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. 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)

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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”.

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. Blouise,

    You do realize the inherent risk of putting Franklin alone in a room full of women, right? 😉

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

    Dinner for eight

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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.

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