by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
East Aurora, N.Y.: Printed at the Roycroft Shop, 1914.
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By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Every American should know the story of Thomas Paine's life. Unfortunately, however, only a comparatively small number of our immense population are acquainted with his remarkable career, and but few realize the great debt of gratitude that we all owe this great libertarian's memory.
How many Americans know that to Thomas Paine's writings, more than to any other factor, we owe our independence as the United States of America? How many of us know that the very name, "United States of America," was coined by Thomas Paine and first used by him? All of us should know it.
Thomas Paine was one of the founders of the United States of America; was, in fact, the prime mover in the establishment of the great American republic. Had it not been for his great efforts in liberty's behalf, it is quite as likely as not that to this very day this land would have remained under British rule.
Thomas Paine wrote and published in January, Seventeen Hundred and Seventy-six, the earliest plea for American independence. This was his pamphlet entitled, Common Sense. Previous to the appearance of Paine's masterly argument urging immediate separation and resistance, the American Colonists, notwithstanding the impositions of Great Britain (unbearable taxations, etc.), had thought only of supplications and petitions to George the Third for relief. Despite the British monarch's long-continued obduracy and the fact that each new oppression was followed by another and that he turned a deaf ear to all appeals, the Colonists still hoped on, with never a thought of rebellion. Even Washington, at this time, expressed loyalty to the king.
Like a thunderbolt from the sky came Paine's magnificent argument for liberty. It electrified the people, and its stirring words swept like wildfire through the country. No pamphlet ever written sold in such vast numbers, nor did any ever before or since produce such marvelous results. Paine donated all the financial proceeds of the pamphlet to the cause of liberty (as he did with all of his other works).
Washington, now converted, wrote to his friends in praise of Common Sense, asserting that Paine's words were "sound doctrine and unanswerable reasoning." Jefferson, John Adams, Franklin, Madison, all the great statesmen of the time, wrote praisefully of Paine's "flaming arguments."
In July, six months after Common Sense had awakened the people, the Declaration of Independence, embracing the chief arguments of Paine's great pamphlet, and much of its actual wording, was signed by the committee of patriots in Philadelphia.
The great Revolution commenced at once. The oppressed Colonists took up arms at a great disadvantage, by reason of lack of food, clothes, money and munitions of war; but, inspired by the forceful message of Common Sense, they fought bravely and well. When Winter set in, however, the ill-clad, poorly-nourished little army had been greatly reduced in numbers by desertions from its ranks. Many of the soldiers were shoeless and left bloody footprints on the snow-covered line of march. All were but half-hearted at this time and many utterly discouraged. Washington wrote most apprehensively concerning the situation to the Congress.
Paine, in the meantime (himself a soldier, with General Greene's army
on the retreat from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to Newark), realizing the necessity
of at once instilling renewed hope and courage in the soldiers if the cause
of liberty were to be saved, wrote by campfire at night the first number
of his soul-stirring Crisis, commenting with the words:
Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated."
Washington ordered the Crisis read aloud to every regiment of the army. The effect was magical. Hope was renewed in every breast. Deserters returned to the ranks. Men who had half-heartedly withheld from joining the patriot army took courage from Paine's thrilling words and shouldered muskets with the rest. The great cause, tottering on the brink of dissolution, was saved. Paine's Crisis did it.
Following the first number of the Crisis came others--thirteen
in all--the last commencing with the words:
Paine was not only a great author and statesman, but he was distinctly a pioneer, an originator, an inventor and creator. To him we are indebted for many of the world's greatest ideas and most important reforms. It was Paine who first proposed the abolition of negro slavery; Paine was the first to suggest arbitration and international peace; Paine originally proposed old-age pensions.
