Thomas Paine

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Frederick Sheldon (essay date 1859)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4709

SOURCE: "Tom Paine's First Appearance in America," in Highlights in the History of the American Press: A Book of Readings, edited by Edwin H. Ford and Edwin Emery, University of Minnesota Press, 1954, pp. 100-11.

[In the second part of his Atlantic Monthly biography of Paine (from November, 1859), excerpted below, Sheldon recounts the revolutionary's role in the French Revolution and his efforts to inspire democratic fervor in England. As in his previous article, Sheldon summarizes the content of Paine's major works and illustrates the dramatic political situations in which he wrote.]

When Tom Paine came to America in 1774, he found the dispute with England the all-absorbing topic. The atmosphere was heavy with the approaching storm. The First Congress was in session in the autumn of that year. On the 17th of September, John Adams felt certain that the other Colonies would support Massachusetts. The Second Congress met in May, 1775. During the winter and spring the quarrel had grown rapidly. Lexington and Concord had become national watchwords; the army was assembled about Boston; Washington was chosen commander-in-chief. Then came Bunker's Hill, the siege of Boston, the attack upon Quebec. There was open war between Great Britain and her Colonies. The Americans had drawn the sword, but were unwilling to raise the flag.

From the beginning of the troubles the Colonists had been consistent in their acts. Public meetings, protests, burnings in effigy, tea-riots, militia levies, congresses, skirmishes, war, followed each other in regular and logical succession—but theoretically they did not make out so clear a case. They had fine-drawn distinctions, not easy to appreciate at this day, between taxes levied for the purpose of raising revenue and duties imposed for the regulation of trade. Parliament could lay a duty on tobacco in a seaport, but might not make the weed excisable on a plantation, could break down a loom in any part of British America, could shut out all intercourse with foreign nations by the Navigation Act, but had not the legal right to make the Colonial merchant write his contracts or draw his bills on stamped paper. As to independence, very few desired it. "Independence," it was the fashion to say, "would be ruin and loss of liberty forever." The Colonists insisted that they were the most loyal of subjects; but they had men and muskets ready, and were determined to resist the obnoxious acts of Parliament with both, if necessary. These arguments of our ancestors led them to an excellent conclusion, and so far are entitled to our respect; but logically we are afraid that King George had the best of it.

Before many months had passed, lagging theory was left so far in the rear by the rapid course of events that the Colonists felt it necessary to move up a new set of principles to the van, if they wished to present a fair front to the enemy. They had raised an army, and taken the field. Unless they declared themselves a nation, they were confessedly rebels. And yet almost all hesitated. There was a deep-seated prejudice in favor of the English government, and a strong personal liking for the people. Even when it was known that the second petition to the King—Dickinson's "measure of imbecility"—was disregarded, as it deserved to be, and that the Hessians were coming, and all reasonable men admitted that there was no hope for reconciliation, they still refused to abandon the pleasing delusion, and talked over the old plans for redress of grievances, and a constitutional union with the mother country. With little or no belief in the possibility of either, they stood shivering on the banks of the Rubicon, that mythical river of irretrievable self-committal, hesitating to enter its turbid waters. A few of the bolder "shepherds of the people" tried to urge them onward; but no one was bold enough to dash in first and lead them through. Paine seized the opportunity. He had a mind whose eye always saw a subject, when it could perceive it at all, in its naked truth, stripped of the non-material accessories which disturb the vision of common men. He saw that reconciliation was impossible, mere rebellion folly; and that, to succeed in the struggle, it was necessary to fight Great Britain as an equal, nation against nation. This course he recommended in Common Sense, published in January, 1776.

Paine told the Colonists in this pamphlet that the connection with the mother country was of no use to them, and was rapidly becoming an impossibility. "It is not in the power of England to do this continent justice. The business of it is too weighty and too intricate to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience by a power so distant. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which, when obtained, requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness." As to the protection of England, what is that but the privilege of contributing to her wars? "Our trade will always be a protection." "Neutrality is a safer convoy than a man-of-war." "It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she can never do while by her dependence on Britain she is made the make-weight in the scale of European politics."

According to Common Sense, not only was a separation necessary and unavoidable, but the present moment was the right time to establish it. "The time hath found us." The materials of war were abundant; the union of the Colonies complete. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to form the continent into a government half a century hence. Now the task is easy. The interest of all is the same. "There is no religious difficulty in the way." "I fully believe that it is the will of the Almighty that there should be a diversity of religious opinions among us. I look upon the various denominations among us as children of the same family, differing only in what is called their Christian names." All things considered, "nothing can settle our affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration of independence." "This proceeding may at first appear strange and difficult. A long habit of not thinking a wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right"; but in a little time it will become familiar. "And until independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done; hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity." To this he thought it necessary to add a labored argument against kings from the Old Testament, which may possibly have had much weight with a people some of whose descendants still triumphantly quote the same holy book in favor of slavery.

The King's speech, "a piece of finished villany," in the eyes of true patriots, appeared in Philadelphia on the same day as Common Sense. Thus Paine was as lucky in his time of publication as in his choice of a subject. All contemporaries admit that the pamphlet produced a prodigious effect. Paine himself says, "The success it met with was beyond anything since the invention of printing. I gave the copyright up to every State in the Union, and the demand ran to not less than one hundred thousand copies." The authorship was attributed to Dr. Franklin, to Samuel Adams, and to John Adams.

It is hardly necessary to mention that the movement party, with General Washington at its head, considered Paine's "doctrines sound, and his reasoning unanswerable." Even in England, Liberals read and applauded. The pamphlet was translated into French. When John Adams went to France, he heard himself called le fameux Adams, author of Common Sense.

It soon became apparent that the people were charged with Independence doctrines, and, like an electrified Leyden jar, only waited for the touch of a skillful hand to produce the explosion. Common Sense drew the spark. The winged words flew over the country and produced so rapid a change of opinion, that, in most cases, conservatives judged it useless to publish the answers they had prepared. One or two appeared. None attracted attention. About five months later, Congress declared independence; "as soon," Paine wrote, "as Common Sense could spread through such an extensive country." In a few years Paine asserted and believed that, had it not been for him, the Colonial government would have continued, and the United States would never have become a nation.

If we countermarch and get into the rear of Time, to borrow an expression from The Crisis, and, placing ourselves in January, 1776, look at Common Sense from that date, we may understand without much difficulty why it produced so great an impression. Paine, as later, when he brought out the Rights of Man, caused a chord to vibrate in the popular mind which was already strung to the exact point of tension. The publication was not only timely—it was novel. Paine founded a new school of pamphleteering. He was the first who wrote politics for the million. The learned political dissertations of Junius Brutus, Publicus, or Philanglus were guarded in expression, semimetaphysical in theory, and Johnsonian in style. They were relished by comparatively few readers; but the shrewd illustrations of Common Sense, the homely force of its statements, and its concise and muscular English stirred the mind of every class. Even Paine's coarse epithets, "Common Ruffian," "Royal Brute of Britain," and the like, which offended the taste of the leaders of the American party—for party-leaders were gentlemen in 1776—had as much weight with the rank-and-file as his arguments.

Paine became suddenly famous. General Charles Lee said "that he burst upon the world like Jove, in thunder." His acquaintance was sought by all who were of the true faith in Independence; and when, soon afterward, he visited New York, he carried with him letters from Dr. Franklin and John Adams, introducing him to the principal residents "as a citizen of the world, the celebrated author of Common Sense." Had he been a man of fortune or American-born, he might have reached a place in the foremost rank of the Fathers of the Country. But nativism was powerful, and position important at that time, as Lee and Gates and even Hamilton himself experienced. The signature Common Sense, Paine preserved through life. It became what our authorlings, who ought to know better, will persist in calling a nom de plume—a Yankee affectation, unknown to French idioms.

In the autumn of 1776, Paine joined the army as volunteer aide-de-camp to General Greene, and served through the gloomy campaign which opened with the loss of New York in September. He remained in the field until the army went into winter-quarters after the battles of Trenton and Princeton. It was not as a combatant that Paine did the States good service. He played the part of Tyrtaeus in prose—an adaptation of the old Greek lyrist to the eighteenth century and to British America—and cheered the soldiers, not with songs, but with essays, continuations of Common Sense. The first was written on the retreat from Fort Lee, and published under the name of The Crisis, on the 23d of December, when misfortune and severe weather had cast down the stoutest hearts. It began with the well-known phrase, "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 his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.... But after all," he continues, "matters might be worse. Howe has done very little. Fort Washington and Fort Lee were no loss to us. The retreat was admirably planned and conducted. General Washington is the right man for the place, 'with a mind that can even flourish upon care'." He closes with a cheerful sketch of the spirit and condition of the army, attacks the Tories, and appeals to the Colonies for union and contributions.

This Crisis produced the best effect at home; in England it had the honor of being burned by the hangman. The succeeding issues were brought out at irregular intervals, whenever the occasion seemed to demand Paine's attention; some of them not longer than a leader in a daily paper; others swollen to pamphlet dimensions. They were read by every corporal's guard in the army, and printed in every town of every State on brown or yellow paper; for white was rarely to be obtained. In their hours of despondency, the Colonists took consolation and courage from the Crisis. "Never," says a contemporary, "was a writer better calculated for the meridian under which he wrote, or who knew how to adapt himself more happily to every circumstance. . . . Even Cheetham admits, that to the army Paine's pen was an appendage almost as necessary and as formidable as its cannon."

The next campaign opened gloomily for the Colonies. The Tories felt certain of victory. In the political almanac of that party, 1777 was "the year with three gallows in it." The English held New York and ravaged the Jerseys on their way to Philadelphia. Howe issued a proclamation "commanding all congresses and committees to desist and cease from their treasonable doings," promising pardon to all who should come in and take the oath of allegiance. Paine met him with a Crisis. "By what means," he asked, "do you expect to conquer America? If you could not effect it in the summer, when our army was less than yours, nor in the winter, when we had none, how are you to do it? If you obtain possession of this city, [Philadelphia] you could do nothing with it but plunder it; it would be only an additional dead-weight on your hands. You have both an army and a country to contend with. You may march over the country, but you cannot hold it; if you attempt to garrison it, your army would be like a stream of water running to nothing. Even were our men to disperse, every man to his home, engaging to reassemble at some future day, you would be as much at a loss in that case as now. You would be afraid to send out your troops in detachments; when we returned, the work would be all to do." Paine then turns to those who, frightened by the proclamation, betrayed their country, and paints their folly and its punishment. In speaking of them, he calls upon the Pennsylvania Council of Safety to take into serious consideration the case of the Quakers, whose published protest against breaking off the "happy connection" seemed to Paine of a treasonable nature. "They have voluntarily read themselves out of the Continental meeting," he adds, with a humor, doubtless, little relished by the Friends, "and cannot hope to be restored to it again, but by payment and penitence."

In April, Paine was elected, on motion of John Adams, Secretary to the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, with a salary of seventy dollars a month. When Philadelphia surrendered, he accompanied Congress in the flight to Lancaster. The day after the affair at Brandywine, a short Crisis appeared, explaining the accidents which had caused the defeat of the Continentals, and insisting that the good cause was safe, and that Howe's victories were no better than defeats. Paine was right. The Americans were gaining more ground in Northern New York than they had lost in Pennsylvania. Burgoyne, who,

Unconscious of impending fates,
Could push through woods, but not through Gates

had capitulated. The news reached Philadelphia on the 18th of October.

This winter ought to have closed the war. The alliance with France, Burgoyne's capture, two campaigns without useful results, Washington's admirable patience and management at Valley Forge, with starvation and mutiny in the ranks and disaffection to his person in the officers of the Gates faction, ought to have convinced every Englishman in America that the attempt to reduce the Colonies was now hopeless. Paine was so indignant with the reckless obstinacy of the British government that he conceived the idea of carrying the war into England with pen and paper—weapons he began to think invincible in his hands.

"If I could get over to England," he wrote to his old chief, General Greene, "without being known, and only remain in safety until I could get out a proclamation, I could open the eyes of the country with respect to the madness and stupidity of its government." Greene had no confidence in the success of this appeal to the English people, and advised Paine not to attempt it.

In the meantime the French fleet had arrived, bringing M. Gérard, the first foreign minister to the United States, and with him trouble to Thomas Paine. It is well known that the French government employed Beaumarchais, the author of the Barber of Seville, as their agent to furnish secret supplies to the American insurgents, and that Beaumarchais imagined a firm, Rodrigue Hortalez & Co., who shipped to the United Colonies munitions of war furnished by the King, and were to receive return cargoes of tobacco, to keep up mercantile appearances. Silas Deane, a member of Congress from Connecticut, represented the Americans in the business. In 1777, Congress, out of patience with Deane for his foolish contracts with foreign officers, recalled him. He returned, bringing with him a claim of Beaumarchais for the cargoes already shipped to the United States. As Deane could produce no vouchers, and Arthur Lee had cautioned Congress against his demands, the claim was laid on the table until the vouchers should be presented.

Deane, confiding in the support of his numerous friends, appealed to the public in a newspaper. Congress bore this indignity so amiably—refusing, indeed, by a small majority to take notice of it—that Henry Laurens, the president, who had laid Deane's appeal before them for their action, resigned in disgust, and was succeeded by John Jay. But Paine, whose position as Foreign Secretary enabled him to know that the supplies had come from the French government, and not from Beaumarchais, answered Deane in several newspaper articles, entitled "Common Sense to the Public on Mr. Deane's Affairs." In these he exposed the whole claim with his usual unmitigated directness. M. Gérard immediately announced officially that Paine's papers were false, and called upon Congress to declare them so and to pay the claim. Party feeling ran high on this question—a foreshadowing of the French and English factions fifteen years later. Congress passed a resolution in censure of Paine. Mr. Laurens moved that he be heard in his defense; the motion was lost, and Paine resigned his office. A motion from the Deane party to refuse his resignation and to discharge him was also lost, the Northern States voting generally in Paine's favor. His resignation was then accepted.

As the French government persisted in denying that the King had furnished any supplies, Congress admitted the debt, and in October, 1779, drew bills on Dr. Franklin in favor of Beaumarchais, for two millions and a half of francs, at three years' sight. Beaumarchais negotiated the bills, built a fine hotel, and lived en prince. But neither he nor Deane was satisfied. They still demanded another million.

We have no doubt that Paine was correct in his facts, however injudicious it may have been to use them in his position. Deane's best friends gave him up, before many years had passed. M. de Loménie, in his interesting sketch of Beaumarchais, has tried hard to show the justice of his demands on the United States, but without much success. He does not attempt to explain how Beaumarchais, notoriously penniless in 1775, should have had in 1777 a good claim for three millions' worth of goods furnished. The American public looked upon Paine as a victim to state policy, and his position with his friends did not suffer at all in consequence of his disclosures. Personally, he exulted in his conduct to the end of his life, and took pleasure in watching and recording Deane's disreputable career and miserable end. "As he rose, like a rocket, so he fell like a stick," a metaphor which has passed into a proverb, was imagined by Paine to meet Deane's case. The immediate consequence of Paine's resignation was to oblige him to hire himself out as clerk to an attorney in Philadelphia. In his office, Paine earned his daily bread by copying law-papers until he was appointed clerk to the Assembly of Pennsylvania.

Early in May, 1780, while the Assembly of Pennsylvania was receiving petitions from all parts of the State, praying for exemption from taxes, a letter was brought to the speaker from General Washington, and read to the House by Paine as clerk. It stated simply that the army was in the utmost distress from the want of every necessary which men could need and yet retain life; and that the symptoms of discontent and mutiny were so marked that the General dreaded the event of every hour. "When the letter was read," says Paine, "I observed a despairing silence in the House. Nobody spoke for a considerable time. At length a member, of whose fortitude I had a high opinion, rose. 'If,' said he, 'the account in that letter is true, and we are in the situation there represented, it appears to me in vain to contend the matter any longer. We may as well give up first as last.' A more cheerful member endeavored to dissipate the gloom of the House, and moved an adjournment, which was carried."

Paine, who knew that the Assembly had neither money nor credit, felt that the voluntary aid of individuals could alone be relied upon in this conjuncture. He accordingly wrote a letter to a friend in Philadelphia, a man of influence, explaining the urgency of affairs, and inclosed five hundred dollars, the amount of the salary due him as clerk, as his contribution towards a relief fund. The Philadelphian called a meeting at the coffee-house, read Paine's communication, and proposed a subscription, heading the list with two hundred pounds in good money. Mr. Robert Morris put his name down for the same sum. Three hundred thousand pounds, Pennsylvania currency, were raised; and it was resolved to establish a bank with the fund for the relief of the army. This plan was carried out with the best results. After Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finances, he developed it into the Bank of North America, which was incorporated both by act of Congress and by the State of Pennsylvania. Paine followed up his letter by a Crisis Extraordinary. Admitting that the war costs the Colonists a very large sum, he shows that it is trifling, compared with the burdens the English have to bear. For this reason it would be less expensive for the Americans to raise almost any amount to drive the English out than to submit to them and come under their system of taxation.

Our ancestors read the Crisis Extraordinary, and understood every word of it, we may be sure. Paine's lucidity of statement is never more remarkable than when he handles financial questions. But conviction did not work its way down to the pocket. Few men gave who could avoid it, and each State appeared more fearful of paying, by accident, a larger sum than its neighbor, than of the success of the British arms. Congress, finding it at last almost impossible to get money or even provisions at home, resolved to resort again to the financial expedient which has proved so often profitable to this country, namely, to borrow in Europe. Colonel Laurens, son of the late President of Congress, was appointed commissioner to negotiate an annual loan from France of a million sterling during the continuation of the war. Paine accompanied him at his request.

They sailed in February, 1781, and were graciously received by King Louis, who promised them six millions of livres as a present and ten millions as a loan. In little more than ten years, the American secretary, who stands respectfully and unnoticed in the presence of his Majesty of France, will sit as one of his judges in a trial for life! Is there anything more wonderful in the transmutations of fiction than this? Meanwhile, the future member of the Convention, as little dreaming of what was in store for him as the King, sailed for Boston with his principal. They carried with them two millions and a half in silver—a great help to Washington in the movement southward, which ended with the capitulation of Yorktown. While in Paris, Paine was again seized with the desire of invading England, incognito, with a pamphlet in his pocket, to open the eyes of the people. But Colonel Laurens thought no better of this scheme than General Greene, and brought his secretary safely home again.

Cornwallis had surrendered, and it was evident that the war could not last much longer. The danger past, the Colonial aversion to pay Union expenses and to obey the orders of Congress became daily stronger. The want of a Crisis, as a corrective medicine for the body politic, was so much felt, that Robert Morris, with the knowledge and approbation of Washington, requested Paine to take pen in hand again, offering him, if his private affairs made it necessary, a salary for his services. Paine consented. A Crisis appeared which produced a most salutary effect. This was followed a few days later by another, in which a passage occurs which may be quoted as a specimen of Paine's rhetorical powers. A rumor was abroad that England was treating with France for a separate peace. Paine finds it impossible to express his contempt for the baseness of the ministry who could attempt to sow dissension between such faithful allies. "We sometimes experience sensations to which language is not equal. The conception is too bulky to be born alive, and in the torture of thinking we stand dumb. Our feelings, imprisoned by their magnitude, find no way out; and in the struggle of expression every finger tries to be a tongue." It will be difficult to describe better the struggle of an indignant soul with an insufficient vocabulary.

When peace was proclaimed, Paine, the untiring advocate of independence, had a right to print his "Io Paean." The last Crisis announces "that the times that tried men's souls were over, and the greatest and compietesi revolution the world ever knew gloriously and happily accomplished." "America need never be ashamed to tell her birth, nor relate the stages by which she rose to empire." But it is to the future he bids her look, rather than to the past. "The remembrance of what is past, if it operates rightly, must inspire her with the most laudable of all ambition, that of adding to the fair fame she began with." "She is now descending to the scenes of quiet and domestic life,—not beneath the cypress shade of disappointment, but to enjoy in her own land and under her own vine the sweet of her labors and the reward of her toil. In this situation may she never forget that a fair national reputation is of as much importance as independence,—that it possesses a charm that wins upon the world, and makes even enemies civil,—that it gives a dignity which is often superior to power, and commands reverence where pomp and splendor fail." As indispensable to a future of prosperity and dignity, he warmly recommends the Union. "I ever feel myself hurt," he says, "when I hear the Union, that great Palladium of our liberty and safety, the least irreverently spoken of. It is the most sacred thing in the Constitution of America, and that which every man should be most proud and tender of." Thus he anticipated by seventy-five years our "Union-savers" of 1856, few of whom dreamed that their pet phrases, or something very like them, originated with Thomas Paine.

Frederick Sheldon (essay date 1859)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11833

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine in England and in France," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. IV, No. XXVI, December, 1859, pp. 690-709.

[In the following essay (from December of 1859) Sheldon charts the first part of Paine's career as a pamphleteer. Hailing Paine as a primary force in the American move toward independence, Sheldon wrote against popular opinion of his day, which still tended to dismiss Paine's importance and integrity.]

[While he was in England in the late 1780s, Paine's] soul was engrossed by the contemplation of the wonderful event which was daily developing itself in France. Bankruptcy had brought on the crisis. In August, 1788, the interest was not paid on the national debt, and Brienne [Archbishop of Toulouse] resigned. The States-General met in May of the next year; in June they declared themselves a national assembly, and commenced work upon a constitution under the direction of Sièyes, who well merited the epithet, "indefatigable constitution-grinder," applied to Paine by Cobbett. Not long after, the attempted coup d'état of Louis XVI. failed, the Bastille was demolished, and the political Saturnalia of the French people began.

It is evident, that, in the beginning, Paine did not aspire to be the political Prometheus of England. He rather looked to the Whig party and to Mr. Burke as the leaders in such a movement. As for himself, a veteran reformer from another hemisphere, he was willing to serve as a volunteer in the campaign against the oppressors of mankind. He had adopted for his motto, "Where liberty is not, there is my country,"—a negative variation of Franklin's saying, which suited his tempestuous character. As he flitted to and fro across the Channel, observing with sharp, eager eyes the progress of "principles" in France, gradually there arose in his mind the thought that poor, old, worn-out England might be regenerated by these new methods. "The French are doubling their strength," he wrote, "by allying, if it may be so expressed, (for it is difficult to express a new idea by old terms,) the majesty of the sovereign with the majesty of the nation."

Paris swarmed with enthusiastic "friends of humanity," English, Scotch, and Irish. Among them Paine naturally took a foremost position, being an authority in revolutionary matters, and a man who had principles on the subject of government. In spite of his contempt of titles, he wrote himself, "Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Congress of the United States," slightly improving upon the office he had actually held, to suit the sound to European capacity,—showing that in this, likewise, he possessed a genuine American element of character. Lafayette thought much of him, used his pen freely, and listened to his advice. The Marquis, warm-hearted, honest, but endowed with little judgment and a womanish vanity, was trying to make himself the Washington of a French federative republic, and felt happy in having secured the experienced services of Mr. Paine. He wrote to his great master,—"Common Sense is writing a book for you, and there you will see a part of my adventures. Liberty is springing up around us in the other parts of Europe, and I am encouraging it by all the means in my power." Paine was in Paris when the Bastille was taken. Lafayette placed the key in his hands, to be transmitted to Washington. Paine wrote to the President, "That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted, and therefore the key comes to the right place." Washington, returning his thanks to Paine for the key, added,—"It will give you pleasure to learn that the new government answers its purposes as well as could have been reasonably expected." Yes! and still answers reasonable purposes to this day. In the mean while dozens of French constitutions, "perfections of human wisdom," have been invented, set up, and crushed to atoms. . . .

Before 1789, there was no particular discontent in England. Some talk there had been of reform in the representation, and the usual complaints of the burden of taxation. The Dissenters had been trying to get the Corporation and Test Acts repealed, without much success. But nothing beyond occasional meetings and petitions to Parliament would have occurred, had it not been for the explosion in France, then, as since, the political powder-magazine of Europe. The Whig party had seen with pleasure the beginning of the French reforms. Paine, who had partaken of Mr. Burke's hospitality at Beaconsfield, wrote to him freely from Paris, assuring him that everything was going on right; that little inconveniences, the necessary consequences of pulling down and building up, might arise; but that these were much less than ought to be expected; and that a national convention in England would be the best plan of regenerating the nation. Christie, a foolish Scotchman, and Baron Clootz (soon to become Anacharsis) also wrote to Burke in the same vein. Their communications affected his mind in a way they little expected. Mr. Burke had lost all faith in any good result from the blind, headlong rush of the Revolution, and was appalled at the toleration, or rather, sympathy, shown in England, for the riots, outrages, and murders of the Parisian rabble. He began writing the Reflections, as a warning to his countrymen. He was led to enlarge the work by some remarks made by Fox and Sheridan in the House of Commons; and more particularly by some passages in a sermon preached at the Old Jewry by Dr. Price. Eleven years before, this scientific divine, by a resolution of the American Congress, had been invited to consider himself an American citizen, and to furnish the rebellious Colonists with his assistance in regulating their finances. He had disregarded this flattering summons. Full of zeal for "humanity," he eagerly accepted the request of the Revolution Society to deliver their anniversary sermon. In this discourse, the Doctor, the fervor of whose sentiments had increased with age, maintained the right of the nation "to cashier the king," choose a new ruler, and frame a government for itself. The sermon and the congratulatory addresses it provoked were published by the society and industriously circulated.

Mr. Burke's well-known Reflections appeared in October, 1790. The book was hailed with delight by the conservatives of England. Thirteen thousand copies were sold and disseminated. It was a sowing of the dragon's teeth. Every copy brought out some radical, armed with speech or pamphlet. Among a vulgar and forgotten crowd of declaimers, the harebrained Lord Stanhope, Mary Wolstonecraft, who afterward wrote a "Vindication of the Rights of Women," and the violent Catharine Macaulay came forward to enter the ring against the great Mr. Burke. Dr. Priestley, Unitarian divine, discoverer of oxygen gas, correspondent of Dr. Franklin, afterward mobbed in Birmingham, and self-exiled to Pennsylvania, fiercely backed Dr. Price, and maintained that the French Revolution would result "in the enlargement of liberty, the melioration of society, and the increase of virtue and happiness." The "Vindiciæ Gallicæ" brought into notice Mr. Mackintosh, an opponent whom Burke did not consider beneath him. But the champion was Thomas Paine. At the White Bear, Piccadilly, Paine's favorite lounge, where Romney, who painted a good portrait of him, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Colonel Oswald, Home Tooke, and others of that set of clever, impracticable reformers used to meet, there had been talk of the blow Mr. Burke was preparing to strike, and Paine had promised his friends to ward it off and to return it. He set himself to work in the Red-Lion Tavern, at Islington, and in three months, Part the First of the Rights of Man was ready for the press. Here a delay occurred. The printer who had undertaken the job came to a stop before certain treasonable passages, and declined proceeding farther. This caused the loss of a month. At last, Jordan, of Fleet Street, brought it out on the 13th of March, 1791. No publication in Great Britain, not Junius nor Wilkes's No. 45, had produced such an effect. All England was divided into those who, like Cruger of Bristol, said "Ditto to Mr. Burke," and those who swore by Thomas Paine. "It is a false, wicked, and seditious libel," shouted loyal gentlemen. "It abounds in unanswerable truths, and principles of the purest morality and benevolence; it has no object in view but the happiness of mankind," answered the reformers. "He is the scavenger of rebellion and infidelity."—"Say, rather, 'the Apostle of Freedom, whose heart is a perpetual bleeding fountain of philanthropy.'" The friends of the government carried Paine in effigy, with a pair of stays under his arms, and burned the figure in the streets. The friends of humanity added a new verse to the national hymn, and sung,—

God save great Thomas Paine,
His Rights of Man proclaim
From pole to pole!

This pamphlet, which excited Englishmen of seventy years ago to such a pitch of angry and scornful contention, may be read safely now. Time has taken the sting from it. It is written in that popular style which was Paine's extraordinary gift. He practised the maxim of Aristotle,—although probably he had never heard of it,—"Think like the wise, and speak like the common people." Fox said of the Rights of Man, "It seems as clear and as simple as the first rule in arithmetic." Therein lay its strength. Paine knew exactly what he wanted to say, and exactly how to say it. His positions may be wrong,—no doubt frequently are wrong,—but so clearly, keenly, and above all so boldly stated, and backed by such shrewd arguments and such apposite illustrations, that it is difficult not to yield to his common-sense view of the question he is discussing. His plain and perspicuous style is often elegant. He may sometimes be coarse and rude, but it is in the thought rather than in the expression. It is true, that, in the heat of conflict, he is apt to lose his temper and break out into the bitter violence of his French associates; but even the scientific and reverend Priestley "called names,"—apostate, renegade, scoundrel. This rough energy added to his popularity with the middle and the lower classes, and made him doubly distasteful to his opponents. Paine, who thought all revolutions alike, and all good, could not understand why Burke, who had upheld the Americans, should exert his whole strength against the French, unless he were "a traitor to human nature." Burke did Paine equal injustice. He thought him unworthy of any refutation but the pillory. In public, he never mentioned his name. But his opinion, and, perhaps, a little soreness of feeling, may be seen in this extract from a letter to Sir William Smith:—

He [Paine] is utterly incapable of comprehending his subject. He has not even a moderate portion of learning of any kind. He has learned the instrumental part of literature, without having ever made a previous preparation of study for the use of it. Paine has nothing more than what a man, whose audacity makes him careless of logical consequences and his total want of honor makes indifferent to political consequences, can very easily write.

The radicals thought otherwise. They drank Mr. Burke's health with "thanks to him for the discussion he had provoked." And the student of history, who may read Paine's opening sketch of the French Revolution, written to refute Burke's narrative of the same events, will not deny Paine's complete success. He will even meet with sentences that Burke might have composed. For instance: Paine ridicules, as Quixotic, the fine passage in the "Reflections on the Decay of Chivalry"; and adds, "Mr. Burke's mind is above the homely sorrows of the vulgar. He can only feel for a king or for a queen. The countless victims of tyranny have no place in his sympathies. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching upon his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird."

The French constitution,—"a fabric of government which time could not destroy and the latest posterity would admire." This was the boast of the National Assembly, echoed by the English clubs. Even Mr. Fox, as late as April, 1791, misled by his own magniloquence, spoke of it as "the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty which had been erected on the foundation of human integrity in any time or country." Paine heartily concurred with him. Such a constitution as this, he said, is needed in England. There is no hope of it from Parliament. Indeed, Parliament, if it desired reforms, could not make them; it has not the legal right. A national convention, fresh from the people, is indispensable. Then, reculant pour mieta sauter, Paine goes back to the origin of man,—a journey often undertaken by the political philosophers of that day. He describes his natural rights,—defines society as a compact,—declares that no generation has a right to bind its successors, (a doctrine which Mr. Jefferson, and some foolish people after him, thought a self-evident truth,)—hence, no family has a right to take possession of a throne. An hereditary rule is as great an absurdity as an hereditary professorship of mathematics,—a place supposed by Dr. Franklin to exist in some German university. Paine grew bolder as he advanced: "If monarchy is a useless thing, why is it kept up anywhere? and if a necessary thing, how can it be dispensed with?" This is a pretty good specimen of one of Paine's dialectical methods. Here is another: The French constitution says, that the right of war and of peace is in the nation. "Where else should it reside, but in those who are to pay the expense? In England, the right is said to reside in a metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling." Dropping the crown, he turned upon the aristocracy and the Church, and tore them. He begged Lafayette's pardon for addressing him as Marquis. Titles are but nicknames. Nobility and no ability are synonymous. "In all the vocabulary of Adam, you will find no such thing as a duke or a count." The French had established universal liberty of conscience, which gave rise to the following Painean statement: "With respect to what are called denominations of religion,—if every one is left to judge of his own religion, there is no such thing as a religion which is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other's religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right;—and therefore all the world is right or all the world is wrong." The next is better: "Religion is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though these fruits may differ from each other, like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted."

To encounter an antagonist like Burke, and to come off with credit, might stimulate moderate vanity into public self-exposure; but in Paine vanity was the besetting weakness. It was now swollen by success and flattery into magnificent proportions. Franklin says, that, "when we forbear to praise ourselves, we make a sacrifice to the pride or to the envy of others." Paine did not hesitate to mortify both these failings in his fellow-men. He praises himself with the simplicity of an Homeric hero before a fight. He introduces himself, without a misgiving, almost in the words of Pius Æneas,—

Sum Thomas Paine,
Famâ super æthera notus.

"With all the inconveniences of early life against me, I am proud to say, that, with a perseverance undismayed by difficulties, a disinterestedness that compels respect, I have not only contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of government, but I have arrived at an eminence in political literature, the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy, with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival." "I possess," he wrote in the Second Part of the Rights of Man, "more of what is called consequence in the world than any one of Mr. Burke's catalogue of aristocrats." Paine sincerely believed himself to be an adept who had found in the rights of man the materia prima of politics, by which error and suffering might be transmuted into happiness and truth. A second Columbus, but greater than the Genoese! Christopher had discovered a new world, it is true, but Thomas had discovered the means of making a new world out of the old. About this time, Dumont, the Benthamite, travelled with him from Paris to London. Dumont was irritated with "his incredible amour-propre and his presumptuous self-conceit." "He was mad with vanity." "The man was a caricature of the vainest of Frenchmen. He believed that his book on the Rights of Man might supply the place of all the books that had ever been written. If it was in his power, he would destroy all the libraries in the world without hesitation, in order to root out the errors of which they were the deposit, and so recommence by the Rights of Man a new chain of ideas and principles." Thus Paine and his wild friends had reached the point of folly in the reformer's scale, and, like so many of their class since, made the fatal mistake of supposing that the old world knew nothing.

When Dumont fell in with Paine, he was returning from a flying visit to Paris, invigorated by the bracing air of French freedom. He had seen Pope Pius burned in effigy in the Palais Royal, and the poor King brought back a prisoner from Varennes,—a cheerful spectacle to the friend of humanity. He was on his way to be present at a dinner given in London on the 14th of July, to commemorate the taking of the Bastille; but the managers of the festivity thought it prudent that he should not attend. He wrote, soon after, the address ready by Home Tooke to the meeting of the 20th of August, at the Thatched House tavern. So enlightened were the doctrines set forth in this paper, that the innkeeper declined receiving Mr. Tooke and his friends on any subsequent occasion. On the 4th of November, he assisted at the customary celebration of the Fifth by the Revolution Society, and gave, for his toast, The Revolution of the World.

Meanwhile, Paine had reloaded his piece, and was now ready for another shot at kings, lords, and commons. A thousand guineas were offered for the copyright and refused. He declined to treat as a merchantable commodity principles of such importance to mankind. His plan was, to publish Part the Second on the day of the opening of Parliament; but Chapman, the printer, became frightened, like his predecessor, at a treasonable paragraph, and refused to go on. A fortnight passed before work was resumed, and the essay did not appear until the 16th of February, 1792. It combined, according to the author, "principles and practice." Part the First was now fully expounded, and enlarged by a scheme for diminishing the taxes and improving the condition of the poor, by making weekly allowances to young children, aged people, travelling workmen, and disbanded soldiers. This project of Paine, stated with the mathematical accuracy which was a characteristic of his mind, sprang from the same source as the thousand Utopianisms which form the ludicrous side of the terrible French Revolution.

Part the First was dedicated to Washington; Part the Second bore the name of Lafayette. It is evident, from the second dedication, that Paine had kept pace with the railway speed of the Revolution, and had far outstripped the Marquis, who was not born to lead, or even to understand the period he attempted to direct. The foremost men of 1792 had no time to wait;—"Mankind are always ripe enough to understand their true interest," said Paine; adding words which seemed to quiet Englishmen of fearful significance:—

"I do not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries of Europe."—"When France shall be surrounded with revolutions, she will be in peace and safety."—"From what we can learn, all Europe may form but one great republic, and man be free of the whole."—"It is only a certain service that any man can perform in the state, and the service of any individual in the routine of office can never exceed the value of ten thousand pounds a year."—"I presume that no man in his sober senses will compare the character of any of the kings of Europe with that of George Washington. Yet in France and in England the expenses of the Civil List only for the support of one man are eight times greater than the whole expense of the Federal government of America."—"The time is not very distant when England will laugh at itself for sending to Holland, Hanover, Zell, or Brunswick, for men, at the expense of a million a year, who understand neither her laws, her language, or her interest, and whose capacities would scarcely have fitted them for the office of a parish constable. If government could be trusted to such hands, it must be some easy and simple thing indeed, and materials fit for all the purposes may be found in every town and village in England."

Here is treasonable matter enough, surely; and no wonder that Mr. Chapman judged it prudent to stop his press.

