was refused. This refusal settles the question of recantation. If he had recanted, of course there could have been no objection to his body being buried by the side of the best hypocrites on the earth.
If Paine recanted why should he be denied “a little earth for charity”? Had he recanted, it would have been regarded as a vast and splendid triumph for the gospel. It would with much noise and pomp and ostentation have been heralded about the world.
I received the following letter to-day. The writer is well know in this city, and is a man of high character:
PEORIA, Oct. 8th, 1877.
ROBERT G. INGERSOLL, Esteemed Friend: My parents were Friends (Quakers). My father died when I was very young. The elderly and middle-aged Friends visited at my mother’s house. We lived in the city of New York. Among the number I distinctly remember Elias Hicks, Willet Hicks, and a Mr. ——– Day, who was a bookseller in Pearl street. There were many others, whose names I do not now remember. The subject of the recantation by Thomas Paine of his views about the Bible in his last illness, or at any other time, was discussed by them in my presence at different times. I learned from them that some of them had attended upon Thomas Paine in his last sickness and ministered to his wants up to the time of his death. And upon the question of whether he did recant there was but one expression. They all said that he did not recant in any manner. I often heard them say they wished he had recanted. In fact, according to them, the nearer he approached death the more positive he appeared to be in his convictions.
These conversations were from 1820 to 1822. I was at that time from ten to twelve years old, but these conversations impressed themselves upon me because many thoughtless people then blamed the Society of Friends for their kindness to that “arch Infidel,” Thomas Pain
A few days ago I received the following letter:
ALBANY, NEW YORK, Sept. 27, 1877.
Dear Sir: It is over twenty years ago that professionally I made the acquaintance of John Hogeboom, a Justice of the Peace of the county of Rensselaer, New York. He was then over seventy years of age and had the reputation of being a man of candor and integrity. He was a great admirer of Paine. He told me that he was personally acquainted with him, and used to see him frequently during the last years of his life in the city of New York, where Hogeboom then resided. I asked him if there was any truth in the charge that Paine was in the habit of getting drunk. He said that it was utterly false; that he never heard of such a thing during the life-time of Mr. Paine, and did not believe any one else did. I asked him about the recantation of his religious opinions on his death-bed, and the revolting death-bed scenes that the world had heard so much about. He said there was no truth in them, that he had received his information from persons who attended Paine in his last illness, “and that he passed peacefully away, as we may say, in the sunshine of a great soul.” …
The witnesses by whom I substantiate the fact that Thomas Paine did not recant, and that he died holding the religious opinions he had published, are:
First – Thomas Nixon, Captain Daniel Pelton, B.F. Haskin. These gentlemen visited him during his last illness for the purpose of ascertaining whether he had in any respect changed his views upon religion. He told them that he had not.
Second – James Cheetham. This man was the most malicious enemy Mr. Paine had, and yet he admits that “Thomas Paine died placidly, and almost without a struggle.” (See Life of Thomas Paine, by James Cheetham).
Third – The ministers, Milledollar and Cunningham. These gentlemen told Mr. Paine that if he died without believing in the Lord Jesus Christ he would be damned, and Paine replied, “Let me have none of your popish stuff. Good morning.” (See Sherwin’s Life of Paine, p. 220).
Fourth – Mrs. Hedden. She told these same preachers when they attempted to obtrude themselves upon Mr. Paine again, that the attempt to convert Mr. Paine was useless – “that if God did not change his mind no human power could.”
Fifth – Andrew A. Dean. This man lived upon Paine’s farm at New Rochelle, and corresponded with him upon religious subjects. (See Paine’s Theological Works, p. 308.)
Sixth – Mr. Jarvis, the artist with whom Paine lived. He gives an account of an old lady coming to Paine and telling him that God Almighty had sent her to tell him that unless he repented and believed in the blessed Savior, he would be damned. Paine replied that God would not send such a foolish old woman with such an impertinent message. (See Clio Rickman’s Life of Paine.)
Seventh – Wm. Carver, with whom Paine boarded. Mr. Carver said again and again that Paine did not recant. He knew him well, and had every opportunity of knowing. (See Life of Paine by Gilbert Vale.)
Eighth – Dr. Manley, who attended him in his last sickness, and to whom Paine spoke his last words. Dr. Manley asked him if he did not wish to believe in Jesus Christ, and he replied, “I have no wish to believe on that subject.”
