Trying Times For Thomas Paine’s Soul

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Thomas PaineIt 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.

H/T: John E. Remsburg, NY Times, Time, Donald R. McClarey, The History Guide, The Libertarian Heritage.

57 thoughts on “Trying Times For Thomas Paine’s Soul

  1. When you die and are in the grave on the day of the burial you dont look up through the dirt to see how many people are standing up there praying for you. If the dogs come around and pee you dont know that either.

    If this guy was alive he would be mad about the news from Indiana where the nurse of 21 years tenure gets fired from the hospital for refusing a flu shot on religious and other grounds. As a person in a prior life I contracted polio from a polio shot. I would like to take a shot at the school principal who set up the polio vacinne program. I got over it. Many did not.

  2. When I croak I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered off the Mississippi River bridge. If everyone is a sinner then why would I want even partial sinners praying for my sould. Where can I buy The Age of Reason?

  3. “The opinions I have advanced … are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.” (regarding his views as expressed in The Age of Reason)

    On the Bible being an allegorical myth describing astrology, Mr Paine wrote:

    “The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and pay him the adoration originally payed to the sun.”

    The speculation put forward by many historians down through the centuries is that Thomas Paine’s steadfast opposition to slavery also led to his unpopularity with influential leaders of the American revolution. Further, his dim views of Washington, published in an open letter, caused many of the common folk to turn against him.

    When he died, every single religious organization refused permission for his burial and thus he was buried on his farm. Only 6 people attended the funeral and one of them is said to be the casket maker looking to be paid. Two other attendees were identified at the time as “grateful freedmen”.

    I’m going to hazard a guess that things would not be much different for Mr. Paine if he lived today for he would still be a man ahead of his time.

  4. Why did he want to be buried in a Quaker cemetery if he was not religious? I don’t quite understand. Perhaps he could never come to terms with a religion that he loved but was forced upon him as a child. I believe children should be exposed to religion but never have it forced upon them. I always made it clear to my daughter that while I was raised without religion I wanted to raise her within religion. What religion she decides to follow, if any, as an adult is up to her. Religion is not bad, people are…

  5. The man was a fount of wisdom. Not just a national treasure, but rather one for all of humanity.

    “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” – Thomas Paine

  6. Beverelliee:

    ” Religion is not bad, people are.”


    Who created religion?

    BTW here’s why Paine was a Quaker:

    “Could the peaceable principle of the Quakers be universally established, arms and the art of war would be wholly extirpated: But we live not in a world of angels…I am thus far a Quaker, that I would gladly agree with all the world to lay aside the use of arms, and settle matters by negotiation: but unless the whole will, the matter ends, and I take up my musket and thank Heaven He has put it in my power.”
    ― Thomas Paine

  7. Nal,

    Enlightening, Inspiring, and much more.

    Great minds and spirits are not always given a place in the pantheon.
    I suggest that we take 15 million spent for the Louisiana Purchase and erect a monument to Paine, adding a million for each year since that we have enjoyed the fruits of its acquisition. Placement in Wahington, on the mall below the Congressional steps.

    Is it ironic that we used virtual genocide of the native population, contrary to the noble words in our founding documents, to fulfill the exploitation??

    And his fate is proof that being outstanding does not have much effect, contrary to our convictions about the effects of the “Rugged Individual” and the rugged’s importance to our progress. Paine, a giant, was derisively denied in his lifetime and since, as to being a factor of progress. Or of influence.

    Our souls and our nation are poorer for it.

    Special thanks for the links.


    A short thought was given the form of the monument, especially in light to the others to our FFs. It came to mind the pyramid with the all-seeing eye at its top, which is found on our currency. Can’t you see the massive monolith crowned with shining neon eye rotating at the top.

    Fortunately, I recalled how well this could be a symbol of our monolithic surveillance police state, and its all-seeing eye. But perhaps an appropriate tribute to Paine and his fight for mankind, That we failed is not his fault.

  8. Wouldn’t it be a pleasure if everyone that has read Paine lived his acts in deed…… Nah, too far fetched…..

    Thanks nal, did you and Mike S get together before you published….

  9. I was engrossed for over an hour writing a comment, losing in hole, and re-writing it in briefer form.
    If I thereby have repeated points made by others in this time.ít was not intentional.

  10. Interesting article David. Thomas Paine should have a statue in every city as Napolean suggested, but instead his good works and good life were marred because of his views on mainstream religion. It is so sad that his remains appear to have been lost due to people being afraid to buck their systems.

  11. Single revolutionaries have seldom succeeded. Only he who adapts to the true reality in which he works, exploits it and guards his tongue will succeed. Opposition to this idea is welcome, and even hoped for.