Paine sent fifty copies to Washington; and wrote to him that sixteen thousand had been printed in England, and four editions in Ireland,—the second of ten thousand copies. Thirty thousand copies were distributed by the clubs, at their own expense, among the poor. Six months after the appearance of the Second Part, Paine sent the Society for Constitutional Information a thousand pounds, which he had received from the sale of the book. He then gave up the copyright to the public. The circulation of this tract was prodigious. The original edition had been printed in the same form as Burke's "Reflections," in order that the antidote might be bound up with the bane. The high price preventing many from purchasing, Paine got out a cheap edition which was retailed at sixpence all over England and Scotland. It is said that at least one hundred thousand copies were sold, besides the large number distributed gratuitously. An edition was published in the United States. It was translated into French by Dr. Lanthenas, a member of the National Convention, and into German by C. F. Krämer. Upon English readers of a certain class it retained a hold for many years. In 1820, Carlile, the bookseller, said, that in the preceding three years he had sold five thousand copies of the Rights of Man. Perhaps Cobbett's resurrection of the bones of the prophet brought the book into fashion again at that time. It may yet be read in England; but in this country, where a citizen feels that his rights are anything he may choose to claim, it is certainly a superfluous publication, and seldom met with.

In England, in 1792, Burke and Paine revived the royalist and republican parties, which had lain dormant since 1688. A new body of men, the manufacturing, entered the political field on the republican side. The contest was embittered not only by the anger of antagonism, but by the feeling of class. A radical of Paine's school was considered by good society as a pestilent blackguard, unworthy of a gentleman's notice,—much as an Abolitionist is looked down upon nowadays by the American "Chivalry." But the strife was confined to meetings, resolutions, and pamphlets. Few riots took place; none of much importance. The gentlemen of England have never wanted the courage or the strength to take care of themselves.

The political clubs were the principal centres of agitation. There were two particularly active on the liberal side: the Revolution Society, originally founded to commemorate the Revolution of 1688, and the Society for Constitutional Information, established for the purpose of bringing about a reform in the representation. But the revolutionary changes in France had quickened their ideas, and had given them a taste for stronger and more rapid measures. They now openly "resolved" that England was "a prey to an arbitrary King, a senile Peerage, a corrupt House of Commons, and a rapacious and intolerant Clergy." A third club, the Corresponding Society, was younger and more violent, with branches and affiliations all over England on the Jacobins' plan, and in active correspondence with that famous institution. The middle and lower classes in manufacturing towns, precursors of the Chartists of 1846, belonged to this society. Their avowed objects were annual parliaments and universal suffrage; but many members were in favor of a national convention and a republic. The tone of all three societies became French; they used a jargon borrowed from the other side of the Channel. They sent deputations to the National Convention, expressing their wish to adopt the republican form in England, and their hope of success. The Corresponding Society even sent addresses of congratulation after the massacres of September. Joel Barlow, the American, a man of the Paine genus, without his talent or honesty of purpose, went as Commissioner of the Society for Constitutional Information to the Convention,—carrying with him an address which reads like a translation from the French, and a thousand pair of shoes, with the promise of a thousand pair a week for six weeks to come.

On the other side there were, of course, numerous Tory associations, counter clubs, as violent as their republican antagonists, whose loyal addresses to the throne were duly published in the Gazette.

The probability of a revolution now became a subject of general discussion. Government, at last convinced that England, in the words of Mr. Burke, "abounded in factious men, who would readily plunge the country into blood and confusion for the sake of establishing the fanciful systems they were enamored of," determined to act with vigor. A royal proclamation was issued against seditious writings. Paine received notice that he would be prosecuted in the King's Bench. He came immediately to London, and found that Jordan, his publisher, had already been served with a summons, but, having no stomach for a contest with the authorities, had compromised the affair with the Solicitor of the Treasury by agreeing to appear and plead guilty. Such pusillanimity was beneath the mark of Paine's enthusiasm. He wrote to Mc Donald, the Attorney-General, that he, Paine, had no desire to avoid any prosecution which the authorship of one of the most useful books ever offered to mankind might bring upon him; and that he should do the defence full justice, as well for the sake of the nation as for that of his own reputation. He wound up a long letter by the very ungenerous insinuation, that Mr. Burke, not being able to answer the Rights of Man, had advised legal proceedings.

The societies, checked for a moment by the blow struck at them, soon renewed their exertions. The sale of the Rights of Man became more extended than ever. Paine said that the proclamation served him for an advertisement. The Manchester and Sheffield branches of the Constitutional Society voted unanimously addresses of thanks to him for his essay, "a work of the highest importance to every nation under heaven." The newspapers were full of speeches, votes, resolutions, on the same subject. Every mail was laden with congratulations to the Jacobins on the coming time,—

When France shall reign, and laws be all repealed.

To the Radicals, the Genius of Liberty seemed to be hovering over England; and Thomas Paine was the harbinger to prepare his way.

Differences of opinion, when frequently expressed in hard words, commonly lead to hard blows; and the conservative classes of England were not men to hold their hands when they thought the proper time had come to strike. But the party which looked up to Paine as its apostle was not as numerous as it appeared to be from the noise it made. There is never a sufficiently large number of reckless zealots in England to do much mischief,—one of the greatest proofs of the inherent good sense of that people. Dr. Gall's saying, "Tout ce qui est ultrà est bête, " is worth his whole phrenological system. Measures and doctrines had now been pushed so far that a numerous and influential body of liberals called a halt,—the prelude of a union with the government forces.

Luckily for Paine, his French admirers stepped in at this critical moment to save him. Mons. Audibert, a municipal officer from Calais, came to announce to him that he was elected to the National Convention for that department. He immediately proceeded to Dover with his French friend. In Dover, the collector of the customs searched their pockets as well as their portmanteaus, in spite of many angry protestations. Finally their papers were returned to them, and they were allowed to embark. Paine was just in time; an order to detain him arrived about twenty minutes after his embarkation.

The trial came on before Lord Kenyon. Erskine appeared for the absent defendant. The Attorney-General used, as his brief, a foolish letter he had received from Paine at Calais, read it to the jury, made a few remarks, and rested his case. The jury found Paine guilty without leaving their seats. Sentence of outlawry was passed upon him. Safe in France, he treated the matter as a capital joke. Some years later he found that it had a disagreeable meaning in it.

The prophet had been translated to another sphere of revolutionary unrest. His influence gradually died away. He dwindled into a mere name. "But the fact remains," to use his own words, "and will hereafter be placed in the history of extraordinary things, that a pamphlet should be produced by an individual, unconnected with any sect or party, and almost a stranger in the land, that should completely frighten a whole government, and that in the midst of its triumphant security."

Paine might have published his "principles" his life long without troubling many subjects of King George, had it not been for their combination with "practice" in France,—whither let us now follow him.

When he landed at Calais, the guard turned out and presented arms; a grand salute was fired; the officer in command embraced him and presented him with the national cockade; a good-looking citoyenne asked leave to pin it on his hat, expressing the hope of her compatriots that he would continue his exertions in favor of liberty. Enthusiastic acclamations followed,—a grand chorus of Vive Thomas Paine! The crowd escorted him to Dessein's hotel, in the Rue de l'Égalité, formerly Rue du Roi, and shouted under his windows. At the proper time he was conducted to the Town Hall. The municipality were assembled to bestow the accolade fraternelle upon their representative. M. le Maire made a speech, which Audibert, who still had Paine in charge, translated. Paine laid his hand on his heart, bowed, and assured the municipality that his life should be devoted to their service. In the evening, the club held a meeting in the Salle des Minimes. The hall was jammed. Paine was seated beside the President, under a bust of Mirabeau, surmounted by the flags of France, England, and the United States. More addresses, compliments, protestations, and frantic cries of Vive Thomas Paine! The séance was adjourned to the church, to give those who could not obtain admission into the Club Hall an opportunity to look at their famous representative. The next evening Paine went to the theatre. The state-box had been prepared for him. The house rose and vivaed as he entered.

When Calais had shouted itself hoarse, Paine travelled towards Paris. The towns he traversed on the road thither received him with similar honors. From the capital he addressed a letter of thanks to his fellow-citizens. Although he sat for Calais in the Convention, he had been chosen by three other departments. Priestley was a candidate for Paris, but was beaten by Marat, a doctor of another description. He was, however, duly elected in the department L'Orne, but never took his seat. Paine and Baron Clootz were the only foreigners in the Convention. Another stranger, of political celebrity out of doors, styled himself American as well as Paine,—Fournier l'Américain, a mulatto from the West Indies, whose complexion was not considered "incompatible with freedom" in France,—a violent and blood-thirsty fellow, who shot at Lafayette on the dixsept Juillet, narrowly missing him,—led an attacking party against the Tuileries on the dix Août, and escaped the guillotine to be transported by Bonaparte.

In Paris, Paine was already a personage well known to all the leading men,—a great republican luminary, "foreign benefactor of the species," who had commenced the revolution in America, was making one in England, and was willing to help make one in France. His English works, translated by Lanthenas, a friend of Robespierre and co-editor with Brissot of the "Patriote Français," had earned for him the dignity of citoyen Français,—an honor which he shared with Mackintosh, Dr. Price, the Priestleys, father and son, and David Williams. He had furnished Lafayette with a good deal of his revolutionary rhetoric, had contributed to the Monthly Review of the Girondists and the "Chronique de Paris," and had written a series of articles in defence of representative government, which Condorcet had translated for him. Paine was a man of one idea in politics; a federal republic, on the American plan, was the only system of government he believed in, and the only one he wished to see established in France. Lafayette belonged to this school. So did Condorcet, Pétion, Buzot, and others of less note. Under Paine's direction they formed a republican club, which met at Condorcet's house. This federal theory cost them dear. In 1793, it was treason against the une et indivisible, and was punished accordingly.

After the flight to Varennes, Paine openly declared that the King was "a political superfluity." This was true enough. The people had lost all respect for the man and for the office. None so base as to call him King. He was only the pouvoir exécutif, or more commonly still, Monsieur Veto. Achille Duchâtelet, a young officer who had served in America, called upon Dumont to get him to translate a proclamation drawn up by Paine, urging the people to seize the opportunity and establish a republic. It was intended to be a Common Sense for France. Dumont refusing to have anything to do with it, some other translator was found. It appeared on the walls of the capital with Duchâtelet's name affixed. The placard was torn down by order of the Assembly and attracted little attention. The French were not quite ready for the republic, although gradually approaching it. They seemed to take a pleasure in playing awhile with royalty before exterminating it.

The Abbé Sièyes was a warm monarchist. He wrote in the "Moniteur," that he could prove, "on every hypothesis," that men were more free in a monarchy than in a republic. Paine gave notice in Brissot's paper, that he would demolish the Abbé utterly in fifty pages, and show the world that a constitutional monarchy was a nullity,—concluding with the usual flourish about "weeping for the miseries of humanity," "hell of despotism," etc., etc., the fashionable doxology of patriotic authors in that day. Sièyes announced his readiness to meet the great Paine in conflict. This passage of pens was interrupted by the publication of Part Second of the Rights of Man. Before Paine returned to Paris, the mob had settled the question for the time, so far as the French nation were concerned.

Paine had also taken a leading part in some of the politico-theatrical entertainments then so frequent in the streets of Paris. At the festival of the Federation, in July, 1790, when Clootz led a "deputation" of the genre humain, consisting of an English editor and some oolored persons in fancy dresses, Paine and Paul Jones headed the American branch of humanity and carried the stars and stripes. Not long after, Paine appears again marshalling a deputation of English and Americans, who waited upon the Jacobin Club to fraternize. Suitable preparations had been made by the club for this solemn occasion. The three national flags, united, were placed in the hall over the busts of Dr. Franklin and Dr. Price. Robespierre himself received the generous strangers; but most of the talking seems to have been done by a fervid citoyenne, who took la parole and kept it. "Let a cry of joy rush through all Europe and fly to America," said she. "But hark! Philadelphia and all its countries repeat, like us, Vive la Liberté!" To see a man of Paine's clear sense and simple tastes pleased by such flummery as this shows us how difficult it is not to be affected by the spirit of the generation we live with. How could he have supposed that the new heaven upon earth of his dreams would ever be constructed out of such pinchbeck materials?

It was now the year 1. of the Republic. The dix Août was over, the King a prisoner in the Temple. Lafayette, in his attempt to imitate his "master," Washington, had succeeded no better than the magician's apprentice, who knew how to raise the demon, but not how to manage him when he appeared. He had gone down before the revolution, and was now le traître Lafayette, a refugee in Austria. Dumouriez commanded on the north-eastern frontier in his place. France was still shuddering at the recollection of the prison-massacres of the Septembriseurs, and society, to use the phrase of a modern French revolutionist, was en procès de liquidation.

Paine got on very well, at first. The Convention was impressed with the necessity of looking up first principles, and Paine was emphatically the man of principles. A universal republic was the hope of majority, with a convention sitting at the centre of the civilized world, watching untiringly over the rights of man and the peace of the human race. Meantime, they elected a committee to make a new constitution for France. Paine was, of course, selected. His colleagues were Sièyes, Condorcet, Gensonné, Vergniaud, Pétion, Brissot, Barrère, and Danton. Of these nine, Paine and Sièyes alone survived the Reign of Terror. When, in due time, this constitution was ready to be submitted to the Convention, no one could be found to listen to the reading of the report. The revolution had outstripped the committee. Their labors proved as useless as the Treatise on Education composed by Mr. Shandy for the use of his son Tristram;—when it was finished, the child had outgrown every chapter.

Thenceforward, we catch only occasional glimpses of Paine. In the days of his glory, he lived in the fashionable Rue de Richelieu, holding levees twice a week, to receive a public eager to gaze upon so great a man. His name appears at the fête civique held by English and Irish republicans at White's Hotel. There he sat beside Santerre, the famous brewer, and proposed, as a sentiment, "The approaching National Convention of Great Britain and Ireland." At this dinner, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, then an officer in the British service, gave, "May the 'Ça ira,' the 'Carmagnole,' and the 'Marseillaise' be the music of every army, and soldier and citizen join in the chorus,"—a toast which cost him his commission, perhaps his life. We read, too, that Paine was struck in a café by some loyal, hotheaded English captain, who took that means of showing his dislike for the author of the Rights of Man. The police sternly seized the foolish son of Albion. A blow inflicted upon the sacred person of a member of the Convention was clearly sacrilege, punishable, perhaps, with death. But Paine interfered, procured passports, and sent the penitent soldier safely out of the country.

Speaking no French, for he never succeeded in learning the language, Paine's part in the public sittings of the Convention must have been generally limited to eloquent silence or expressive dumbshow. But when the trial of the King came on, he took a bold and dangerous share in the proceedings, which destroyed what little popularity the ruin of his federal schemes had left him, and came near costing him his head. He was already so great a laggard behind the revolutionary march, that he did not suspect the determination of the Mountain to put the King to death. Louis was guilty, no doubt, Paine thought,—but not of any great crime. Banishment for life, or until the new government be consolidated,—say to the United States, where he will have the inestimable privilege of seeing the working of free institutions;—once thoroughly convinced of his royal errors, morally, as well as physically uncrowned, he might safely be allowed to return to France as plain Citizen Capet: that should be his sentence. But the extreme left of the Convention and the constituent rabble of the galleries wanted to break with the past, and to throw a king's head into the arena as wager of battle to the despots of Europe. The discovery of the iron safe in the palace offered, it was thought, sufficient show of evidence for the prosecution; if not, they were ready to dispense with any. The case was prejudged; the trial, a cruel and an empty form. There were two righteous men in that political Gomorrah,—Tronchet and the venerable Malesherbes. They offered their services to defend the unfortunate victim. Who can read Malesherbes's noble letter to the President of the Convention, without thinking the better of French nature forever after?

A fierce preliminary discussion arose in the Convention on the constitutional question of the King's inviolability. Paine had no patience with the privileges of kingship and voted against inviolability. He requested that a speech he had prepared on the subject might be read to the House at once, as he wished to send off a copy to London for the English papers. This wretched composition was manifestly written for England. Paine had George III. in his mind, rather than Louis XVI. Here is a specimen of the style of it,—interesting, as showing the temper of the time, as well as of Member Thomas Paine:—

Louis, as an individual, is an object beneath the notice of the Republic. But he ought to be tried, because a conspiracy has been formed against the liberty of all nations by the crowned ruffians of Europe. Louis XVI. is believed to be the partner of that horde, and is the only man of them you have in your power. It is indispensable to discover who the gang is composed of, and this may be done by his trial. It may also bring to light the detestable conduct of Mr. Guelph, Elector of Hanover, and be doing justice to England to make them aware of it. It is the interest of France to be surrounded by republics, and that revolutions be universal. If Louis XVI. can serve to prove, by the flagitiousness of government in general, the necessity of revolutions, France ought not to let slip so precious an opportunity. Seeing no longer in Louis XVI. but a weak-minded and narrow-spirited individual, ill-bred, like all his colleagues, given, as it is said, to frequent excesses of drunkenness, and whom the National Assembly raised again imprudently to a throne which was not made for him,—if we show him hereafter some pity, it shall not be the result of the burlesque idea of a pretended inviolability.

A secretary read this speech from the tribune,—Paine standing near him, silent, furnishing perhaps an occasional gesture to mark the emphasis. The Convention applauded warmly, and ordered it to be printed and circulated in the departments.

When the King was found guilty, and it came to the final vote, whether he should be imprisoned, banished, or beheaded, the Girondins, who had spoken warmly against the death-penalty, voted for it, overawed by the stormy abuse of the galleries. Paine, coarse and insolent, but not cowardly or cruel, did not hesitate to vote for banishment. He requested the member from the Pas de Calais to read from the tribune his appeal in favor of the King. Drunau attempted to do it, but was hooted down. Paine persisted,—presented his speech again the next day. Marat objected to its reception, because Paine was a Quaker, and opposed to capital punishment on principle; but the Convention at last consented to the reading. After alluding to the all-important assistance furnished by Louis XVI. to the insurgent American Colonies, Paine, as a citizen of both countries, proposed sending him to the United States. "To kill Louis," wrote Paine, "is not only inhuman, but a folly. It will increase the number of your enemies. France has but one ally,—the United States of America,—and the execution of the King would spread an universal affliction in that country. If I could speak your language like a Frenchman, I would descend a suppliant to your bar, and in the name of all my brothers in America present to you a petition and prayer to suspend the execution of Louis." The Mountain and the galleries roared with rage. Thuriot exclaimed,—"That is not the true language of Thomas Paine."

"I denounce the translator," shrieked venomous Marat; "these are not the opinions of Thomas Paine; it is a wicked and unfaithful translation."

Coulon affirmed, solemnly, that he had seen the original in Paine's hands, and that it was exact. The reader was finally allowed to resume. "You mean to send an ambassador to the United States. Let him announce to the Americans that the National Convention of France, from pure friendship to America, has consented to respite the sentence of Louis. Ah, Citizens, do not give the despot of England the pleasure of seeing sent to the scaffold the man who helped my beloved brethren of America to free themselves from his chains!"

Soon after the execution of the King, Paris fell into the hands of the lowest classes. Their leaders ruled with terrible energy. Chàbot's dictum,—"Il n'y a pas de crimes en révolution, " and Stable-keeper Drouet's exclamation,—"Soyons brigands pour le bonheur du peuple, " contain the political principles which guided them. Marat thundered away in his paper against Brissotins, Girondins, federalism, and moderantism. The minority members, thus unpleasantly noticed, went armed; many of them dared not sleep at home. Soon came the arrest of the suspects. The 31st of May, cette insurrection toute morale, as Robespierre called it, followed next. The Convention was stormed by the mob and purged of Brissotins and Girondins. The Comité de Salut Public decreed forced loans and the levée en masse. Foreigners were expelled from the Convention and imprisoned throughout France. Mayor Bailly, Mme. Roland, Manuel, and their friends, passed under the axe. The same fate befell the Girondins, a party of phrase-makers who have enjoyed a posthumous sentimental reputation, but who, when living, had not the energy and active courage to back their fine speeches. The reductio ad horribile of all the fine arguments in favor of popular infallibility and virtue had come; neither was the reductio ad absurdum wanting. The old names of the days and months and years were changed. The statues of the Virgin were torn from the little niches in street-walls, and the busts of Marat and Lepelletier set up in their stead. The would-be God, soi-disant Dieu, was banished from France. Clootz and Chaumette, who called themselves Anacharsis and Anaxagoras, celebrated the worship of the Goddess of Reason. Bonfires of feudality; Goddesses of Liberty in plaster; trees of liberty planted in every square; altars de la patrie; huge ragdolls representing Anarchy and Discord; Cleobis and Biton dragging their revered parents through the streets; bonnets rouges, banderolles, ça iras, carmagnoles, fraternisations, accolades; the properties, as well as the text of the plays, borrowed from Ancient Greece or Rome. What a bewildering retrospect! A period well summed up by Emerson:—"To-day, pasteboard and filigree; to-morrow, madness and murder." Tigresinge, Voltaire's epigrammatic definition, describes his countrymen of the Reign of Terror in two words.

Neglected by all parties, and disgusted with all, Paine moved to a remote quarter of Paris, and took rooms in a house which had once belonged to Mme. de Pompadour. Brissot, Thomas Christie, Mary Wolstonecraft, and Joel Barlow were his principal associates. Two Englishmen, "friends of humanity," and an ex-officer of the garde-du-corps lodged in the same building. The neighborhood was not without its considerable persons. Sanson, most celebrated of headsmen, had his domicile is the same section. He called upon Paine, complimented him in good English upon his Rights of Man, which he had read, and offered his services in a polite manner.

When the Reign of Terror was fully established, the little party seldom left their walls, and amused themselves as best they could with conversation and games. The news of the confusion and alarm of Paris reached them in their retreat, as if they were miles away in some quiet country residence. Every evening the landlord went into the city and brought back with him the horrible story of the day. "As to myself," Paine wrote to Lady Smith, "I used to find some relief by walking in the garden and cursing with hearty good-will the authors of that terrible system that had turned the character of the revolution I had been proud to defend."

After some weeks, the two Englishmen contrived to escape to Switzerland, leaving their enthusiasm for humanity behind them. Two days later, a file of armed men came to arrest them. Before the month was out, the landlord was carried off in the night. Last of all came the turn of Paine. He was arrested in December, by order of Robespierre, "for the interest of America, as well as of France, as a dangerous enemy of liberty and equality." On his way to the Luxembourg, he stopped at Barlow's lodgings and left with him the First Part of the Age of Reason, finished the day before. The Americans in Paris applied to the Convention for Paine's release, offering themselves as security for his good conduct during his stay in France. They rounded off their petition with a phrase of the prisoner's,—"Ah, Citizens! do not give the leagued despots of Europe the pleasure of seeing Thomas Paine in irons." This document was presented by a Major Jackson, a "volunteer character," who had come to Europe with a letter of introduction to Gouverneur Morris, then minister, from Mr. Jefferson. Instead of delivering his letter to Morris, Jackson lodged it with the Comité de Salut Public as a credential, and represented his country on the strength of it. The Convention, careless of the opinion of the "leagued despots," as well as of Major Jackson, replied, that Paine was an Englishman, and the demand for his release unauthorized by the United States. Paine wrote to Morris to request him to demand his discharge of the citizen who administered foreign affairs. Morris did so; but this official denied that Paine was an American. Morris inclosed this answer to Paine, who returned a shrewd argument in his own behalf, and begged Morris to lay the proofs of his citizenship before the minister. But Morris disliked Paine, and his own position in France was far from satisfactory. It is probable that he was not very zealous in the matter, and shortly after Paine's letter all communication with prisoners was forbidden.

The news of the outer world reached these unfortunates, penned up like sheep waiting for the butcher, only when the doors of the dungeon opened to admit a new fournée, or batch of victims, as the French pleasantly called them. They knew then that the revolution had made another stride forward, and had trodden these down as it moved on. Paine saw them all—Ronsin, Hébert, Momoro, Chaumette, Clootz, Gobel, the crazy and the vile, mingled together, the very men he had cursed in his garden at St. Denis—pass before him like the shadows of a magic-lantern, entering at one side and gliding out at the other,—to death. A few days later came Danton, Camille, Desmoulins, and the few who remained of the moderate party. Paine was standing near the wicket when they were brought in. Danton embraced him. "What you have done for the happiness and liberty of your country I have in vain tried to do for mine. I have been less fortunate, but not more culpable. I am sent to the scaffold." Turning to his friends,—"Eh, bien! mes amis, allons y gaiement. " Happy Frenchmen! What a consolation it was to them to be thus always able to take an attitude and enact a character! Their fondness for dramatic display must have served them as a moral anaesthetic in those scenes of murder, and have deadened their sensibility to the horrors of their actual condition.

In July, the carnage had reached its height. No man could count upon life for twenty-four hours. The tall, the wise, the reverend heads had been taken off, and now the humbler ones were insecure upon their shoulders. Fouquier-Tinville had erected a guillotine in his court-room, to save time and transportation. Newsboys sold about the streets printed lists of those who were to suffer that day. "Voici ceux qui ont gagné à la loterie de la Sainte Guillotine!" they cried, with that reckless, mocking, blood-thirsty spirit which is found only in Frenchmen, or, perhaps, in their fellow-Celts. It seemed to Paine that Robespierre and the Committee were afraid to leave a man alive. He expected daily his own summons; but he was overlooked. There was nothing to be gained by killing him, except the mere pleasure of the thing.

He ascribed his escape to a severe attack of fever, which kept him out of sight for a time, and to a clerical error on the part of the distributing jailer. He wrote this account of it, after his return to America:—

The room in which I was lodged was on the groundfloor, and one of a long range of rooms under a gallery, and the door of it opened outward and flat against the wall, so that, when it was opened, the inside of the door appeared outward, and the contrary when it was shut. I had three fellow-prisoners with me,—Joseph Van Huile of Bruges, Michel and Robin Bastini of Louvain. When persons by scores were to be taken out of prison for the guillotine, it was always done in the night, and those who performed that office had a private mark by which they knew what rooms to go to and what number to take. We, as I have said, were four, and the door of our room was marked, unobserved by us, with that number in chalk; but it happened, if happening is a proper word, that the mark was put on when the door was open and flat against the wall, and thereby came on the inside when we shut it at night, and the destroying angel passed by it.

Paine thought his escape providential; the Orthodox took a different view of it.

After the fall of Robespierre, in Thermidor, seventy-three members of the Convention, who had survived the Reign of Terror, resumed their seats. But Paine was not released. Monroe had superseded Morris in August, but had no instructions from his government. Indeed, as Paine had accepted citizenship in France, and had publicly acted as a French citizen, it was considered, even by his friends, that he had no claim to the protection of the United States. Paine, as was natural, thought differently. He wrote to Monroe, explaining that French citizenship was a mere compliment paid to his reputation; and in any view of the case, it had been taken away from him by a decree of the Convention. His seat in that body did not affect his American status, because a convention to make a constitution is not a government, but extrinsic and antecedent to a government. The government once established, he would never have accepted a situation under it. Monroe assured him that he considered him an American citizen, and that "to the welfare of Thomas Paine Americans are not nor can they be indifferent,"—with which fine phrase Paine was obliged to be satisfied until November. On the fourth of that month he was released. The authorities of Thermidor disliked the Federalist government, and Paine was probably kept in prison some additional months on account of Monroe's application for his discharge.

He left the Luxembourg, after eleven months of incarceration, with unshaken confidence in his own greatness and in the truth of his principles,—but in appearance and in character another man, with only the tatters of his former self hanging about him. A certain elegance of manner and of dress, which had distinguished him, was gone. He drank deep, and was noisy. His fondness for talking of himself had grown to such excess as to destroy the conversational talents which all his contemporaries who speak of him describe as remarkable. "I will venture to say that the best thing will be said by Mr. Paine": that was Home Tooke's prophecy, talking of some proposed dinner-party.

Demoralized by poverty, with ruined health, his mind had become distorted by physical suffering and by brooding over the ingratitude and cruel neglect of the American people, who owed, as he really believed, their very existence as a nation to him. "Is this what I ought to have expected from America," he wrote to General Washington, "after the part I have acted towards her?" "I do not hesitate to say that you have not served America with more fidelity or greater zeal or more disinterestedness than myself, and perhaps not with better effect." Henceforth he was a man of two ideas: he engrafted his resentment upon his Rights of Man, and thought himself carrying out his theory while indulging in his wrath. He poured the full measure of his indignation upon the party who directed affairs in the United States, and upon the President. In two long letters, composed after his release, under Monroe's roof, he accused Washington of conniving at his imprisonment, to keep him, Paine, "the marplot of all designs against the people," out of the way. "Mr. Washington and his new-fangled party were rushing as fast as they dared venture into all the vices and corruptions of the British government; and it was no more consistent with the policy of Mr. Washington and those who immediately surrounded him than it was with that of Robespierre or of Pitt that I should survive." As he grew more angry, he became more abusive. He ridiculed Washington's "cold, unmilitary conduct" during the War of Independence, and accused his administration, since the new constitution, of "vanity," "ingratitude," "corruption," "bare-faced treachery," and "the tricks of a sharper." He closed this wretched outbreak of peevishness and wounded self-conceit with the following passage:—

And as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for so you have been to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, 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.

The remains of the old Convention invited Paine to resume his place in their assemblage. A committee of eleven, unaided by his experience, had been working at a new constitution, the political spring-fashion in Paris for that year. It was the plan since known as the Directoire, reported complete about the time Paine reappeared in the Convention. Disapproving of some of the details of this instrument, Paine furbished up his old weapons, and published A Dissertation on the First Principles of Government. This tract he distributed among members,—the libretto of the speech he intended to make. Accordingly, on the 5th of July, on motion of his old ally, Lanthenas, who had managed to crawl safely through the troubles, permission was granted to Thomas Paine to deliver his sentiments on the "Declaration of Rights and the Constitution." He ascended the tribune for the last time, and the secretary read the translation. He began, of course, with rights; but qualified them by adding, that, when we consider rights, we ought always to couple with them the idea of duties,—a happy union, which did not strike him before the Reign of Terror, and which is almost always overlooked. He then brought forward his universal political specific and panacea,—representative government and a written constitution. "Had a constitution been established two years ago," he said, "(as ought to have been done,) the violences that have since desolated France and injured the character of the Revolution would, in my opinion, have been prevented." There is nothing else in his speech of interest to us, except, that, in attacking a property qualification, which was wisely inserted in the new system, he made use of the reductio-ad-absurdum illustration so often attributed to Dr. Franklin:—"When a broodmare shall fortunately produce a foal or a mule that by being worth the sum in question shall convey to its owner the right of voting, or by its death take it from him, in whom does the origin of such a right exist? Is it in the man or in the mule?"

The new government went into operation in September, 1795. Bonaparte's lesson to the insurgents of Vendémiaire, in front of the Church of St. Roche, followed immediately after. On the 26th of October, the Convention was dissolved, and Paine ceased to be a legislator for France.

He was no longer an object of consideration to Frenchmen, whose faith in principles and in constitutions was nearly worn out. Poor and infirm, indebted to Monroe's hospitality for a lodging, he remained eighteen months under the roof of the Embassy, looking for an opportunity to get back to America. Monroe wished to send him as bearer of dispatches before the dissolution of the Convention. But a member of that body could not leave France without a passport from it. To apply for it would have announced his departure, and have given the English government a chance to settle the old account they had against him. After Monroe had returned to the United States, Paine engaged his passage, and went to Havre to embark; but the appearance of a British frigate off the port changed his plans. The sentence of outlawry, a good joke four years before, had now become an unpleasant reality. So he travelled back to Paris, full of hate against England, and relieved his mind by writing a pamphlet on the Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance, a performance characteristic of the man,—sound, clear sense mixed with ignorance and arrogance. He attempted to show arithmetically that the English funding system could not continue to the end of Mr. Pitt's life, supposing him to live to the usual age of man. The calculation is ingenious, but has not proved to be as accurate as some of Newton's. On the other hand, his remarks on paper money are excellent, and his sneer at the Sinking Fund, then considered a great invention in finance, well placed:—"As to Mr. Pitt's project for paying off the national debt by applying a million a year for that purpose while he continues adding more than twenty millions a year to it, it is like setting a man with a wooden leg to run after a hare;—the longer he runs, the farther he is off." The conclusion is one of his peculiar flourishes of his own trumpet:—"I have now exposed the English system of finance to the eyes of all nations,—for this work will be published in all languages. As an individual citizen of America, and as far as an individual can go, I have revenged (if I may use the expression without any immoral meaning) the piratical depredations committed on the American commerce by the English government."

From Monroe's departure until the year 1802, little is known of Paine. He is said to have lived in humble lodgings with one Bonneville, a printer, editor of the "Bouche de Fer" in the good early days of the Revolution. He must have kept up some acquaintance with respectable society; for we find his name on the lists of the Cercle Constitutionnel, a club to which belonged Talleyrand, Benjamin Constant, and conservatives of that class who were opposed to both the bonnet-rouge and the fleur-de-lis. Occasionally he appears above the surface with a pamphlet. Politics were his passion, and to write a necessity of his nature. If public matters interested him, an essay of some kind made its way into print. When Babœuf's agrarian conspiracy was crushed, Paine gave the world his views on Agrarian Justice. Every man has a natural right to a share in the land; but it is impossible that every man should exercise this right. To compensate him for this loss, he should receive at the age of twenty-one fifteen pounds sterling; and if he survive his fiftieth year, ten pounds per annum during the rest of his life. The funds for these payments to be furnished by a tax on inheritances.

Camille Jourdain made a report to the Five Hundred on priests and public worship, in which he recommended, inter alia, that the use of church-bells and the erection of crosses be again permitted by law. This reactionary measure excited Paine's liberal bigotry. He published a letter to Jourdain, telling him that priests were useless and bells public nuisances. Another letter may be seen, offering his subscription of one hundred francs to a fund for the invasion of England,—a favorite project of the Directory, and the dearest wish of Paine's heart. He added to his mite an offer of any personal service he could render to the invading army. When Carnot, Barthélémy, and Pichegru were expelled from power by the coup d'état of the 18th Fructidor,—a military demonstration against the Republic,—Paine wrote an address to the people of France and to the French armies, heartily approving of the summary method that had been adopted with these reactionists, who must have their bells and their priests. He did not then perceive the real significance of the movement.

On one remarkable occasion, Paine made a full-length appearance before the French public,—not in his character of a political philosopher, but as a moralist. Robespierre, a few days before his fall, declared atheism to be aristocratic, reinstated l'Être supréme, and gave a festival in his honor. There religious matters had rested. Deism, pure and simple, was the faith of true republicans, and the practice of morality their works. But deism is a dreary religion to the mass of mankind, and the practice of morality can never take the place of adoration. The heart must be satisfied, as well as the conscience. Larévillière, a Director, of irreproachable character, felt this deficiency of their system, and saw how strong a hold the Catholic priesthood had upon the common people. The idea occurred to him of rivalling the churches by establishing regular meetings of moral men and women, to sing hymns of praise to the Almighty, "one and indivisible," and to listen to discourses and exhortations on moral subjects. Haüy, a brother of the eminent crystallogist, assembled the first society of Theophilanthropists, (lovers of God and man,) as they called themselves. They held their meetings on the day corresponding to Sunday. They had their manual of worship and their book of canticles. Their dogmas were the existence of one God and the immortality of the soul. And they wisely said nothing about matters which they did not believe. Paine, who in his Age of Reason had attempted to prepare a theology ad usum reipublicœ, felt moved by the spirit of morality, and delivered a sermon to one of these Theophilanthropist congregations. His theme was the existence of God and the propriety of combining the study of natural science with theology. He chose, of course, the a-posteriori argument, and was brief, perhaps eloquent. Some passages of his discourse might pass unchallenged in the sermon of an Orthodox divine. He kept this one ready in his memory of brass, to confound all who accused him of irreligion:—

Do we want to contemplate His power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate His wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed. Do we want to contemplate His mercy? We see it in His not withholding His abundance even from the unthankful. In fine, do we want to know what God is? Search not written books, but the Scriptures called the Creation.

If it were possible to establish a new cultus, based upon mere abstract principles, Frenchmen, we should say, would be about the last people who could do it. This new worship, like any other play, drew well as long as it was new, and no longer. The moral men and women soon grew tired of it, and relapsed into the old faith and the old forms.

The end of all this child's play at government and at religion came at last. Bonaparte, checked at Acre by Sir Sydney Smith, left the East, landed in France in October, 1799, sent a file of grenadiers to turn Ancients and Five Hundred out of their halls, and seated himself in the chair of state.