Ninth – Willet Hicks and Elias Hicks, who were with him frequently during his last sickness, and both of whom tried to persuade him to recant. According to their testimony, Mr. Paine died as he had lived – a believer in God, and a friend of man. Willet Hicks was offered money to say something false against Thomas Paine. He was even offered money to remain silent and allow others to slander the dead. Mr. Hicks, speaking of Thomas Paine, said: “He was a good man – an honest man.” (Vale’s Life of Paine.)
Tenth – Amasa Woodsworth, who was with him every day for some six weeks immediately preceding his death, and sat up with him the last two nights of his life. This man declares that Paine did not recant and that he died tranquilly. The evidence of Mr. Woodsworth is conclusive.
Eleventh – Thomas Paine himself. The will of Thomas Paine, written by himself, commences as follows:
“The last will and testament of me, the subscriber, Thomas Paine, reposing confidence in my creator God, and in no other being, for I know of no other, nor believe in any other;” and closes in these words; “I have lived an honest and useful life to mankind; my time has been spent in doing good, and I die in perfect composure and resignation to the will of my creator God.”
Twelfth – If Thomas Paine recanted, why do you pursue him? If he recanted, he died substantially in your belief, for what reason then do you denounce his death as cowardly? If upon his death-bed he renounced the opinions he had published, the business of defaming him should be done by Infidels, not by Christians.
I ask you if it is honest to throw away the testimony of his friends – the evidence of fair and honorable men – and take the putrid words of avowed and malignant enemies?
When Thomas Paine was dying, he was infested by fanatics – by the snaky spies of bigotry. In the shadows of death were the unclean birds of prey waiting to tear with beak and claw the corpse of him who wrote the “Rights of Man.” And there lurking and crouching in the darkness were the jackals and hyenas of superstition ready to violate his grave.
These birds of prey – these unclean beasts are the witnesses produced and relied upon by you.
One by one the instruments of torture have been wrenched from the cruel clutch of the church, until within the armory of orthodoxy there remains but one weapon – Slander.
Against the witnesses that I have produced you can bring just two – Mary Roscoe and Mary Hinsdale. The first is referred to in the memoir of Stephen Grellet. She had once been a servant in his house. Grellet tells what happened between this girl and Paine. According to this account Paine asked her if she had ever read any of his writings, and on being told that she had read very little of them, he inquired what she thought of them, adding that from such an one as she he expected a correct answer.
Let us examine this falsehood. Why would Paine expect a correct answer about his writings from one who had read very little of them? Does not such a statement devour itself? This young lady further said that the “Age of Reason” was put in her hands and that the more she read in it the more dark and distressed she felt, and that she threw the book into the fire. Whereupon Mr. Paine remarked, “I wish all had done as you did, for if the devil ever had any agency in any work, he had it in my writing that book.”
The next is Mary Hinsdale. She was a servant in the family of Willet Hicks. She, like Mary Roscoe, was sent to carry some delicacy to Mr. Paine. To this young lady Paine, according to her account, said precisely the same that he did to Mary Roscoe, and she said the same thing to Mr. Paine.
My own opinion is that Mary Roscoe and Mary Hinsdale are one and the same person, or the same story has been by mistake put in the mouth of both.
It is not possible that the same conversation should have taken place between Paine and Mary Roscoe, and between him and Mary Hinsdale.
Mary Hinsdale lived with Willet Hicks and he pronounced her story a pious fraud and fabrication. He said that Thomas Paine never said any such thing to Mary Hinsdale. (See Vale’s Life of Paine.)
Another thing about this witness. A woman by the name of Mary Lockwood, a Hicksite Quaker, died. Mary Hinsdale met her brother about that time and told him that his sister had recanted, and wanted her to say so at her funeral. This turned out to be false.
It has been claimed that Mary Hinsdale made her statement to Charles Collins. Long after the alleged occurrence Gilbert Vale, one of the biographers of Paine, had a conversation with Collins concerning Mary Hinsdale. Vale asked him what he thought of her. He replied that some of the Friends believed that she used opiates, and that they did not give credit to her statements. He also said that he believed what the Friends said, but thought that when a young woman, she might have told the truth.
