This Famous Person Game - February 2015
by Mike McLeod
“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
–Thomas Paine, The American Crisis.
Thomas Paine was born on January 29, 1737 in Norfolk, England. He is considered by some to be one of the Founding Fathers of our country. His tract, Common Sense, is credited as a spark that enflamed the colonists’ desire for freedom from Great Britain when it was lagging in the beginning. In the 50 pages of Common Sense, Paine explained the evils and tyranny of rule by kings and the need for independence. He sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the Colonies and abroad. It was published on January 10, 1776.
After the Revolutionary War began and was going badly for the Continental Army, Paine published The American Crisis on Dec. 19, 1776. It was read to the troops to inspire their flagging spirits. Reread the first paragraph above in the mindset of a cold, hungry and despondent Revolutionary War soldier to get a glimpse of the importance of Thomas Paine’s words.
In the months before this, General George Washington lost 11,000 troops to desertion. Reportedly, Washington had Paine’s words read to his troops on Christmas Day before crossing the Delaware River that night, attacking and defeating the Hessian troops near Trenton, N.J., a major victory. On Jan. 2, 1777, Washington’s army defeated the British in Princeton, causing General Cornwallis to withdraw his troops from New Jersey.1 These were much-needed victories for Washington.
Thomas Paine also wrote The Rights of Man in support of the French Revolution and The Age of Reason, a treatise against established religions in general and Christianity particularly. Paine was not an atheist as some think. Paine believed in God; it was the corrupt actions of the religious leaders of his day that he had problems with: “Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity…. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter.”
Consequently, people had a problem Paine. Religions or religious thinking in his day often ruled countries or had great sway. Most people did not want to hear their religions disparaged, even though Paine also wrote this in The Age of Reason (Part First): “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.” In Part II, he wrote: “The moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral goodness and beneficence of God, manifested in the creation toward all his creatures. That seeing, as we daily do, the goodness of God to all men, it is an example calling upon all men to practise (sic) the same toward each other; and, consequently, that everything of persecution and revenge between man and man, and everything of cruelty to animals, is a violation of moral duty.”
Part of The Age of Reason was written while Paine was jailed in Luxembourg Prison in France, a former palace.2 Paine went to France is support of the French Revolution, but he bitterly opposed the guillotining of hundreds during the Reign of Terror. He was arrested as one faction took over the government from the other—even though he had been given honorary citizenship and elected to the National Convention3 in 1789 which established France’s First Republic.
Thomas Paine, who opposed capital punishment, was almost sent to the guillotine. He was scheduled for execution, but a simple door left open saved his life. Not that he escaped; instead, those to be executed had a mark chalked on the outside of their jail doors. The jailer marked the inside of Paine’s open door by mistake. Remember, this was a former palace, not a jail; things were more relaxed there. The next day when guards were sent to gather the prisoners for execution, Paine’s door was closed.4
Perhaps this close call contributed to Thomas Paine’s turning against President George Washington. Believing the President had not attempted to get him released, Paine wrote in a letter to him that was later published: "Monopolies of every kind marked your administration almost in the moment of its commencement. The lands obtained by the revolution were lavished upon partisans; the interests of the disbanded soldier was sold to the speculator; injustice was acted under the pretence of faith; and the chief of the army became the patron of the fraud…the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any." 5
This letter, the animosity expressed toward religion in The Age of Reason, and other missteps were Thomas Paine’s undoing with the public. Few attended his funeral after he died on June 8, 1809 in New York City. A newspaper eulogized him thusly: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm.” 6
A nursery rhyme of the day went:
Poor Tom Paine! there he lies:
Nobody laughs and nobody cries.
Where he has gone or how he fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares.7
Fortunately, modern history has looked more favorably upon Thomas Paine and has taken some of his mistakes in stride, which seems right. When weighing his deeds in life and the effect his words had on the creation of this country, we should all be grateful for Thomas Paine.
Ted Carlton of Utah, Scott and Carolyn Brown of Montgomery, Ala., and Sherron Lawson of Roswell, Ga., correctly identified Thomas Paine. Ted Carlton also correctly identified Kit Carson last month, but was inadvertently overlooked.
1 History.com, “This Day in History, Dec 19, 1776: Thomas Paine publishes
2 History.com, “This Day in History, Dec 28, 1793: An American hero is arrested
3 Biography.com, “Thomas Paine.”
4 The Life and Writings of Thomas Paine, by Thomas Paine and biography by
Thomas Clio Rickman, p. 261.
5 Mountvernon.org, Thomas Paine, "Letter to George Washington, 30 July 1796."
6 Encyclopedia of British Writers, 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries, p. 186, Alan
Hager, General Editor.
7 Wired.com, archive, “The Age of Pain.”
about more Famous People