After this conclusive coup d'état, Paine sunk out of sight. The First Consul might have examined with interest the iron bridge, but could never have borne with the soiled person and the threadbare principles of the philosopher of two hemispheres. Bonaparte loved neatness and elegance, and disliked idéologues and bavards, as he styled all gentlemen of Paine's turn of mind.

In 1802, after the peace with England, Paine set sail from Havre to end his days in the United States. Here we leave him. We have neither space nor inclination to sum up his virtues and his vices in these columns, and to give him a character according to the balance struck. We have sketched a few outlines of his history as we have found it scattered about in newspapers and pamphlets. Our readers may make up their own minds whether this supposed ally of the Arch Enemy was as black as he has been painted.

Leslie Stephen (essay date 1893)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7354

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine," in Fortnightly Review, Vol. LIV, No. CCCXX, August 1, 1893, pp. 267-81.

[In the following essay, Stephen's review of Paine's major works substantiates his contention that Paine argued in a direct and formulaic fashion that emphasized one or two clear-cut hypotheses.]

For some three generations the name of Paine has been regarded by the respectable classes as synonymous with vulgar brutality. Mr. Moncure Conway has recently published a biography [The Life of Thomas Paine (1899)—listed in the "Further Reading" section] intended to destroy this orthodox legend. He has carefully collected all available information, and probably knows all that can now be known upon the subject. He states in his preface that a book of mine published some years ago accepted certain scandals about Paine, and as I misled at least one of my readers, I think it a duty to confess my error frankly. My description of Paine's last years was taken from a statement by a witness whom Mr. Conway has proved to be utterly unworthy of credit. Mr. Conway, indeed, admits that at one period Paine drank brandy to excess; but the malignity of a personal enemy, taking advantage of the general prejudice against Paine as a freethinker, produced a caricature which should be no more taken for a likeness than Gillray's drawings for faithful portraits of Pitt or Fox. I am the more sorry to have been unintentionally an accomplice, because in any case the charges were but slightly relevant. Paine's brandy is less to the purpose than Pitt's port, and much less to the purpose than Coleridge's opium. Patriots may reverence Pitt, and philosophers and poets may love Coleridge in spite of weaknesses which really affected their careers. But Paine's lapse into drink, such as it was, did not take place till his work was substantially done; and his writings were the product of brains certainly not sodden by brandy, but clear, vigorous, and, in some ways, curiously free from passion.

Mr. Conway's book raises another question: What was the real value and significance of Paine's work? Paine, of course, more than any one else, represents for Englishmen the principles of 1789; and in particular the connection of those principles with the War of Independence in America. What, then, were his antecedents and his achievements? To answer fully would involve a prolonged discussion of many controverted points; but I will try to put briefly the impression made by Mr. Conway's full account of his career.

Paine, in the first place, was the son of a poor Quaker in Thetford. The Quaker spirit undoubtedly had much to do with his development. He was, like Franklin, a Qaker minus the orthodox creed, as in later years Carlyle was Calvinist who had dropped the dogma. With the mysticism, indeed, which distinguished the earlier members of the sect, Paine had no sympathy. It was replaced in him as in Franklin by the metaphysical Deism of the eighteenth century. But he certainly imbibed the practical sentiment which made Quakers take so honourable and conspicuous a part in all the philanthropic movements of his time, and shared their aversion to all forms and ecclesiastical institutions. The Quaker religion, he declared in The Age of Reason, was that which approached most nearly to true Deism. A contempt for the pomps and vanities of the world, an enthusiasm for the brotherhood of manking, and a reverence for the rights of individual consciences, may be expressed in terms of George Fox as of Thomas Paine. For the "inner light" we have only to substitute a metaphysical dogmatism, less emotional but equally imperative.

Paine, however, from his youth must have hung very lightly to any religious sect. There are vague indications that he preached, but his sermons, if any, are with the snows of last year. Nor is there the least proof that he was specially affected by the sight of those evils of the day upon which Mr. Conway insists. A lad of nine years old was probably more pleased by the drums of the regiments returning from the Highlands—if, indeed, any of them passed through Thetford—than shocked by the blood-stained uniforms of the instruments of Cumberland's vengeance. Certainly at the age of eighteen or nineteen he became for a short time a privateersman, which would hardly be the choice of a premature philanthropist. His career as a staymaker and afterwards as an exciseman is naturally obscure. We can see dimly that he had ambitions and that he neglected his business. He was a member of a jovial political club at Lewes, wrote songs and comic poems, and argued with great vivacity on behalf (it seems) of Wilkes and liberty. English radicalism was slowly stirring to life after the profound calm of the middle of the century. Paine, we may guess, read the English translations of Rousseau's Social Contract and discourse on the Inequality of Mankind, which were the prophetic utterances of the newborn spirit. If he did not read them he learnt their formulae. He became conspicuous enough among his fellows to be put forward as their spokesman in an agitation for an increase of salaries. The position was dangerous; for, of all classes of men, excisemen were the last who could count upon popular sympathy, and a request for more money rarely conciliates superiors. It is not surprising that Paine soon found himself an exciseman out of place. He had one resource. Paine's intellectual temper was that of a mathematician, and he had at some period acquired a knowledge of science. He got some teaching from two self-educated men, Benjamin Martin and the well-known astronomer, James Ferguson, who both gave lectures in London. It was possibly through them that he became known to Franklin, already famous for having snatched the lightning from heaven, and soon to snatch the sceptre from kings. Armed with a letter of introduction from Franklin, Paine sailed to Philadelphia, towards the end of 1774, intending to set up a school. He became editor of a magazine at the humble salary of £50 a year; but within a few months found much livelier occupation.

When Paine reached America a Congress was already sitting in Philadelphia. The skirmish at Lexington (19th April, 1775) and the battle at Bunker's Hill (17th June) were followed by the choice of Washington to be Commander-in-Chief of the provincial armies. Paine during the autumn wrote his Common Sense, which appeared in January, 1776, and made him famous at a blow. In three months 120,000 copies were sold, and it became the recognised manifesto of the revolutionary party. An exciseman, with such training only as was to be had at Thetford, had become the spokesman of a nation in which hardly a year before he had been almost a foreigner. What was the secret of his success? In the first place, it was that Paine was endowed with the most valuable instinct that a journalist can possess. Americans had up to the last moment been declaring that they had no wish for separation. Franklin asserted that he had heard no such desire expressed by "any person drunk or sober." Paine says much the same elsewhere, but in the pamphlet he also says that he never met a man in England or America who did not expect that separation would come sooner or later. A newspaper, it is said, has thriven by saying a little better what everybody is already saying. It is a still greater triumph to say what everybody is going to say to-morrow, but does not quite dare to say to-day. A quaint illustration of the obvious principle occurs in Coleridge's Literary Remains. When reading Leighton, he says, he seems to be "only thinking his own thoughts over again." On the next page he expresses the same opinion by saying that he almost believes Leighton to have been actually an inspired writer. Nothing is so impressive as a revelation of our own thoughts. When armed resistance had actually begun, when the colonists had formed a league and chosen a commander-in-chief, it must, one would suppose, have been hard for any man to keep up the pretence of disavowing a wish for independence. It could be merely a way of throwing the responsibility upon the mother country; and the time for such special pleading passed with the first outbreak of war. What was needed then was a clear, distinctive unveiling of the hitherto masked conviction. Paine, in a literary sense, was the man who "belled the cat." He had an audience ready to hail him as a prophet because he was an echo, not of their words, but of their thoughts. But he also put the case with a clearness and vigour which is the more remarkable from his entire want of literary experience. His method is characteristic. There is less than one might expect of such rhetoric as is called inflammatory. A native American would probably have dwelt more upon specific grievances, but Paine had no special personal knowledge of such things. He takes them for granted rather than expatiates upon them. He speaks like a man insisting upon an absolutely demonstrable scientific truth. The thesis which he has to establish is simply, "It is time to part"; and the proof is drawn from the obvious designs of Providence as manifested in geography. It is absurd to suppose that a continent can be perpetually governed by an island. Nature does not make a satellite bigger than its primary planet. When the quarrel has once broken out compromise becomes obviously absurd. Such differences cannot be patched up by any settlement. To come to terms for the moment could only be to leave the quarrel to the next generation. England is small, America a vast continent; therefore English rule of America is in a position of unstable equilibrium. Once upset it, and you can never again balance the pyramid on its apex. That is the substance of an argument which undoubtedly deserves, too, the title of "Common sense." It rests upon broad undeniable facts and is, of course, backed up by sufficient reference to the abominations of British government. But Paine also provides his argument with certain prolegomena which supersede any reference to expediency. Sir Henry Maine has traced the social contract theory from its sources in Roman jurisprudence to its transfiguration by Rousseau. Rousseau, he says, transmitted it to Jefferson. It appears, therefore, in the Declaration of Independence, upon which Paine had, perhaps, some influence. He had expounded it fully in Common Sense. Starting from the natural equality of man and the regular hypothesis of a small body of men meeting "in some sequestered part of the earth," and making a bargain as to their rights, we get at once a clean-cut theory of government and a demonstration of the gross absurdity of kings and aristocrats. It is plainly impossible to prove the value of the British constitution by a priori reasoning. To Paine, therefore, the American revolution was already the promulgation of the "rights of man" in the most absolute form. The colonies revolted, according to him, not because charters had been infringed or specific injuries inflicted upon merchants, but in virtue of principles as true as the propositions of Euclid, and applicable not only to Englishmen or Americans, but to man as man. So long as all patriots were agreed to turn out George HI., it mattered little what metaphysical principles they chose to postulate as the ground of their claims, whether they fought in the name of the great charter or of the rights of man. The more sweeping the principle announced the more effective the war-cry. Paine's doctrine covered claims enough, and if it covered rather too many, that was for the moment unimportant. He could speak as if his enemies were not only wanting in prudence but denying the plainest dictates of pure reason.

Paine, it must be added, acted in the spirit of his doctrines through the war. At intervals he published the series of pamphlets called collectively The Crisis, which, though of such various degrees of merit, show the same characteristic quality. If overweening confidence in one's opinions is a doubtful merit in a philosopher, it is undoubtedly valuable in the supporter of a precarious enterprise. "These are the times that try men's souls" was the opening—it became proverbial—of the most famous of these productions. It was written at a time when the cause was apparently in great danger, and it was followed by an unexpected success. Washington, it is said, had the paper distributed to be read throughout his army, and in that sign they conquered. The secret of Paine's power is given in a phrase from the same paper: "My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light." Paine himself took part in active service until he was appointed secretary to a committee of Congress; and his words have not unfrequently the genuine ring as of one speaking actually under fire. The unanimous opinion of his companions, and especially Washington's declarations, leave no doubt that they did more than any other pamphlets to rouse the American spirit. Paine, with the calm self-complacency pardonable, perhaps, in a man who had thus suddenly sprung into fame, held in later years that his own pen had done as much service as Washington's sword. He might fairly claim whatever credit belongs to the man who throws himself unflinchingly into the defence of a great cause. He had got into certain difficulties in his official character which showed at worst that a desire to expose a dishonest transaction had led him to disregard diplomatic proprieties. He had blurted out a statement about French help to the colonies previous to the declaration of war, which had to be disavowed, and which forced him to resign his post. But he had staked his fortunes unreservedly on the issue of the war and deserved reward the more that he had gained nothing by his pamphlets. He had given up the copyright of his publications to increase their circulation; and the reward which he ultimately received was certainly not extravagant. New York generously presented him with an estate which it took from a Tory, and Pennsylvania gave him £500.

When the plain issue of the war was finally settled, Paine's occupation was gone. Work had to be done in which mathematical demonstrations of the rights of man were irrelevant. To form the separate colonies into a nation, to reconcile their jealousies and make such compromises as would practically work, was a task for men of very different qualities. The Federalist, now the most famous literary record of the guiding principles of that achievement, belongs to another order of thought. The writers follow the lead of Montesquieu instead of Rousseau; and any comparison with Paine's work would be absurd. His merit was to have raised a war-cry, and the merit of Hamilton and his colleagues to bring sound judgment to bear upon an intricate practical question. Paine fell back upon his scientific tastes: he designed an iron bridge, and the design seems to have had some real value as an engineering improvement. It was apparently the absence of the necessary manufacturing appliances in America which brought him back to England in 1787. Englishmen who had read his pamphlets must have felt it rather difficult to suppress certain spasms of patriotic resentment. A colonist might be excused for denouncing "Mr. Guelph" and Lord North and the British aristocracy generally, but a born Englishman might have refrained from declaring that his countrymen were cowards and brutal butchers. He marked his return by a pamphlet, Prospects on the Rubicon, written in support of the French policy of the time and demonstrating to his own satisfaction the complete incapacity of England, burthened with an accumulation of debt, to carry on a war against France. In France, he was already observing signs of internal harmony and development. As an enemy of Pitt, Paine naturally became intimate with various classes of the English Opposition. He saw not only Home Tooke, a survivor of the old Wilkes agitations, and Godwin, the most conspicuous representative of revolutionary principles in England, but the aristocratic Whigs, Fox and Burke, who had a bond of sympathy with an American patriot. The outbreak of the French revolution, however, soon brought about the famous duel with Burke. Burke's Reflections and Paine's Rights of Man are the typical expressions of the antagonistic spirits. A friend of Hazlitt (if I remember rightly) had the two books bound together as giving between them an admirable system of politics. I fear that a little more than a binder's skill is required to fuse two such opponents. And yet, the proposal was not without its meaning. Burke is indeed called a renegade in the radical tradition and some people still insinuate that he apostatized to gain a pension. I do not understand how any one who has ever read Burke can accept such a view. Coleridge (in the Biographia Literaria) declares, and, as I should say, with undeniable truth, that Burke's views upon the American and the French revolutions are scientifically deduced from identical principles. Mr. Morley has insisted upon the same obvious fact. Approval of one "revolution" is held by some people to involve approval of every "revolution." Mr. Morley, to take the nearest parallel to Burke in our own times, approves of Home Rule. Is he, therefore, bound to approve of State socialism and nationalization of the land? Mr. Morley would hardly admit the inference. It would only follow if he also accepted the dogma that whatever a majority wishes is therefore right. Now, Burke not only repudiated any such doctrine, but from his first writings based his whole argument on the most explicit reprobation of the whole doctrine of a priori, as he called these "metaphysical" rights. The Vindication of Natural Society (1756) gives the very pith of all that he urged during the American war and the French revolution. He objected to the English system in America because it had become intolerable. The attempt to keep adults under a tutelage suitable for children was absurd not because it conflicted with the rights of man, but because experience proved it to be futile. But a "revolution" which meant the rupture of a worn-out tie had only a name in common with a "revolution" which meant a vast social upheaval, confiscation of property and the total destruction of every tie that had held men together. Burke and the followers of Rousseau were agreed upon one particular issue: but a false premiss, as logicians tell us, may lead to a right conclusion. I may admit that you have a right of way across my fields; but if you assert that the same right permits you to walk into my house and share my spoons, I may deny your argument without inconsistency.

The whole pith of Burke's teaching, indeed, is his anticipation of what we should now call the historical method; and in that consists, as I should say, his superlative merit. He saw with unequalled clearness the necessity of basing all political economy upon the truths now recognised by every philosophical writer, that the state is an organism developed by slow processes, and depending for its vitality upon the evolution of corresponding instincts. He therefore urged, with more accuracy than his contemporaries, the vast importance of the crash which was taking place before his eyes. It was to him the avatar of the evil spirit which he had denounced more than thirty years before, and which was now becoming a real power to be reckoned with. If his judgment was wrong, it at least did not err by underrating the significance of the phenomena. He saw that what was happening was no mere superficial change of forms, but a world-shaking catastrophe. So far, those who sympathise with the revolution should be the first to do justice to his misfit. To the respectable British Whig, the meeting of the States-General meant that France was about to follow in the steps of its fathers of 1688: to pass a bill of rights, and adopt a judicious system of checks and balances. And what did it mean to Paine? He certainly did not stop at the Whig view. The revolution was the revelation of the new gospel of humanity. All the evils from which men had suffered were due to kings, nobles, and priests. The "old governments," he says, rested first on superstition, then on force, and the new governments will rest upon reason. Governments such as now exist could only have been founded "by a total violation of every principle, sacred and moral." The obscurity in which their origin is buried (the part, that is, that we know nothing about) "implies the iniquities and disgrace with which they began." The scales have dropped from men's eyes. We see how they led, and could but have led, to war and extortion. "If we would delineate human nature with a baseness of heart, and hypocrisy of countenance that reflection would shudder at and humanity disown, it is kings and cabinets that must sit for the portrait." War, terrorism, and tyranny will now disappear. Government has been regarded as a mystery; but it is in truth the easiest of subjects. The "meanest capacity," once put in the right path, cannot be at a loss. "There is not a problem in Euclid more mathematically true than that hereditary government has not a right to exist." These last phrases are from a Dissertation published in 1795, after Paine had himself had practical experience of imprisonment under the revolutionary government. Nothing, it is clear, could shake his faith. He still held that the violence which "injured the character of the revolution" was due simply to the want of a proper constitution on the American precedent. He is writing to insist that no limits should be imposed upon the acceptance of universal suffrage. The Reign of Terror would never have happened if a few more paper bonds had been framed. Paine, in fact, illustrated the remarks which Burke had made with his usual force, in his Reflections, upon the total want of experience of the set of lawyers, curates, and scribblers who had undertaken the government of France. Paine, when elected to the Convention, knew, so far as appears, nothing of French history; nothing of the real organization of the country; he could not even speak the language; and he had never been there except on two or three brief visits on business. He had no more qualifications for representing France than for ruling at Calcutta. But from his point of view, any knowledge of that kind was superfluous. Two or three abstract principles and an easy deduction were enough to set a man up to reconstruct a ruined government. If such consequences follow as Burke anticipated, it is a mere accident, to be remedied for the future by applying your formula more systematically. Lay down the equality of man and prove the absurdity of hereditary rule—and what more do you want? In 1798 Paine subscribed to the expenses of a descent upon England, and had, thinks Mr. Conway, a "happy vision of standing once more in Thetford, and proclaiming liberty in the land." His dream of this blessed consummation survived some years later, when Napoleon was at Boulogne. Paine was possibly "simple-hearted," as Mr. Conway puts it, but on the whole it is not difficult to understand why this kind of philanthropy caused the antipathy of Englishmen, to whom a Paine, acting as Napoleon's prophet, was scarcely an encouraging vision. Cobbett, about the same year, was collecting a list of atrocities said to have been performed by French liberators in other countries. Paine indeed honourably did his best to prevent such practical applications of revolutionary principles. He was not one of the philanthropists who become blood-thirsty on provocation. He tried to save Louis from the scaffold, and came near to losing his head with his friends the Girondists in consequence. The strange thing is, creditable or otherwise, that his experience of massacres neither made him ferocious nor produced the slightest influence upon his theories. He was what we politely call an idealist—a man who lives in a region beyond all reach of facts or experience.

This, however, is but one side of the question. To speak of Paine as a political philosopher is to mistake dogged assertion of crude theories for grasp of argument. To compare him as a reasoner with Burke, whose thoughts have influenced all subsequent speculation, is absurd. Paine's service was simply to express with singular clearness—a suicidal clearness at times—certain theories which did and do exercise an enormous influence. Nor is it the question whether that influence is to be set down as simply good or simply bad. Such a judgment seems to me to be out of place. Men in times of revolution have to take one side or the other, and to answer the debating society question whether it is or is not "justifiable." But from a historical view it seems as idle to pack our judgments into a simple "bad" or "good," as to approve or condemn an earthquake. It represents one of the facts, an essential fact of the whole social process, which has to be explained, if possible, and to be estimated like any other inevitable transformation. We have to ask how the movement can be best directed, not whether it would be better if it did not exist at all. It was Burke's merit to see more clearly than his contemporaries how vast were the issues involved. But Burke, though a philosopher, was a philosopher in a rage, or rather in a storm of passion which led him to the bounds of sanity. The inconsistency which might have been laid to his charge was really that he did not carry out his own principles. He would not see that so vast a catastrophe required explanation as well as denunciation. It was not to be accounted for by the wickedness or folly of leaders, or by the erroneous teaching of Rousseau or the philosophers. They could only be formidable as the mouthpieces of a sentiment accumulating through all classes and indicating a disease of the whole organism. In the tornado of Burke's passionate eloquence all such considerations disappear, and he forgets a principle which he had most clearly recognised in earlier days, that a revolution in some sense justifies itself. It may not prove that the remedies are appropriate, but it demonstrates the existence of the evil. Burke talks of the revolution, therefore, as unreasonably as Paine spoke of kings and princes. It appears to him as a diabolical and supernatural intrusion: something inexplicable historically, and to be reasoned with only by cannon-balls. He ought to propose remedies, and can only advise extirpation. He falls into the mere sentimentalism which Paine fairly exposed in his best-known sentence: Burke, he would say with some truth, "pitied the plumage and forgot the dying bird." Burke idealises the British Constitution till, in defiance of his own doctrine of expediency, it becomes almost an end in itself. Paine has the advantage not only of keeping his temper and arguing calmly, but of holding, at least in appearance, the higher position morally. Burke gives some excuse even for some complete misapprehensions. He of course did not really maintain the puerile argument imputed to him by Paine, which converted the revolution settlement into a kind of social compact, binding all future generations. The very essence of his position was the absurdity of all such theories. But in opposing to Paine the historical basis, the necessity of "prescription" and the inestimable value of social traditions, he bowed before the great Whig idol with a reverence which might well be taken for superstition. In attacking the metaphysical theory of abstract rights, he really seemed to Paine to be arguing that men had no rights at all, or that a country was to be ruled for the personal advantage of kings and priests. Briefly, Burke's sweeping denunciations imply an ignoring of the cardinal fact that, after all, the revolution implied a demand for justice and a challenge to existing systems to show that they discharged a useful function. Burke was upon unassailable ground when he showed the great danger of an abrupt breach with historical traditions, or when he exposed the meagreness and preposterous dogmatism of a treatment of political problems which would apply the same rule to London or Paris or Timbuctoo. He sufficiently exposes some of Paine's schoolboy arguments by quoting them. But he leaves Paine after all in the position of a man demanding upon what right government is based and getting no satisfactory answer. In that respect Paine was successful in the same way as he had been in the Common Sense pamphlet. He formulated briefly and pithily the demand which subjects were putting to their rulers, and to which the rulers had to give some better answer than an appeal to tradition. Paine's challenge was no doubt the more successful by reason of its defects in the eyes of a philosopher. He had to meet the popular instinct, and his statement was, as a successful popular argument must be, a condensation of the confused thoughts of his readers. Paine, as in his other writings, dwells little upon special concrete grievances. He gives no catalogue of grievances; kings are themselves a grievance. He does not dwell, for example, upon the wrongs of the peasantry or the injuries inflicted by the privileges of the noblesse. He is simply pointing out that the whole system of monarchy, aristocracy, and priestcraft is ab initio absurd. It must collapse as soon as you ask it for a reason. When Godwin, a few years later, published his Political Justice, the book which made the greatest mark at the time among the more educated classes, it is said that ministers declined to prosecute because a book which cost a guinea could not be dangerous. They might have added that a book which, though thin enough in its speculation, required some real reflection for its comprehension, was equally sure to be innocuous. Tocqueville, discussing the question why general ideas are so popular in democratic countries, gives as one reason that they save the trouble of thinking. An argument which requires refinement and distinctness flies above the ordinary reader, and an argument which requires a knowledge of facts can always be met by opposite facts. Paine was safe from such blunders. He had a skill, unsurpassed in his own country, and which might almost convince us that he was a Frenchman, for presenting clearly, tersely, and often with great epigrammatic force, what purports to be a self-evident truth, and what is really one way of putting an undeniably forcible demand. His merits will of course be judged according to the prejudices of the readers. But he put, as no one else put it in England, the challenge which had to be met by the existing order; and I must leave it to others to decide whether the terrible disappointments which punish the idealist for his supreme indifference to facts are to be considered as more or less than a compensation for the singularly vigorous appeal for some moral groundwork of political order.

Paine's last work of any significance, The Age of Reason, the book which finally alienated the respectable world and caused the isolation of his later years, is but another illustration of the same power. Amid the political catastrophes which he was powerless to control, while the heads of his friends were falling by the guillotine, Paine quietly sat down to expose the mystery of priestcraft as he had exposed the mystery of monarchy. His argument may be said once more to consist in bringing into clear daylight the genuine opinion of the classes which he addressed. English theologians were accustomed to boast that they had confuted the deism of the earlier half of the century. What they had really done was to assimilate it. They had made room for it tacitly till their orthodox dogmas were little more than a conventional superstructure upon which they laid as little stress as was convenient. The deism of Toland and Tindal was substantially the same philosophy which Samuel Clarke, the most philosophical divine of his day, contrived to make the substance of his teaching with only some slight injury to his orthodoxy. By the end of the century, the ablest writers, such as Paley and Paine's antagonist, Bishop Watson, were substantially theists of one stamp or another, whose orthodoxy was a mere formality, and who tried explicitly to minimize the differences which divided them from avowed Unitarians. Watson, according to De Quincey, talked Socinianism at his own table, and ridiculed the New Testament miracles as cases of legerdemain. De Quincey is not famous for accuracy; and there is more to be said on behalf of this position, in which theology was at least infiltrated with a good deal of common sense, than needs now to be insisted upon. Paine, however, deserves the credit of knowing his own mind more clearly, and speaking it with the most uncompromising courage. His theology, of course, is of the same substance as his politics. In both cases he is content with simply the embodiment of a single a priori dogma. The existence of God is proved by the necessity of supposing a first cause, and that once done we have a theological as we had before a political Euclid. Paine, however, takes another step, in which theologians declined to accompany him. He protests that the God of genuine theists cannot be identified with the Jehovah of the Hebrews, with the barbarous deity who sanctioned massacres and punished children for the sins of their parents. He protests, therefore, against the anthropomorphic and traditional creed, in the name of moral sentiment; and in the long list of writers who, before and since his time, have done the same, it would be, I think, impossible to mention any one who speaks with more conviction or gives terser expression to his arguments. I need not argue at length the question about Paine's brutality. That he was at times brutal is undeniable. "I have shown," he says, in concluding his second part, "that the Bible and Testament are impositions and forgeries"; and, of course, such a position supposes the support of some tolerably rough weapons. It is, perhaps, more tenable than the opposite theory that every word of the Bible was directly inspired by the Holy Ghost; but we have passed beyond that alternative and know all that has to be said about it. It is rather Freethinkers than the orthodox who should complain of any coarseness which has brought needless opprobrium upon their cause; though they may apologize for it on the ground that a poor man must be allowed to make such retorts as are open to him against threats of hellfire, or even informations from the Attorney-General. The only question is, What was the essential implication as to Paine's character and influence? Is he to be set down as a mere cynic, the man who attacks theology because he is dead to the nobler emotions which, as we all now admit, it endeavoured to satisfy, or a man of high moral feeling, who objected to it because it involved unworthy "accretions"?

Paine, according to his own account, wrote his book against the atheists as much as against the superstitious. In point of fact, however, the greater part of the book is at least as available for the atheist as for the deist. It is an attack upon the authenticity of the Bible, and an attack, it must be added, of remarkable shrewdness. Paine had read little; according to one of his admirers, indeed, the only book which he had read carefully was the Bible. He refers to a few authorities, among others to Conyers Middleton, one of his ablest predecessors, though a predecessor in a mask, and he only became acquainted with Middleton after writing the part published in his life-time. It is impossible to say how far he derived hints from the English deists, or from Voltaire or his followers, or from any of the writers who had taken the same line. Even when anticipated, he seems to be generally writing only from his own observation. It is the more remarkable that he anticipates a good many criticisms, obvious enough when once started, but requiring no little independence and directness of thought in the unguided investigator. So, for example, he remarks upon the inconsistency between the two narratives of the Creation [Letter to Erskine], and points out that in one narrative (he had only the English Bible before him) the phrase "Lord God" is substituted for "God" in the other. He has noted, therefore, the distinction made by later criticism between the Jehovist and Elohist. This and other remarks tending to justify a later than the accepted date for the composition of the Old Testament imply great acuteness in a self-taught critic, and would be accepted now even by professors of divinity. They show how much can be done by a man who has once resolved to look at facts freshly and for himself. The Age of Reason naturally became a textbook for all who, upon whatever grounds, objected to the Bible and the orthodox creeds, and the attempts to suppress it gave it fame and notoriety. The old deists had ceased to be read, but their spirit revived in a book certainly not inferior in vigour to the ablest of them, and making points which have only been strengthened by more learned criticism. It was a symptom and a stimulant of the revolt against a superstitious belief, which had become a mere survival. But it leaves open the question as to what should be called the constructive part of Paine's teaching. Did it, as he held, make for deism or for atheism? Was he a forerunner, for example, of the excellent Robert Elsmere, or really more in harmony with Bradlaugh, or with Comte?

To answer that question satisfactorily would take me a great deal too far. I must be content with a few words. Paine undoubtedly was a deist; and the really dignified part of his book is the refusal to admit that his deism could be worthily represented by the old superstitious symbols. As a deist, Paine became the founder of a society of theophilanthropists, which apparently had a brief and not very vigorous existence. Could it be expected to thrive, or to thrive upon Paine's lines? To me it seems that such metaphysical deism, made out of a single dogma dependent upon very questionable reasoning, has, necessarily, a very crazy constitution. If Paine had assimilated the old deist teaching, he seems hardly to have heard of the scepticism of Hume. The weakness of his political theories is shown in his refusal to allow for the stupidity and wickedness of mankind. The whole blame of tyranny and superstition must be thrown upon kings and priests, as if they were really supernatural elements intruded into the world and not an effect as much as a cause. When he is actually suffering from atrocities he refuses to believe that they are anything but accidents, due to the want of a proper constitution. He still holds by the abstract "man," the perfectly reasonable and sensible creature who only requires to be relieved of an incubus to enter upon the millennium. Such politics may be reasonable but they are not businesslike. Proceeding on the same method he tries to reform theology by simply abolishing the devil. But the devil is really an essential part of the machinery. When Bishop Watson answered him with Butler's argument, that Nature is cruel as well as Jehovah, he was really touching upon Paine's weak point, though the argument was a dangerous one. A religion, theological or positive, must take into account the facts which suggested the doctrine of human corruption. If we are to believe in God as the first cause, which is Paine's view, we must admit that he causes priests and kings, and superstition, and cruelty, and disease, and struggles for existence as much as the pleasant elements of the world in which we live. If the first cause is to be relieved of that responsibility, we require some subtler reasoning than Paine's to make a working theory. Mere optimism can only end in some sort of "theophilanthropical" moonshine; it may generate a good deal of very pretty eloquence, but it cannot generate a creed which will express the deepest human instincts. The mystic who can mistake emotion for logic may find a refuge of his own; but Paine's deism, a quasi-mathematical dogma, a theory which is nothing if not pure logic, and which has yet such a portentous gap in its logical apparatus, has not, I suspect, the seed of much vitality.

The main secret of Paine's strength is, I think, the same throughout. Like other men who have made a remarkable success, he combined qualities not often found together. He was an idealist, endowed with a strong vein of vigorous common sense. He was by nature a man of science, who imagines the method of Euclid to be applicable to all topics of speculation, and so falls in love with a good mathematical axiom that he despises the trifling difficulty of applying it to concrete facts. The facts have to bend or to be ignored. The type is common enough in the French theorists of the revolutionary movement, but there is something generally uncongenial about it to our rougher English minds. We rather hate symmetry, and our suspicions are roused by any appearance of logic. But a good many Englishmen were glad to see the sentiments round which we were blundering, packed so neatly into a definite formula and backed by good downright hard hitting. The dumb instinct of the people of England had come to suspect that the British Constitution was not the perfection of human wisdom; that even Burke's rhetoric could not make rotten boroughs beautiful; and that even the Thirty-nine Articles did not fully represent what men thought and felt. But this vague opinion had expressed itself in compromises and with reserves, and in a characteristically clumsy fashion; while Paine's audacious dogmas enabled it to become conscious of its own meaning. It thus discovered what it had meant all the time. It had without knowing been philosophical and profound, capable of taking all the airs of abstract demonstration; and yet, for Paine's common sense always kept within reach of facts, capable of hitting such downright blows at its enemies as gladden the heart of the oppressed. I cannot take Paine seriously as a philosopher, but I think that those who share his views may fairly take a pride in some qualities of their champion.

C. E. Merriam, Jr. (essay date 1899)

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SOURCE: "Thomas Paine's Political Theories," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. XIV, No. 3, September, 1899, pp. 389-403.

[In the essay that follows, Merriam outlines the basic tenets of Paine's political thought, defining at length his concepts of human nature and government. Merriam contends that Paine viewed government as a necessary evil, tolerable only in a democratic form.]

The political theories of Thomas Paine were struck off in the course of a career that extended over the revolutionary quarter of the eighteenth century and persistently followed the storm centre of the revolutionary movement.1 In January, 1776, he issued his famous pamphlet Common Sense—the strongest plea that was made for American independence; in the same year appeared The Forester's Letters—Paine's side of a controversy with Dr. William Smith, of Philadelphia; from 1776 to 1783 appeared thirteen letters under the heading of The American Crisis, and in 1786 the Dissertations on Government, the Affairs of the Bank and Paper Money.

In the same period Paine had served as aid to General Greene, as secretary of the Congressional Committee for Foreign Affairs and as clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly. In 1787 he returned to England, where he published in 1791-92 The Rights of Man, as a reply to Burke's reactionary Reflections on the Revolution in France. Like his Common Sense, this production of Paine was extensively circulated and became widely influential. So obnoxious was its radicalism to the government that the author was prosecuted for "scandalous, malicious and seditious libel," and upon trial was outlawed.

Before his case was heard, however, Paine passed over to France, where he entered the National Convention in the capacity of representative. In this new scene of activity the irrepressible agitator played, as elsewhere, a conspicuous part. He was a member of the committee which framed the Constitution of 1793,2 and was active in the proceedings against Louis XVI, though he opposed the execution of the king. Among his writings during his stay in France were an Anti-Monarchical Essay (1792), the Age of Reason (1794-95), a Dissertation on First Principles of Government (1795) and Agrarian Justice (1797).

Paine returned to America in 1802 and plunged at once into the conflict against the Federalists, with a series of letters To the Citizens of the United States (1802-3). He also wrote on the proposed constitutional convention in Pennsylvania (1805). These last years of Paine's life were not happy. His bitter letter to Washington3 and the radical doctrines of the Age of Reason had estranged many of his friends and had made him many enemies, so that the career of the author of Common Sense closed in comparative obscurity and neglect.4

It is the purpose of this paper to examine the political ideas for which this ubiquitous revolutionist carried on so long, so vigorous and so frequently successful a propaganda. Did he "breathe the political atmosphere" of Rousseau and Locke? and was his genius "from the first that of an inventor"?5 Or did he merely "prate about the rights of man"?6 These are questions that may be answered by a study of Paine's writings in their relation to general political theory.

A fundamental distinction in the political theory of Paine is that drawn between society and government.7 The social condition he regards as the natural state of man, the governmental as purely artificial. Men are attracted into society, on the one hand, by certain wants which can be satisfied only by means of social coö peration and, on the other, by that love for society and social relations which is implanted in men from birth. Life in society, then, Paine regards as perfectly natural and normal. It is in this social state, moreover, that Paine finds the basis for the natural rights upon which his whole system rests. Burke, who was as much afraid of political change as Plato, had in his Reflections contended for government in accordance with historical precedent. To this argument Paine agreed; but, said he, if the justification for government is to be found in precedent, we must not stop short of the first and foremost precedent. In this search he finds that

it is authority against authority all the way till we come to the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. Here our inquiries find a resting place and our reason finds a home.8

If, then, we are to follow precedent, the state of man at the creation stands first in the series. But man, fresh from the hands of nature, possesses a body of original or natural rights, such as liberty, equality, etc.9 That there may be no lack of connection between the primitive and the present state, Paine goes on to show that every child born into the world has the same kind of rights, as if "posterity had been continued by creation instead of generation." The state of nature, then, affords the first great precedent.

In this state of society men might have lived in peace and happiness without government, had the "impulses of conscience" been "clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed."10 Men are, however, morally weak and imperfect, and hence required some restraining power. This is found in government, which is defined as "a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world."11 Unconsciously following the theory of St. Augustine, Paine declares that "government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence. The palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise." Government was in his eyes a "necessary evil": "the more perfect civilization is, the less occasion has it for government." Little importance is attached to what he terms "formal government." The security of the people, their comfort and their progress, depend much more upon society than upon government. Social usage and custom, the mutual relations of men and their mutual interests, are of far greater influence than any political institutions, however perfectly constructed or skillfully operated. Government is needed only in those few cases where society cannot conveniently act. There are even instances where all the ordinary functions of government have been performed by society alone, as in the American colonies during the first years of the Revolutionary War.12 On the whole, society is "a creature of our wants," government of our "wickedness"; society is a blessing, government is an evil; society is a "patron," government a "punisher."