These are a few of the other great ideas he fathered: He first suggested international copyright; first proposed the education of children of the poor at public expense; first suggested a great republic of all the nations of the world; first proposed "the land for the people:; first suggested "the religion of humanity"; first proposed and first wrote the words "United States of America"; first suggested protection for dumb animals; first suggested justice to women; first proposed the purchase of the Louisiana territory; first suggested the Federal Union of States.
Much, much more might be told of this wonderful man, but this is merely a little booklet, not a biographical volume.
For a century the world has ignored his brilliant mind. Indeed, Paine's name has been branded by bigots and fanatics with all imaginable obloquy.
He was an atheist, a Free-Thinker, a blasphemer, simply because he could not believe in some old traditions which today are known to be allegorical, and which few intelligent minds regard seriously.
Some of the world's greatest men have paid tributes of praise to Thomas Paine, and their testimony is worth recording.
Napoleon said in toasting him at a banquet, "Every city in the world should erect a gold statue to you."
General Andrew Jackson, the "Hero of New Orleans," and the seventh President
of the United States, said to the venerable philanthropist, Judge Herttell,
of New York, upon the latter proposing the erection of a suitable monument
to Thomas Paine:
George Washington, first President of this great Republic, in a letter
to Thomas Paine, inviting that author and patriot to partake with him,
at Rocky-Hill, wrote:
Major-General Charles Lee, of the American Revolutionary Army, speaking of the wonderful effects of Paine's writings, said that "he burst forth on the world like Jove in thunder!"
John Adams said that Lee used to speak of Paine as "the man with genius in his eyes."
Joel Barlow, poet, patriot and statesman, and an intimate friend of
Paine, wrote of him as follows:
"He ought to be ranked among the brightest and undeviating luminaries of the age in which he lived.
"As a visiting acquaintance and a literary friend, he was one of the most instructive men I ever have known. He had a surprising memory and a brilliant fancy. His mind was a storehouse of facts and useful observations. He was full of lively, anecdote, and ingenious, original, pertinent remark upon almost every subject.
"He was always charitable to the poor beyond his means, a sure protector and a friend to all Americans in distress that he found in foreign countries: and he had frequent occasion to exert his influence in protecting them during the Revolution in France. His writings will answer for his patriotism."
Thomas Clio Rickman, author, poet, biographer, writing of Paine, said:
Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States and co-author
with Thomas Paine of the famous Declaration of Independence, wrote to Paine
in Eighteen Hundred One, tendering him a passage to the United States,
from France, in a national vessel. Jefferson's appreciation of Paine
may be noted in this paragraph of his letter:
James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, in a letter to Thomas
Paine, wrote as follows:
Let us reiterate the hope expressed by James Monroe, that the crime of ingratitude shall never stain our national character. It is time indeed that the world awakened to the merits of Thomas Paine.
With the view of spreading the light concerning Paine, the Thomas Paine National Historical Association was organized and incorporated in New York some years ago. Through the efforts of this Association Thomas Pain is at last coming into his own. The Association intends that Thomas Paine shall occupy that niche in the world's Temple of Fame where he properly belongs, and to that end it bends its every endeavor.
The Association has established at New Rochelle, New York, in the house that Paine built on the great farm presented to him by the State of New York in recognition of his patriotic services, a Thomas Paine National Museum. Admission is free. The Association publishes pamphlets and other literature from time to time on the subject of Thomas Paine.
In the Thomas Paine National Museum at New Rochelle are to be seen relics of the great author, rare first editions of his chief works, rare portraits, etc., etc. On January the Twenty-ninth, Paine's birthday, the Association holds its yearly dinner. Every year, usually on Memorial Day, the Association has a commemorative meeting in Paine's honor at the Paine Monument in New Rochelle. The expenses of the Association are defrayed by the receipts from membership dues. The officers receive no remuneration for their services. The membership dues are only one dollar a year (no initiation or other fees).
The Association will gladly send literature concerning the organization and its work to any one applying for it. Address: W.H.Harvey, Treasurer, Sixty-two Vesey Street, New York.
THE most formidable