In 1818 William Cobbett came to New York. He began collecting materials for a life of Thomas Paine. In this he became acquainted with Mary Hinsdale and Charles Collins. Mr. Cobbett gave a full account of what happened in a letter addressed to the Norwich Mercury in 1819. From this account it seems that Charles Collins told Cobbett that Paine had recanted. Cobbett called for the testimony, and told Mr. Collins that he must give time, place, and the circumstances. He finally brought a statement that he stated had been made by Mary Hinsdale. Armed with this document Cobbett, in October of that year, called upon the said Mary Hinsdale, at No. 10 Anthony street, New York, and showed her the statement. Upon being questioned by Mr. Cobbett she said, “That it was so long ago that she could not speak positively to any part of the matter – that she would not say that any part of the paper was true – that she had never seen the paper – and that she had never given Charles Collins authority to say anything about the matter in her name.” And so in the month of October, in the year of grace 1818, in the mist and fog of forgetfulness disappeared forever one Mary Hinsdale – the last and only witness against the intellectual honesty of Thomas Paine.
Did Thomas Paine live the life of a drunken beast, and did he die a drunken, cowardly and beastly death?
Upon you rests the burden of substantiating these infamous charges.
You have, I suppose, produced the best evidence in your possession, and that evidence I will now proceed to examine. Your first witness is Grant Thorburn. He makes three charges against Thomas Paine. 1st. That his wife obtained a divorce from him in England for cruelty and neglect. 2d. That he was a defaulter and fled from England to America. 3d. That he was a drunkard.
These three charges stand upon the same evidence – the word of Grant Thorburn. If they are not all true Mr. Thorburn stands impeached.
The charge that Mrs. Paine obtained a divorce on account of the cruelty and neglect of her husband is utterly false. There is no such record in the world, and never was. Paine and his wife separated by mutual consent. Each respected the other. They remained friends. This charge is without any foundation in fact. I challenge the Christian world to produce the record of this decree of divorce. According to Mr. Thorburn it was granted in England. In that country public records are kept of all such decrees. Have the kindness to produce this decree showing that it was given on account of cruelty or admit that Mr. Thorburn was mistaken.
Thomas Paine was a just man. Although separated from his wife, he always spoke of her with tenderness and respect, and frequently sent her money without letting her know the source from whence it came. Was this the conduct of a drunken beast?
The second charge, that Paine was a defaulter in England and fled to America, is equally false. He did not flee from England. He came to America, not as a fugitive, but as a free man. He came with a letter of introduction signed by another Infidel, Benjamin Franklin. He came as a soldier of Freedom – an apostle of Liberty.
In this second charge there is not one word of truth.
He held a small office in England. If he was a defaulter the records of that country will show that fact.
Mr. Thorburn, unless the record can be produced to substantiate him, stands convicted of at least two mistakes.
Now, as to the third: He says that in 1802 Paine was an “old remnant of mortality, drunk, bloated and half asleep.”
Can any one believe this to be a true account of the personal appearance of Mr. Paine in, 1802? He had just returned from France. He had been welcomed home by Thomas Jefferson, who had said that he was entitled to the hospitality of every American.
In 1802 Mr. Paine was honored with a public dinner in the city of New York. He was called upon and treated with kindness and respect by such men as DeWitt Clinton.
In 1806 Mr. Paine wrote a letter to Andrew A. Dean upon the subject of religion. Read that letter and then say that the writer of it was an “old remnant of mortality, drunk, bloated and half asleep.” Search the files of the New York Observer from the first issue to the last, and you will find nothing superior to this letter.
In 1803 Mr. Paine wrote a letter of considerable length, and of great force, to his friend Samuel Adams. Such letters are not written by drunken beasts, nor by remnants of old mortality, nor by drunkards. It was about the same time that he wrote his “Remarks on Robert Hall’s Sermons.”
These “Remarks” were not written by a drunken beast, but by a clear-headed and thoughtful man.
In 1804 he published an essay on the invasion of England, and a treatise on gunboats, full of valuable maritime information: – in 1805, a treatise on yellow fever, suggesting modes of prevention. In short, he was an industrious and thoughtful man. He sympathized with the poor and oppressed of all lands. He looked upon monarchy as a species of physical slavery. He had the goodness to attack that form of government. He regarded the religion of his day as a kind of mental slavery. He had the courage to give his reasons for his opinion. His reasons filled the churches with hatred. Instead of answering his arguments they attacked him. Men who were not fit to blacken his shoes, blackened his character.
