-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
It was brutally cold in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on 23 December 1776 when Thomas Paine released the first in a series of sixteen papers entitled The American Crisis. The first paper, which starts out “These are the times that try men’s souls,” inspired a despondent George Washington who ordered it read to his entire army on Christmas night. Later that night the army crossed the Delaware River and the next day won a small but psychologically important victory at the Battle of Trenton. This was the first time Washington’s forces had defeated a regular army in the field and the victory helped secure Washington’s command.
Paine spent the 1790’s in Europe where he embroiled himself in the French Revolution. In 1801, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte invited Paine to dinner. Napoleon claimed he slept with a copy of Rights of Man under his pillow and went so far as to say to Paine that “a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe.” The respect was not mutual. Paine reported said that Napoleon was “the completest charlatan that ever existed.” It was during this time that Paine published the first two parts of Age of Reason.
In 1802 President Thomas Jefferson convinced Paine hold off publishing the third part and invited Paine to return to America. Jefferson, much to the chagrin of the Federalists, also invited Paine to the White House. It was Paine who encouraged Jefferson to offer Napoleon money for the French-controlled territory of Louisiana. In May 1803, Napoleon sold the Louisiana territory to the United States for $15 million.
Paine returned to the 277 acre farm in New Rochelle, which the state of New York awarded to him in 1784. However, due to his views on religion and a vindictive letter Paine sent to George Washington, he was ostracized and moved to New York City in 1805. In 1807, Paine published part three of Age of Reason. While the first two parts sold well in American, the third part did not.
Paine died in New York City in 1809 at the age of 72. Although Paine wished to be buried in the Quaker cemetery, this request was refused because of his views on religion. Paine’s burial was denied by all Christian cemeteries. Paine was interred in a corner of his New Rochelle farm. His funeral was attended by six people, one of them the casket maker, hoping to get paid.
After Paine’s death numerous Christian sects set about to impeach his sincerity and intellectual honesty. Since Paine’s father was a Quaker, the Quakers were very active in creating calumnies. One such statement involved Mary Hinsdale, a servant of Willet Hicks, a Quaker merchant and preacher. Hinsdale claims to have visited Paine’s room and engaged him in conversations and heard Paine utter “‘Oh! Lord!’ ‘Lord God!, or ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me!.”
However, Nicholas Bonneville and his wife, friends who accompanied Paine on his 1802 trip from France, tell a different story. It was the Bonneville house at 59 Grove Street, New York City, where Paine spent his final days. Madame Bonneville, who was present during that time, wrote:
When he was near his end, two American clergymen came to see him, and to talk with him on religious matters. ‘Let me alone,’ said he, ‘good morning.’ He desired they should be admitted no more.
As with other recantation calumnies, the lie quickly spread and was believed. The famous English writer and admirer of Paine, William Cobbett wrote a detailed refutation to little effect. It was Cobbett who, in September 1819, traveled to America and dug up Paine’s coffin. Cobbett hastened the coffin on board a ship and took the coffin back to England where he planned to build a shrine to Paine where his body could rest in honor.
Paine’s views on the monarchy helped make him unpopular in England and found Cobbett with few supporters. Upon Cobbett’s death, his son assumed possession of Paine’s remains. The whereabouts of Paine’s remains has been lost to history.