THOMAS PAINE, author-patriot, 1737-1809
On January 29th people around the world working for reform and free thought will celebrate Thomas Paine’s birthday. This under-sung founding father well represents all those who forged the American nation and brought modern popular democracy into the world. He deserves to be nationally honored post-911 as a great American who fought for freedom, equality, direct democracy, and human rights.
Paine may be the only true revolutionary in our Revolution. His ideals bring common people together as a community. No one is above the law. Justice and fairness shall prevail. Everyone gets to vote. He argued for social security, childcare reform, universal health care, animal cruelty penalties and animal shelters over 230 years ago.
He warned us to watch, guide, and stop the powerful elite if we want humanity in general to succeed. He proposed that any bill that enriches a corporation or grants a corporate charter should be enacted in one session of the legislature, and confirmed in a second, after a vote of the people, to stop corporate raids on the public treasury.
The Revolution might have failed without Tom, or perhaps not even started. He wrote America’s first bestseller Common Sense, taking backroom revolutionary discussion public, which led directly to the signing of the Declaration of Independence six months later. He spent two years in the Colonial Army with Washington, including the brutal winter at Valley Forge where he wrote The Crisis – among the most famous words in the American revolutionary liturgy – to talk the starving, freezing army out of deserting the cause. General Washington personally read them to his men.
“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 all men and women.”
Paine’s words helped save the army and the infant nation. Sent to France by Congress at his own expense to find aid to save America from bankruptcy, he not only got the aid, but bankrupted himself by buying a desperately needed ship and cargo of muskets, powder and shot (since congress wouldn’t pay for them), saving the army and the nascent nation a second time, literally by himself.
After our Revolution, Paine was made an honorary citizen of France so that he could be elected to the French National Convention to help form their new republic. He wrote much of the first French constitution and his masterwork The Rights of Man, both of which still inform the world. He was certain that democracy was spreading and would soon free all of humanity from tyranny. He was jailed, instead, as too moderate (!) and his health was wrecked.
He asked his old friend Washington for help to get home, but George ignored him to protect treaty negotiations with England for access to the rich West Indies rum, molasses and slave trade. Tom wrote a bitter letter: Washington was a monarch – who ignored honor to friends and allies who helped set America free; and aided the filthy barbarians who had enslaved her instead – solely for the sake of ungodly profit.
Washington’s political party the Federalists was outraged. Tom languished in prison for Washington’s eight-year presidency; and four more, because John Adams carried an old grudge for Paine calling him a would-be king (which he was). Paine’s liberal friend Thomas Jefferson finally welcomed Tom home after fifteen years, but trouble was waiting.
While in exile, Paine wrote The Age of Reason to “avoid politics and controversy,” and rejected religion in it. We can just stare at a tree, he says, and believe in God. Who needs revealed religion? Religionists branded him an atheist, Federalists recalled his insult to their great hero general president, and both went “a-howl in the newspapers over the drunken, atheist, radical Jefferson has let back into the country.”
Tom couldn’t get a job or a pension. All he wanted was repayment for money he gave to the Cause – dollar for dollar – without other reward, but he was only given a small farm in New Rochelle, New York by the state legislature as compensation. He retreated to it in poverty to write letters to the editor and to Jefferson, and articles on controversial topics. When Louisiana petitioned for statehood with a right to keep slaves, he wrote that admitting slaves to a free and equal society was unthinkable. Pennsylvanians must be sent to teach Louisiana about democracy; and don’t call it “Louisiana,” for it honors a king, insulting the republic just won by the people’s blood.
He tried to vote for his friend Jefferson in 1804, but the New Rochelle election board wouldn’t allow it: he was a “French citizen” because of the honorary citizenship permitting him to serve in the Convention. He spent his last days in the courts trying to redress this ultimate indignity, but it was not the final disrespect.
He was refused burial in Quaker ground despite his request, because the Quakers feared someone might immodestly raise a monument to him. He was buried on a remote corner of his New Rochelle farm, and a visiting Englishman later secretly dug up Tom’s bones, took them to England, stashed them under his bed, and forgot about them. Upon rediscovery years later, they were sold and parted out all over England as souvenirs, and the whereabouts of Tom Paine’s bones is today unknown. It begs the question: How frightened of a man must one be to want to hide his very bones?
After Tom began to grow in popularity and accreditation during the threatened nationally self-conscious democracy of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, New Rochelle belatedly admitted his full American citizenship in 1945. In truth, he’s a citizen of the world. Tom Paine’s fierce principled call for human rights and, yes, loving hearts, still echoes and is still needed, for as much now as then, “These are the times that try men’s [and women’s] souls.”
Citizen Paine was the essence of our great democratic republican experiment: we are rebels as well as patriots. On January 29th, or July 4th, when-, or wherever freedom loving people are gathered, lift your cup and toast a great American, friend to all the world, and champion of nature and humanity. Sing out: “Hurrah!” for Tom Paine. – © J. Legry ‘08
SIGN THE PETITION BELOW TO HELP UNDO THE DEMOCRATICALLY DISASTROUS Citizens United DECISION:
The Republicans are bought into the craziness at a very deep level. They will not get better. They will explode or fizzle out, but they will not get “well.” These sick puppies prefer revolution and the overthrow of the United States government to honest political dialog and debate. We really need to put these crazies into the booby hatch. At very least, we must stop giving them political credibility.
We Move to Amend. We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend our Constitution to:
Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our votes and participation count.
Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.
Signed by 379,547 and counting . . .to 500,000
PETITION LINK: http://movetoamend.nationbuilder.com/petition