    As one implied, Paine’s vision will be long in reaching realization in this world.
    Myth driven? The next step is religion which embodies the myths and forcibly enforces them.

    Jesus was but a product of his time, unsuccessful among his own folk, and stolen from them to found an unworthy copy decisively pointed at enslavement, not freedom of your own wisdom to be tested against reality.

  12. This proves that morality, honesty, generousity,fighting for injustice, caring for humanity are not the religious traits but the human ones.

    Religions teach repression, suppression, submission and anything else to enslave the followers with a bait called soul.

    Thomas Payne was too honest for the religion.

  13. It really matters little where you are buried, if your works gave instruction to many. Two hundred years beyond his barely noticed death Paine remains an intellectual immortal, which is a far better “epitaph” than the biggest stone monument.

  14. Although Mr. Paine was born into a Quaker family and espoused many of the Quaker views, he also claimed that if the Almighty were a Quaker there would be no color in flowers blooming and no songs for birds to sing.

    The man was a diamond in the rough.

  15. “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

    “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    “I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

    I”t is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?”

    Age of Reason, Part 1, Section 1

    That last paragraph, sounds a lot like Repubican leaders.

  16. We have all played the game of, “If you could only invite six historical people to dinner, who would they be?”

    Thomas Payne would be at the top of that list. A towering intellect, and the guy Diogenes was looking for, but never found.

  17. OS:

    Voltaire is sitting next to me at my dinner party. Much funnier than Payne.

    “I should like to know which is worse: to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, and have a buttock cut off, and run the gauntlet of the Bulgarians, and be flogged and hanged in an auto-da-fe, and be dissected, and have to row in a galley — in short, to undergo all the miseries we have each of us suffered — or simply to sit here and do nothing?’
    That is a hard question,’ said Candide.”


  18. mespo,
    I neglected to mention that no dinner party would be complete without
    Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).

  19. Mespo, thank for the brilliant reminder of what can happen to those who “say too much.”

    Say, Gene, Old Top, in the spirit of Paine, does not “Zero Dark Thirty” make for an ingredient into your next installment on propaganda?

    Regrettably, the font of such topics does not appear to be ebbing.

  20. OS:

    Here’s my Dinner Party “A” List and I’ m limiting it to just eight with equal members of each sex:

    Oscar Wilde
    Thomas Jefferson
    Mother Mary Harris Jones
    Mae West
    Julia Boggs Dent Grant
    Sally Hemmings

  21. Such is the life of great leaders who fall out of favor for political reasons the do not deserve.

    Dinner for me would be a one on one dinner with each of these persons:

    Charlie Rose
    Dwight Eisenhower
    Theodore Roosevelt
    Aung San Suu Kyi
    Leonardo di Vinci
    John Locke
    A random person from Pompeii prior to 79 AD.

  22. James in LA,

    The next installment was going to be on identifying who is spreading a message and how to identify sociopaths and psychopaths. However, in light of ZDT and at your suggestion, I may do a supplemental in the form of a movie review coupled with analysis. I had planned to boycott the film, but I may just have to take one for the team.

  23. OS, mespo, Darren, et al.,

    I’d have to invite at least fifteen. My dinner list would be:

    Thomas Jefferson
    Alexander Hamilton
    Werner Heisenberg (for the Copenhagen interpretation and to ask if he really sandbagged the Nazis)
    Hugh Everett (for the Many Worlds interpretation)
    Groucho Marx
    George Carlin
    Vincent van Gogh
    M.C. Escher
    Harlan Ellison
    William Shakespeare
    Kurt Vonnegut
    Dorothy Parker
    Margaret Atwood
    Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
    Jesus of Nazareth (if he was real, if not, Alan Watts or some worthy other alternate)

    although I don’t think you could go wrong having Oscar Wilde at any given party.

  24. Elizabeth I of England
    Catherine the Great of Russia
    Martha Washington
    Abigail Adams
    Dolly Madison
    Hillary Clinton
    Ben Franklin

    Dinner for eight

  25. Blouise,
    You are going to be alone with a half dozen women and Ben Franklin. Hmmm….. Now that would be interesting. I understand he was quite the ladies man, but seven?

  26. As for dinner with great people, I recall a wonderful dinner a few weeks ago with a distinguished gentleman named Gene Howington. I think I am going to have to do that again. The rest of you can just eat your hearts out.

  27. I stuck Ben in there simply because I’m hoping that in his desire to impress the ladies he will “tell all”.

  28. There is little wonder why “change” is such a hot commodity, and why we go into The Wayback Machine to change reality, since we can’t do it in the present.