There is too much religious cant in the statement of Mr. Thorburn. He exhibited too much anxiety to tell what Grant Thorburn said to Thomas Paine. He names Thomas Jefferson as one of the disreputable men who welcomed Paine with open arms. The testimony of a man who regarded Thomas Jefferson as a disreputable person, as to the character of anybody, is utterly without value. In my judgment, the testimony of Mr. Thorburn should be thrown aside as wholly unworthy of belief.
Your next witness is the Rev. J.D. Wickham, D.D., who tells what an elder in his church said. This elder said that Paine passed his last days on his farm at New Rochelle with a solitary female attendant. This is not true. He did not pass his last days at New Rochelle. Consequently this pious elder did not see him during his last days at that place. Upon this elder we prove an alibi. Mr. Paine passed his last days in the city of New York, in a house upon Columbia street. The story of the Rev. J.D. Wickham, D.D., is simply false.
The next competent false witness is the Rev. Charles Hawley, D.D., who proceeds to state that the story of the Rev. J.D. Wickham, D.D., is corroborated by older citizens of New Rochelle. The names of these ancient residents are withheld. According to these unknown witnesses, the account given by the deceased elder was entirely correct. But as the particulars of Mr. Paine’s conduct “were too loathsome to be described in print,” we are left entirely in the dark as to what he really did.
While at New Rochelle Mr. Paine lived with Mr. Purdy – with Mr. Dean – with Captain Pelton, and with Mr. Staple. It is worthy of note that all of these gentlemen give the lie direct to the statements of “older residents” and ancient citizens spoken of by the Rev. Charles Hawley, D.D., and leave him with his “loathsome particulars” existing only in his own mind.
The next gentleman you bring upon the stand is W.H. Ladd, who quotes from the memoirs of Stephen Grellet. This gentleman also has the misfortune to be dead. According to his account, Mr. Paine made his recantation to a servant girl of his by the name of Mary Roscoe. To this girl, according to the account, Mr. Paine uttered the wish that all who read his book had burned it. I believe there is a mistake in the name of this girl. Her name was probably Mary Hinsdale, as it was once claimed that Paine made the same remark to her, but this point I shall notice hereafter. These are your witnesses, and the only ones you bring forward, to support your charge that Thomas Paine lived a drunken and beastly life and died a drunken, cowardly and beastly death. All these calumnies are found in a life of Paine by a Mr. Cheetham, the convicted libeler already referred to. Mr. Cheetham was an enemy of the man whose life he pretended to write.
In order to show you the estimation in which Mr. Cheetham was held by Mr. Paine, I will give you a copy of a letter that throws light upon this point:
October 28, 1807.
“MR. CHEETHAM: Unless you make a public apology for the abuse and falsehood in your paper of Tuesday, October 27th, respecting me, I will prosecute you for lying.”
In another letter, speaking of this same man, Mr. Paine says: “If an unprincipled bully cannot be reformed, he can be punished.” ” Cheetham has been so long in the habit of giving false information, that truth is to him like a foreign language.”
Mr. Cheetham wrote the life of Paine to gratify his malice and to support religion. He was prosecuted for libel – was convicted and fined.
Yet the life of Paine written by this man is referred to by the Christian world as the highest authority.
As to the personal habits of Mr. Paine, we have the testimony of William Carver, with whom he lived; of Mr. Jarvis, the artist, with whom he lived; of Mr. Staple, with whom he lived; of Mr. Purdy, who was a tenant of Paine’s; of Mr. Burger, with whom he was intimate; of Thomas Nixon and Captain Daniel Pelton, both of whom knew him well; of Amasa Woodsworth, who was with him when he died; of John Fellows, who boarded at the same house; of James Wilburn, with whom he boarded; of B.F. Haskin, a lawyer, who was well acquainted with him and called upon him during his last illness; of Walter Morton, a friend; of Clio Rickman, who had known him for many years; of Willet and Elias Hicks, Quakers, who knew him intimately and well; of Judge Herttell H. Margary, Elihu Palmer, and many others. All these testified to the fact that Mr. Paine was a temperate man. In those days nearly everybody used spirituous liquors. Paine was not an exception; but he did not drink to excess. Mr. Lovett, who kept the City Hotel where Paine stopped, in a note to Caleb Bingham, declared that Paine drank less than any boarder he had.