The transition from society to government is effected by a contract between members of the society.13 By the terms of this agreement, each individual retains all the rights which he is able to enforce, such as "rights of the mind," and the right to act for one's own happiness where this is not in conflict with the happiness of others. Rights which one possesses but is unable to enforce are deposited in the "common stock"; and, as Paine says, the individual "takes the arm of society in preference to his own." After the formation of government every man has two classes of rights: natural rights, by virtue of his membership in the human race; civil rights, by virtue of his membership in civil society.

Paine denied, as Rousseau had denied, the existence of a contract between people and government;14 for such a contract would suppose the existence of a government before it had a right to act. The government could not logically be a party to the contract which created it. The only contract between government and people which Paine would admit is that the people should pay their governors as long as they retain them in the popular service.

In the classification of the forms of government, Paine does not always adhere to the same canons of distinction. In one place he declares that there is but one species of man and one element of power; and that, therefore, "monarchy, aristocracy and democracy are but creatures of the imagination, and a thousand such may be contrived as well as three."15 Again, from an historical point of view, there have been three classes of governments: first, government by superstition, in which the rulers and the priesthood are in close alliance; second, government by brute force, in which authority is obtained by conquest; and, third, government based on the rights of man.16 The classification most commonly used divides government into two groups: government by "hereditary succession" and government by "election and representation."17 Monarchy and aristocracy fall under the first of these classes; democracy, under the second.

For government by "hereditary succession" Paine, like Rousseau, had a deep-seated dislike. All hereditary government he looked upon as tyranny. There is no justification for such government on the basis either of right or of utility. In support of the legitimacy of the hereditary form, it might be urged that such a right was derived from the contract to which Paine stood committed; but to this he would reply that no one generation of men has power to bind another. A nation is in a constant state of change: infants are daily born into it and the aged are daily leaving; and in this ever-running flood of generation there is no part superior in authority to another. "Man," he argues, "has no property in man; neither has one generation a property in the generations that are to follow." Or, as otherwise expressed:

Our ancestors, like ourselves, were but tenants for life in the great freehold of rights. The fee absolute was not in them, it is not in us: it belongs to the whole family of man through all ages.18

Paine suggests that "all laws and acts should cease of themselves in thirty years; it would prevent their becoming too numerous or voluminous."19

Again, it might be maintained that the right to hereditary succession had been acquired by prescription. But Paine will have none of this. To say that the right is acquired by time, is either to put time in the place of principle or make it superior to principle; whereas time has no more connection with principle than principle has with time.

The wrong which began a thousand years ago is as much a wrong as if it began to-day, and the right which originates to-day is as much a right as if it had the sanction of a thousand years.

Political radicalism never found more complete expression than in the declaration of Paine: "Time, with respect to principles, is an eternal now."20

Failing to find a basis of right for hereditary government, Paine is no more successful in discovering support for the system in utility. He is blind to all elements of strength it may contain, and is able to see nothing in the hereditary system but an unnatural and absurd method of selecting governmental officials. The plan is contrary to nature and to reason; and it is, in fact, hardly conceivable how apparently sensible people ever came to adopt it. We do not attempt to secure "an hereditary mathematician," or an "hereditary wise man," or an "hereditary poet laureate"; why, then, choose our governors after this fashion? The only parallel to the doctrine of hereditary succession is found in the theological tenet of original sin.

In Adam all sinned, and in the first electors all men obeyed; in the one all mankind were subjected to Satan, and in the other to sovereignty; our innocence was lost in the first, and our authority in the last.21

In the institution of monarchy Paine can discern nothing whatever that is worthy of approval, much less of imitation. Every king is to him a George III, and a George III at his worst. The whole vocabulary of epithet is exhausted in the effort to render monarchy odious and ridiculous. "Sceptred savage," "royal brute," "breathing automaton," are presented as accurate characterizations of kings. Burke's elaborate and eloquent plea for the "divinity that doth hedge about a king" was wholly unappreciated by Paine, who compared monarchy to

something kept behind a curtain about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss, and a wonderful air of seeming security; but when by any accident the curtain happens to open and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter.22

Kings are only useless and expensive figureheads—the sooner dispensed with, the better. The only function performed by the English king is that of making war and giving away places for £800,000 a year and being worshiped into the bargain.23 Even in a representative government Paine would oppose the establishment of a single executive, because one man will always be at the head of a party and because, moreover, there is a certain debasement involved in the idea of obedience to any one individual.24 Paine's opinion of monarchy is fairly expressed when he declares: "Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived."25 This single statement contains both his premises and his conclusions.

Aristocracy Paine disliked almost as much as monarchy; but the weight of his argument (or invective) was naturally directed against kings rather than aristocrats. George III and Louis XVI were the objective points of his attack. His principal arguments against aristocracy were: that it is kept up by family tyranny and injustice, that it establishes a body of men unaccountable to any one and therefore not to be trusted, and that it has a tendency to "degenerate" the species. "The artificial noble," he said, "shrinks into a dwarf before the noble of nature."26 Both monarchy and aristocracy, he thought, were doomed to speedy dissolution; and he did not believe that they would "continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries of Europe."27

Rejecting all forms of "hereditary government," it appears that the only worthy form is the representative or republican. A republic, however, is with Paine more a matter of principle than of form: in fact, any government established and conducted for the public good is a republic.28 The security that government will be so administered is found in the social contract, which guarantees the rights of all; otherwise, "despotism may be more effectually acted by many over a few than by one man over all." The essence of republican government is, therefore, that the "principle of despotism" be given up and that of contract and consent accepted. This insured, we are led up naturally to a system of "election and representation." On this question Paine parted from Rousseau and was an ardent advocate of representative government. Moreover, his idea of the extent to which the citizens should share in this representation was unusually broad. He denounced even the feeblest barrier in the form of a property qualification, and declared himself in favor of universal manhood suffrage.29 The basis of representation, he contends, should be personal rather than property rights. Personal rights may, indeed, be regarded as a "species of property of the most sacred kind." As for wealth, as commonly understood, its possession is "no proof of moral character; nor poverty of the want of it." In regard to protection to the "landed interests," there is no reason why they should be guarded more than any other class of interests; but if there were especial cause, the surest guaranty would be found in the grant of equal rights to all. This follows, because a high property qualification excludes a majority of the population, who are likely to become hostile to the government and to endanger the security and safety of all. Furthermore, argues Paine, government is not organized on the same principle as a bank or a corporation, where property is the sole subject of discussion. In such cases it may be just to allot representation in proportion to property; but government is organized upon a different principle from such associations. It takes cognizance of every citizen, whether he has much or little or no property at all. The basis of representation should be, he urges, as broad as the subjects to which the government applies, and hence all should be entitled to the franchise: Representative government, therefore, should rest upon no narrower foundation than manhood suffrage.30

The tripartite division of governmental powers into executive, legislative and judicial, as marked out by Montesquieu and generally received by eighteenth-century republicans, was not acceptable to Paine. He agreed to the principle of division, but not to the form commonly adopted. Paine held that there are only two classes of governmental powers—the willing or decreeing and the executing; one corresponding to the faculties of the mind, the other to those of the body.31 If the legislature wills and the executive fails to perform, as in a man when the mind wills and the body does not execute, a condition of imbecility results; or, if the executive acts without the predetermination of the legislature, a state of lunacy. The third and omitted power—the judiciary—is, in Paine's opinion, not a separate and distinct power at all, but is, strictly speaking, as in the modern French theory, a part of the executive. The latter he looks upon as made up of "all the official departments that execute the laws"; and of these the judiciary is the chief.32

For mixed or balanced governments Paine cared but little. Mixed government he derides as "an imperfect everything, cementing and soldering the discordant parts together by corruption to act as a whole."33 In the system of checks and balances which Montesquieu found in the English constitution, Paine had little confidence. The greatest weight in any government will, he thinks, be the controlling power;34 and, though the other powers may retard the rapidity of its motion, they are unable to prevent its ultimate success. The strongest power will finally prevail, and "what it wants in speed is supplied by time." In the English constitution the crown is the heaviest weight and, therefore, the controlling power.35

Paine's conception of a constitution is that of a definite body of instructions, or general rules, in accordance with which government is to be carried on.36 The constitution is the creation, not of the government, but of the people or the society. Thus, the National Assembly of France (1791) represents the society "in its original character"; but, after the formation of a constitution, future Assemblies will repre-sent the society "in its organized character."37 A constitutional convention does not signify to Paine a representation of the state, but of what he calls the "society," the "people," the "nation." Paine, moreover, thinks of a constitution as something which exists, not "in name only, but in fact"; which has "not an ideal, but a real existence"; and which can, furthermore, be produced "in a visible form"—in other words, a written constitution. Burke could not produce a copy of the English constitution; therefore, "we may fairly conclude that, though it has been so much talked about, no such thing as a constitution exists."38 Cloudy as this part of his constitutional theory may be, there are other places where Paine shows great clearness of thought. Especially is this true in regard to the amendment of constitutions. Rigidity and inflexibility he considers as highly undesirable in the organic law.39 The constitution should contain provision for its own amendment; for, however advantageous it might be for posterity to inherit a perfect constitution, such a consummation is impossible. "We should not," he says, "allow our anxiety for their [posterity's] welfare to carry us to the pitch of doubting their capacity. They might be wiser than we are."

In his practical politics Paine favored, as we have already seen, a system of representative government, based on manhood suffrage. Further, the executive power should not be centered in the hands of one man, and should not possess a veto.40 The legislature should consist of one house only, in which all the good and none of the bad effects of a bicameral system should be secured, by dividing the house into two sections for debate on every question, the combined vote of the two divisions being taken to determine the result.41 In regard to the judiciary, Paine condemned tenure during good behavior, and thought that judges should be elected annually, or for the same term as other officers. Lawyers he denounces in rather severe terms—asserting, for example, that the bar "lives by encouraging the injustice it pretends to redress." He distinguishes between "lawyers' law" and "legislative law," and protests against the former, because it is "a mass of opinions and decisions, many of them contradictory to each other." Paine holds courts of arbitration in high favor and recommends resort to them, whenever possible, in preference to the ordinary tribunals.

Other points of interest and importance in Paine's politics are found in his scheme for a progressive income tax42 and his plan for "agrarian justice."43 The first of these suggestions is found in the Rights of Man, where he outlines a plan for an income tax ranging from threepence per pound, on £50 clear yearly income, to twenty shillings—or confiscation—for the twenty-third thousand of clear yearly income. In the same connection is presented an elaborate plan for state aid to the poor in the shape of pensions, donations for marriages and births, allowances for funeral expenses, employment for the causal poor in London and Westminster44 and other like measures.

The scheme for "agrarian justice" starts with the proposition that all men have an equal right to "natural property," though not to "artificial property." The object of the plan is to make every individual secure in this right to "natural property." Estimating that the natural wealth changes hands by inheritance every thirty years, Paine proposes to tax all inheritances ten per cent and all those descending out of the direct line an additional ten per cent. From this fund every man, when he arrives at the age of twenty-one, is to be paid the sum of £15, and every person over fifty may require £10 per year. In this way every one will be secured in his original right to "natural property."

These propositions of Paine are an excellent illustration of the flexible character of "natural-right" philosophy. Government, in his theory, is at once a necessary evil, with narrowly circumscribed functions, and, on the other hand, a beneficent instrument admirably adapted to collect a confiscatory income tax or a twenty per cent inheritance tax, or to administer schemes for state assurance of employment and support. The "rights of man" are turned with equal ease to the support of either scientific anarchy or a socialistic system. Paine, it is true, was neither a socialist nor an anarchist; but there was nothing in his fundamental theory to hinder him from becoming the one or the other.

Another interesting illustration of the subjective character of the "rights of man" is furnished by Paine's answer to the remonstrance of the people of Louisiana requesting the privilege of self-government.45 In answer to their petition for the recognition of their "natural rights," Paine asks: "Why did you not speak this when you ought to have spoken it? We fought for liberty when you stood quiet in slavery." In language strangely at variance with his Rights of Man, he suggests that the petitioners already enjoy a degree of liberty;

and in proportion as you become initiated into the principles and practice of the republican system of government, of which you have yet had no experience, you will participate more and more, and finally be made partakers of the whole.

A proof of their incapacity is found in the fact that "under the name of rights you ask for powers—power to import and enslave Africans,46 and to govern territory that we have purchased" Inalienable rights, it would seem, may be forfeited under certain circumstances, and political liberty is not a thing to be considered apart from political capacity.

From the foregoing sketch it seems clear that Paine cannot be classed as a great political thinker. His theories of the state of nature, the rights of man, the social contract, representative government—in fact, all the great features of his system had been marked out before and better by others. Paine was not a philosopher, but an agitator. The source of his power is found in his rare faculty for popular statement of radical political ideas. Few political writers have had a more perfect mastery of the art of popular persuasion—few have played more skillfully on the popular chords than the author of Common Sense and the Rights of Man. Only one voice, that of Rousseau, has proclaimed with greater effect the democratic doctrines of the natural-right school. The Contrat Social, however, rejected the representative system; so that Paine was, in fact, the great popular champion of radical democracy in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

The influence exerted by Paine in his advocacy of democracy, though popular rather than scientific in its nature, was by no means inconsiderable. In France he helped to combat Abbé Siéyès's plan for an hereditary monarchy and aided in the establishment of the phrases and forms, at least, of constitutional liberty, even if its life was wanting. That England was moved by his arguments in the Rights of Man, is evident from the extensive circulation of the work and the widespread controversy which it aroused. His influence is noticeable in such works as William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, published in 1793. The European influence of Paine was crippled, however, by the fact that he was imperfectly adapted to the role of revolutionist in either of the two states where he labored. He was too French for the English and too English for the French. No checks and balances, no monarch, no hereditary nobility, but government based upon manhood suffrage—these were ideas that ran counter to English instinct, especially in England, frightened by the scenes across the channel. On the other hand, Paine was hardly radical enough to keep even pace with the progress of the French Revolution. As he says in his reply to the Louisiana remonstrance, "You see what mischief ensued in France by the possession of power before they understood principles. They earned liberty in words, but not in fact." Paine's political ideas and political spirit were, after all, English and not French. With the French Declaration of the Rights of Man he did not disagree, but in the practical application of its ideas to political organization he was certain to differ.

In America Paine's power was weakened by the appearance of his Age of Reason, which extended his radical activity from the field of politics to that of religion. The conservatives, moreover, now that the American Revolution was accomplished, were inclined to forget the doctrines of that period and to think more of the duties than of the rights of man. So, an answer to Paine's greatest work was undertaken by J. Q. Adams, in a series of letters over the signature "Publicola." On the other hand, Jefferson and the Jeffersonian democracy accepted and approved in great part the political ideas of Paine. His hatred of England and his championship of manhood suffrage tended to make his general theory acceptable; and it is perhaps fair to say that John Adams's Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States and Paine's Rights of Man represented the political theory of the two great branches of American democracy of that day.


1 See Moncure D. Conway, Life of Thomas Paine (2 vols., Putnam's Sons, 1892). Also Writings of Thomas Paine, edited by Conway (4 vols., Putnam's Sons, 1894-96). The references in the present article, unless otherwise stated, are to this edition of the writings.

2 Conway says: "It is certain that the work of framing the Constitution of 1793 was mainly intrusted to Paine and Condorcet."—Writings, III, 128.

3Writings, III, 213 (1796). For Paine on John Adams, see III, 390.

4 Paine was denied the right of suffrage at his home in New Rochelle in 1806.—See Life, II, 374.

5 Conway, Introduction to Writings of Thomas Paine.

6 McMaster, History of the People of the United States, II, 620.

7 See Common Sense, I, 69; Rights of Man, II, 406-11.

8Rights of Man, II, 304.

9 See Declaration of Rights in French Constitution of 1793, which contained Paine's ideas on natural rights.

10Common Sense, I, 71; also Rights of Man, II, 406.

11Common Sense, I,71.

12Rights of Man,II,407.

13Ibid, II, 306.

14Rights of Man, II, 432.

15Ibid, II, 384,385.

16Ibid., II, 308. For another classification see Dissertations on Government, II, 133.

17Rights of Man, II, 414; First Principles, III, 7.

18First Principles, III, 262.

19Dissertations on Government, II, 165. Compare Jefferson, Works (Ford's ed.), II, 115.

20First Principles, III, 260.—But Pennsylvania, Paine argued at another time, had no right to annual the charter of the Bank, because "the state is still the same state. The public is still the same body. . . . These are not new created every year, nor can they be displaced from their original standing, but are a perpetual permanent body, always in being and still the same." The next generation may annual the charter, but not the present.—See Dissertations on Government, Writings, II, 147, 166.

21Common Sense, I,81.

22Rights of Man, II, 426.

23Common Sense, I,84.Paine admits that in an absolute monarchy a king may be of some service.

24Letter to Washington, III,214.

25Common Sense, I, 84.

26Rights of Man, II, 323.

27Ibid, II 398.

28Dissertations on Government, II, 137, 138.

29 The Constitution of 1795, III, 280; First Principles, III, 265 et seq.

30First Principles HI, 268, 269.

31Answer to Four Questions, II, 238, 239; First Principles, III, 275.

32First Principles, I, 276.

33Rights of Man, II, 383.

34Common Sense, I,74.

35 See analysis of English Constitution, I, 72-74.

36Rights of Man, II, 309.

37Rights of Man, II, 311; Dissertations on Government, II, 147.

38Rights of Man, II, 310.

39Answer to Four Questions, II, 249-251.

40 See Constitutional Reform, IIII, Appendix G.

41Four Questions, II, 236; Constitutional Reform, IIII, 462. In the Four Questions he "is a little inclined to admit the idea of two chambers with an arbitrary and reciprocal veto." (II, 244.)

42Rights of Man, II, 497.

43Agrarian Justice, HI, 322-344; see also his Maritime Compact, III, 421, and other propositions in the latter part of the Rights of Man.

44Rights of Man, II, 501, 502.

45 For the Remonstrance, see Annals of Congress, 1804-1805, p. 1597; Paine's Reply (1804), in Writings, III, 430-436.

46 Paine's first essay for publication was on African Slavery in AmericaWritings, I, 4.

Harry Hayden Clark (essay date 1933)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14280

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine's Theories of Rhetoric," in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Vol. 28, 1933, pp. 307-39.

[In the following essay, Clark presents Paine as a literary "craftsman" who abided by a set of guidelines for effective writing, including clarity, boldness, wit, and appeal to feeling. Clark also suggests that Paine's view of language originated in his views of religion and nature.]

Thomas Paine has long been recognized as foremost among those who brought the rationalism of the eighteenth century home to the plain people and, in revolting against throne and altar, encouraged them to strive for democracy and the religion of humanity. If authorities on the history of political theory are agreed that in spite of his vast influence "Paine cannot be classed as a great political thinker" since "his theories of the state of nature, the rights of man, the social contract, representative government—in fact, all the great features of his system [—] had been marked out before and better by others," if the "source of his power is found in his rare faculty for popular statement," if "few political writers have had a more perfect mastery of the art of popular persuasion,"1 it should be of interest to ascertain as far as possible the literary theories which helped to make the great republican the "prince of pamphleteers."2 Of course, being neither a literary critic nor an aesthete, being concerned not with "pure" but with "applied" literature, Paine had relatively little to say regarding abstract literary theories. Nevertheless, if the criterion of the success of applied literature is its acceptance by those in whose cause it is applied, the fact that the demand for Common Sense and the Rights of Man ran to half a million copies of each3 suggests that, the same ideas being available in other forms, their style embodied a congruency to the human mind and heart which is after all the badge of a valid literary theory and which gives what Paine does have to say of his literary theory a rather unusual claim to our attention.

Before coming directly to a consideration of this theory, however, it may be well to remind ourselves that the contemporary effectiveness of Paine's work was due in part to other factors than the intrinsic merit of its style. Applied writing depends in no small measure for its success upon the condition of the point of application, and probably at no time in history had economic distress and political inefficiency done so much to make acceptable Paine's mordant criticism of monarchy and his ardent advocacy of humanitarian reform.4 He himself remarks in Common Sense, which is often credited with having single-handed caused a somersault in opinion as to the American Revolution, that he found "the disposition of the people such, that they might have been led by a thread and governed by a reed,"5 a situation which does not suggest the need of any very violent power to overcome inertia. And it has been plausibly argued that Paine was not so much the creator as the voice of popular opinion,6 moulded by an infinite variety of other factors. In England "the chief activities [of the Society for Constitutional Information] were confined to spreading the writings of Thomas Paine in cheap editions, printing 'Proclamations' and letters advocating their principles, and attempting to cooperate in these measures with various similar organizations."7 Unfortunately, all writers cannot rely upon such an organization for distributing their work!

Furthermore, Paine's literary effectiveness may depend upon intangible factors, in part, integral with his general outlook and character. "What I write," he said, "is pure nature, and my pen and my soul have ever gone together."8 It is probably true, as I hope to demonstrate in detail elsewhere, that Paine wrote in the light of an all-embracing central principle, essentially religious,9 and such a principle, regardless of its intrinsic validity, helps to give a man's writing focus and unity and driving power, as well as the sort of effectiveness which comes from hitting the reader repeatedly on the same nerve. No doubt Paine's devotion to geometry and to scientific methods essentially deductive tended to give his work syllogistic convincingness and the air of dogmatic assurance which springs from the absence of a tedious inductive approach and a distracting regard for qualifications and exceptions. His general programme of returning to the simplicity of nature and his ostensible contempt for book-learning as opposed to the universal and sufficient light of nature10 tended, furthermore, to free his style from pedantic literary allusions which so often clogged earlier American style, as for example that of Cotton Mather's Magnalia. If the rank and file of robust men are attracted by a good fight, Paine handled words as the pugilist handles his gloves; he delights in verbal knock-outs. Witness the way in which this so-called Quaker apostle of humanitarian brotherhood salutes an opponent: "Remember thou hast thrown me the glove, Cato, and either thee or I must tire. I fear not the field of fair debate, but thou hast stepped aside and made it personal. Thou hast tauntingly called on me by name; and if I cease to hunt thee from every lane and lurking hole of mischief, and bring thee not a trembling culprit before the public bar, then brand me with reproach, by naming me in the list of your confederates."11 At the period of the birth of the nation the Fathers were outspoken, believing in free speech as a means of "conveying heat and light," (especially heat!) as Paine's friend Benjamin Rush said, "to every individual in the Federal Commonwealth."12 After an age when opponents of monarchy and ecclesiasticism, living at their mercy, had been obliged to take refuge in sinuous methods and guarded analogies, many vigorous spirits no doubt found Paine's outspoken bluntness refreshing, if not contagious. Finally, if, as Emerson remarks, a man can excel in nothing who does not believe that what he is doing is at the moment the most important thing in the world, Paine's solemn conviction that he was a messiah sent to liberate mankind from "the tributary bondage of the ages" to throne and altar, to usher in "the birthday of a new world,"13 steeled him with self-confidence, economic and political history having given him a sympathetic audience, which inspired his pen in its consecration to a noble cause with a fervour apostolic. His spirit was dampened by no paralyzing surrender to determinisms, economic or mechanistic, or by any misgivings as to the efficacy of his tools: he was enraptured by the magic witchery of words, confident that if mankind were to be regenerated, it would be through the mighty power of the pen. A perfectibilian dedicated to the current faith that conduct is the mere externalization of opinion, he regarded "one philosopher though a heathen" as of "more use" than "all the heathen conquerors that ever existed," the French Revolution being literally truth clad in hell-fire, "no more than the consequence of a mental revolution priorily existing in France"14 engendered by "the writings of the French philosophers." "There is nothing which obtains so great an influence over the manners and morals of a people as the Press."15 "Letters, the tongue of the world," represent the fighting wedge of progress, the writer commanding "a scene as vast as the world. . . . Jesus Christ and his apostles could not do this."16

If such general factors, integral with Paine's general outlook, help in part to explain his power, it must also be borne in mind that his mastery of his art was conditioned, in no small measure, by a knowledge of the achievements and methods of other writers and thinkers. It has been conventional to take him at his word—"I neither read books, nor studied other people's opinion"17 —notwithstanding the fact that he contradicted this assertion repeatedly in word and act; it has been conventional to assume as axiomatic that he was distinguished by an "immense ignorance of history and literature."18 Ignorant he no doubt was, if one uses the learning of a Coleridge or an Arnold as a standard; but such a view of Paine's knowledge of books, which has never been thoroughly investigated, would seem rather naively to neglect certain somewhat unique considerations. If, as in the case of Franklin, his formal schooling ended at an early age, he was aflame with an insatiable curiosity, and he had most unsual opportunities for satisfying it. "I seldom passed five minutes of my life however circumstanced," he confides, "in which I did not acquire some knowledge."19 To begin with, contemporary doggerel records that as a result of his repeated triumps in debate at the "White Hart Evening Club" his fellow-townsmen at Lewes crowned "Immortal Paine . . . General of the Headstrong War," his ability being such that the excisemen of England finally appointed him to plead with Parliament on behalf of "The Case of the Officers of the Excise," 1772. He had served as a school-teacher, and Franklin, who sponsored his coming to America, supposed he would continue that calling there. There, however, as editor of The Pennsylvania Magazine, he received and commented upon current publications in America, England, and France. It appears that before 1775 he had "received much pleasure from perusing" such English magazines as The Gentleman's, the London, the Universal, the Town and Country, the Covent-Garden, and the Westminster.10 The Continental Congress regarded him as competent to serve as "secretary for foreign affairs almost two years,"21 a position in which he read and wrote a vast number of important letters. These opportunities for securing information, however, are trivial compared with his immense opportunities as a result of his multitudinous contacts, in Franklin's circle in America, Godwin's circle in England, and Condorcet's circle in France.22 What could he not have learned regarding ideas, perhaps from books whose names were unmentioned, from listening to the conversation not only of the men mentioned but of such men as Jefferson, Barlow, Dr. Rush, John Adams, Home Tooke, Holcroft, Burke (whose earlier work Paine admired), Brissot, Lafayette, and countless others who were Paine's frequent companions and his hosts?

The fact that Paine seldom refers to other writers may not be inconsistent with a knowledge of their ideas, especially when one takes into account the indirect conversational sources suggested above and the considerations which follow. First, as a perfectibilian condemning the past and gazing hopefully into the future, as a sworn enemy of a socially mediated tradition, Paine was generally too much of a logician to cite that tradition as support for an attack upon it. Second, as a naturalistic opponent of philosophies and religions dependent upon books which were for him rooted in traditional imposture and national and temporal idiosyncrasies, Paine advocated, through the scientific quest for universal and immutable natural law, the study not of books but of nature, which was supposed to be everywhere, to all times and peoples, a uniform and universal revelation of a wisdom and benevolence divine; consequently, he could not logically appear to depend himself upon books. Indeed, contemporary critics taunted him upon the inconsistency of himself condemning a book-religion by means of a book and offering a book as a remedy.23 Third, it was part of the established campaign strategy of the Godwinian circle, which saw to the details of publishing the Rights of Man in England, to cite "no authorities."24 Fourth, Citizen Egotism, as Paine was called, posing as an original genius, was not anxious to share the glory of having "a range in political writing beyond, perhaps, what any man ever possessed in any country,"25 of having "arrived at an eminence in political literature the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy with all its aids has not been able to reach or to rival,"26 of having by his pen equalled the power of Washington's sword, his book which liberated America having "the greatest sale that any performance ever had since the use of letters."27

Fifth, considering that Paine was the spokesman of the unschooled and the illiterate, priding himself upon his ability to resolve imposing sophistry to its simple elements, to avoid the artificiality of an aristocratic culture, it would be unlikely that Paine would strain toward literary allusions. And finally, it was an effective part of his strategy in The Age of Reason, as Richard Watson scrupulously noted,28 to disclaim all learned appeals to other books, and "to undertake to prove, from the Bible itself, that it is unworthy of credit." How Paine revels in demonstrating, as he thinks, that the Bible is "book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy"29 without going for proof beyond what was regarded as the sacred Word of God!30 Considering such a confessed controversial strategy, it would seem rather obvious that the paucity of other books cited could not be taken as valid evidence of the author's "immense ignorance." This, however, is but one of many instances of inadequate interpretations of Paine as a result of a failure to read individual passages in the light of both the contemporary climate of opinion and the man's central philosophical outlook. I would not imply that Paine was in any sense a prodigy of learning, but I do think that he had a decent knowledge of contemporary currents of opinion and literary methods. With the six considerations just suggested in mind, it would seem that what references Paine does make directly to other writers might be taken at somewhat more than their customary face-value, since such references conflicted with his whole philosophy and his controversial method, inviting taunts, painful to a logician and moralist, of an inability to follow his own precepts. Elsewhere31 I hope to discuss Paine's references to more than an hundred such figures as the following, and to show his knowledge, in varying degrees, of their work; these are: Homer, Xenophon, Aesop, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Zoroaster, Confucius, Cicero, Virgil, Pliny, Tacitus, Scaliger, Dragonetti, Augustine, Maimonides, Origen, Spinoza, Luther, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Barclay, Milton, Bunyan, Tillotson, Locke, Sydney, Henry Lord, Descartes, Newton, 'Hudibras' Butler, Grotius, Denham, Dryden, Defoe, Swift, Pope, Smollett, Thomson, Allan Ramsay, Chatterton, James Ferguson, Benjamin Martin, Conyers Middleton, Churchill, Robertson, Chesterfield, Wilkes, Blackstone, 'Junius', George Lewis Scott, Samuel Rogers, Fox, Burke, Johnson, Shelburne, Robert Merry, Blake, Sampson Perry, Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Holcroft, Priestly, Cobbett, Rapin, Burgh, Price, David Levi, Ferguson, Sir William Jones, Whiston, 'Peter Pindar', Adam Smith, David Williams, Franklin, Jefferson, Barlow, John Adams, James Wilson, Samuel Adams, Christie, Edward Fitzgerald, Towers, Mackintosh, Washington, Gouverneur Morris, Monroe, Palmer, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Turgot, Quesnay, Raynal, Helvétius, Boulauger, Brissot, Lafayette, and Condorcet. But could the 'rebellious staymaker' read critically and digest the ideas of such authors? His diabolically acute analysis of the Holy Scriptures suggests that he could. At least he should have been able to profit by the theory and practice of these authors in formulating his own literary theories, which are for the most part in close accord with those of his age.32

Having now considered extra-literary factors which aided Paine and having suggested that he was not quite so ignorant of literary tradition as generally supposed, let us turn directly to a presentation of what he himself has to say regarding literary theory and the art of writing controversial prose. What were his avowed aims?

First among these aims is candour, simplicity, and clarity. He would "rid our ideas of all superfluous words, and consider them in their natural bareness and simplicity."33 "I speak a language full and intelligible," he remarks in summing up his writing on "every subject." "I deal not in hints and intimations. I have several reasons for this: First, that I may be clearly understood. Secondly, that it may be seen I am in earnest; and, thirdly, because it is an affront to truth to treat falsehood with complaisance."34 He describes the Rights of Man as "a book calmly and rationally written, . . . in a fair, open, and manly manner,"35 and he tells us elsewhere that he forbade himself "the use of equivocal expression or mere ceremony."36 When Americans were reluctant on account of sentimental ties to break the bond which bound them to the Fatherland, he exclaimed impatiently, "I bring reason to your ears, and in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes."37 No doubt John Adams came as near hating Paine as any man, and as a Federalist he increasingly abominated his anti-traditional38 and equalitarian principles, yet he was honest enough to recognize that he himself "could not have written anything in so manly and striking a style [as Common Sense]," and that it contained "a great deal of good sense delivered in clear, simple, concise, and nervous style."39 This first ideal of Paine's was of course in line with that of eighteenth-century prose writers from Defoe to his beloved patron Franklin, although Paine was conspicuously lacking in Franklin's inoffensive Socratic approach and his skill in winning assent without antagonizing. As Franklin wrote Hume, who had pronounced him the first man-of-letters of the New World, "certainly in writings intended for persuasion and for general information, one can not be too clear; and every expression in the least obscure is a fault . . . The introducing new words, where we are already possessed of old ones sufficiently expressive, I confess must be generally wrong."40 Moreover, Paine's mastery of his familiar friend's ideal in this respect is attested by the fact, as Jefferson remarked,41 that Common Sense, which Paine submitted to Franklin for criticism, was first attributed to Franklin.

One may designate boldness Paine's second ideal, one, unfortunately, as it seems to me, which not seldom carried him, as he confessed, beyond the "common track of civil language."42 It is, he says, "curious to observe how soon this spell [of sentimental attachment to monarchy] can be dissolved. A single expression, boldly conceived and uttered, will sometimes put a whole company into their proper feelings: and whole nations are acted on in the same manner."43 In transferring this literary method acquired in the rough-and-tumble of politics to religion, Paine was conscious of pioneering in "a style of thinking and expression different to what had been customary in England."44 As he wrote Elihu Palmer, whose "Principles of Nature" carried on Paine's tradition in America, "The hinting and intimidating manner of writing that was formerly used on subjects of this kind, produced skepticism, but not conviction. It is necessary to be bold. Some people can be reasoned into sense, and others must be shocked into it. Say a bold thing that will stagger them, and they will begin to think.45 And in speaking of the agitation caused by the boldness of the first part of The Age of Reason, he concludes, "I have but one way to be secure in my next work, which is, to go further than in my first. I see that great rogues escape by the excess of their crimes, and, perhaps, it may be the same in honest cases."46 I do not choose to stain these pages by quoting examples of the scarlet and profane Billingsgate and the coarse innuendoes which Paine unworthily employed as an attack upon Christianity in his illiberal and intolerant endeavour to prove that "the only true religion is deism."47 If Franklin was an agnostic, he was also tolerant of most religions and rich in the benign wisdom of silence. Where the master feared to tread, the disciple rushed in, with the result that whereas Franklin died the venerated Citizen of the World, beloved of mankind, Paine literally became an object of fear and pity, spending his last years in a vain endeavour to patch together the floating fragments of a wrecked renown. We cannot digress from our restricted purpose here to discuss the vast problems involved in Paine's deism. One observation might be ventured, however. Just as Paine's view that the dead have no authority over the living, that one generation can renounce its obligation to its predecessor, has been undermined by modern doctrines of the inexorable continuity of evolution, so his religious view that one must "vindicate the moral justice of God against the calumnies of the Bible,"48 in which God is presented as cruel, by forsaking the Bible for nature, has likewise been undermined by the modern evolutionists' demonstration that nature is more cruel than the God of the Old Testament in her indifference to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. Evolution has reinforced, unexpectedly, the famous nature-argument of Butler's Analogy (1736), against the earlier deists, who were sure that nature was all benevolence, an argument which Richard Watson tellingly used against Paine in 1796.49

If, as a political thinker, his chief weakness lay in his blindness to the unconscious and historical element in human association, the recognition of which constitutes "Burke's supreme claim to greatness,"50 as a religious thinker this handicap is much more pronounced, since as a rationalist Paine sees but one path to truth, discounting insight, faith, illusion, and the religious imagination, which have guided such seers as Plato and Dante, as mere obscurantism. And this defect is furthermore aggravated by the fact that, with one or two exceptions, he was totally unfitted, by his external, mechanistic concept of God as a watchmaker and by his doctrine that worship consists only in external humanitarian service, to "be a Columbus to whole continents and worlds within," which has constituted the central objective of the American transcendentalists and of most distinctively religious people. Thus does the iniquity of oblivion, at the behest of time, scatter her poppy, and in rendering the boldest affirmations untenable instruct us in the wisdom of philosophic humility and the avoidance of unseemly dogmatism and violence of expression.