    Some cursed writers taut us betimes:

    Now comes “The Barbarous Years,” the next installment. It circles back to a period that most Americans don’t hear much about in school: the chaotic decades from the establishment of Jamestown (England’s first permanent colony in the Americas) in 1607 up to King Philip’s War (the vicious conflict that effectively expelled Indians from New England) in 1675-76. Bailyn’s goal is to show how a jumble of migrants, “low and high born,” sought “to recreate, if not to improve, in this remote and, to them, barbarous environment, the life they had known before.” As the title indicates, the story is as grim as it is fascinating: a group portrait in tones of greed, desperation and brutality. In recent years conservative writers dismayed by historical revisionism have flooded stores with books extolling the character and sagacity of America’s founders. “The Barbarous Years” is not one of them.

    Death was everywhere,” Bailyn writes of Jamestown. The colony was a commercial enterprise, started by the Virginia Company with the sort of careful financial evaluation that in the more recent past was the hallmark of the dot-com boom.

    (The Barbarous Years, emphasis added). When those historical years ended is easy to know (they haven’t ended), but when they began is somewhat of a mystery to talk about over a dinner of diminishing resources.

    I like Paine too, but his statement “I am thus far a Quaker, that I would gladly agree with all the world to lay aside the use of arms, and settle matters by negotiation: but unless the whole will, the matter ends, and I take up my musket and thank Heaven He has put it in my power” places him in the same camp as The Universal Smedley and the other class b authoritarians we are “with god on our side”.

  29. In real history, addiction was the prime mover, as it still is today:

    English people kept coming anyway, lured by a discovery that the Crown and company hated: tobacco. Hip, fun, disdained by stuffy authorities and wildly addictive, the smoking weed was an ideal consumer product. Thousands of migrants were willing to risk death for the chance to cash in on England’s squadrons of new nicotine junkies. The Chesapeake Bay became a barely governed swarm of semi-independent tobacco fiefs, owned by families, operated by squads of indentured servants, all squabbling with one another, Protestants against Catholics, English against other Europeans, everyone against Indians.

    (The Barbarous Years, link in my comment above). We have advanced way beyond that tobacco thingy through “great technology”, and of course revisionist history:

    The addiction to oil … at least to the wealth and to the products made accessible to us by oil … look at the negative consequences on the environment we are destroying the very Earth that we inhabit for the sake of that addiction. Now these addictions are far more devastating in the social consequences than the cocaine or heroin habits of my … patients. Yet they are rewarded and considered to be respectable. The tobacco company executive that shows a higher profit will get a much bigger reward … doesn’t face any negative consequences legally or otherwise … in fact is a respected member of the board of several other corporations … but tobacco smoke related diseases kill 5.5 million people around the world every year. In the United States they kill 400,000 people a year“.

    (The “It’s In Your Genes” Myth, quoting Dr. Maté, emphasis added). That is the eternal business as usual we have to gloss over and write around.

    Perhaps the good news of the story is so hard to figure out that it is ok to make up our own version.

    The is still what we are trying to find.

  30. Interesting.
    Except for one meandering but purposefully aimed trip through a certain persons blogs. Link the Barbarian article, note barbarism still exists; that would have sufficed. OT article, but still relevant to liberty granted to free men. But self-effacement is not a common trait. Speak on and convince us fully.
    Not an objection or snark so much as a clear-eyed observation of a previous idol. To lose our myths and idols is painful but necessary.

    I thank all for the list of greats, many of whom were unknown or at least not well acquainted with. I will Wiki them all. About all I can manage now.

    As for dinner menu and common language it might be difficult to resolve.
    The greater problem is being host. I would rather sit at their feet, eating some symbolic grapes, sweet ones note.

    To direct the conversation as was custom some years back would be presumptious. The Nobel Prize banquet hosted, by the Foundation, offers perhaps the best solution. But that we make lists is of course hubris, none of us is worthy, with a possible two exceptions. Figure that one out for yourselves.

  31. Sam Clemens
    Richard Pryor
    George Carlin
    Abe Lincoln
    Erik the red
    Grace Kelly
    Jesus of Nazareth
    Sam Kinnison
    Jerry Falwell

    (jerry gonna hava some spanin to do)

  32. That’d be an interesting room, pete, but poor beautiful Grace with Erik the Red and Kinnison?

    They wouldn’t stand a chance.

  33. If intelligence is a virus, Thomas Paine was deeply infected. Don’t worry though, the majority of the human race seems to be immune from the germ.