Against all this evidence you produce the story of Grant Thorburn – the story of the Rev. J.D. Wickham that an elder in his church told him that Paine was a drunkard, corroborated by the Rev. Charles Hawley, and an extract from Lossing’s history to the same effect. The evidence is overwhelmingly against you. Will you have the fairness to admit it? Your witnesses are merely the repeaters of the falsehoods of James Cheetham, the convicted libeler.
After all, drinking is not as bad as lying. An honest drunkard is better than a calumniator of the dead. “A remnant of old mortality, drunk, bloated and half asleep” is better than a perfectly sober defender of human slavery.
To become drunk is a virtue compared with stealing a babe from the breast of its mother.
Drunkenness is one of the beatitudes, compared with editing a religious paper devoted to the defence of slavery upon the ground that it is a divine institution.
Do you really think that Paine was a drunken beast when he wrote “Common Sense” – a pamphlet that aroused three millions of people, as people were never aroused by a pamphlet before? Was he a drunken beast when he wrote the “Crisis”? Was it to a drunken beast that the following letter was addressed:
ROCKY HILL, September 10. 1783.
“I have learned since I have been at this place, that you are at Bordentown. – Whether for the sake of retirement or economy I know not. Be it for either or both, or whatever it may, if you will come to this place and partake with me I shall be exceedingly happy to see you at it. Your presence may remind Congress of your past services to this country; and if it is in my power to impress them, command my best exertions with freedom, as they will be rendered cheerfully by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your works, and who with much pleasure subscribes himself,”
Your Sincere Friend,
Did any of your ancestors ever receive a letter like that?
Do you think that Paine was a drunken beast when the following letter was received by him?
“You express a wish in your letter to return to America in a national ship; Mr. Dawson, who brings over the treaty, and who will present you with this letter, is charged with orders to the captain of the Maryland to receive and accommodate you back, if you can be ready to depart at such a short warning. You will in general find us returned to sentiments worthy of former times; in these it will be your glory to have steadily labored and with as much effect as any man living. That you may live long to continue your useful labors, and reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations, is my sincere prayer. Accept the assurances of my high esteem and affectionate attachment.”
Did any of your ancestors ever receive a letter like that?
“It has been very generally propagated through the continent that I wrote the pamphlet ‘Common Sense.’ I could not have written anything in so manly and striking a style. – JOHN ADAMS.
“A few more such flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk, added to the sound doctrine and unanswerable reasoning contained in the pamphlet ‘Common Sense,’ will not leave numbers at a loss to decide on the propriety of a separation.” – GEORGE WASHINGTON.
“It is not necessary for me to tell you ’how much all your countrymen – I speak of the great mass of the people – are interested in your welfare. They have not forgotten the history of their own Revolution and the difficult scenes through which they passed; nor do they review its several stages without reviving in their bosoms a due sensibility of the merits of those who served them in that great and arduous conflict. The crime of ingratitude has not yet stained, and I trust never will stain, our national character. You are considered by them as not only having rendered important services in our own Revolution, but as being on a more extensive scale the friend of human rights, and a distinguished and able defender of public liberty. To the welfare of Thomas Paine the Americans are not, nor can they be indifferent.” – JAMES MONROE.
Did any of your ancestors ever receive a letter like that?
“No writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language.” – THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Was ever a letter like that written about an editor of the New York Observer?
Was it in consideration of the services of a drunken beast that the Legislature of Pennsylvania presented Thomas Paine with five hundred pounds sterling?
Did the State of New York feel indebted to a drunken beast, and confer upon Thomas Paine an estate of several hundred acres?
“I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”
“My own mind is my own church.”
“It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself.”
“Any system of religion that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system.”
“The Word of God is the creation which we behold.”
“The age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system.”
“It is with a pious fraud as with a bad action – it begets a calamitous necessity of going on.”
“To read the Bible without horror, we must undo everything that is tender, sympathizing and benevolent in the heart of man.”
“The man does not exist who can say I have persecuted him, or that I have in any case returned evil for evil.”
“Of all tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”
“My own opinion is, that those whose lives have been spent in doing good and endeavoring to make their fellow-mortals happy, will be happy hereafter.”
“The belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man.”
“The intellectual part of religion is a private affair between every man and his Maker, and in which no third party has any right to interfere. The practical part consists in our doing good to each other.”