Of course Paine's boldness of phrase is merely the outward garment of the perfectibilian's black-and-white philosophy, according to which all rulers of the past were devils51 while all rulers of the future will be saints. "The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust. It is absolutely the opposite of what it should be."52 "The politics of Britain, so far as respects America, were originally conceived in idiotism and acted in madness."53 He is forever the implacable enemy of "mixed governments," middle courses, and gradual methods; nothing will do but "a total reformation."54 To this apostle of the religion of humanity his former sovereign, afflicted with mental infirmity, is his "Madjesty,"55 otherwise a "Royal Wretch,"56 a "Royal Criminal,"57 or "a sceptred savage."58 The long struggles of the English people for a "freedom slowly broadening down from precedent to precedent" are to him nothing; in the background he sees not Magna Charta but William of Normandy, to him the "son of a prostitute and the plunderer of the English nation." His universal ascription of dark motives to men of the past would better become a believer in total depravity than a believer in liberalism and natural goodness. Indeed, his brutality toward his opponents accords oddly with his professed monopoly on virtues humanitarian. If Paine's ideal of boldness must be pronounced one of the regrettable weaknesses of his literary theory, we should recall that it was a weakness he shared with his contemporaries, whose ungentle ways, it must be admitted, were not conducive to temperate expression. William Cobbett, for example, whose later affection for Paine caused him to bring his remains back to his native land, called him "a profane fool," a "blockhead," a "bloodhound," "an ass," and "red-nosed Tom, .. . the impostor, the liar, and the disturber of mankind." "Men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural, and blasphemous, by the single monosyllable Paine."59 And Paine's good friend Samuel Adams, who argued that "the natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule,60 was addressed by American opponents as "the foulest, subtlest, and most venomous serpent ever issued from the egg of sedition." And in England, of course Paine's boldness was in accord with that of such writers as Junius, "the favorite model of political writers,"61 whose "brilliant pen . . . enraptured" Paine, who said that "in the plenitude of its rage it might be said to give elegance to bitterness."62 "No writer of the time came so near to the style of Junius," it had been said, "as Paine."63

Somewhat akin to Paine's ideal of boldness was his third ideal, that of wit. "Wit," he explained, "is naturally a volunteer, delights in action, and under proper discipline is capable of great execution. 'Tis a perfect master in the art of bush-fighting; and though it attacks with more subtility than science, has often defeated a whole regiment of heavy artillery .. . 'Tis a qualification which, like the passions, has a natural wildness, that requires governing. Left to itself, it soon overflows its banks, mixes with common filth, and brings disrepute on the fountain. We have many valuable springs of it in America, which at present run purer streams, than the generality of it in other countries."64 He may have been thinking of the wit of Franklin, rising to the surface of his work like sparkling bubbles in wine, or the wit of Freneau, or of Barlow and the Hartford Wits. Occasionally Paine gives us a mild cerebral tickle as when, in speaking of peace terms unpopular with the democrats, he remarked, "this is what the tories call making their peace, 'a peace which passeth all understanding' indeed."65 Often, however, as Romilly said, he is "flat where he attempts wit,"66 as when he described the traitor Arnold boarding "the Vulture sloop of war lying in the North River; on which it may be truly said, that one vulture was receiving another." And often his wit is winged with a desire to pain. John Adams, who had been a target for Paine, attributed the Federalists' defeat in part to a failure to guard themselves against "that scoffing, scorning wit, and that caustic malignity of soul, which appeared so remarkably in all the writings of Thomas Paine."67 Certainly in respect to his wit, and his deficiency in humour, Paine was a true citizen of that rationalistic century which produced such wits as Swift, Defoe, Bolingbroke, Pope, Churchill, Peter Pindar, Wilkes, and Junius, all of whom Paine read and admired.

Paine's fourth ideal—perhaps unexpected in one who was essentially a rationalist otherwise—may be described as an appeal to feeling and a regard for those niceties of composition, such as connotation, antithesis, balance, and cadence, which are productive of emotional or poetic pleasure. This aspect of Paine's work has been, I think, little noticed, and yet I venture to think it has stood him in good stead in his conflict with oblivion. "I had some turn," he confessed, reminiscently, "and I believe some talent for poetry; but this I rather repressed than encouraged, as leading too much into the field of imagination."68 Nevertheless, this repressed feeling for the poetic is seldom far beneath the surface, fertilizing his art, giving it at times, as even his enemies admitted, an elevation which was not without beauty. At first, although I think it is not generally known, this hard-headed rationalist was much given to wandering in fairy lands of fancy, as one will note who reads his early papers in The Pennsylvania Magazine for the year 1775 on such topics as "Cupid and Hymen." Enchanted with his new-found home, Paine wandered fancifully in "the groves of Arcadia," charmed with the "lovely appearance," the "air of pleasantness," every shepherdess being "decorated with a profusion of flowers," while amidst the "little cottages" and the "jessamine and myrtle" "the sound of labour was not heard" but only "a sweet confusion of voices mingled with instrumental music."69 It is in this scene that Cupid rescues the beauteous Ruralinda from Gothic, Lord of the Manor, and returns her to her shepherd swain with whom she lives happily ever after. No wonder Paine, who is popularly pictured in this period as a sort of fireeater, wrote Franklin, "I thought it very hard to have the Country set on fire about my Ears almost the moment I got into it."70 Nevertheless, he was summoned forth from this Arcadian fairyland to publish Common Sense, the call to arms, January 10, 1776, which presages his matured prose style embodied fifteen years later in the Rights of Man. As I have suggested, his style in 1775 was, for the most part, ornate, involved, artificial, rich in languorous emotional overtones which caress the sentimental fancies of an Arcadian; his style in 1791 is essentially bare, terse, swift, metallic, and epigrammatic, not without an echo, here and there, of stately eloquence. What accounts for this interesting stylistic evolution?71 It cannot be attributed entirely to the outgrowing of youthful sentimentalism, for Paine was thirty-eight when he wrote the passages just quoted. No doubt, as in the case of Sidney Lanier later, the author's personal experience in the war had something to do with helping him to view things realistically and to give his words the ring of sincerity. For Paine was an aide to General Greene, and took part in an engagement which involved rowing "in an open boat to Fort Mifflin during the cannonade," a "very gallant act," as a contemporary said, "that shows what a fearless man Mr. Paine was."72 Such an experience in the teeth of a cannonade has a way of making a man think less about Cupids and shepherdesses and fairies and Necromancers' cells. No wonder he poured out The Crisis in "a passion of patriotism,"73 writing, it is said, on the head of a drum in the light of flickering campfires while the wornout army slumbered. More important, however, was the intellectual influence of associating on intimate terms, as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, fellow-author, or guest, with the leaders of Revolutionary thought such as Jefferson and Franklin, and the natural tendency to assimilate not only their thought74 but their ideals as regards the art of writing, which were in the direction of sobriety, clarity, precision, ease, vigour and purposeful didacticism. He confessed that, while he formerly had no interest in politics,75 "it was the American revolution that made me an author,"76 and that as regards his later work such as the Rights of Man "the principles. . . . were the same as those in Common Sense,77 learned in America. Henceforth, the ever-growing faith in the natural man and Utopian progress, which throbbed and pounded and exulted through his work, was in his mind given philosophic sanction by what he took to be the concrete and successful embodiment of it in the history of America. In such an interpretation, however, it is manifest that he, like other naturalists of the French Revolutionary era, failed to perceive the extent to which the American "order and decorum,"78 which Paine expected in vain in the French Revolution, and which he attributed to natural goodness, were the inherited habitude of a Puritan liberalism, mindful of the dark impulses of the human heart, which strove not to make men masterless but self-mastered.79 Such an entrancing vision of being instrumental in "regenerating the Old World by the principles of the New,"80 by merely modifying the external machinery of government, in conjunction with the stylistic ideals of such intimate friends as Franklin and Jefferson,81 made him impatient not only of fanciful writing but even of non-didactic or non-historical writing such as the drama. "Mr. Burke should recollect," he says, "that he is writing history and not plays; and that his readers will expect truth, and not the spouting to rant of high-toned exclamation."82 Jefferson, in the interest of "reason and fact, plain and unadored," had condemned the undidactic novel for its "poison" of "fancy."

As I have suggested, however, Paine's early delight in the poetic did not desert him, but, being repressed, indirectly fertilized his style, giving it, at its best, colour, connotation, and cadence, enabling him to hold in thrall not only the reader's head but his heart. For the "prince of pamphleteers" knew that "the mind of a living public . . . feels first and reasons afterwards."83 Everyone, of course, is familiar with his picturesque retort to Burke, who in the French Revolution pitied the rich but forgot the poor. As Paine remarked, "He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird"84 In metaphors of such haunting beauty Paine often succeeds in pointedly compressing his argument, rendering it strikingly memorable and quotable. "The palaces of kings are founded on the bowers of paradise." "Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence." "Cannons are the barristers of kings." If "there is in Paine's style none of the organ's roll which hushes Burke's listeners into a state of veneration and awe,"85 a statement to which there are many exceptions, he is a master of epigrams, clothed often in homely phrases, which "became catchwords; household proverbs; verbal banners to flaunt before the astonished vision of a comfortable aristocracy and a contented conservatism."86 This facility in the art of epigrams stems, no doubt, partly from the neo-classical delight in the general rather than the particular, partly from Paine's delight in logical abstraction as opposed to historic relativism, and partly from the fact that his delight in the university of natural law led to a delight in framing major premises in terms universal. I venture to think, however, that Paine's writing derives no small measure of its vibrating power from his ability, as a retentive student of the English Bible, to clothe his thought in the moving diction and haunting cadences of that masterpiece of beauty which has left its authentic stamp upon most of what is great in English letters. For Paine did not condemn all the Bible, even in content. He never tires of praising the Book of Job, especially for its style. "As a composition, it is sublime, beautiful, and scientific: full of sentiment, and abounding in grand metaphorical description . . . In the last act, where the Almighty is introduced as speaking from the whirlwind, to decide the controversy between Job and his friends, it is an idea as grand as poetic imagination can conceive."87 And it will be found, I think, that usually wherever Paine attains a dignity and impressiveness of style, an earnest and lofty eloquence, and a telling incisiveness of phrase, there are subtle echoes of the book he condemned. "The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow."68 "The farce of monarchy in all countries is following that of chivalry, and Mr. Burke is dressing for the funeral. Let it then pass gently to the tomb of all other follies and the mourners be comforted." "It is [quoting] authority against authority all the way, till we come to the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. Here our enquiries find a resting place and our reason finds a home."89 And in the following sentence, notice not only the biblical echoes in this attack on the Bible, but the balance and antithesis, and the stately cadence: " . . . the terrors and inquisitorial fury of the Church, like what they tell us of the flaming sword that turned every way, stood sentry over the New Testament; and time, which brings everything to light, has served to thicken the darkness that guards it from detection."90 Paine's nice regard for rythmical units and for the music of the spoken word are obvious, and this regard must have been effectively advanced by his manner of composing, which was also, incidentally, not unlike that of Emerson. "His manner of composing, as I have heard persons who have heard him relate," writes Hogg, "was thus. He walked backwards and forwards about a room until he had completed a sentence to his satisfaction; he then wrote it down entire and perfect and never to be amended. When the weather was fair, if there was a garden, a field, a courtyard at hand, he walked about out of doors for a while, and then came in and put down the sentence which he had arranged mentally, and went out again and walked until he was ready to be delivered of another."91 No wonder he could make his words, terrible but beautiful, march like soldiers with trumpets; no wonder he could make his words vibrate with the indignation of a Hebrew prophet foretelling the destruction of "Sodom and Gormorrah."92 In praising his timely appeal to feeling, however, I have in mind not so much his war propaganda, a type of work with which we are all unpleasantly familiar, as that portion of his writing inspired by passion social and humanitarian. For the bitterness with which he hated the oppressors was of course merely the reverse side of the tenderness with which he pitied the oppressed. "I defend," he said, "the cause of the poor, .. . of all those on whom the real burden of the taxes fall—but above all, I defend the cause of humanity." "I speak an open and disinterested language, dictated by no passion but that of humanity . . . my country is the world, and my religion is to do good."93 If Paine was blind to most of what thehistoric maj-esty of the past has to teach, and if his idyllic prophecies of a New Jerusalem come on earth were belied by the events of the future, if few can accept today either his religion or political doctrines, which subsume a benevolence in nature and the natural man which realistic observation and evolution has tended to disprove, it may turn out that his most important contribution was the impetus which he gave toward a wider recognition of social evils and a quest for concrete remedies. A contemporary and reader of humanitarians such as Thomson, Cowper, Blake, Mary Wollstonecraft, Franklin, Jefferson, Voltaire, Rousseau, Raynal, Brissot and Condorcet, it is no wonder that, in elaborating his many practical suggestions94 for the relief of social suffering, whereby life's blessings were to be more equally distributed, his words throb with a contagious sympathy95 which brought hope to the unfortunate, the poor, and the oppressed. For, much as he tempered his earlier addiction to the sentimental, he never forgot that "the mind of a living public . . . feels first, and reasons afterwards." In this respect, Paine approaches, for a moment, the view of Burke, whose essay on "The Sublime and the Beautiful" (1756) he evidently read, who held that an ideal sentence should involve first, a thought, second, an image, and, third, a sentiment.

If the rationalist Paine was not unmindful of an appeal to the reader's feelings, if he aimed "to make the reader feel, fancy, and understand justly at the same time,"96 his practice had the support of a typically neoclassic theory of a desired balance between Memory, Judgment and Imagination, a balance which may be said to constitute his fifth literary ideal. It is interesting to note, incidentally, that the literary effectiveness of his defence of liberty is in no small measure dependent upon an allegiance to a principal of control. His statement of his theory is so important that I must beg leave to quote it in full, long as it is:

"The three great faculties of the mind", he wrote, much as did Sir William Jones, whom Paine read,97 "are Imagination, Judgment and Memory. Every action of the mind comes under one or the other of these faculties . . . [The mind being like a watch,98 ] the main spring which puts all in motion corresponds to the imagination; the pendulum which corrects and regulates that motion, corresponds to the judgment; and the hand and dial, like the memory, record the operation. . . . if the judgment sleeps whilst the imagination keeps awake . . . the master of the school is gone out and the boys are in an uproar."99

". . . How very few men there are in any country," he remarks in censuring Raynal, "who can at once, and without the aid of reflection and revisal, combine warm passions with a cool temper, and the full expansion of the imagination with the natural and necessary gravity of judgment, so as to be rightly balanced within themselves, and to make a reader feel, fancy, and understand justly at the same time. To call three powers of the mind into action at once, in a manner that neither shall interrupt, and that each shall aid and invigorate the other, is a talent very rarely possessed. It often happens that the weight of an argument is lost by the wit of setting it off; or the judgment disordered by an intemperate irritation of the passions: yet a certain degree of animation must be felt by the writer, and raised in the reader, in order to interest the attention; and a sufficient scope given to the imagination, to enable it to create in the mind a sight of the persons, characters and circumstances, of the subject: for without these, the judgment will feel little or no excitement to office, and its determinations will be cold, sluggish, and imperfect. But if either or both of the two former are raised too high, or heated too much, the judgment will be jostled from its seat, and the whole matter, however, important in itself, will diminish into a pantomine of the mind, in which we create images that promote no other purpose than amusement."100

It is often erroneously supposed that the neo-classi-cists and the radical rationalists were implacably hostile to the imagination. It is true, as we have seen, that Paine repressed his interest in poetry as "leading too much into the field of imagination";101 his hostility toward what he calls "the vapours of the imagination",102 however, refers only to the unbalanced and undisciplined use of that faculty. For to Paine, as to many of his contemporaries, the imagination, as he described it above, is the "main-spring" of the mind. We should notice carefully, however, exactly what he means by imagination. To Paine it not so much an Aristotelian faculty, essentially moral, whereby ethical universals are envisaged on the basis of particulars purged of what is accidental or idiosyncratic, a conception held by such men as Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the mature James Russell Lowell,103 as it was a creative arranger of images furnished by memory and controlled by judgment. If we recall how exuberant were Paine's early flights of fancy, how strongly he leaned toward the over-ornate and the Arcadian, we will understand how difficult, and necessary, in his case was self-discipline, and we will perhaps be more charitable toward his frequent and deplorable inability to bring his writing, often done under stress of emergencies which forbade revision, into complete harmony with his ideal of a fruitful and purposeful balance between the Memory, the Judgment and the Imagination. With regard to this ideal, as with others, he was in accord with the main current of his age. For, as Professor F. B. Kaye reminded us, "The neo-classicist distrusted only the undisciplined use of the faculty [imagination]; the disciplined imagination he required. The following is a typical neoclassic statement: 'In a good poem, whether it be epic or dramatic; as also in sonnets, epigrams, and other pieces, both judgment and fancy are required . . .'104 This was a doctrine preached by Pope and Addison [whom Paine read, admired and quoted]. That the neoclassicists could hardly help respecting the imagination is shown by their conceptions of the creative art. The central psychological theory was that of Hobbes and Locke, according to which the judgment separates the impressions stored in the memory by the senses and the imagination joins and relates them. Imagination, therefore, was as necessary to controlled thinking as judgment, and shared its good repute."105

Sixth, having advocated this difficult balance of faculties necessary to the writer, Paine aimed to adjust language to thought with such exquisite precision as to create exactly the impression he wished to produce and no other. The ex-soldier knew that ammunition is not more necessary than infallible aiming. As he himself sums the matter up. "To fit the powers of thinking and the turn of language to the subject, so as to bring out a clear conclusion that shall hit the point in question and nothing else, is the true criterion of writing."106 Conscious of his own earlier weaknesses, he is aware that the means should be always subordinated to the end, the part to the whole, that writing may fail "through an excess of graces", if as in Raynal's case, "the coloring is too high for the original", even though "the conception is lofty and the expression elegant".107 As he boasted later, reviewing, no doubt, his own struggles for literary self-control and for artistic integrity, "All the world knows, for it cannot help knowing, that to judge rightly, and to write clearly, and that upon all sorts of subjects, to be able to command thought and as it were to play with it at pleasure, and be always master of one's temper in writing, is the faculty only of a serene mind, and the attribute of a happy and philosophical temperament."108

Like Milton, whose work he read,109 Paine recognized that literary success depends upon far more than verbal carpentry and astute craftsmanship, important as these are; he recognized, like the greater and more profound radical, the organic relation between character and literary creation, the fact that the life of a poet must itself be a genuine and living poem. The deist, grossly libelled as an atheist or infidel, who spent his life ringing the changes on his master-theme that "It is only in the Creation[nature] that all our ideas and conceptions of a word of God can unite,"110 was not slow to grasp the parallel idea that the literary creation of man is a revelation of its human creator, noble or ignoble in proportion as the deeper springs of his character are in fruitful harmony with what Emerson, like Paine in this respect, called "the law alive and beautiful",111 the Oversoul. And if Paine's writing is not flawless, if he wanders far at times from the highroad he charted, it is perhaps not unrelated to the fact that he never completely achieved the "happy and philosophical" self-command he sought,112 that he did not escape what his defender, Shelley,113 called the "contagion of the world's slow stain". On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that this ultimate stress upon self-discipline in literary art is in the last analysis the inevitable result, in literary terms, of the contemporary outlook of religious radicals, or deists, culminating with Bolingbroke and Pope, whom Paine admired as "Free-thinkers".114 For, as I hope to show elsewhere, the views of such religious radicals as Paine represents have been somewhat misunderstood, and important political, humanitarian, and literary results of such views largely ignored. Paine was anything but an atheist or an anarchist. If he advocated, like Pope, following nature, the concept "nature" must be interpreted in the light of the contemporary climate of opinion. He did not mean by following nature to return to the actual physical life of a savage in a wilderness. For to Paine, as to most of the deists, nature had a special meaning, confirmed by Newtonion science: as Paine expressly says, "nature is of divine origin. It is the laws by which the universe is governed";115 nature "is no other than the laws the Creator has prescribed to matter", laws operating in "unerring order and universal harmony",116 and perceptible through the study of science by means of "the divine gift of reason".117Nature is law, eternal, immutable, universal.118 Now, whatever were the facts of the personal life of Paine, philosophically, far from preaching lustful license or do-as-you-please, the ultimate virtue to him, as his deist contemporaries in England, was living in harmony with this law which is nature, a conformity involving no little discipline, as has been demonstrated in the case of Shaftesbury.119 Thus, to indicate Paine's accord with the spirit of the age, in this matter of a disciplined precision, "the true criterion of writing", we may recall that to Pope, as to Paine, "prayerbooks are the toys of age",120 while God is revealed in nature, in "the stupendous whole" harmony of nature's laws, which are universal—"still the same". Thus, unlike the "original genius" naturalists such as Edward Young, whose cult of following nature led to a literary diversitarianism, a quest of the eccentric, of nonconformity, Pope and Paine urge us to "first follow nature, which is still the same",121 a quest of the concentric or the universal, an ideal, in Pope's case, if less faithfully in practice in Paine's, which involved the most intense literary self-discipline as regards craftsmanship in the interest of finality of expression, of what was "ne'er so well expressed". The crowning stress, then, which Paine lays upon harmonizing a writer'spowers by allegiance to a judgment which "corrects and regulates", and upon being able "to command thought and as it were to play with it at pleasure", to hit the point in question and nothing else", this crowning stress upon control in writing was but a reflection of the central philosophy of that day, wherein man found his salvation by a self-disciplined conformity to nature's law, the "unerring order and universal harmony", and it can be only inadequately, if not falsely, interpreted when divorced from that philosophic background of deism and Newtonian law.122

Having satisfied himself as to the perfection of the units of his composition, striving, as we have seen, for candour, simplicity, and clarity, for boldness, for wit, for an appeal not only to reason but to feeling, for a balance between judgement and imagination, and for a purposeful and precise adjustment between language and ideas with reference to a definite audience, Paine strove, finally, to arrange his units, his carefully constructed sentences, in an architectonic pattern designed to give them their maximum effectiveness. He worshipped order in everything, but especially in literary composition, and as a critic he is especially sensitive to faults in order and method. His friend Rickman testifies that "he used to speak highly of the sentimental parts of Raynal's History",123 and he acknowledged that the Frenchman who cloaked humanitarianism under history "displays great powers of genius, and is a master of style and language".124 Yet as an apostle of orderly method in the development of an argument, he cannot overlook the fact that "the greater part of the abbé's writings, (if he will pardon me the remark) appear to me uncentral, and burdened with variety. They represent a beautiful wilderness without paths; in which the eye is diverted by everything, without being particularly directed to anything . . ."125 The same fault loomed large to him in the writing of "Cato", whose attack on Common Sense called forth Paine's Forester papers: "Cato's manner of writing has as much order in it as the motion of a squirrel. He frequently writes as if he knew not what to write next, just as the other jumps about, only because it cannot stand still".126 And especially, in answering Burke's Reflections, he lamented the difficulty of imposing an orderly pattern upon the Rights of Man, since, as he remarked in one of his happy phrases, he had to tread "a pathless widerness of rhapsodies".127 In common with the main figures of his era, devoted to the beauty of symmetry and the progressive unfolding of a rationalistic argument, Paine exclaims, "I love method, because I see and am convinced of its beauty and advantage. It is that which makes all business easy and understood, and without which, everything becomes embarrassed and difficult."128 For "it is only by reducing complicated things to method and orderly connexion that they can be understood with advan-tage, or pursued with success."129 Paine's own practice of this theory is, as everyone knows, imperfect. He never succeeded in bringing his compositions into that faultless harmony with geometrical method illustrated so finely by the structure of Godwin's Political Justice. Nevertheless, as he remarks regarding one subject, he "endeavoured to give it as systematical an investigation as the short time allowed."130 His manner of lighting the way through his compositions is simple: in general, at his best, he follows the old playwright's advice of telling us what he is going to do, of telling us he is doing it, and then telling us he has done it. Thus we find him making use, regularly, of what one may call "sign-post" sentences,131 and "flash-backs" such as the "Recapitulation" at the end of Part I of The Age of Reason.132 Such a method of securing method, added to his "damnable iteration" of his master-ideas, made it practically impossible for even the most unliterary reader to miss his meaning, so clear did he make it. Thus we are eventually come full circle, his last ideal of method serving to make possible his first ideal of clear simplicity. Just as the first is ultimately grounded on his deistic faith that "man must go back to nature for information", since "perfection consists in simplicity", so his last ideal, that of order, is also grounded on his deistic faith that the test of the revelation even of God himself is that "harmonious, magnificent order that reigns throughout the visible universe," an order which is "the standard to which everything must be brought."133 Like his theories political, economic, humanitarian, and educational, his theories of rhetoric ultimately stem from and are fully explainable only in the light of Newtonian science and deism. The pivot round which his thought revolved was scientific deism. As I have suggested, in espousing orderly method in writing Paine was in full accord with his contemporaries; witness his idol, Franklin, giving typically prosaic and practical suggestions whereby his friend Benjamin Vaughan could overcome his want of "perspicuity" which Franklin traced "principally to a neglect of method".134 If there are splendours and glooms of the human soul which the eighteenth century seldom cared to explore, if in general, as compared with the Age of Wordsworth, the Age of Pope is inferior in moral and imaginative sublimity, it is well to remember that the latter is preeminent in its regard for form and for exquisiteness of literary order. Deism, with its belief in God, man, and nature as sharply distinct, its belief in what Paine called divinely "unerring order", is parallelled in literature and art and landscape gardening by order;135 whereas pantheism, with its belief in unity, or the fusion of God, man, and nature, is parallelled in these same fields, by comparative disorder. "Order," said Pope, "is Heav'n's first law." The apotheosis of order, and this is the point I would stress, whether or not a result of deism, was characteristic of Paine's age. Loving "unerring order" and finding it sublimely present in the "eternal harmony" of the stars, symbols of light and law, Paine said that "my belief in the perfection of the Deity will not permit me to believe that a book [the Bible] so manifestly obscure, disorderly, and contradictory can be his work",136 but Thomas Burnet in 1759 deplored the "disorder", even of the stars, because they did not conform to the neo-classic demand for a symmetrical pattern:

They lie carelessly scattered as if they had been sown in the heaven like seed, by handfuls, and not by a skilful hand neither. What a beautiful hemisphere they would have made if they had been placed in rank and order; if they had all been disposed into regular figures, and the little ones set with due regard to the greater, and then all finished and made up into one fair piece or great composition according to the rules of art and symmetry!137

Could a passion for order go beyond this?

If Paine suffered many disappointments, was the object of much public and private malice, and was ultimately disillusioned with the French Revolution, and obliged to "despair of seeing the great object of European liberty accomplished,"138 Jefferson, his great idol, the father of democracy, recognized the precious services of his pen:

"No writer", Jefferson wrote, "has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness in elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language. In this he may be compared with Dr. Franklin; and indeed his Common Sense was, for a while, believed to have been written by Dr. Franklin."139

And as he wrote Paine himself, "You must not be too much elated and set up when I tell you my belief that you are the only writer in America who can write better than your obliged and obedient servant—Thomas Jefferson."140

"I am in hopes," he wrote Paine in 1801, "you will find us returned generally to sentiments worthy of former times. In these it will be your glory to have steadily laboured and with as much effect as any man living."141

And in the attainment of this superlative "glory", Paine was guided by literary theories which, if by no means ideal, at least bore the test of practice. For he commanded the attention of half a million readers, vigorously stirring them to contemplate the political, religious, and social doctrines which helped to call into being the American and French Revolutions as well as many humanitarian movements of later days, doctrines forcefully and clearly presented in a style which served as a trusty tool and was occasionally not without elements of beauty.


1 C. E. Merriam, "The Political Theories of Thomas Paine," Political Science Quarterly, XIV, 402. See also C. B. R. Kent, English Radicals, London, 1899, 115. As regards The Age of Reason, I. W. Riley concludes, "there is not an idea in it which cannot be matched in the writings of the English free-thinkers of the Georgian era." (American Philosophy. The Early Schools, New York, 1907, 299).

2The Cambridge History of English Literature, XI, 53.

3 M. D. Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine, New York, 1892, I, 69, and The Writings of Thomas Paine (hereafter referred to as Writings), edited by Conway, New York, 1894-96, III, 382.

4 See W. P. Hall, British Radicalism, 1791-97,New York, 1912, especially the earlier part.

5Writings, I, 275.

6 R. G. Adams, Political Ideas of the American Revolution, Durham, North Carolina, 1922, p. 112, and Sir George O. Trevelyan, The American Revolution, London, 1903, I, 162. One should remember that Paine was only one of a vast number of propagandists. See P. Q. Davidson, Jr., "Revolutionary Propaganda in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, 1763-76." University of Chicago Abstracts of Theses, Humanistic Series, VII, pp. 239-42.

7The Life of Thomas Holcroft, (ed. by Colby), London, 1925, II, 34. According to C. B. R. Kent (The English Radicals, p. 1ll) , "In the end it [the second part of the Rights of Man] was adopted by the Constitutional Society as a kind of democratic Magna Charta, and sent by them to all the Corresponding Societies in England, France, and Scotland." See also Julius West, A History of the Chartist Movement, London, 1920, p. 22.

8 Conway, Life of Paine, I, 88.

9 This is also asserted by E. Halévy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, London, 1928, pp. 188-89.

10Writings, IV, 339-40. "Man must go back to Nature for information" (ibid., II, 402). "Perfection consists in Simplicity."

11Writings, I, 133.

12 H. Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America, 235. The Continental Congress, according to its Journal (edition of 1904, I, 108), stood for freedom of the press "whereby oppressive officials are shamed or intimidated into more honourable or just modes of conducting affairs." See T. Schroeder's "Intellectual Liberty and Literary Style," Open Court, XXXIV, 275 ff.

13Writings, I, 119.

14Ibid, II, 333.

15Ibid, I, 16.

16Ibid, II, 102-3; IV, 287.

17Writings, II, 463.

18Cambridge History of English Literature, XI, 53.

19 Quoted by his friend, T. C. Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine, London, 1819. "As to the learning that any person gains from school education, it serves only, like a small capital, to put him in the way of beginning learning for himself afterwards. Every person of learning is finally his own teacher . . .". Writings IV, 64.

20Writings, I, 15.

21Ibid, I, 413.

22 See Conway's Life of Paine, I, 225; M. C. Tyler's Literary History of the Revolution, New York, 1897, I, 455-56; John Adams, Works, Boston, 1850-56, II, 507.

23Writings, IV, 83. See William Cobbett (Observations on Paine's Age of Reason, p. 1-2): "You offer wonders of inconsistency for our digestion. We are to believe you on your word, that we, infallible men of reason, having the Bible of Creation (as you call it) daily before our noses, are not withstanding, in imminent danger of losing sight even of morality, humanity, and theology—that a work, a written book on Religion, is not only necessary, but even exceedingly necessary for our preservation; that our Creator has not provided for such a work, but has abandoned mankind to the pernicious effects of seduction and immorality; that he is surpassed in benevolence by you; and that he has left the production of a work exceedingly necessary, in a moral point of view, to the care of poor, silly Tom Paine . . ."

24 Witness Godwin's advice to Thelwall: "Amass as much knowledge as you please, but no authorities. To quote authorities is a vulgar business; every soul-less hypocrite can do that. To quote authorities is a cold business; it excites no responsive sentiments and produces no heart-felt conviction . . . Appeal to that eternal law which the heart of every man of commonsense recognizes immediately. Make your justification as palpable to the unlearned as the studious. Strip it of all superfluous appendages; banish from it all useless complexity." (Quoted by C. Cestre, John Thelwell, London, 1906, 202).

25Writings, II, 463.

26Writings, II, 462-3.

27Ibid, IV, 431.

28An Apology for the Bible, in a series of Letters Addressed to Thomas Paine . . . Cork, 1796, p. 96.

29Writings, IV, 103.

30Ibid, IV, 105.

31 I have begun this task in a study of "Thomas Paine's Relation to Voltaire and Rousseau," which will be found in the Revue Anglo-Américaine, April and June, 1932. Two quotations from Rousseau, unnoted there, have since come to my attention; see Writings, III, 104, (80-81) and I, 150. F. J. C. Hearnshaw (Development of Political Ideas, 1927, pp. 56-57) says Paine "disseminated Rousseau's doctrines."

32 Unfortunately, little study has been devoted to the literary theories underlying the applied literature of Americans such as Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Barlow and Hamilton. If the birth of the nation was in no small measure rendered possible by the literary efforts of these men, it would seem that the theories underlying these efforts deserve presentation and analysis. Most critics who have approached them from the literary point of view have been content with registering their merely subjective likes and dislikes.

33Writings, II, 238.

34Ibid, IV, 406.

35Writings, III, 54-55.

36Ibid., III, 115. "Plain language may perhaps sound uncouthly to an ear vitiated by courtly refinements, but words were made for use." Ibid., I, 182.

37Writings, I, 178. "I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense." (Ibid., I, 84).

38 See Writings, III, 61.

39Works, I, 205.

40 From Franklin's letter quoted by W. C. Bruce, Benjamin Franklin Self Revealed, New York, 1917, II, 439. Franklin summed up his own conception of what constitutes a good piece of writing as follows: "To be good it ought to have a tendency to benefit the reader, by improving his virtue or his knowledge. But, not regarding the intention of the author, the method should be just; that is, it should proceed regularly from things known to things unknown, distinctly and clearly without confusion. The words used should be the most expressive that the language affords, provided that they are the most generally understood. Nothing should be expressed in two words that can be as well expressed in one; that is, no synonymes should be used, or very rarely, but the whole should be as short as possible, consistent with clearness; the words should be so placed as to be agreeable to the ear in reading; summarily it should be smooth, clear and short, for the contrary qualities are displeasing." (Quoted by W. C. Bruce, Franklin Self-Revealed, II, 440).

41Works (ed. Ford), New York, 1904-5, X, 183.

42Writings, I, 140.

43Ibid., II, 481. See also the passage (ibid., I, 133-134) where Paine tries to rationalize his delight in abusiveness, arguing that "personality is concerned in any political debate."

44Writings, II, 394. Thomas Seccombe (The Age of Johnson, London, 1900, p. 115-16) says that Paine's manner, as applied to Christianity, was "of a rather different kind to any that had preceded it in England."

45 Conway, Life of Paine, II, 298. See also Writings, III, 404.


47Writings, IV, 167. See also IV,190.

48Writings, IV, 96.

49Apology, 8-9. See Joseph Butler's The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, ed. Halifax, Oxford, 1844, p. 5 and p. 11; and see W. Grisenthwaite, A Refutation of . . . Thomas Paine, etc., Wells, 1822, pp. 10-11.

50 Gooch, Cambridge Modern History, VIII, 756-57.

51 "What scenes of horror, what perfection of iniquity, present themselves in contemplating the character and reviewing the history of such governments! If we would delineate human nature with a baseness of heart and hypocrisy of countenance that reflexion would shudder at and humanity disown, it is Kings, courts and cabinets that must sit for the portrait". (Writings, II, 413; see also, ibid, IV, 256).

52Writings, III, 337.

53Ibid., II, 122. "Everything in the English government appears to me the reverse of what it ought to be, and of what it is said to be," (ibid, II, 315).

54Ibid., II, 120.

55 Conway's Life, II, 31.

56Writings, I, 123.

57Ibid, I, 161.

58Ibid, I, 132.

59Observations on Paine's Age of Reason, pp. 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8. As quoted in J. T. Adam's The Epic of America, 83.

60 See the correspondence between Samuel Adams and Paine, Writings, IV, 200-8. As examples of Samuel Adams's boldness of language see Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Cushing, New York, 1904-8, II, 313-21. ("Vindex" in Boston Gazette, April 20, 1772) and II, 332-37. ("Valerius Poplicola" in Boston Gazette, Oct. 5, 1772). R. V. Harlow (Samuel Adams, New York, 1923, p. 183) says "There are pages upon pages of this sort of thing in Adams's extant works."

61 J. B. Daly, The Dawn of Radicalism, London, 1886, 105.

62Writings, II, 198.

63 W. H. Burr, Paine, Was He Junius? 1890, p. 14. The argument that Paine was Junius seems to me inconclusive; but might not the "three hundred parallels of character, conduct, opinion, style, sentiment, and language" suggest that Junius, whom Paine read, influenced him?

64Writings, 1, 16. Paine wrote elsewhere (ibid., IV, 342), anonymously, "With respect to morality, the writings of Thomas Paine are remarkable for purity and benevolence; and though he often enlivens them with wit and humour, he never loses sight of the real solemnity of his subject."

65Writings, I, 177.

66 Sir Samuel Romilly, Memoirs, etc., I, 415-16. "There have been several answers to Burke since you left us, but none that have much merit except one by Paine .. . It is written in his own wild but forcible style; inaccurate in point of grammar [for an exhaustive list of such errors see F. Oldys, Life of Paine, London, 1792, pp. 46, 67, 88, 98 ff.] flat where he attempts wit, and often ridiculous when he indulges himself in metaphors; but, with all that, full of spirit and energy, and likely to produce a very great effect. It has done that, indeed, already; in the course of a fortnight, it has gone through three editions; and, what I own has a good deal surprised me, has made converts of many persons who were before enemies to the [French] Revolution." See also Tom Paine's Jests: Being an entirely new and select collection of Patriotic Bon Mots, Repartees, Anecdotes, Epigrams, Observations, &c. on Political Subjects, By Thomas Paine and other supporters of the Rights of Man . . . London, 1794. (A copy of this rare volume, of 56 pages, sold at sixpence, will be found in the British Museum, No. 8135. a. 65).