    Popular media 24 / 7 … bombards us with antigens.

  34. erik the red because he has the balls to tell a bunch of vikings that the big glacier to the west is greenland. plus he makes my table manners look tame.

    i might have to watch kennison around Grace though. no way would i let ben franklin near her.

  35. Dinner guests —

    The ladies of the the U.S. soccer team which won the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics — and not for the reasons Pete might guess, but to thank them for the impact they had on my then young daughters and nieces and all the other young girls just like them.

    Those same young girls are now the strong, self-confident, capable young women who helped return President Obama to the White House and hopefully will help move this country in a new direction.

  36. Darren, you are on my short list of living personalities with whom I would look forward to inviting to dinner.

  37. pete9999

    Thanks for Erik the Red. Always glad when credit is given where credit is due.
    Haven’t you forgot the editors of Hustler?

    Gene (it was?)

    Mightn’t she like a change for once.?

  38. Cheech and Chong, David Colbert, Leonard Cohen.
    Lenny Bruce, Jon Stewart, Tom Lehrer, Samuel Clemens
    and as co-host Benjamin Franklin.

    C&C would do their schtick. Leonard would declaim some poetry and sing.
    Tom Lehrer would also sing his irreverent words. Samuel would make dry comments and give his new essay: “Innoccents in Washington”, Jon Stewart could tell us his favorite rant or the one he dreams of doing, etc. Oh yes, Benjamin could tell how really randy it was in Paris among the noble ladies.

  39. Tired of dinners? Make a list of those to be consigned to hell. Order not important. They are going in the same shipment, and the Devil will find appropriate punishments for them.

    Mitt Romney, the first Speaker of the House, Woodrow Wilson, HW Bush,
    the Koch Brothers, Herbert Hoover, Dubja, and Abe Lincoln.

    Why Abe? Because the devil will treat him to all the pleasures óf hell, just to show the others what they are not getting. Besides he might enjoy the change from a boring heaven.

    OT Apopros Diogenes finding Thomas Paine. Would Diogenes leave his barrel and clothe himself similar to Paine, acting as political advisor and PR man to Paine. How different would it be today? None, two idealists make no more progress than one, but they keep each other company in a lonely world.

  40. A random bit on bullies, a tribute to someone here. Note I said tribute, and it is not GeneH. No named or poorly hidden snark. The readers will have to judge themselves. All will find themselves innocent. We usually do. Me too.

    A bully is only a quarter man. He can barely stand upright, but he makes loud noises, wild gestures, and impresses the chickens.

    When joined by another quarter man, he relaxes and finding the support he needs, they walk around with power-drunken swaggers like post-game soccer hoodlums in England thrown out of the pub.

    A third QM not only increaes the volume, it increases their choice of opponents as they can do the series of attacks tactical maneuvers require.
    A fourth man is added, and now they feel omnipotent, not only all-knowing. The fourth man becomes the leader, having appraised the others before joining, and knowing that he will be top bully, who administers coup de grace—the ultimate pleasure.

    Bullies here? No that delusion is gone. Here we are all well-intentioned persons. Need I say more?

    No one was the target. Only our cultural (genetic?) heritage which comes to the surface occasionally. Who here has not enjoyed the pleasures of bullying? Not I.

  41. We will never know in this lifetime if the named would accept the invitations at all….. I am just a dreamer….. But dreams are good…..

  42. I had the opportunity to be of help to someone yesterday that was in an unfortunate situation….. They had to submit to a psychoanalysis for employment in a government job….. Unfortunately the person turned out to be a psychorapist…… It is unfortunate when a trained individual in matters of the mind uses that position to take advantage of others….. The individual had the good sense after the first time to record the next three session…. So far the state is denying liability as the person is not a state employee but independent contractor….. Ya just never know what kinda flakes will pop out of psycho schools….

  43. AY

    Thank fate for escaping the notice of the caring state in all its hijacked extensions for the sake of power and of the bureaucracy; and those misfits that inhabit the posts.
    Scary anecdotes!

  44. RE: The Historian I Quoted In My Comments Up-Thread (the one that generated the whining because he popped mythical bubbles):

    Bernard Bailyn (born September 9, 1922) is an American historian, author, and professor specializing in U.S. Colonial and Revolutionary-era History. He has been a professor at Harvard University since 1953. Bailyn has won the Pulitzer Prize for History twice (in 1968 and 1987). In 1998 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected him for the Jefferson Lecture. He was a recipient of the 2010 National Humanities Medal.

    (Another Link To Cause Whining). Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I want my myth ….. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    BTW, even The New Yorker is now getting IT.

Comments are closed.