“No man ought to make a living by religion. One person cannot act religion for another – every person must perform it for himself.”
“One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.”
“Let us propagate morality unfettered by superstition.”
“God is the power, or first cause, Nature is the law, and matter is the subject acted upon.”
“I believe in one God and no more, and I hope for happiness beyond this life.”
“The key of heaven is not in the keeping of any sect nor ought the road to it to be obstructed by any.”
“My religion, and the whole of it, is the fear and love of the Deity and universal philanthropy.”
“I have yet, I believe, some years in store, for I have a good state of health and a happy mind. I take care of both, by nourishing the first with temperance and the latter with abundance.”
“He lives immured within the Bastille of a word.”
How perfectly that sentence describes you: The Bastille in which you are immured is the word “Calvinism.”
“Man has no property in man.”
What a splendid motto that would have made for the New York Observer in the olden time!
“The world is my country; to do good, my religion.”
I ask you again whether these splendid utterances came from the lips of a drunken beast?
Did Thomas Paine die in destitution and want?
The charge has been made, over and over again, that Thomas Paine died in want and destitution – that he was an abandoned pauper – an outcast without friends and without money. This charge is just as false as the rest.
Upon his return to this country in 1802, he was worth $30.000, according to his own statement made at that time in the following letter addressed to Clio Rickman:
“MY DEAR FRIEND: Mr. Monroe, who is appointed minister extraordinary to France, takes charge of this, to be delivered to Mr. Este, banker in Paris, to be forwarded to you.
“I arrived at Baltimore the 30th of October, and you can have no idea of the agitation which my arrival occasioned. From New Hampshire to Georgia (an extent of 1,500 miles) every newspaper was filled with applause or abuse.
“My property in this country has been taken care of by my friends, and is now worth six thousand pounds sterling; which put in the funds will bring me -L-400 sterling a year.
“Remember me in affection and friendship to your wife and family, and in the circle of your friends.”
A man in those days worth thirty thousand dollars was not a pauper. That amount would bring an income of at least two thousand dollars per annum. Two thousand dollars then would be fully equal to five thousand dollars now.
On the 12th of July, 1809, the year in which he died, Mr. Paine made his will. From this instrument we learn that he was the owner of a valuable farm within twenty miles of New York. He also was the owner of thirty shares in the New York Phoenix Insurance Company, worth upwards of fifteen hundred dollars. Besides this, some personal property and ready money. By his will he gave to Walter Morton, and Thomas Addis Emmett, brother of Robert Emmett, two hundred dollars each, and one hundred to the widow of Elihu Palmer.
Is it possible that this will was made by a pauper – by a destitute outcast – by a man who suffered for the ordinary necessaries of life?
But suppose, for the sake of the argument, that he was poor and that he died a beggar, does that tend to show that the Bible is an inspired book and that Calvin did not burn Servetus? Do you really regard poverty as a crime? If Paine had died a millionaire, would you have accepted his religious opinions? If Paine had drank nothing but cold water would you have repudiated the five cardinal points of Calvinism? Does an argument depend for its force upon the pecuniary condition of the person making it? As a matter of fact, most reformers – most men and women of genius, have been acquainted with poverty. Beneath a covering of rags have been found some of the tenderest and bravest hearts.
Owing to the attitude of the churches for the last fifteen hundred years, truth-telling has not been a very lucrative business. As a rule, hypocrisy has worn the robes, and honesty the rags. That day is passing away. You cannot now answer the arguments of a man by pointing at holes in his coat. Thomas Paine attacked the church when it was powerful – when it had what was called honors to bestow – when it was the keeper of the public conscience – when it was strong and cruel. The church waited till he was dead then attacked his reputation and his clothes.
Once upon a time a donkey kicked a lion. The lion was dead.