67 John Adams, Works, IX, 278. In arranging terms of a debate with the Abbe Siéyes on monarchy, Paine promised to "treat the subject seriously and sincerely," but held himself "at liberty to ridicule, as they deserve, Monarchical obsurdities, whensoever the occasion shall present itself." His so-called wit directed at the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene is of course especially painful. Richard Watson censured him for introducing "railing for reasoning, vulgar and illiberal sarcasm in the room of argument," (Apology, 14) and the anonymous author of Christianity the Only True Theology; as an answer to Mr. Paine's Age of Reason, (London, n. d.), censures Paine's neglect of "a serious and impartial examination of truth" for "illiberal satyr, and impertinent witticism," for "the lighter weapons of ludicrous description and impudent buffoonry". (pp. 7, 58-59).

68Writings, IV, 63. This attitude toward poetry was in accord with that of Paine's contemporaries. Witness Franklin's advice to Ralph: "I approved the amusing one's self with poetry now and then, so far as to improve one's language but no farther." Writings, I, 270. Madison argued that "something more substantial, more durable, more profitable [than poetry] befits our riper age." See II. H. Clark, Poems of Frencau, New York, 1928, especially pp. xlvii-lviii, for a consideration of Deism as related to the genesis of American poetry. On Paine's editorship in relation to early American journalism and its literary ideals see Lyon N. Richardson, A History of Early American Magazines, 1741-1789. New York, 1931, and A. H. Smyth. The Philadelphia Magazines and Their Contributors 1741-1850, Philadelphia, 1892.

69Writings, I, 36. As further examples of this sort of style, see Writings. I, 26-27, where he delights, in a "pleasant kind of melancholy," when even "the trees seemed to sleep," in crossing the Styx to the "Plutonian world" in quest of Alexander the Great, marvelling at a chariot "drawn by eight horses in golden harness" and all the splendour which "shined so luminously". The tendencies here suggested are found elaborated in the work of Paine's contemporary and admirer, Philip Freneau. (See H. H. Clark, "What Made Freneau the Father of American Prose?" (Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. XXV, May 1930, pp. 39-50). And see the purple patch (Writings, I, 22-23) which suggests that the deist's delight in nature was not so exclusively cold-blooded and scientific as might be imagined: "Tho' nature is gay, polite, and generous abroad, she is sullen, rude, and niggardly at home: Return the visit, and she admits you with all the suspicion of a miser, and all the reluctance of an antiquated beauty retired to replenish her charms. Bred up in antediluvian notions, she has not yet acquired the European taste of receiving visitants in her dressing-room: she locks and bolts up her private precesses with extraordinary care, as if not only resolved to preserve her hoards, but to conceal her age, and hide the remains of a face that was young and lovely in the days of Adam. He that would view nature in her undress and partake of her internal treasurers, must proceed with the resolution of a robber, if not of a ravisher. She gives no invitation to follow her to the cavern. The external earth makes no proclamation of the interior stores, but leaves to chance and industry, the discovery of the whole. In such gifts as nature can annually re-create, she is noble and profuse, and entertains the whole world with the interest of her fortunes; but watches over the capital with the care of a miser. Her gold and jewels lie concealed in the earth, in caves of utter darkness; and hoards of wealth, heaps upon heaps, mould in the chests, like the riches of a Necromancer's cell." One would hardly suspect that this passage constitutes a good share of a so-called "useful" essay on ways and means of mining! For evidence regarding Paine's authorship of these and other early articles, see Frank Smith, "New Light on Thomas Paine's First Year in America," American Literature, I, 347-371.

70Writings, I, 393.

71 It should be borne in mind, of course, that between Paine's early work in 1775 and the Rights of Man in 1791 and 1792, there was a general reaction in America against stilted and grandiloquent language, which was satirized, for example, by the Hartford Wits' Echo, See the ridiculous examples of contemporary high-flown artificiality quoted at length by . . Todd, Life and Letters of Joel Barlow, New York, 1886, pp. 52-53.

72 Conway, Life of Paine, I, 99.

73Writings, IV, 431.

74 See M. R. Eiselen, Franklin's Political Theories, New York, 1928; and G. Chinard, Thomas Jefferson, Boston, 1929.

75Writings, IV, 63 ff.

76Ibid., III, 402.

77Ibid., III, 382.

78Writings, II, 463.

79 See J. W. Thornton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution, Boston, 1860: and Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, Durham, North Carolina, 1928.

80Writings, III, 98.

81 Jefferson (Works, ed. Ford, VIII, 65) wrote, in 1801, regarding poetry: "In earlier life I was fond of it, and easily pleased. But as age and cares advanced, the powers of fancy have declined .. . So much has my relish for poetry deserted me that, at present, I cannot read even Virgil with pleasure . . . The very feelings to which it [poetry] is addressed are among those I have lost." Although as a young man Jefferson did not object to novels provided they were sufficiently didactic and morally "useful" (Works, Ford, ed. I, 396), in general he considered them fanciful, and hence objectionable: "A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real business of life." (Works, ed. Ford, X, 104). It should be remembered, also, that Benjamin Martin, the Newtonian popularizer whose lectures impressed Paine at the age of twenty (Writings, IV, 63), proclaimed "As to Poetry, it is so far from being the Source of any Learning, that, on the contrary, it has, for its subject, pure Fiction, which is quite its Opposite: If Wit and Fancy be your Taste, read Poetry; if Wisdom and Learning, attend on [natural] Philosophy". (A Panegyrick, p. 54).

82Writings, II, 286-87. "I consider Mr. Burke's book in scarcely any other light than a dramatic performance; and he must, I think, have considered it in the same light himself, by the poetical liberties he has taken of omitting some facts, distorting others, and making the whole machinery bend to produce a stage effect." (Ibid, II, 297).

83Writings, I, p. 395.

84Ibid, II, 288.

85 Seccombe, op. cit., 86-87.

86 W. P. Hall, op. cit., 87.

87Writings, IV, 276. See also his appreciation of the nineteenth Psalm (ibid., IV, 337).

88Ibid., II , 278.

89Writings, II, 304.

90Ibid. IV, 405.

91 Hogg, Life of Shelley ed. Dowden, 517.

92Writings, I, 208.

93Writings, II, 472.

94 Among Paine's humanitarian interests were abolition of slavery, arbitration schemes to avoid war, land reforms, income taxes, old age pensions, more practical and universal education, remedies for yellow fever, copyright laws, and many inventions for saving time and life.

95 See, for example, the moving passage (Writings, II, 493) which conclude's Paine's presentation of his fourteen concrete suggestions, in the second part of the Rights of Man, for alleviating suffering.

96Ibid, II, 69-70.

97 Paine seems to have drawn some of his knowledge of Eastern religions from Sir William Jones's Asiatic Researches (Writings, IV, 330); and Jones's Principles of Government (1782), which ran to five edition by 1818, is strikingly paralleled by passages in Paine's later political writing. In "A Discourse on the Institution of a Society," etc., p. 8, Jones writes: "Human knowledge has been elegantly analysed according to the three great faculties of the mind, Memory, Reason, and Imagination; which we constantly find employed in arranging and retaining, comparing and distinguishing, combining and diversifying the idea, which we receive through our senses, or acquire by reflection."

98 In 1804, after Paley's works were published, Paine wrote: "When we see a watch, we have as positive evidence of the existence of a watchmaker as if we saw him; and in the same manner the creation is evidence to our reason and our senses of the existence of a Creator." (Writings, IV, 317) If Paine may have borrowed this mechanical figure from Paley, Paley's political philosophy of natural rights has interesting resemblances to Paine's, elaborated in print before most of Paley's works had appeared.

99Writings, IV, 360-62.

100Writings, II, 69-70.

101Ibid, IV, 63.

102Ibid., I, 178. "But priests, preachers, and fanatics, put imagination in the place of faith, and it is the nature of the imagination to believe without evidence." Ibid, IV, 422.

103 See Norman Foerster, American Criticism, Boston, 1928, on Lowell's imagination; H. H. Clark, "Lowell's Criticism of Romantic Literature," Publications of the Modern Language Association, XLI, 209-228, and also "Lowell-Humanitarian. Nationalist, or Humanist?" Studies in Philology, XXVII, 411-441 (July, 1930). Paine, of course, had little in common with the contemporary heralds of original genius who used the imagination mainly as a means of escape, or a means of creating what was idiosyncratic or unique. In a paper on "The Romanticism of Edward Young" (Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, XXIV) I have discussed the neo-classical as contrasted with the classical imagination, although I should have given more stress to the idea that the neo-classicists were not hostile to the sort of imagination just described.

104 Hobbes, Of Man, Pt. I, sect. 8.

105 In the Philological Quarterly, VII, 178. See also, Charles Gildon. The Complete Art of Poetry, 1718, I, 125; "For Fancy and Judgment must join in every great Poet, as Courage and Judgment in every great General; for where either is wanting, the other is useless, or of small Value. Fancy is what we generally call Nature, or a Genius, Judgment is what we mean by Art, the union of which in one Man makes a complete Poet."

106Writings, II, 110.

107Writings, II, 110.

108Ibid, III, 402.

109Ibid., I, 91. John Adams, Works, II, 508, records that Paine came "to my lodgings and spent an evening with me," and in discussing the portion of Common Sense dealing with monarchy, he "said he had taken his ideas in that part from Milton".

110Writings, IV, 46. He was the champion, unlike Rousseau, of representative government (Ibid., II, 414-429) and he was among the first to see that "the union of America is the foundation-stone of her independence; the rock on which it is built . . ." (Ibid., I, 340; see all of Crisis, XIII).

111 Emerson, Complete Works (Centenary Edition), III, 283. See H. H. Clark, "Emerson and Science", Philological Quarterly, X, 225-260. Where evidence is presented to show that on one side Emerson's thought had a strong kinship with that of the deists.

112 Of course Paine has been unpardonably libelled as regards his personal character, especially by such biographers as Cheetham. His sympathetic champion, however, M. D. Conway, was obliged to accept the fact that he was dismissed from the excise for a violation of his trust, and his best friends have reluctantly Admitted that in later life he "give in to the too frequent indulgence of drinking, neglected his appearance, and retired, mortified and disgusted, from an all-judging, unkind, unjust world, into coarse obscurity, and the association of characters in inferior life." This is the testimony of Rickman, (Life of Paine, London, 1819, p. 11), and it is substantiated by other friends such as Barlow (C. B. Todd, Life and Letters of Joel Barlow, New York, 1886, see Barlow's long letter on Paine quoted pp. 236-39). See also Wilmont, An Irish Peer on the Continent (1801-3), pp. 26-27. James Monroe, who had Paine released from prison and who nursed him back to health in his own ambassadorial residence, was grieved that Paine "would commit such a breach of confidence as well as of gratitude", as that involved in publishing from his host's home pamphlets which compromised his host, the United States' ambassador, and according to B. Fay, "Paine shattered his work", (The Revolutionary Spirit in France and America, New York, 1927, trans. by R. Guthrie, pp. 379-380; Writings of James Monroe, New York, 1898-1903, II, 440-42: III, 20-21; III, 27).

113The Shelley Correspondence in the Bodleian Library, ed. R. H. Hill, Oxford, 1926, p. 21 ff., Letter XXVI, "Shelley to J. H. Hunt, 3 November, 1819, on the conviction of Richard Cadile for Publishing Paine's 'Age of Reason'." (The first and third sheets only of this letter had been printed, as in editions by Forman and Ingpen).

114Writings, IV 391-93 and 342.

115Ibid, IV, 311.

116Writings, IV, 339.

117Ibid, IV, 315-16, and 322.

118 In another study, "Newtonianism and Thomas Paine", I have endeavoured to define and outline Paine's central assumptions in the light of contemporary thought, especially that of Newtonians such as James Ferguson and Benjamin Martin, who were Paine's teachers.

119 Esther Tiffany, "Shaftesbury as Stoic", Publications of the Modern Language Association, XXXVIII (1923), 642-84.

120 "Essay on Man" (1734).

121 "Essay on Criticism". Mary Segar has recently argued, inconclusively, as it seems to me, that Pope's deism may be reconciled with his nominal Catholicism. ("Some Notes on Pope's Religion", Dublin Review, No. 381, April, 1932).

122 This vastly important subject of the relation between literary ideals and Newtonian deism awaits, so far as I am aware, thorough investigation, both in England and America. A suggestive but very brief tabulation of meanings of the term "nature" in criticism of the seventeenth and eighteenth century will be found in a paper on "'Nature' as Aesthetic Norm" by A. O. Lovejoy (Modern Language Notes, XLII, 1927, pp. 444-50). As regards America, Carl Becker has admirably shown how important were widespread Newtonian naturalism and deism in moulding political theory and history; he does not mention Paine, but it should be evident that if Paine imbibed Newtonianism earlier in England through indirect sources, he must have had his faith reinforced by breathing its prevailing atmosphere in America. (The Declaration of Independence. A Study in the History of Political Ideas, New York, 1922, Ch. II). And see B. F. Wright, Jr., "American Interpretations of Natural Law", American Political Science Review, XX, (1926), 524-47; and A. O. Lovejoy (Modern Philology, XXIX, Feb. 1932, pp. 281-299) "The Parallel of Deism and Classicism". A. Bosker, Literary Criticism in the Age of Johnson (The Hague, 1930), surveys his subject in the light of the stock interpretations and romantic assumptions.

123 Rickman, Life of Paine, 136. See also p. 32: "Distinctness and arrangement are the peculiar characteristics of his writings: this reflection brings to mind an observation once made to him by an American girl, that his head was like an orange—it had a separate apartment for every thing it contained."

124Writings, II, 79.

125Writings, II, 110. See also ibid. IV, 379: "Isaiah is, upon the whole, a wild disorderly writer, preserving in general no clear chain of perception in the arrangement of his ideas, and consequently producing no definite conclusions from them."

126Ibid. I, 138.

127Ibid, II, 302.

128Writings, I.

129Ibid, I.

130Ibid, II, 24. Watson (Apology, p. 8) taxes The Age of Reason, Part II, with "much repetition, and a defect of proper arrangement," a criticism also made by T. Meek, Sophistry Detected, or, a Refutation of T Paine's Age of Reason, New-castle, MDCCXCV, p. 28.

131 Such as, "Having done A, we will now turn to B," etc. See especially, for examples, Writings II, 520; II, 83-4; III, 331; IV, 62; I, 290; I, 329.

132Ibid, IV, 83-84.

133Writings, IV, 339-40.

134 "What I would therefore recommend to you is, that, before you sit down to write on any subject, you would spend some days in considering it, putting down at the same time, in short hints, every thought which occurs to you as proper to make a part of your intended piece. When you have thus obtained a collection of the thoughts, examine them carefully with this view, to find which of them is properest to be presented first to the mind of the reader that he, being possessed of that, may the more easily understand it, and be better disposed to receive what you intend for the second; and thus I would have you put a figure before each thought, to mark its future place in your composition. For so, every preceding proposition preparing the mind for that which is to follow, and the reader often anticipating it, he proceeds with ease, and pleasure, and approbation, as seemingly continually to meet with his own thoughts. In this mode you have a better chance for a perfect production; because the mind attending first to the sentiments alone, next to the method alone, each part is likely to be better performed, and I think too in less time." Quoted by W. C. Bruce, Fran-klin Self Revealed, II, 441. It is interesting to observe that Franklin, who read "Shaftesbury and Collins", was the friend of Henry Pemberton, author of A View of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy, (London, 1729), and who confessed that he "became a thorough deist", placed high among his cardinal virtues the virtue of order.

135 See Myra Reynolds, The Treatment of Nature in English Poetry, Chicago, 1919, p. 327 ff.

136Writings, IV, 222 and 216.

137 Thomas Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth, London, 1759. See the chapter entitled "Stars".

138Writings, III, 135.

139 Jefferson's Works, ed. Ford, X, 183.

140 Quoted in D. E. Wheller's Life and Writings of Thomas Paine, I, 327.

141 Jefferson's Works, VIII, 19, and proudly quoted by Paine himself, Writings, III, 428.

Joseph Dorfman (essay date 1938)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5348

SOURCE: "The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine," in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. LUI, No. 3, September, 1938, pp. 372-86.

[In the following essay, Dorfman depicts Paine as an advocate of free trade and charts some of his engagements with the development of American economic thought.]

On the eve of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine, a failure in England, landed in America and threw in his fortunes with the revolting colonists, fighting "for the security of their natural rights and the protection of their own property."1 Then began a career which made him one of the most powerful pamphleteers of the eighteenth century. Not only did he play a prominent rôle in the American Revolution but also in that of France, and many English authorities feared that he might instigate one in his native land. Like any impecunious pamphleteer, he sought wealth, and like any enlightened child of the eighteenth century, he believed that success in business affairs was evidence of God's good will. But his was the luckless fate of the general run of pamphleteers. His life continued to be a precarious one, and his biographer must pass over in silence more than one instance where the necessities of livelihood required that the language of lofty idealism serve special interests.

In Common Sense, Paine justified independence on the ground of natural right, interest and common sense. Government must be distinguished from society. Men by natural gravitation join in society in order to assist one another to satisfy their wants; that is, society consists of the bonds created by exchange and contracts. It is produced by our wants. Government, on the other hand, is produced by men's wickedness. It is a necessary evil, a badge of man's fall or corruption. It can do no positive good; at best it restrains men's vices. Security of property is the end of government. Therefore men surrender a part of their property to furnish the means of protecting the rest.

The inequality of wealth is natural for it arises from differences in "industry, superiority of talents, dexterity of management, extreme frugality, fortunate opportunities." It is not due to oppression and avarice. Oppression may be the consequence of riches, but is seldom the cause, and avarice generally makes men too timid to be wealthy.

On the other hand, the distinction between king and subject cannot be termed natural. It is a violation of the mutual compact and is the result of oppression and conquest. People remain blind to this interference with natural right and pecuniary interest through the force of fear, superstition, prejudice and prepossession. Hereditary monarchy has the least justification, for no generation has the right to bind future generations to a definite form of government.2

By eliminating commercial restraints and the expense of maintaining useless royalty and aristocracy, Paine argued, independence would promote the security and increase of property. Freedom of trade is the principal source of wealth for a trading nation. England's protection is unnecessary, for America's "plan is commerce", and since it is Europe's interest to have access to American trade, America will enjoy the friendship of Europe. American independence would even benefit the important classes of the English nation, the merchants and the manufacturers, because the increased commerce will enhance their profits. At the same time, America's commercial rights must be extended, for independence without commercial prosperity is hollow.3

The cause of America stood on "the broad foundation of property and popularity" and the latter depended on the former. True, a country's valor is evidenced by the character of the inhabitants and the bravery of the soldiers, but confidence of success is best evidenced by the support of men of substance. In this way a war becomes really popular.

The cost of the war is nominal. The creation of a national debt would be beneficial, for it would be a national bond. Since taxes are distributed within the country, they are a spur to industry; consequently in the absence of tax levies, the country would be poverty-stricken, just as without commerce, people would be indolent. An import duty is the best type of taxation, for it keeps foreign trade in the hands of Americans, and forces foreigners to contribute to the national defense.4

In the midst of his efforts in behalf of the revolutionary cause, Paine illustrated his philosophy of contract by publishing a pamphlet denying Virginia's claims to Western lands. He supported the contentions of land companies, with ambiguous titles, that the land belonged to the United States which alone could decide its disposition. He advocated that Congress organize the land with a view to creating new states. Effective government, which Virginia could not possibly furnish these frontier areas, would result in a rapid appreciation of land values. He now argued that land rather than trade was the real source of riches. The riches of other countries, based on industry and trade, were fictitious. They were matters of convention, subject to risk, but lands constantly increase in value with the growth of population. The Western lands were the property of the United States and the inhabitants had no right of self-government until they reached a certain number. Even when they became states, they were to have but limited Congressional rights for seven years. Paine felt that such new states would at first require more aid from the Confederacy than they could give to it, and that the inhabitants being largely composed of immigrants would require further tutelage. After the appearance of this pamphlet the Virginia legislature voted down a proposed land grant for Paine.5

In 1786, in the controversy over the Bank of North America, Paine developed the doctrine that a charter granted by the legislature is an irrevocable contract. Robert Morris, while financier general, promoted the Bank of North America which possessed, among its privileges, the power to issue bank notes. He obtained a perpetual charter from Congress in 1781 and another from Pennsylvania in 1782, with powers exceeding those of its model, the Bank of England. No other bank charter could be granted. Although it was to be under private control and for private profit, its incorporators justified its establishment on the ground that it was essential to supply the war needs of the government. Most of its funds came from the government's deposits of foreign loans, and the bank did not begin operations until after the surrender of Cornwallis, when the war, in fact, was over. It paid dividends at the rate of twelve to sixteen per cent. In 1785, petitions from various localities poured in to the Pennsylvania Assembly demanding the abrogation of the bank's charter.

These petitions denounced the bank as a vicious monopoly and money power, creating the prevailing havoc, insecurity and distress in the commercial community and causing the exportation of specie. They also accused the bank of discriminating in favor of speculators, of throwing the husbandmen and mechanics into bankruptcy and paying no share of its enormous profits to the government. Further, the petitions held that the large profits would attract foreign investment in the bank and the resulting foreign influence would reduce the American people to dependency on European courts and their intrigues. Even if the ownership were confined to Americans, this accumulation of wealth in a private society claiming perpetual duration would result in destroying freedom and equality in America, and the bank directors would be able to dictate legislation. Instead of being dependent on the government, the bank would control the government. Already the bank had threatened to destroy the state's paper money, by refusing to accept it. The arguments presented in the petitions led to the formation of a legislative committee which investigated the matter, and soon the charter was repealed.

Benjamin Franklin, who like Paine was a stockholder, persuaded Paine to writer in behalf of the bank, and at the same time, Morris entered the Assembly to endeavor to reopen the case.6 The result was a pamphlet entitled Dissertations on Government, the Affairs of the Bank and Paper Money. In it Paine maintained that the citizens should be aware of certain self-evident truths not because the bank is concerned, but because constitutional rights and privileges are involved. If the legislature has the power to repeal the charter or in any way interfere with the bank, then the laws of the land and the courts of justice are useless. When people form a republic, which means a government for the public good, rich and poor mutually pledge themselves to the rule of equal justice. This gives security to the rich and consolation to the poor, for it permits every man to have his own and protects him from the despotism of the majority. Since the people in this original compact renounce as unjust the tyrannical right to break contracts, the assumption of this right by their representatives, the government, destroys the sovereign principle of the republic and installs despotism. Like contracts between individuals, contracts by the legislature, as a representative of the public, with a person or persons cannot be broken or changed without the consent of both parties. A legislature is prohibited from voiding a contract not only by legal and constitutional restrictions, but also by "natural reasons, or those reasons which the plain rules of common sense point out to every man." If such prohibition did not exist, a government of established principles administered by established rules would become a government with discretionary powers during the existence of one legislature, and a new revolution would occur with the election of every new legislature. The charter of the Bank of North America, established by "the enterprising spirit of patriotic individuals", constituted a contract.

In answer to the objection to a perpetual charter, Paine admitted that no generation has a right to bind a future one; nor has it the right to break a contract into which it has originally entered. Future generations may do as they see fit in accordance with the pecuniary canons of justice. Unfortunately, however, Paine did not determine when a new generation begins, or how the contract may be broken. As for paying part of the profits to the government, Paine felt that taking tolls for charters smacked of British tyranny. The assertion that the bank should be dependent on government he regarded as "treason", since the citizens who compose the bank will not be free if they are dependent on every new legislature. This would be exercising an authority over them which the legislature does not exercise over other citizens, and thereby would destroy the equality of freedom which is the bulwark of the Constitution. Purchase of bank stock by foreigners is a good instead of an evil, for where their money is, there go their hearts, and so we obtain a stronger influence over them than they can exercise over us.

Instead of monopolizing the money of the country, the bank is merely a steward, a useful depository for its real owners—the holders of bank notes and deposits. By making available otherwise idle money, the bank quickens business and creates employment. Through the invigorated commerce, the government derives a revenue. Least of all should the agrarians complain, for the additional funds available prevent a monopoly of the market by the few wealthy merchants. Thus, for honor rather than for their own interest, the incorporators have established the bank. True, discounts have been stopped and loans have been called, but this was done either to settle accounts or to prevent exportation of specie.

Paine bitterly denounced the issuance of paper money by the state. The Pennsylvania Constitution contains nothing which gives the Assembly the power to issue paper money. Those urging paper emissions on the fictitious ground of scarcity of money are base debtors, hoping to defraud their creditors through depreciation. Specie is the emission of nature, but paper causes the exportation of specie. The value of specie is determined by the quantity nature made, and man has no share in its value whether it bears a government stamp or not. The love of specie may produce covetousness, but covetousness is not properly a vice but "frugality run to an extreme." Paper, however, costs only a trifle, and thus inevitably becomes too plentiful. Since its value depends on caprice and accident, the value varies greatly and thus becomes the object of jobbery and schemes of deceit. Every principle of justice is violated, and the bond of society is dissolved. An act to suppress the issuance of paper money is really an act to suppress vice and immorality. To make the paper legal tender is a violation of contract, destroying morality, and undermining freedom, security and property. "The punishment of a member [of the assembly] who should move for such a law ought to be death."

Bank notes, however, are not of this character, for they are redeemable in specie. For the restoration of credit Paine proposed an ingenious scheme whereby the bank would more effectively control the finances of the government and the wealth of the community. Instead of having the state issue paper, he suggested that the government borrow from the bank sufficient bank notes for its financial needs, and the bank and related mercantile interests would bring in money to pay the notes, since the interest on the loans would be a bounty to import specie. Such combining of authority with usefulness is the distinguishing characteristic of a republican system.

The bank obtained a new charter, but Paine temporarily lost his reputation among his old democratic friends.7

The French Revolution proved to be another great opportunity for Paine's talents. When he arrived in England, reform was in the air. Burke's bitter denunciations of the French Revolution were at first coolly received, and Paine replied to him with his finest work, The Rights of Man, which in large part recapitulated the arguments of Common Sense.

The origin and continuation of monarchy, aristocracy and church establishments, Paine insisted, are due to force and fraud. The beneficiaries are really beggars. Heavy taxation, needed to support them, causes riots and disturbances. If primogeniture is abolished, estates will be left equally among the heirs, and there will no longer be any need for sinecures in church and state for the younger sons of noble families.

Paine demanded removal of property qualification for voting on the ground of property rights. The disfranchised are slaves because, without the vote, they are not guaranteed the essential property right, that of freedom from restrictions in acquiring a living. Furthermore, every man over twenty-one pays taxes from his property or from his labor which is property. Above all, a property qualification renders property insecure, since men, deprived of rights through it, will rise against the cause of their oppression. However, Paine was really interested in obtaining the franchise for the business classes. In England in some places, he remarked, the lowest characters without visible means of support could vote; in other places, great merchants, manufacturers and tenant farmers with heavy capital investments could not.8

Paine strongly advocated less government and more society. Men are not improved by government, and "I take my stand" on the argument that his condition is to be improved by means of his interest instead of "mere theoretical reformation." The landholder, farmer, merchant and trader prosper from the aid each obtains from the others. "Common interest regulates their concerns", and the usages growing out of this intercourse are more influential than the acts of government. Society performs almost everything attributed to governments. The more civilized man is, the less need there is for government, and the natural operation of the parts satisfies men. The laws of trade and commerce are laws of nature, or the laws of society, and they are obeyed not because of government but because of interest. In the trading associations, where men act on the principle of society, the units unite naturally. Were governments suddenly to disappear, mankind would proceed in much the same fashion. Governments follow precedent and oppose enterprise, but improvements in agriculture, arts and commerce are due to the enterprise of individuals and private associations. The promoter asks only that the government leave him alone. The government functionaries are merely stewards with the duty To maintain the property and freedom of the people. The need of government is limited to the fact that every man wishes to pursue his occupation and enjoy the fruits of his property. Consequently combinations of laborers to raise wages are unlawful, and the practice of fixing maximum prices, though famine prevails, causes the greatest distress.9

Commerce, Paine asserted, is the great civilizing force. Nature has made commerce the means of eliminating war, for it is cheaper to obtain commodities through commerce rather than through war. Commerce is beneficial, because merchants get rich from the natural increase in value of the objects exchanged. Thus, while foreign commerce is advantageous, domestic commerce is more so, for all rather than one-half the benefits lie within the nation. Furthermore, since commerce is fostered only by the reciprocal interest of nations, attempts to control commerce by navies and conquest are a futile waste of resources and the heavy cost involved leads to domestic oppression. Therefore, Paine reasoned that the combined reduced fleets of England, Holland, France and the United States could force Spain to give South America her independence and thus open countries of immense wealth to world commerce. This area would provide a ready market for English manufacturers, whereas England at the moment was drained of specie to pay for the imports of competing manufactures from India. With good reason, Paine declared that "in all my publications, wherever the matter would admit, I have been an advocate for commerce."10

Paine's suggestions for financial reform were designed to relieve the business classes of heavy taxes. The support given to useless government establishments could be directed toward eliminating the poor rates. The discontent of the poor would be allayed and poor relief abolished by such measures as education, old-age pensions, and work barracks for the unemployed. Education was to consist of "reading, writing and arithmetic". Thereby the children could obtain a profitable living and cease to be a drain on the industrious. Old-age pensions were to consist of small annual payments of £6 to those between the ages of fifty and sixty, and £10 thereafter. Taxes paid by the consumer, such as the excise and customs taxes, should be retained so that trade would not be disturbed. Taxation of land and land incomes was to be arranged to encourage division of the estates, and thereby eliminate the institution of primogeniture. However, "it would be impolitic to set bounds to property acquired by industry."11

The English financial system, as one of credit, was based on paper rather than real money. Credit was the child of credulity and, if the holders of Bank of England notes were to demand specie, the entire system would collapse. The contradiction between his views on the Bank of North America and those on the Bank of England was somewhat resolved by his argument that to the extent that the Bank of England issued paper, based on discounted bills growing out of commercial transactions, it was engaged in legitimate business.

In fact, Paine would tamper but little with the debt. Its origins might be shady, but it was not the crime of the present holders. Furthermore, the interest should not be touched for it might affect adversely legitimate credit and commerce. As the interest was paid in Bank of England notes, it kept alive a capital useful to commerce and thereby neutralized to a considerable degree its own burden. Since the amount of specie was inadequate, it would be bad policy as well as unjust to eliminate a capital that met the defect of the circulating medium. Still, in view of the discontent over the national debt, it would be good policy for the holders to allow a slight tax on the interest.12

As a result of attacking monarchy in his Rights of Man, Paine was ordered to stand trial. At first, this did not disturb him, because reform was a common cry, and a trial would give wide publicity to his works. However, when the British government became intent on ruthlessly suppressing even nominal demands for reform, Paine left the country to take a seat in the French National Convention.

In France, Paine once more advocated his ideas. As in the case of England, he suggested reforms which would relieve the poor without disturbing trade, commerce or the unrestricted accumulation of wealth. Toward this end, he published Agrarian Justice. It was occasioned by the unsuccessful communist revolt led by Babeuf against the reactionary French government. Paine denounced the leaders for attempting to overthrow society instead of waiting for the customary elections or proposing useful measures. Of course, the great mass of poor are ever increasing and have become a hereditary race. In the natural state, poverty did not exist, but civilization has created both splendor and wretchedness side by side. This situation has been caused by the rise of ownership of land, whereas in the original state land was common property and every man was a joint proprietor in its products. Increasing population necessitated private cultivation, and since it is impossible to differentiate the improvement from the land itself, the latter became private property also. To obtain for the dispossessed poor their share in the common or natural property, a fund was to be raised by levying a death duty of ten per cent. Personal property should be subject to the tax because it is the effect of society, not that the individual owes society the property, but that without society an individual cannot acquire it. According to Paine's plan, the fund was to provide the rather small amount of £15 for each individual, rich or poor, on reaching the age of twenty-one, and a yearly pension of £10 after the age of fifty. The scheme would have many beneficial results. The national lands would sell at better rates. A young couple could obtain land and stock, and become profitable citizens rather than burdens on society. The wealthy classes particularly would benefit, for the unjust character of modern civilization might lead to violence against property. When display of wealth simply serves to arouse the masses to question the right of property, it is only in a system of justice that the possessors can rest secure. Such danger would be removed by the tax. The masses would see that the riches of one above another increase the national fund proportionately and that the more riches a man acquires the better it is for the poor. Paine truthfully said, "I am a friend of riches."13

On his return to the United States in 1802 Paine found that the prevailing sentiment was hostile. Jefferson, who was in his second presidential year, had praised The Rights of Man, as the orthodox doctrine of American political theory, but the Federalists regarded Paine as a regicide. In religious circles he was denounced as an atheist for his Age of Reason which expounded Deism. He had written that God was known through nature and the laws of science were the formulations of the laws of inscrutable, beneficent nature. Therefore, if men would be happy and moral, they should follow the ways of nature as expressed in the "wise and economical sayings" of Franklin.14 The church members, however, only noticed his diatribes on organized religion and his characterization of the Bible as an obscene document; they failed to see his metaphysical defense of business practice and ways of conduct.

Jefferson sought Paine's advice on important questions, but made little effort to aid him. Paine wrote the President that when Napoleon had conquered England, the United States should seize Canada and the Bermudas. In another communication he expounded views which were later expressed in the Monroe Doctrine. He thought that the United States should mediate between France and rebellious Santo Domingo, and guarantee the settlement. This would give the United States great political and commercial influence in Santo Domingo.15 Paine advised Jefferson on how Louisiana could be obtained from Napoleon. He suggested that Jefferson propose to purchase the territory, and then inform Napoleon that the inhabitants of the Western territories were growing so powerful and restive, that it was impossible to restrain them from seizing New Orleans, and that it was equally impossible for France to prevent them.16

Jefferson was worried over his constitutional right to make the purchase, but Paine informed him that the Constitution had nothing to do with the matter since its framers could never have foreseen the occasion.

The transaction was within the president's jurisdiction. It was a sale and purchase similar to any financial transaction. The object was an increase of territory for a valuable consideration.

Concerning the government of the territory, Paine recommended a period of tutelage for the French inhabitants, since they were not acquainted with democratic institutions. At the same time he asked Jefferson about the acquisition of lands in the territory by individuals, for he had friends by principle in the British Isles who had funds to purchase unlimited amounts. He suggested that indentured servants be obtained as a labor supply, since sale of lands and settlement would be retarded until laborers were obtained. Indentured servants yield more revenue to the government than negro slaves, for their consumption of imported articles is much greater. The government, therefore, should supervise a system of indentured servitude in the newly acquired territory. On the expiration of their service, Congress, rather than their masters, should give them a few acres which would serve as an incentive to purchase more at a later date. Paine pointed to the good done by the Quaker merchants of Pennsylvania. They went extensively into the business of importing indentured servants, for it was consistent with their moral principles of bettering the condition of the poor and ending negro slavery. Free negroes might also be imported into the territory through government financial aid. Congress should supply the passage to New Orleans, and the negroes, after working for the planters for a few years, should be made share croppers.17

When the inhabitants of the Louisiana territory petitioned for self-government, they advanced Paine's political philosophy of the rights of self-government in accordance with "the laws of nature." The colonial arguments against England were cited. Paine replied that the Louisianans were not experienced in the representative system, that the colonies had obtained their rights by an expensive war, that it was not the duty of the United States to fight the world's battles for the world's profit, that the territory was not a contracting party to the cession but had merely been purchased. Congress was the guardian of this valuable property for all the United States, and it would be unwise to place the territory under the jurisdiction of the people whose freedom had just been purchased. Repayment of the purchase price must come from the land sales. It was better for the inhabitants that Congress govern, since its effective government would encourage increased population and thereby raise the land values. The fear of the inhabitants that governors with no interest in the welfare of the territory might be appointed was unfounded. True, despotic governments, like those of their former masters, might do so, but their references to practices of their old rulers revealed that the inhabitants did not understand the principles or interest of a republic, or the difference between governments distant and despotic and those domestic and free.18

During this period Paine's views regarding banks underwent a change to a more democratic philosophy. Scandals had occurred in connection with bank charters, particularly in Pennsylvania. He now claimed that neither the Pennsylvania Constitution nor that of any other state gave the government the right to grant charters or monopolies. The spirit of the times was against all such speculations. Furthermore, long term charters were a violation of the principle of annual election of the legislature. Charters for more than one year meant that one legislature could pass measures beyond the power of succeeding legislatures to correct. Paine did not suggest that incorporation should be forbidden, but rather he proposed a device which he had originally suggested to prevent the revocation of the charter of the Bank of North America. Extraordinary matters such as incorporations should be passed by two successive legislatures. If the citizens disliked a measure, they could refuse to reëlect those who had supported it.19

As a whole the works of Thomas Paine present a scheme of things closely resembling that of the Benthamites, which came a generation later. His views foreshadow Herbert Spencer's philosophy of a contrast between a system of status and one of free contract. Abolition of church, aristocracy and royalty would solve all social problems by leaving individuals to the natural play of free contracts. Just as Common Sense advocated independence through the elimination of unnecessary expense and the abolition of restrictions on commerce and property, and thus on personal rights, so on the same basis The Rights of Man called for the abolition of royalty and aristocracies, and The Age of Reason, of organized religion.

This elimination of all institutions, except those involving property and its security, would permit the expansion of business enterprise. Paine's opponents, including Hamilton, did not appreciate the drift of his writings, for his objective was theirs. Hamilton felt that wealth could be secure only with a strong government in the hands of men of great wealth, for the mass of men were ignorant and turbulent. Paine believed in the democracy of property owners, which by virtue of the beneficence of the uniting bond of property and contract would duly recognize the sanctity of all contracts including all agreements made by the legislature with individuals.

So easily did these two schools of economic thought fuse, that the major argument used by Paine to deny the right of the Pennsylvania legislature to abrogate the charter of the Bank of North America was precisely the one used by Hamilton to deny the right of Jefferson to reform the federal judiciary in 1801. Both the grant of the charter and the establishment of the judiciary were in the nature of contracts, and no legislature could interfere with the original terms except with the approval of the other contracting body.20


1Crisis (1782), republished in M. C. Conway, The Writings of Thomas Paine (New York and London, 1894-1896), vol. I, p. 334.

2Common Sense (1776), "First Principles of Government" (1795), in Writings, vol. I, pp. 70, 75-84, vol. III, p. 268.

3Common Sense, Crisis (HI, 1777, IV, 1778), "Peace and The New Foundland Fisheries" (I, III, 1779), in Writings, vol. I, pp. 88, 204, 287, vol. II, pp. 3, 14.

4 "Common Sense", "Crisis" (IX, 1780, X, 1782), in Writings, vol. I, pp. 102, 305, 321, 340.

5 "Public Good" (1780), in Writings, vol. II, pp. 61, 63, 65-66.

6 William Graham Sumner, The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution (New York, 1891), vol. I, pp. 25-35, 183-189; William M. Gouge, A Short History of Paper and Banking in the United States (Philadelphia, 1833), Part II, pp. 31-38, 237-240.

7 M. C. Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine (New York and London, 1892), vol. I, pp. 213, 215, 265, vol. II, p. 466; "Dissertations on Government; The Affairs of the Bank; and Paper Money" (1786), in Writings, vol. II, pp. 132-187; Tom Callendar, Letters to Hamilton, 1802, p. 36.

8The Rights of Man (1791-1792), "Address to the Addressers" (1792), in Writings, vol. II, pp. 312, 321, 409, 472, 499, 500, vol. III, pp. 88-89.

9The Rights of Man, pp. 406, 407-408, 409, 442-443, 456; "Letter to Danton" (1793), in Writings, vol. III, p. 137.

10The Rights of Man, pp. 456-457, 459-460, 511-512.

11Ibid, pp. 471-480, 483, 484, 487, 494, 496-497.

12Ibid, pp. 374, 376, 378, 506, 507; "Prospects on the Rubicon" (1787), "The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance" (1796), in Writings, vol. II, p. 214, vol. III, pp. 286-312.

13Agrarian Justice (1797), in Writings, vol. III, pp. 324-344.

14The Age of Reason (1796), in Writings, vol. IV, p. 35.

15Life, vol. II, pp. 333, 344, 346.

16 Letter to Jefferson, Dec. 25, 1802, in Writings, vol. III, pp. 379-380.

17Life, vol. II, pp. 319-320, 321-323, 332, 347-349, 350.

18 "To the French Inhabitants of Louisiana" (1804), in Writings, vol. III, pp. 430-436.

19 "Constitutions, Governments and Charters" (1805), in Writings, vol. IV, pp. 468-469.

20 For a general discussion of Hamilton's economic philosophy, see Rexford Guy Tugwell and Joseph Dorfman, "Alexander Hamilton: Nation Maker", Columbia University Quarterly, Dec. 1937, March 1938.

Howard Penniman (essay date 1943)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8072

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine—Democrat," in The American Political Science Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, April, 1943, pp. 244-62.

[In the essay that follows, Penniman parallels the moment in which he writesduring World War II—with the tumultuous time in which Paine wrote. He goes on to summarize the fundamental principles that girded the democracy that Paine ultimately espoused.]

These may be "the times that try men's souls," as President Roosevelt recently told the nation, but they may also be the times when free and courageous men may push forward toward the better society of which Thomas Paine dreamed when he pleaded with the colonists for unity in the cause of freedom. When Paine first wrote those words 165 years ago, America had an opportunity to break away from the tyranny of Europe. But Paine was not content to win a war of independence for America alone. Like many today he talked of world revolution aimed at the tyranny of the few over the many. He, too, argued that men—all men—should have an equal opportunity to shape their own destinies and the destiny of the world in which they found themselves. In an era when men are fighting to preserve and extend a heritage of freedom, it would be well to reëxamine the ideas of Paine, whose writings inspired men of his day in America, in England, and in France to work and to die that they might be free.

The examination will be based primarily on the pamphlets and articles written after 1791; for, as Vernon L. Parrington has said, "the maturest elaboration of Paine's political philosophy is found in The Rights of Man,"1 which was written in that year. It is only in the book mentioned that Paine attempted to set down in any detail his beliefs on the general nature of the state and government. Later pamphlets and essays served to expand and elaborate the reasons for particular conclusions stated in his reply to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Because he was, as Charles E. Merriam suggests, primarily an "agitator" whose influence was "popular rather than scientific,"2 Paine was not as concerned with writing a complete philosophy as in securing results in specific instances. However, in his many articles on immediate issues after 1791 he remained consistent with the general position adopted in his major work.

As a democrat—and in his later years he was a democrat3 —Paine believed that sovereignty ought to reside in the people, that decisions of the sovereign ought to be made by the numerical majority, that all members of the society ought to have equal political rights with an equal opportunity to determine the decisions of the majority, and that some means ought to be provided whereby the majority may make its decisions known.4

The remainder of this essay will consider the political doctrines of Paine with respect to each of these items of his democratic creed.

I. Popular sovereignty

In order to discover who ought to possess sovereignty, Paine posited a state of nature. This state of nature was never a pre-historic age when men lived apart from each other as isolated individuals. Man naturally came into society because he was a friend of man,5 and because he could not as well satisfy his wants if he remained apart from other men.6 A state of nature, then, was any society in which there was no regularly constituted, functioning government. Thus he referred to the members of the National Assembly of France as "delegates of the nation in its original character; future assemblies will be delegates of the nation in its organized character."7

All governments must either grow "out of the people or over the people."8 Governments which "grow out of the people" are based upon "the common interest of society and the common rights of man."9 They are set up by a compact among all the members of society, "each in his personal and sovereign right . . . and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist."10 Governments which are "over" the people arise through usurpation and are based upon superstition or force. They may be called governments of priestcraft or of conquerors.11

Because all men enter into the compact, "sovereignty, as a matter of right, appertains to the Nation only and not to any individual; and a Nation has at all times an inherent indefeasible right to abolish any form of government it finds inconvenient, and to establish such as accords with its interest, disposition, and happiness."12 The constitution or compact (Paine uses the terms synonymously) antedates government and is supreme over it. Government cannot be a partner to the compact which establishes it, and therefore cannot alter the terms of the pact.13 Government may "control men only as individuals," but men collectively control both the terms of the compact and the powers of government.14

The nation may delegate power to representatives in a legislature, who hold that power as a trust as long as the people wish and no longer. "But the right of the Nation is an original right as universal as taxation. The Nation is the paymaster of everything, and everything must conform to its general will."15 A mixed constitution, which divides authority between the representatives of the people and groups which are not responsible to the nation, is contrary to the nature of legitimate government because the irresponsible elements may control the responsible representatives.16

Sovereignty inheres in a people, and they cannot relinquish it either for themselves or for posterity. Paine denied Burke's contention that the people of England must continue to be ruled by a king because a Parliament in 1688 had pledged their obedience to William and Mary and their children forever.17 The rule of the living by the dead is the worst of all tyrannies. A compact which binds posterity to a particular ruler and deprives it of political rights is similar to a will in which A bequeaths the property of to It is both unjust and absurd.18

Representative government (i.e., democracy) based upon popular sovereignty is "nothing more than a national association acting on the principles of society.19 " It is concerned with the "management of the affairs of the nation,"20 and is for the "good of the nation and not for the emolument or aggrandisement of particular individuals."21 It is, then, a republic, established for the "good of all, as well individually as collectively."22

In his earlier writings, Paine took exception to the doctrine of popular sovereignty in so far as it applied to certain kinds of economic contracts. Neither the legislature nor the people had the right to revoke certain kinds of economic contracts agreed to by a preceding legislature and another party.23 If both the government and the other party agreed to revise or discard the contract, then, and only then, could it be modified or revoked. Disputes arising out of these contracts must be submitted to a court for a decision.24 No question could be decided by either party alone.25 Yet, even in this essay—written before Paine had completely worked out his political philosophy—he argued that contracts must have a limited duration. He suggested thirty years. To grant a charter "forever" can have no meaning, because "our forever" ends when the "forever" of our children begins, and we can no more bind our children to economic contracts than we can set up a government for posterity.26

No such limitations upon popular sovereignty were recognized in The Rights of Man written five years later. Paine did not consider economic contracts except in passing, but he left no doubt about his beliefs concerning political charters granted by the government. In demanding the abolition of the English "rotten boroughs," he discussed the relationship of charters to equality of rights and popular sovereignty.

Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right by exclusion in the hands of the few. If charters were constructed so as to express in direct terms "that every inhabitant, who is not a member of a corporation, shall not exercise the right of voting, " such charters would, in the face, be charters not of rights but of exclusion. . . . They do not give rights to A, but they make a difference in favour of A by taking the right of B, and consequently are instruments of injustice.27

In his last political essay, written fourteen years after The Rights of Man, Paine denied his earlier contention in the Dissertation on Government that certain economic contracts could not be annulled by a legislature even if the contracts were contrary to the expressed will of the people. He admitted that if one legislature could pass an act which was beyond the power of succeeding legislatures to revise, it would be contrary to the "very intention, essence, and principle of annual elections."28 He therefore suggested that acts which require permanency—"sales or grants of lands, acts of incorporation, public contracts with individuals or companies beyond a certain amount"—should be proposed by one legislature and adopted by a second legislature after the people had expressed their desires on the measure through an intervening election.29 Apparently (the essay is not entirely clear on this point)30 Paine believed that his proposal would give some degree of permanency to those kinds of economic contracts mentioned above, even though it was within the power of the people to change or annual the contracts (presumably by following the same procedure by which the contracts had been adopted originally). If this interpretation is correct, Paine had accepted in the sphere of economic contracts the position which he had argued in The Rights of Man in connection with political contracts. The one limitation upon popular sovereignty—that of forcing the people to wait a year before agreeing to changing a contract—is too minor to constitute any real exception to the doctrine.

It has been contended by at least one writer, however, that Paine held that rights to property are inalienable, that they constitute a limitation upon sovereignty of the people, and that government was instituted for the security and benefit of property owners.31 But an analysis of Paine's later works (i.e., after 1791) indicates quite clearly that this is not the case, and that Paine, with the minor exception noted above, believed fully in popular sovereignty. He argued that the only inalienable rights which men possess are the natural rights that belong to them by right of their existence,32 namely, freedom of religion,33 freedom of discussion,34 and the right of citizenship, with its appendage—the vote.35 Possession of these natural rights depends only upon the willingness of a man to recognize the claim to the same right by other men. Rights and duties are reciprocal, and a statement of rights, by its nature, is also a statement of duties.36 Even the right to vote, which has no "equivalent counterpoise," may be taken away from those who would deprive others of that right.37

Property is frequently spoken of as a right, but only on one occasion was it spoken of as an inalienable right, and then by implication. In The Rights of Man, Paine gave general approval to the first three articles of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens,"38 in which property was referred to as one of the "natural and imprescriptable rights of man."39 But elsewhere in the same essay he commended the action of the French Republic in selling the lands of the church to pay the national debt,40 and he also proposed a progressive income tax to raise money for the aid of the poor, aged, newly-married, etc. The tax was to become confiscatory for incomes above 20,000 pounds.41 This would be difficult to reconcile with an inalienable right to property.

The relationship of property to society is stated in some detail in Agrarian Justice. Land was originally held in common, but with the development of cultivation this became impractical. Improvement resulting from cultivation cannot be separated from the land itself. Nevertheless, all members of society deserve some remuneration from the land, even though some do not occupy any of it. Those who live upon the land, therefore, should pay ground-rents or an inheritance tax of ten per cent into the national treasury for distribution among the members of the nation.42 A portion of personal property also should be given "back to society from whence the whole came," because "any accumulation beyond that which a man's own hands could produce" is made possible by his living in society.43

Paine advised those who owned property to make it "productive of a national blessing,"44 because only then could the owners be assured of retaining even a part of their possessions. The advice was given, if we can judge from the general tenor of his works, not out of any love for property and its "rights" as such, but because he held a functional concept of property. His proposal of high taxes on lands and personal property would, he thought, peacefully relieve misery and provide all members of society with at least the material essentials of life. Failure to give the people the necessities would mean the expropriation of property by violence, when "wealth and splendour, instead of fascinating the multitude, excite emotions of disgust . . . [and] when the ostentatious appearance it makes serves to call the right of it in question,"45 Government, not private individuals, should put the functional concept of property into practice, because private charity cannot accomplish the job effectively.46

If our summary of Paine's attitude toward property is accurate, it is difficult to accept a recent interpretation of his economic ideas which argues that his concern in Agrarian Justice was the protection of property against the caprice of the multitude; and that he urged property-owners to give up some of their holdings because he wished them to save the rest and not because he wished to improve the material circumstances of men.47 The more probable explanation of his urging owners to give up part of their holdings is that he acted like some present-day reformers who attempt to persuade business men that it is to their own interest to have trade unions organized within their industries. The argument, whether valid or invalid, is not made out of any desire to aid business men but to aid labor. It is no easier to accept the statement by the same author that both Paine and Hamilton were seeking the same economic objective.48 To argue that Paine and Hamilton believed in the same sort of economic organization has no more meaning than to argue that President Roosevelt and Henry Ford both believe in capitalism. It is probably true that neither Paine nor Hamilton would have taken away all property from its owners, but at this point the similarity ceases. Paine wished property to serve all in society; Hamilton wished the state to preserve property for those who owned it, and certainly not to take it from them to help others.49

Parrington is right when he says that Paine believed that property rights were "limited by social needs,"50 and that the people were to determine those needs because there can be for Paine "no law superior to this popular will expressed through the majority."51 Although he spoke of the "rights of property," Paine emphasized that they were rights "not of the most essential kind,52 " and could not be compared with, e.g., the right to vote.53 If the rights of property are inferior to the natural rights, it seems reasonable to assume that they are not inalienable rights and that they may be regulated through the use of the natural rights.

II Majority Rule

That the sovereignty of the people should be expressed through the decision of the majority, Paine never doubted in his later writings.54 So convinced was he that majority-rule was the only reasonable method of making decisionsin a representative society that he found it necessary to mention "majority" only briefly in The Rights of Man. His belief in the efficacy of majority-rule is expressed in a description of the ratification of the American constitution by the Massachusetts convention, where "the majority was not above nineteen or twenty in about three hundred members; but such is the nature of representative government that it quietly decides all matters by majority."55 "If it prefer a bad or defective government to a reform or chuse to pay ten times more taxes than there is any occasion for, it has a right so to do; and so long as the majority do not impose conditions on a minority, different from what they impose upon themselves, though there may be much error, there is no injustice."56 He carried the idea of decisions by majority vote into the legislature. He objected to a bicameral legislature because "it always admits of the possibility, and is often the case in practice, that a minority governs a majority, and that in some instances to a degree of great inconsistency."57

A more complete statement of his belief in majority-rule is to be found in Dissertation on First Principles of Governments, which was written in support of his arguments in The Rights of Man:

In all matters of opinion, the social compact, or principle by which society is held together, requires that the majority of opinions become the rule for the whole, and that the minority yield practical obedience thereto. This is perfectly conformable to the principle of equal rights: for, in the first place, every man has a right to give an opinion but no man has a right that his opinion should govern the rest. In the second place, it is not supposed to be known beforehand on which side of any question, whether for or against, any man's opinion will fall. He may happen to be in a majority upon some questions, and in a minority upon others; and by the same rule that he expects obedience in the one case, he must yield it in the other. . . . The principle of equal rights has been repeatedly violated and that not by the majority but by the minority, and that minority has been composed of men possessing property, as well as of men without property; property, therefore, even upon the experience already had, is no more a criterion of character than it is of rights. It will sometimes happen that the minority are right, and the majority are wrong, but as soon as experience proves this to be the case, the minority will increase to a majority, and the error will reform itself by the tranquil operation of freedom of opinion and equality of rights. Nothing, therefore, can justify an insurrection, neither can it ever be necessary where rights are equal and opinions free.58

Political parties or factions around which majorities may rally at election time received little attention from Paine. He apparently accepted the fact that parties arise wherever there are representative institutions. Usually he mentioned parties only in passing, and then without comment. Once he declared that the only safeguard against parties ruling in their own interest is a constitution to which they are subject. Even here, it will be noted, he does not condemn parties as such, but only suggests that they must not be supreme. On a later occasion he expressed the belief that the "fate of every party is decided by its principles," because a majority will not long support a party with a poor or wrong program. Perhaps it was Paine's wider experience with political factions in England and France that prevented his falling into the then prevalent American notion that all parties necessarily subvert the will of the people.59

"The majority are, politically, the people,"60 not only because a society of equals ought to be ruled by a majority, but also because any attempt of a minority to govern "will unite them (i.e., the majority) in a common interest against the government and against those who support it; and as the power is always with the majority, they can overturn such a government and its supporters whenever they please."61 Having taken part in two revolutions which displaced kings, Paine failed to see that inertia might well prevent a disorganized majority from ruling in the face of a determined, disciplined minority. Nor did he foresee that the day would come when minorities backed by armies can control majorities—the mere strength of numbers meaning little in the face of modern military forces.62

Because governmental action needs the support of the people, minorities ought not rule even when they are certain that their decisions are correct.63 If power is not lodged in the majority of an inclusive electorate, there is no logical stopping point short of one-man rule.64 And it is impossible for one man to be so wise in all things that he can instruct the people and make their decisions.65

Unanimous agreement would be, he conceded, the preferable method of making decisions. But such is the nature of man that common consent will be consistently given only to the proposition that the majority should rule. Society will give the power to the majority because of the absolute necessity that decisions be made, and because "it is a mode of decision derived from the primary original right of every individual concerned; that right being first individually exercised in giving an opinion, and whether that opinion shall arrange with the minority or the majority, is a subsequent accidental thing that neither increases or diminishes the individual original right itself."66

III Equality

Our discussion of Paine's belief in majority-rule has also indicated his belief in equality of political rights. As in the case of his discussion of popular sovereignty and majority-rule, he conducts his argument on two levels. He maintains that equality springs from ultimate principles or natural law, and also insists that equality should be granted for practical reasons, saying that those who have the power to bring about equality should do so for their own interest. As in all such arguments, he places greatest emphasis on the "justice" of the proposition.

The basis of equality is to be found in the origin of man. When he came from the hand of his Maker, his "high and only title" was man.67 All accounts of the beginning of man, although differing from all others in many particulars, are agreed on one point, "the unity of man; by which I mean that all men are of one degree, and consequently that all men are born equal, and with equal natural right, in the same manner as if posterity had been continued by creation instead of generation . . . ; and consequently every child born into the world must be considered as deriving its existence from God. The world is as new to him as it was to the first man that existed, and his right in it is of the same kind."68 There is "but one species of man, [and therefore] there can be but one element of human power; and that element is man himself."69

Upon leaving society in its "original" state to become a part of society in its "organized" state, every individual, "each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government . . .";70 therefore, each "is a member of the Sovereignty"71 with equal political rights based upon his natural rights.72 That the rights of man in society "shall be equal is not a matter of opinion but of right, and consequently of principle."73 Any limitation upon equality would be admitting that some men have property in others.74

"The right of voting for persons charged with the execution of the laws that govern society is inherent in the word Liberty, and constitutes equality of personal rights."75 If the right to vote is "attached to inanimate matter,"76 such as place of residence, property, or payments of direct taxes, "the dignity of the suffrage is thus lowered . . . in placing it with an inferior thing. . . . It is impossible to find an equivalent counterpoise for the right of suffrage, because it alone is worthy of its own basis, and cannot thrive as a graft, or an appendage. . . ."77 A man should lose his right to vote only if he attempts to exclude another from voting. By his attempt, he automatically forfeits his claim to the right by refusing to recognize a similar claim on the part of others.78

On the practical side of the question, Paine argued that it was unwise to limit the suffrage to those with great property-holdings because this would, by excluding the majority, unite them, and they would seize control anyway.79 If the suffrage were based upon a small amount of property, it would be based upon accident.80 To associate the vote with property in any fashion would be to place the right on the most precarious of bases, because men are constantly gaining and losing property—frequently through no fault of their own. Men would, if property were a criterion, lose not only property but the right to vote when it "would be of most value."81 To limit the vote to those who pay taxes would be meaningless, because all men pay taxes in some form.82 If the payment of a direct tax were required, it would be dangerous because corrupt politicians could buy elections by paying the poll taxes for those who could not afford the fee.83 If exceptions to the property qualifications are made in favor of those who have served in the army, they will fail in their purpose, because the soldier will not fight harder, realizing that his children cannot have the right which he is acquiring at the risk of his life.84 The wisest criterion for voting is age, because "nothing but dying before that time can take it away."85

Nor is it wise to grant special representation to particular interests, because they will legislate for their own welfare to the detriment of the rest of society. Besides, what right have they "to a distinct and separate interest from the general interest of the nation?"86 To discriminate against any group is to "make poverty their choice."87 A wise man of property, Paine said, recognizes that security of his interest rests upon equal political rights for all, because the people never injure property if they are accorded equality of rights.88 Property is not safe, however, when it is employed "criminally . . . [as] a criterion for exclusive rights."89 Men of property should remember that "it is possible to exclude men from the right of voting, but it is impossible to exclude them from the right of rebelling against that exclusion; and when all other rights are taken away, the right of rebellion is made perfect."90

IV. Popular Consultation

To remove the necessity of resorting to violence to secure their ends, the people must be given some means of expressing their desires both in the changing of the fundamental law and in the selection of representatives. Paine believed that elections, frequently held,91 prevent "inconveniences accumulating, till they discourage reformation or promote revolution."92

Constitutions, as we have seen, cannot be modified even by elected representatives, because the government would then be removed from the people after the first election.93 Constitutions should state the methods by which the people may make "alterations, amendments, or additions."94 A provision for constitutional amendment is one of the greatest steps toward the "security and progress of Constitutional liberty."95 The wisest provision for amendment is probably one which calls for a periodic convention—perhaps every seven years96 —because "it provides frequent opportunity of using it [the right of constitutional revision] and thus helps to keep the government within the principles of the constitution."97 By electing special assemblies for the consideration of proposed revisions, "the general WILL, whether to reform or not, or what the reform shall be, or how far it shall extend, will be known, and it cannot be known by any other means."98 When the convention has finished its work, the revisions should be submitted to the people for their approval.99 Paine was clear that the calling of conventions at regular intervals must not be interpreted as barring revisions during the interim, because the powers of "forming and reforming, generating and regenerating constitutions .. . are always before a country as a matter of right. . . ."100

The people cannot meet together to pass on ordinary laws, so representatives must be kept in close touch with their constituents.101 Legislators who are not held accountable to the people cease to represent the nation and represent only themselves.102 They are no better than the aristocracy, who, being "accountable to nobody, ought not be trusted by anybody."103 Free discussion,104 aided by complete reports to the people by government officials, is essential to the maintenance of representative government. The reason for every government act must be given, because each citizen is a "proprietor of government, and considers it a necessary part of his business to understand."105

Paine gives more attention to the election of the members of the legislature than to the election of the members of the executive branch of government, because he assumed that the legislature in a democracy would be supreme. Nevertheless, he believed that both arms of the executive branch—the judiciary was not a separate branch of government106 —should be kept responsible to the people through elections. Applying his beliefs to the American scene, he insisted that presidential electors should be selected by the people rather than by the legislature, as was true in some states.107 Judges should also be made immediately responsible to the people. Terms for "good behavior" are open to objection because they have no legal or moral meaning.108 In monarchies, judges should be independent of the king, but in democracies an irresponsible court cannot be tolerated. In a monarchy, the judges may protect the people against the tyranny of the king. In a democracy, an independent judiciary is a limitation upon the rights of the people to self-government. If presidents, governors, and legislators can be replaced by elections, why is it that judges can be removed only by "the tedious and expensive formality of impeachment?"109 Perhaps, Paine suggested, because judges are lawyers, and lawyers always draw up the sections of constitutions dealing with the judiciary.110

V. Democracy and Deism

If the above analysis is correct, Paine's political ideas, at least in his later writings, satisfy all the requirements of the majority-rule democrat. There remains to discuss briefly the relationship of his belief in democracy and his belief in ultimate, immutable principles and absolute moral laws which may be objectively discovered—a notion which pervades all his writings.111

His "scientific" deism held that God revealed himself in nature, and that by observing nature man could find the laws which govern society, just as Newton found the laws which govern the world of physics.112 A democratic or representative government is best fitted to follow the laws of nature because it "takes society and civilization for its basis; nature, reason, and experience for its guide."113 Being in accord with laws of nature, the democratic society can discover other laws which govern the conduct of society.

Men are by nature both rational and good.114 They know that to do good is to act in their own interest.115 All that is necessary to put natural laws into practice is to have wise men inform the people of their findings about the nature of society, and the people will insist that right principles be followed.116 "Reason, like time, will make its own way,"117 and the errors committed at one time will be corrected by the people as soon as they recognize their mistakes.118 The people may be trusted with power, because it is to their interest, i.e., to the interest of the majority, that right be done.119 Superior members, who guide and inform the mass of men, spring from every section of society, but only a democratic state can take advantage of their wisdom, because only a democratic state allows all sections of the nation to take part in government.120 Inferior members of the community may occasionally inform superior members, and therefore it would be unwise to bar them from participation.121 When all members of society take part in its governance, all views are expressed, thus adding to the general enlightenment necessary for the passage of good acts.122 It appears, then, that it is right that decisions should be made by the people, as expressed by the majority, because in the long run the majority will decide rightly.123

When the few are allowed to rule—and Paine assumed that minority-rule would be hereditary—the likelihood of government according to natural law is diminished. The interest of the few is not necessarily the interest of the entire society, and hence is not in accord with God's principles.124 Succeeding generations of minorities become less and less qualified to rule because wisdom is not hereditary; in-breeding among the minority weakens the off-spring; and because the children are reared in an atmosphere conductive to oppression, not justice.125

The principles of a democratic society, stated above, have been discovered through the "science of government," although that science is still in its infancy.126 Students of government have also found that forms of government must correspond to its principles to produce harmony and "a rational order of things."127 Future generations will discover new laws and modify or change present forms of government to harmonize with God's revealed principles. Because of the magnificent advances during the last quarter of the eighteenth century toward an understanding of the natural laws and principles which govern society, "the present age will hereafter merit to be called the Age of Reason. . . ."128


1 Vernon L. Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. I, p. 334.

2 C. E. Merriam, "Thomas Paine's Political Theories," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. XIV, p. 402 (Sept., 1899). See also Max Lerner, It is Later Than You Think, p. 109. Lerner calls Paine a "demagogue," that is, one of those Americans who were "good artists in majority politics."

3 Some of the undemocratic features of Paine's earlier writings will be referred to briefly to indicate the historical development of his thinking.

4 For a full discussion of the belief of a majority-rule democrat, see the excellent discussion in Willmoore Kendall, John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority-Rule, esp. pp. 24-38.

5The Rights of Man, Writings of Thomas Paine (M. D. Conway, ed.), Vol. II, p. 388.

6Ibid., pp. 406-407. See also Common Sense, Vol. I, p. 70. Here Paine spoke of the possibility of men attempting to live as individuals, but soon joining each other when they realized that they could live better by a division of labor.

7Ibid., p. 311. Italics are Paine's. He also referred to the United States as being in a state of nature between 1775 and the time of the adoption of the Articles of Confederation. See Vol. II, p. 407.

8Ibid., pp. 309, 310. Italics are Paine's.

9Ibid, p. 308.

10Ibid., p. 309.

11Ibid, p. 308. See also ibid, pp. 277-281, 310.

12Ibid., p. 385. Italics are mine. See also "Address to the Addressers," Vol. II, p. 68. The term "nation" as used by Paine always refers to all the citizens of a particular country.

13Ibid, pp. 309-310. This does not mean that Paine believed in judicial review. See section on Popular Consultation.

14Ibid, p. 436.

15Ibid., p. 361. Italics are mine. See also p. 238, where Paine argues that an elective body no longer responsible to the people is as despotic as any king who usurped power originally. The phrase "as universal as taxation" is to be found frequently in Paine's writings. Paine himself did not believe that voting should be based upon the payment of taxes (see section on Political Equality), but was quite willing to use the term for persuasive purposes. He usually went ahead to explain that everyone pays taxes in some form, and therefore acceptance of the phrase necessitates acceptance of the notion of political equality.

16Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions on the Legislative and Executive Powers, Vol. II, pp. 238-239.

17Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 276-277, 365-366.

18Ibid, p. 366.

19Ibid., p. 411. Italics are Paine's. For similar definitions, see also pp. 443, 446. In the latter passages, Paine did not include the last phrase, "acting on the principles of society." It will be noted that his definition makes no distinction between the "state" and "government," or between the "state" and "society." The word "state" is never used by Paine except to describe the "thirteen American states." As we noticed earlier, a democratic state differs from society only because it is organized. In Common Sense, Vol. I, p. 69, Paine distinguished between the origin of society and of the state. The former arose because of the needs of man, the latter because of his wickedness. The duty of the state was to preserve law and order. Not until he identified representative government with organized society was Paine able to give the state the positive function of promoting the common good.

20Ibid, p. 385.

21Ibid, p. 397.

22Ibid., pp. 421-422, 443. Republic, said Paine, came from the word res-republica, meaning public affairs. A republic, then, does not describe a form of government, but the purpose of government. He added, however, that representative government is the only kind which actually deals with public affairs or the good of the nation.

23Dissertation on Government; the Affairs of the Bank; and Paper Money, Vol. II, p. 147. If the people or government break a contract, it is contrary to the terms of the original compact in which men "renounced as despotic, detestable and unjust, the right of breaking and violating their engagements, contracts and compacts with, or defrauding, imposing or tyrannizing over each other."

24Ibid, p. 146.

25Ibid., p. 148.

26Ibid, pp. 164-166.

27The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 465-466.

28 "Constitutions, Governments, and Charters," Vol. IV, p. 468.

29Ibid, pp. 468, 469.

30 In the essay, Paine argued that certain acts, i.e., the contracts mentioned, differ from ordinary laws which may be repealed at any time. He argued that these special acts required permanency without being clear what he meant by "permanency." However, he spoke of the value of elections in insuring just contracts because "it is always to the interest of a much greater number of people in a country, to have a thing right than to have it wrong, [and therefore] the public sentiment is always worth attending to. It may sometimes err, but never intentionally, and never long." The last sentence indicates that the people will be allowed to correct their "errors," even at the expense of permanency. He also argued that the people of New York had "vetoed" the specific contract in question when they defeated the legislators who enacted the measure.

31 Joseph Dorfman, "The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 53, pp. 372-386 (Sept., 1938).

On the other hand, see V. L. Parrington, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 139, where it is suggested that Paine may well have believed in a socialized order, but that his desire to secure a measure of relief from intolerable conditions prevented him from bluntly stating his full position. Also see C. E. Merriam, op. cit., esp. pp. 397, 400, where he remarks that Paine argues that the state should not interfere much in the affairs of business, but that he also suggests a number of instances when government ought to regulate economic conditions even more stringently than they were then regulated.

32The Rights of Man, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 306. Paine sometimes spoke of these as "personal rights" or "rights of the mind."

33Ibid., pp. 307, 325-326, 328. Religious freedom, he said was essential to all other rights.

34Ibid., pp. 397, 330. Also see "Address to the Addressers," Vol. III, p. 68.

35Ibid., pp. 328, 361. Also see Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, p. 265, and Agrarian Justice, Vol. III, p. 325.

36Ibid, pp. 354-355.

37Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. > III, p. 267.

38Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 355.

39 Quoted in Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 351.

40The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 380.

41Ibid., pp. 484-500.

42Agrarian Justice, Vol. III, pp. 330-332.

43Ibid, p. 340.

44Ibid, p. 341.


46Ibid, pp. 337-338.

47 Dorfman, op. cit., p. 380.

48Ibid., p. 386.

49 See Dixon Wecter, "Hero in Reverse," Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. XVIII, 243-259 (Spring, 1942). Wecter tells of the hatred for Paine among the conservatives in his day because of his economic beliefs. If he and Hamilton agreed on economic ideas, Hamilton and his supporters were curiously unaware of the similarity. See esp. pp. 244, 245, 248.

50 Parrington, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 338.

51Ibid., p. 333. We need not follow Parrington's speculation that Paine would have carried his arguments to a more radical conclusion, had he not confined his writing to immediately attainable objectives. See p. 339.

52Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. HI, p. 269. Italics are mine.

53Ibid, p. 267.

54 In Common Sense, Vol. I, p. 97, Paine suggests that Congress might pass acts by a vote of three-fifths of the members "in order that nothing might pass into a law which is not satisfactorily just." In no other pamphlet does Paine suggest rule by any number other than a simple majority.

55Rights of Man, II, p. 434.

56Ibid., p. 509. See also "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 465.

57Ibid., p. 444. For a more detailed criticism of bicameralism, see "Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions on the Legislative and Executive Powers," Vol. II, pp. 241-244.

58Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, pp. 273-274. Italics are Paine's.

59Ibid., p. 277; "To Citizens of the United States" (no. 5), Vol. III, p. 405. For other comments on parties in Paine's later writings, see Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 278, 468; "The Eighteenth Fructidor," Vol. III, p. 347.

60 See "Letter to Samuel Adams, January 1, 1803," Vol. IV, p. 207.

61Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. II, p. 266. Italics are mine. See also The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 428, 509.

62 "Letter to the Citizens of the United States" (no. 3), Vol. III, p. 392. In this article, Paine did express some doubt of the ability of majorities to control minorities when he spoke of "the doubtful contest of civil war."

63 See The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 514, n.

64Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, pp. 271-272.

65The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 367, 416-417. See also "Dissertation on Government; etc.," Vol. II, p. 135.

66 "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. III, pp. 91-92. Italics are Paine's.

67The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 303.

68Ibid., pp. 304-305. Italics are Paine's. He cites the Mosaic account of the creation which says that God made man in his own image, distinguishing between the sexes, "but no other distinction is implied."

69Ibid, p. 385.

70Ibid., p. 309. Italics are Paine's.

71Ibid, p. 386.

72 "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. III, pp. 91-92. See also, "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 465.

73Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, p. 273.

74The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 278.

75Agrarian Justice, Vol. III, p. 325.

76 "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. HI, p. 88.

77Agrarian Justice, Vol. III, p. 325.

78Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, pp. 265, 267.

79Ibid, p. 266.

80Ibid., p. 267. Paine suggested that it might well be that a man's right to vote would depend upon such a thing as the birth of a mule. In that case, he wonders who should have the vote—the mule or the man. See Dorfman, op. cit., p. 379, for a curious statement of Paine's belief in the equality of suffrage. Dorfman ignored most of the arguments stated by Paine in an effort to prove that the sole purpose for removing property qualifications for voting was the protection of property rights. Dorfman's argument is based entirely upon carefully selected sections of The Rights of Man and "Letter Addressed to the Addressers," ignoring completely the two pamphlets which were most explicit on the question of suffrage. (Agrarian Justice and Dissertation on First Principles of Government.)

81 "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. III, p. 88. See also "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 462.

82Ibid, pp. 75, 88.

83Agrarian Justice, Vol. III, p. 326.

84 "On the Constitution of 1795," Vol. III, pp. 283-284.

85 "Address to the Addressers," Vol. III, p. 88

86The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 468.

87Ibid, p. 399.

88Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, p. 269.