From the persistence with which the orthodox have charged for the last sixty-eight years that Thomas Paine recanted, and that when dying he was filled with remorse and fear; from the malignity of the attacks upon his personal character, I had concluded that there must be some evidence of some kind to support these charges. Even with my ideas of the average honor of believers in superstition – the disciples of fear – I did not quite believe that all these infamies rested solely upon poorly attested lies. I had charity enough to suppose that something had been said or done by Thomas Paine capable of being tortured into a foundation for these calumnies. And I was foolish enough to think that even you would be willing to fairly examine the pretended evidence said to sustain these charges, and give your honest conclusion to the world. I supposed that you, being acquainted with the history of your country: felt under a certain obligation to Thomas Paine for the splendid services rendered by him in the darkest days of the Revolution. It was only reasonable to suppose that you were aware that in the midnight of Valley Forge the “Crisis,” by Thomas Paine, was the first star that glittered in the wide horizon of despair. I took it for granted that you knew of the bold stand taken and the brave words spoken by Thomas Paine, in the French Convention, against the death of the king. I thought it probable that you, being an editor, had read the “Rights of Man;” that you knew that Thomas Paine was a champion of human liberty; that he was one of the founders and fathers of this Republic; that he was one of the foremost men of his age; that he had never written a word in favor of injustice; that he was a despiser of slavery; that he abhorred tyranny in all its forms; that he was in the widest and highest sense a friend of his race; that his head was as clear as his heart was good, and that he had the courage to speak his honest thought. Under these circumstances I had hoped that you would for the moment forget your religious prejudices and submit to the enlightened judgment of the world the evidence you had, or could obtain, affecting in any way the character of so great and so generous a man. This you have refused to do. ln my judgment, you have mistaken the temper of even your own readers. A large majority of the religious people of this country have, to a considerable extent, outgrown the prejudices of their fathers. They are willing to know the truth and the whole truth, about the life and death of Thomas Paine. They will not thank you for having presented them the moss-covered, the maimed and distorted traditions of ignorance, prejudice, and credulity. By this course you will convince them not of the wickedness of Paine, but of your own unfairness.
What crime had Thomas Paine committed that he should have feared to die? The only answer you can give is, that he denied the inspiration of the Scriptures. If this is a crime, the civilized world is filled with criminals. The pioneers of human thought – the intellectual leaders of the world – the foremost men in every science – the kings of literature and art – those who stand in the front rank of investigation – men who are civilizing, elevating, instructing, and refining mankind, are to-day unbelievers in the dogma of inspiration. Upon this question, the intellect of Christendom agrees with the conclusions reached by the genius of Thomas Paine. Centuries ago a noise was made for the purpose of frightening mankind. Orthodoxy is the echo of that noise.
The man who now regards the Old Testament as in any sense a sacred or inspired book is, in my judgment, an intellectual and moral deformity. There is in it so much that is cruel, ignorant, and ferocious that it is to me a matter of amazement that it was ever thought to be the work of a most merciful deity.
Upon the question of inspiration Thomas Paine gave his honest opinion. Can it be that to give an honest opinion causes one to die in terror and despair? Have you in your writings been actuated by the fear of such a consequence? Why should it be taken for granted that Thomas Paine, who devoted his life to the sacred cause of freedom, should have been hissed at in the hour of death by the snakes of conscience, while editors of Presbyterian papers who defended slavery as a divine institution, and cheerfully justified the stealing of babes from the breasts of mothers, are supposed to have passed smilingly from earth to the embraces of angels? Why should you think that the heroic author of the “Rights of Man” should shudderingly dread to leave this “bank and shoal of time,” while Calvin, dripping with the blood of Servetus, was anxious to be judged of God? Is it possible that the persecutors – the instigators of the massacre of St. Bartholomew – the inventors and users of thumb-screws, and iron boots, and racks – the burners and tearers of human flesh – the stealers, whippers and enslavers of men – the buyers and beaters of babes and mothers – the founders of inquisitions – the makers of chains, the builders of dungeons, the slanderers of the living and the calumniators of the dead, all died in the odor of sanctity, with white, forgiven hands folded upon the breasts of peace, while the destroyers of prejudice – the apostles of humanity – the soldiers of liberty – the breakers of fetters – the creators of light – died surrounded with the fierce fiends of fear?
In your attempt to destroy the character of Thomas Paine you have failed, and have succeeded only in leaving a stain upon your own. You have written words as cruel, bitter and heartless as the creed of Calvin. Hereafter you will stand in the pillory of history as a defamer – a calumniator of the dead. You will be known as the man who said that Thomas Paine, the “Author Hero,” lived a drunken, cowardly and beastly life, and died a drunken and beastly death. These infamous words will be branded upon the forehead of your reputation. They will be remembered against you when all else you may have uttered shall have passed from the memory of men.
ROBERT G. INGERSOLL