89Ibid., p. 268. See The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 296, where Paine suggests that the mob is the safest asylum possible, and that even a miser would cease to think only of money if he were to mix with a mob. He uses "the mob" both to threaten those of property and to idealize "the common7 man."

90Ibid., pp. 267-268.

91 "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 460. Paine agreed with Franklin that "where annual elections end, tyranny begins."

92The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 452, 517. See also "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 457, and "Letter to the Citizens of the United States" (No. 3), Vol. III, p. 392.

93Ibid., p. 438. Also see p. 311.

94Ibid., p. 311.

95Ibid., p. 452.

96Ibid., p. 431.

97Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions on Legislative and Executive Powers, Vol. II, p. 250.

98 "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. III, p. 87. See also p. 81, and "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 457.

99 "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 457.

100The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 397-398. See also "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. III, p. 86.

101Common Sense, Vol. I, p. 71.

102 "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G, p. 460.

103The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 323. See also "Anti-Monarchical Essay for Use of New Republicans," Vol. III, p. 108, for a curious passage illustrating the lengths to which Paine would go to assure legislative responsibility. "With representatives, frequently renewed, who neither administer nor judge, whose functions are determined by laws; with national conventions, with primary assemblies, which can be convoked at any moment; with a people knowing how to read, and how to defend itself; with good journals, guns, and pikes; a Legislature would have a good deal of trouble in enjoying many months of tyranny."

104 "Letter to Citizens of the United States" (no. 4), Vol. III, pp. 414-417. This essay was written against the Sedition Act of 1798.

105The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 427-428.

106Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, p. 275. See also "Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions, etc., Vol. II, pp. 238-239.

107 "Constitutional Reform," Vol. IV, App. G., p. 461.

108Ibid., p. 464.



111 See, for example, Dissertation on Government, etc., Vol. II, p. 132. "There are such things as right and wrong in the world." And Dissertation on First Principles of Government, Vol. III, p. 260. ". . . time has no more connection with, or influence upon principle, than principle has upon time."

112 See, for example, The Age of Reason, Vol. IV, p. 45, "The word of God is the creation we behold: And it is in this word that God speaketh universally to man." (Italics are Paine's.) See also p. 191: "The principles we discover are eternal and of divine origin. . . ." For a brief analysis of the relationship of Paine's religious beliefs to his political, economic, and social thinking, see the excellent article by H. H. Clark, "Toward a Re-interpretation of Thomas Paine," American Literature, Vol. V, pp. 133-145.

113The Rights of Man, Vol. II, pp. 418, 423.

114Ibid., pp. 403, 508. See also "The Reasons for Preserving the Life of Louis Capet," Vol. III, p. 122; "Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions, etc.," Vol. II, p. 248.

115Ibid, p. 435. Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions, etc., Vol. II, p. 246; "Letter to the Citizens of the United States" (no. 4), Vol. III, p. 405; "Constitutions, Governments, and Charters," Vol. IV, App. H., pp. 468.

116 "Letter Addressed to the Addressers, etc.," Vol. HI, pp. 45-46. "Address and Declaration of the Thatched House Tavern," Vol. II, p. 256; The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 296.

117The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 403.

118Ibid., p. 509.

119Ibid., p. 435.

120Ibid, pp. 418-420.

121Thomas Paine's Answer to Four Questions, etc., Vol. II, p. 242.

122The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 386. See also "Anti-Monarchical Essay for the Use of New Republicans," Vol. III, p. 103.

123Ibid., p. 384. "Constitutions, Governments, and Charters," Vol. IV, App. H., p. 457; see also "Letter to Citizens of the United States" (no. 4), Vol. III, p. 400, "The Right will always become the popular." Compare this position with Max Lerner, op. cit. p. 107, " . . . the majority in a state represents a good bet in the long pull of history." See Kendall, op. cit., Ch. X, where the question is raised as to whether the belief in the "rightness" of majorities underlies all modern theories of majority rule.

124Ibid, p. 321.

125Ibid, pp. 322-323.

126Thomas Paine' s Answer to Four Questions, etc., Vol. II, p. 245; "Memorial Addressed to James Monroe," Vol. III, p. 176.

127The Rights of Man, Vol. II, p. 332.

128Ibid, p. 512.

Harry Hayden Clark (essay date 1944)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7566

SOURCE: "Thomas Paine," in Thomas Paine: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, American Book Company, 1944, pp. xi-cxviii.

[In the following chapter from his book, Clark examines the various religious influences on Paine's thought.

Focusing on the significance of Paine's Quaker heritage, Clark examines it in conjunction with the rationalist, Newtonian concept of nature.]

I. Religious and Ethical Ideas

Broadly speaking, Paine's importance rests on the fact that he was an idealist, a man who envisaged a happier way of life for all men in the future, who thought in the light of first principles such as the equality and sacredness of all souls before God, and who, since he believed that in the past the life of the common people had been miserable, demanded a sharp break with the past, with tradition. During Paine's first years in America, as we shall see, while he was feeling his way along as an apprentice at propaganda, his ideas were not entirely consistent with one another and not without considerable elements of conservativism, as in Common Sense. After he went to France, however, and joined the cause of the ideologues, such as Condorcet, who motivated the French Revolution, he spoke consistently as an antitraditionalist who thought society could be reconstructed in the light of principles and ideals, "abstracted from time and usage."

Granting, then, his American apprenticeship, it seems best to begin our consideration of him in the light of his basic, governing religious and ethical ideas. John Adams, as we shall see, testified that Paine had doubts of religious traditionalism in 1776, and Paine himself said in 1791 that "for several years past"1 he had intended to publish the ideas he advanced in The Age of Reason. Therefore it may not actually be such a violation of chronology as it might appear to consider his religious ideals first, especially since they involve at the outset the Quakerism which was his birthright.

1. The Influence of Quakerism

The development of Paine's religious and ethical ideas can be understood best, perhaps, in relation to four main religious influences: Quakerism, Newtonianism, classicism, and the exotic concepts of the Druids and ancient Persia and Egypt. The earliest and most difficult to analyze in its effect upon him was Quakerism. His best biographer, Moncure Conway, insisted that he was "explicable only by the intensity of his Quakerism . . ."2 And there can be no serious question that many early and lasting ideas and attitudes were given him by it. Though never a member of any meeting, Paine could have been a "birthright Friend," for, as he wrote, "My father being of the Quaker profession, it was my good fortune to have an exceedingly good moral education, and a tolerable stock of useful learning."3 One can easily see the influence of his father's religion in the experience which, intense enough at the time to be remembered decades later, must have bent or helped bend Paine's subconscious mind permanently. "I well remember," he says, "when about seven or eight years of age, hearing a sermon read by a relation of mine, who was a great devotee of the church, upon the subject of what is called Redemption by the death of the Son of God. After the sermon was ended, I went into the garden, and as I was going down the garden steps (for I perfectly recollect the spot) I revolted at the recollection of what I had heard, and thought to myself that it was making God Almighty act like a passionate man, that killed his son, when he could not revenge himself any other way; and as I was sure a man would be hanged that did such a thing, I could not see for what purpose they preached such sermons. This was not one of those kind of thoughts that had any thing in it of childish levity; it was to me a serious reflection, arising from the idea I had that God was too good to do such an action, and also too almighty to be under any necessity of doing it. I believe in the same manner to this moment; and I moreover believe, that any system of religion that has any thing in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system."4

Throughout his religious writings he professed deep admiration for the "moral and benign part"5 of the Quakers' thought: "I reverence their philanthropy,"6 he proclaimed. The charity which led them to be pioneers in the abolition of slavery, prison reform, and a dozen other humanitarian enterprises found, of course, its ready response from Paine whose whole life was devoted to reforms for the good of mankind. He cited the Quakers as the sole exception to the general cruelty of Christian sects, and regarded them as "the only sect that has not persecuted . . ."7 Indeed, it was on the grounds of the reconstruction of society according to principles of good-will and mutual profit that Paine and the Quakers found themselves in complete agreement, and there, in an absolute sense, alone. He had reinforced childhood notions of their doctrines by reading the theologian Barclay8 ; but, after all, the mystical apprehension of truth through the Inner Light and Paine's insistence that a dry and rigid rationalism alone could be depended on were mutually exclusive. He often claimed that the Quakers were deists if they but knew it. It is noteworthy, however, that he never brought them to reciprocate.

Attention must be paid statements like the following from Mr. Conway: "Paine's political principles were evolved out of his early Quakerism. He was potential in George Fox. The belief that every human soul was the child of God, and capable of direct inspiration from the Father of all, without mediator or priestly intervention, or sacramental instrumentality, was fatal to all privilege and rank. The universal Fatherhood implied universal Brotherhood, or human equality."10 And Conway adds that it was to protect this ideal from "oppression by the majority" that Paine developed his theory of inviolable private rights. Certainly Paine's readiness to flout temporal authorities and outworn traditions in the cause of what he felt to be the right was in the Quaker tradition. His ability to live frugally and sacrifice financially for his causes, and his not too consistent passion for simplicity, probably stemmed from Quakerism.

Of this much we can be sure. Paine did have a Quaker background. He himself affirmed that his belief in a benevolent deity whose most important attribute was loving Fatherhood came to him from it. His passionate humanitarianism; sense of brotherhood with all men, and its corollary, the sense of the equality of all men's rights; readiness to think and move independently; and his willingness to go "all out" for his beliefs could have come from Quakerism. There is every reason to believe, therefore, that he operated throughout life with Quaker attitudes and ideas in the back of his mind. Perhaps it is important to remember that usually they were in the back of his mind and did not emerge in anything like pure form.

It is hardly accurate, then, to say that Paine is "explicable only" in the light of Quakerism despite his reverence for their doctrines in general. His home was not intensely Quakeristic, since his father had "married out of meeting" and been expelled from the Society.11 He was never actively affiliated with the Quakers, and he said in 1776, "I profess myself a member" of "the English church."12 He attacked the Quakers'and he was pacifism,13 so far from being considered "in his time the greatest exponent"14 of Quakerism that they, ordinarily the most charitable of sects, refused his dying plea to be buried with their brethren. Certainly Paine's general theology and that of his contemporary, the Quaker saint John Woolman, were in many ways mutually repellent. And on the personal side the mystical Woolman and rationalistic Paine had as little in common intellectually as they did in outward action. Woolman strove for humility, gentle persuasiveness, and freedom from bondage to the flesh. Paine, though capable of generosity and high friendship, was at times outrageously egotistical, bellicose, and subject in his later life to coarseness. Finally, the typically Quaker Woolman, though interested in reforms such as the abolition of slavery, believed the essential achievement of man to be self-conquest, and inner victory over self-indulgence and sin; Paine, the deistic humanitarian, saw man's warfare to be with principalities and institutionalized powers alone in which outward service overcame outward obstacles and would usher in Utopia.15

2. The Influence of Newtonianism

One must look elsewhere for much of the motivation underlying the four major religious premises made by Paine: (a) that nature, in the eye of rationalistic science, is a divine revelation; (b) that such science reveals "a harmonious, magnificent order"16 —that nature is law; (c) that the natural man shares the divine benevolence and that in this harmonious order his "wants, acting upon every individual, impel the whole of them into society, as naturally as gravitation acts to a center"17 ; (d) and that an attempt to re-establish in politics and religion a lost harmony with this uniform, immutable, universal, and eternal law and order, and to modify or overthrow whatever traditional institutions have obscured this order and thrown its natural harmony into discord will constitute progress, will rapidly decrease human misery, and will rapidly usher in "the birthday of a new world." Perhaps his inherited Quaker independence made it easier for him to break with the historical majesty of tradition which inhered in the Christianity of his time and place. But it seems likely that Paine derived these four major premises mainly from popularizations of Newtonian science and deism and from the climate of opinion which rationalism had helped to develop for over a century, and which is roughly denominated "The Enlightenment."18

Paine, with his natural bent toward science19 and ardent may have self-education,20 read Newton's Principia (1687, widely translated after 1729); if he did not read Newton himself, he could hardly have escaped learning the main outlines of his thought from the current popular diffusion of Newtonianism, which was almost literally "in the air."21 For a man of Paine's delight in social discussion and debate, interested in science, Newtonianism and deism were accessible in scores of places, and especially in the social circles he frequented which gathered around Franklin in America, Godwin in England, and Condorcet in France. Some of the semipopular sources of his first information are known, however. In speaking of the period (1757-1759) when at the age of twenty he lived in London as a staymaker in the employ of Mr. Morris, Paine says, "As soon as I was able, I purchased a pair of globes, and attended the philosophical lectures of Martin and Ferguson, and became . . . acquainted with Dr. Bevis, of the society called the Royal Society, then living in the Temple, and an excellent astronomer."22

Let us now return to an exposition of what have been called Paine's four premises. The author of The Age of Reason "honors Reason as the choicest gift of God to man, and the faculty by which he is enabled to contemplate the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator displayed in the creation."23 If he appears to be attacking the Christian religion in the light of reason, it should be borne in mind that this reason was itself associated with religion and the supernatural. Since only "the creation is the Bible of the deist,"24 "the principles we discover there are eternal and of divine origin,"25 "for the Creator of man is the creator of science, and it is through that medium that man can see God, as it were, face to face."26 "That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and Wisdom of God in his works, and is the true theology."27 To Paine "the Creator of the Universe" is "the Fountain of all Wisdom, the Origin of all Science, the Author of all Knowledge, the God of Order and of Harmony."28 "When we see a watch, we have as positive proof of the existence of a watchmaker, as if we saw him; and in like manner the creation is evidence to our reason and our senses of the existence of a creator."29

At once an empiricist and a supernaturalist, Paine held that "It is comfortable to live under the belief of the existence of an infinite protecting power; and it is an addition to that comfort to know that such a belief is not a mere conceit of the imagination .. . ; nor a belief founded only on tradition or received opinion; but a belief deducible by the action of reason upon the things that compose the system of the universe; a belief rising out of visible facts: and so demonstrable . . . that matter and the properties it has will not account for the system of the universe, and that there must necessarily be a superior cause."30 Like the Newtonians, Paine never ceased to "hope for happiness beyond this life"31 ; "the belief of a future state is a rational belief, founded on facts visible in the creation: for it is not more difficult to believe that we shall exist hereafter in a better state and form than at present, than that a worm should become a butterfly. . . ."32

In conscious revolt against the indoor, book-religion of the "gloomy Calvinists" and "the absurd and impious doctrine of predestination"33 taught by "these fahis natical hypocrites,"34 his mind finds "a happiness in Deism, when rightly understood, that is not be found in any other system of religion."35 "Do we not see a fair creation prepared to receive us the instant we are born—a world furnished to our hands, that cost us nothing? . . . Whether we sleep or wake, the vast machinery of the universe still goes on."36 "Do we want to contemplate [God's] munificence? We see it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not withholding that abundance even from the unthankful."37 "The moral duty of man consists in imitating the moral goodness and beneficence of God manifested in the creation toward all his creatures."38

It should be borne in mind that Paine's revolt against the Christian tradition, itself dualistic, was motivated by the perception that the historic relativism of a book-tradition was the prey of time and change; "the continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of an universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of wilful alteration, are themselves evidences that human language, whether in speech or in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God," the eternity and universality of which demand "the idea, not only of unchangeableness, but of the utter impossibility of any change."39 Hence, under the tutelage of the Newtonians, he turned from books to nature, a testimony to all times and nationalities, which, approached reverently with "the divine gift of reason" and the method of science, reveals to him an immaterial Creator whose eternal and universal benevolence are manifest in "invariable principles and unchangeable order."40

Now it is of sovereign importance, if we would adequately interpret and judge Paine, that we should interpret his appeal not only to reason but to nature in the light of the contemporary meaning these two focal concepts had in the minds of the teachers who molded his mind in its plastic age. For the Newtonians and Paine mean, when they appeal to nature, vastly more than the original chaos of the pathless wilderness or a supine surrender to the capricious dictates of a savage appetite. Usually, nature meant to them harmony, law, and order; and hence an appeal to nature can scarcely be interpreted as an appeal to anarchy. Paine is careful to define what he means by nature: "Man could not invent and make a universe—he could not invent nature, for nature is of divine origin. It is the laws by which the universe is governed. When, therefore, we look through nature up to nature's God, we are in the right road of happiness . . ."41 "As to that which is called nature, it is no other than the laws by which motion and action of every kind, with respect to unintelligible matter, is regulated."42 "When we survey the works of Creation, the revolutions of the planetary system, and the whole economy of what is called nature, which is no other than the laws the Creator has prescribed to matter, we see unerring order and universal harmony reigning throughout the whole. . . . Here is the standard to which everything must be brought that pretends to be the work . . . of God."43 Having interpreted Paine's mind in the light of contemporary philosophic definitions and their relative emphasis given by men whom Paine acknowledged as his teachers, we have now arrived at the very core of his thought, "the standard to which everything must be brought," which is a divinely revealed and sanctioned law and order, in harmonious conformity to which society finds its happiness. Thus Newtonian deism, as interpreted by Paine, involved discipline and order just as did Calvinistic Federalism in America, or Anglican Toryism, in England, although the difference in background and terminology has prevented many critics from recognizing it, at least in the case of Paine. Although Paine wrote The Rights of Man as a refutation of Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution, the ultimate and underlying assumptions of the former are no more an intentional defense of anarchy than those of the latter. For Paine's "standard" was a divinely ordained "harmonious magnificent order."44

Since Newtonianism had supplied mathematical proof of a universal, all-embracing, divinely-ordered harmony, a universe throbbing with the rhythm of benevolence, and since the Creator and the creation cannot therefore be at strife, it follows that man, the crown of creation, shares this divine harmony manifesting the "infinite goodness" of the Creator. Newtonianism, by positing a cosmic harmony, furnished, in place of Puritan convictions of man's total depravity, what seemed a mathematical foundation for a faith in the light of nature and in the pregnant theory of natural goodness. Thus Paine wrote, "man, where he is not corrupted by governments, is naturally the friend of man, . . . human nature is not of itself vicious."45 "The great mass of people are always just,"46 and "the safest asylum, especially in times of general convulsion when no settled form of government prevails, is the love of the people."47 Hence Paine argued that the representative government must supplant monarchy, for if "the representative system is always parallel with the order and immutable laws of nature and meets the reason of man in every part,"48 such being "the order of nature, the order of government must . . . follow it."49 He held that "the sovereign authority in any country is in the power of making laws," that "the government of a free country, properly speaking, is not in the persons, but in the laws,"50 and that executives "are no other than authorities to superintend the execution of the laws,"51 which are ultimately to be safe-guarded by a constitution sanctioning not only the control of lawless individuals but also of aggressive parties.52 The popular notion that Paine's naturalism led him to plead for lawlessness would therefore appear to be based upon ludicrous misunderstandings. For the nature he wished to follow was the law and order of the harmonious Newtonian universe which promised a harmony among men whereby they could establish a parallel civil law and order.

This brings us to the last of what I have tried to define as Paine's major premises. Paine's contemporaries noted that in Common Sense (1776), The Crisis, and other early work, including The Rights of Man (1791-1792), if he had occasion to speak of the Christian religion, he did so in decent, if not respectful language; and the intolerant view that "the only religion that has not been invented . . . is pure and simple Deism,"53 coupled with his astonishing violence in denouncing the Bible and Christianity, appears only in The Age of Reason (1793-1795).

It seems probable that he honestly, if illogically, tried for a time to reverence both astronomy and a broad, rational Christianity,54 especially since in England and America, on account of the elasticity of Protestantism, most deists regarded themselves as still Christians. His liberally religious friends such as Franklin, Jefferson, Barlow, Martin, and Ferguson, and deistic predecessors such as Bolingbroke, Middleton, Pope, and others, maintained a loosely tolerant relationship with the church, setting a precedent the breaking of which required considerable provocation, even in the case of a man such as Paine.

It appears, then, that his private religious views became increasingly radical from his twentieth year, and increasingly conditioned other phases of his thought, although he gave public expression to his radicalism only as a result, perhaps, of such factors as (a) the danger in France of losing "sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true" following "the total abolition" of the priesthood55; (b) Burke's constant argument that a secular hierarchy is ultimately grounded upon an ecclesiastical and spiritual hierarchy, his defense therefore of the union of church and state, and his agency in defeating the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts by charging that the Dissenters championed the French Revolution56; (c) an economic crisis in England and in the France of 1789 described by Arthur Young, during which the melioration of social suffering was discouraged, as Paine thought, by the royalists' argument that poverty was the divine will57; and (d) by contact with brilliant minds such as those of Voltaire,58 Raynal, Boulanger, and Condorcet, whose social plans demanded the destruction of faith in the Church as the last refuge of obscurantism, persecution, and the divine right of kings. For it was such minds as these in conjunction with the current historical situation which helped to turn Paine's earlier and genially tolerant Newtonianism into channels destructive.

Science, as we have seen, aided by "the divine gift of reason," revealed to Paine a harmonious and universal order, progressive conformity to which constitutes progress. Such was the faith, in conjunction with the concrete example of America,59 which enabled him to march in the vanguard of that dauntless band who dedicated themselves to the fair dream of perfectibility.60 If "the world has walked in darkness for eighteen hundred years, both as to religion and government,"61 if men are naturally creatures of society, since their benevolent interests "impel the whole of them into society, as naturally as gravitation acts to a center,"62 if "a great portion of mankind, in what are called civilized countries, are in a state of poverty and wretchedness far below the condition of an Indian, . . . the cause . . . lies not in any natural defect in the principles of civilization, but in preventing those principles having a universal operation."63

Even if a modern skeptic should regard religion as the vainest of theorizing about the unknowable, he cannot ignore religion in the case of Paine, for it was the fountainhead of his concrete work; and without understanding his religion one can scarcely understand and interpret correctly practical programs which, as Franklin said, had a "prodigious" effect in the actual, physical world. For Paine was in his mental habits essentially after 1787 an ideologue, especially devoted to methods deductive and a priori. He tells us again and again that his concern is with "principles, and not persons," "the principles of universal society,"64 and his opponent Burke's alarm derived from the fundamentalism of the "religious war" against "an armed doctrine."65 Once the polar star of Newtonian deism had risen above Paine's mental horizon, he found his way, and henceforth he had but to walk toward the light. For Newtonian science, with its doctrine of the universality of law, had liberated him, as he thought, from the stifling bondage to historic relativism, from nationalism and a concern with local circumstances and temporal peculiarities, under which he thought Burke still labored.

This was the vantage ground from which Paine dauntlessly approached the temporal tribulations of a world where a progressive departure from the "harmonious, magnificent order" of nature and dependence upon the natural benevolence of the people, wherein lies social happiness, had been embalmed by blind "custom and usage."

3. The Influence of Classical Antiquity

We come now to the third main influence on Paine's religious thought—that of Classical Antiquity. In common with other deists, when pressed by Churchmen with the assertion that men could not lead serene and moral lives without the aid of Christian revelation, Paine naturally retorted with the example of the classical sages, who lived exalted lives before Christ. "Aristotle, Socrates, Plato . . . were truly great or noble." They arrived "at fame by merit and universal consent."66 He hopes that "what Athens was in miniature (the wonder of the ancient world), America will be in magnitude."67 However, probably being guided by "the immortal Montesquieu" who praised the ancient republics,68 Paine says that "Aristides, Epaminondas, Pericles, Scipio, Camillus, and a thousand other Grecian and Roman heroes would never have astonished the world with their names, had they lived under royal governments."69 They needed republicanism, but they did not need Christianity to be noble. In the second place, he regards Christianity as a debased "steal" from classicism—"the Christian Church, sprung out of the tail of heathen mythology." Following Conyers Middleton's Letter from Rome (Paine praised him as having courage, honesty, and "a strong original mind"),70 he argued that "the trinity of gods . . . was no other than a reduction of the former plurality, which was about twenty or thirty thousand. The statue of Mary succeeded the statue of Diana of Ephesus. The deification of heroes changed into the canonization of saints," and so on. "The Christian theory is little else than the idolatry of the ancient mythologists, accommodated to the purposes of power and revenue."71 And finally, Paine used the classicism of ancients such as Cicero to reinforce his Newtonian concept of immutable and universal natural law, deriving his knowledge through Middleton who wrote a life of Cicero. "In Cicero," Paine says, "we see that vast superiority of mind, that sublimity of right reasoning and justness of ideas, which man acquires, not by studying bibles and testaments, and the theology of schools built thereon, but by studying the creator in the immensity and unchangeable order of his creation, and the immutability of his law. 'There cannot,' says Cicero, 'be one law now, and another hereafter; but the same eternal immutable law comprehends all nations, at all times, under one common master and governor of all—God.'" Because of the disparity of the "laws" in the Old and the New Testaments, Paine concludes that they are "impositions, fables, and forgeries," since contradictions cannot derive from a God whose wisdom is "unchangeable."72

4. The Influence of the Early Eastern Religions and Freemasonry

In addition to Quakerism, Newtonianism and classicism, a fourth general influence bearing on Paine's religious writings is that derived from a sketchy acquaintance with the religions of ancient Egypt, the Druids, and the Persians, especially as they related to Freemasonry. As expressed particularly in his Origin of Masonry and Answer to the Bishop of Llandaff, these ideas were gathered from second-hand and third-hand sources which intrigued Paine's speculative but unscholarly mind.73 This rather crude study in comparative religions merely reinforced ideas Paine had adopted much earlier from many other sources. He envisioned a world-wide, pre-Christian natural religion or rough deism, essentially the same in Persians, Druids, and Egyptians, and far superior in truth and purity to the jumbled corruptions of their ideas borrowed by the ancient Hebrews to form the Bible. The origin of Masonry he saw in an underground effort of these original deists to preserve the truth from the persecutions of a dominant Christianity. The purpose of this tenuous learning, however, was to attack the system developed by the church fathers into modern Christianity as a mere literal-minded corruption of Eastern allegories and myths combined with a shrewd plan for exploiting the people. The result of an interest which came late in life and was never thoroughly developed, Paine's knowledge of these esoteric religions was employed as a controversial weapon and cannot be ranked with Quakerism or Newtonianism as a truly formative factor in his personal idealism.

It was easy for Paine as a Newtonian to sympathize with the ancient sun worshippers. He worshipped God in the eternal and immutable laws which bound the universe to harmony and order. If they, born in a less enlightened age, mistook for the Creator of Order its central fact, the Sun, their error could be understood. The old religions Paine felt to be essentially one: "The religion of the Druids . . . was the same as the religion of the ancient Egyptians. The priests of Egypt were the professors and teachers of science, and were styled priests of Heliopolis, that is, the City of the Sun. The Druids in Europe . . . were the same order of men . . . The word Druid signifies a wise man. In Persia they were called Magi, which signifies the same thing."74 This "ancient religion of the Gentiles," moreover, was a deism "which consisted in the adoration of a first cause of the works of the creation, in which the sun was the great visible agent. It appears to have been a religion of gratitude and adoration, and not of prayer and discontented solicitation." Druidism, he insists, "that wise, elegant, philosophical religion, was the faith opposite to the faith of the gloomy Christian church."75 And the "scientific purity and religious morality" of its rites proved the members "a wise, learned, and moral class of men."76

To counteract the reverence felt for the ancient Hebrews as authors of the Bible, Paine made a particular point of comparing them unfavorably with his natural religionists; calling them unscientific and "most ignorant of all the illiterate world,"77 and sure to corrupt "a religion founded upon astronomy."78

The essay on Masonry is a fragment of an intended continuation of The Age of Reason. Paine was undoubtedly trying to enlist the support of this very powerful social movement of his day79 by showing that its doctrines and his had always been fundamentally the same. He made extensive and ingenious extracts from what sources80 he could find on the ideas of Masonry to prove that "Masonry . . . is derived from the remains of the ancient Druids; who, like the Magi of Persia and the Priests of Heliopolis in Egypt, were Priests of the Sun. They paid worship to this great luminary, as the great visible agent of a great invisible first cause, whom they stiled 'Time without Limits.'"81 The reason for Masonic secrecy, he maintained, was that Christianity, as soon as it became dominant, had begun systematic persecutions which made it necessary for Christians who "remained attached to their original religion to meet in secret, and under the strongest injunctions of secrecy. Their safety depended upon it . . . From the remains of the religion of the Druids, thus preserved, arose the institution which, to avoid the name of Druid, took that of Mason, and practiced under this new name the rites and ceremonies of Druids."82 His immediate use of the theory was to say: "The Christian religion and Masonry have one and the same common origin: both are derived from the worship of the Sun. The difference between their origin is, that the Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the Sun, in which they put a man whom they call Christ, in the place of the Sun, and pay him the same adoration . . ."83

Thus, in popularizing the exotic researches of pioneer scholars like Sir William Jones and others, Paine was himself something of a pioneer popularizer of the historical study of comparative religions and of the idea (which is perhaps the essence of deism) of the wisdom of transcending narrow sectarianisms by reducing religion to those broad elemental principles which all nations and creeds have held in common. Such principles, having won the consensus gentium in all ages and lands, must represent, Paine thought, the pure gold of religious thought. As he wrote his old friend Samuel Adams, who, political liberal as he was, shrank back from Paine's religious liberalism, "the World has been overrun with fable and creeds of human invention, with sectaries of whole Nations against all other Nations, and sectaries of those sectaries in each of them against each other. Every sectary, except the Quakers, has been a persecutor. Those who fled from persecution persecuted in their turn, and it is this confusion of creeds that has filled the World with persecution and deluged it with blood. Even the depredation on your commerce by the barbary powers sprang from the Crusades of the church against those powers. It was a war of creed against creed, each boasting of God for its author, and reviling each other with the name of Infidel."84 He felt it high time to return to the universal and loving principles he believed would derive from a religion in accordance with natural law such as he thought the ancient religions had been.

If Paine did in the heat of conflict appear to attack Christianity as a whole, we should remember that at that time in France he identified it with Catholicism (which was used as a sinister political weapon of oppression and torture). In the light of the new science and the Higher Criticism, he thought he was obliged to attack the Church's obscurantist hostility to the free play of thought. He was also driven to his position by the way in which so-called Christians like Bishop Watson were distorting Christianity to preach resignation to remediable evils and to discourage charity to the poor and oppressed. The exalted and charitable morality he preached, inculcating man's imitation of God's benevolence, was surely based on Christianity, as his best-intentioned opponents agreed. And at the risk of endangering the logic of his position, he is always reverent toward the Founder of Christianity. "The morality that he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind," and "it has not been exceeded by any."85 He is steadfast in his praise of Quakerism, which surely embodies many of the doctrines most respected by modern Christians. And in the light of Unitarianism and modern liberal theology, it appears that Paine was far more of a Christian than he himself believed. In so far as modern Christianity has agreed with St. Paul that the greatest of the triune Christian virtues is charity, has agreed with Christ himself in his saying that inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of one of these you have done it unto me, it would have found support from Paine as a pioneer in what he called "the religion of humanity.". . .


1The Writings of Thomas Paine, edited by Moncure D. Conway, IV, 21, preface to The Age of Reason. (This is the standard edition of Paine. 4 vols. New York, 1894-1896. Hereafter referred to as Writings.)

2 M. D. Conway, Life of Paine (New York, 1892), II, 201.

3Writings, IV, 62.

4Writings, IV, 64-65; see also p. 308, where he says that if all the people of the time of the Crucifixion had been Quakers, all would "have been damned because they were too good to commit murder."

5Ibid, IV, 65.

6Ibid, IV, 66.

7Ibid, IV, 185.

8Ibid, I, 123.

9Ibid, IV, 65, 185, et passim.

10Writings, II, 262.

11 T. C. Rickman, Life of Thomas Paine (London, 1814), p. 33.

12Writings, I, 156.

13Ibid, I, 121 ff., and 206 ff.

14 Mary A. Best, Thomas Paine, Prophet and Martyr of Democracy (New York, 1927), p. 406.

15 For further evidence refuting the thesis that Quakerism is the key to Paine, see R. B. Falk's excellent article, "Thomas Paine: Deist or Quaker?" Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, January, 1938.

16Writings, IV, 340.

17Ibid, II, 406.

18 For full orientation consult Preserved Smith, A History of Modern Culture (New York, 1934), II, with an elaborate bibliography. Smith places primary emphasis on science and rationalism, and the way they affected attitudes in philosophy, politics, economics, humanitarianism, literature, and religion. See also Carl Becker, The Declaration of Independence (New York, 1922) and The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven, 1932); Kingsley Martin, French Liberal Thought in the Eighteenth Century (Boston, 1929); G. A. Koch, Republican Religion; the American Revolution and the Cult of Reason (New York, 1933); and H. M. Morais, Deism in Eighteenth-Century America (New York, 1934).

19Writings, IV, 63.

20Ibid., IV, 64.

21 See Herbert Drennon, "James Thomson and Newtonism," University of Chicago Abstracts of Theses (Humanistic Series, 1930), VIII, 524. Paine's American friend, David Rittenhouse, the astronomer, was an ardent Newtonian. In a paper to be published shortly in the Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy, I have dealt at considerable length with "The Influence of Science on American Literature, 1775-1809." Voltaire had of course popularized Newtonianism in France. In summing up the work of the French Encyclopedists, John Morley (Diderot, London, 1880, p. 4) says, "Broadly stated, the great central moral of it all was this: that human nature is good, that the world is capable of being made a desirable abiding place, and that the evil of the world is the fruit of bad education and bad institutions."

22Writings, IV, 63, and see Conway's Life, I, 15-17. Conway says Paine "continued his studies in Thetford," and speaks of his "scientific books" which he unfortunately does not name. The parallels between Paine's ideas and those in the published lectures by Martin and Ferguson are cited in H. H. Clark's "An Historical Interpretation of Thomas Paine's Religion," University of California Chronicle, XXXV, 56-87 (January, 1933).

23Writings, IV, 322. See also IV, 192; 315-16; 334-35.

24Ibid, IV, 189.

25Ibid, IV, 191.

26Ibid, IV, 191.

27Ibid, IV, 50.

28Ibid, IV, 216.

29Ibid, IV, 317.

30Ibid., IV, 244. In view of the widespread belief that Paine was a "filthy little atheist" (popularized even by so intelligent a man as Theodore Roosevelt in his Gouverneur Morris, Boston, 1893, p. 289), it is interesting to notice that Paine insists that materialism alone cannot explain the universe because that does not account for the motion imparted to the planets: a God, a "Creator of motion," is necessary (Writings, IV, 240-241). As Conway points out (ibid., IV, 238), Paine's discourse on "The Existence of God" is a "digest of Newton's Letters to Bentley, in which he postulates a divine power as necessary to explain planetary motion. . . ."

31Ibid, IV, 21.

32Ibid., IV, 179. On immortality, see also ibid., IV, 188; 285; 420.

33Ibid., IV, 427, also 324 f., 334 ff., 355, 424 ff.

34Ibid., IV, 324.

35Ibid., IV, 316.

36Ibid., IV, 31.

37Ibid., IV, 46.

38Ibid., IV, 83.

39Writings, IV, 38.

40Ibid., IV, 412.

41Ibid., IV, 311. Paine remarks of his own discovery of a ratio in financial laws, "I have not made the ratio any more than Newton made the ratio of gravitation," which was of divine origin (ibid, HI, 292).

42Ibid, IV, 242 ff. It should be noted that in the light of changeless and inexorable law Paine attacked the idea of prayer as not only futile but "an attempt to make the Almighty change his mind, and act otherwise than he does" (ibid., IV, 44). See also his letter to Samuel Adams, ibid, IV, 202 ff.

43Ibid., IV, 339. (Italics mine.) The thought here expressed is reiterated, ibid., IV, 46; 340; 366.

44Writings, IV, 340.

45Ibid, II, 453.

46 Quoted in Conway's Life, II, 4.

47Writings, I, 159. Of course Paine's faith that an altruistic social life is natural may have been conditioned by earlier thinkers than Martin and Ferguson. We have noted his later familiarity with Grotius, who supported the above assumption by summarizing (De jure belli et pacis, "Prolegomena") relevant views of ancient and Christian writers. And later references and quotations (Writings, IV, 325) suggest his familiarity with Tillotson, who had refuted Hobbes long before Shaftesbury or the followers of Newton, arguing that "men are naturally a-kin and Friends" (Works of Dr. John Tillotson [London, 1728], I, 305, March 8, 1688/9), and that "the frame of our Nature disposeth us to it [charitable altruism], and our inclination to society, in which there can be no pleasure, no advantage, without mutual Love and Kindness" (ibid., I, 171, December 3, 1678). Anthony Collins, one of the militant deists, praised Tillotson as one "whom all English Free Thinkers own as their Head" (A Discourse of Free Thinking [London, 1713], p. 171); and he proceeds to quote Tillotson on the light of nature and the naturalness of altruism. And there can be little question, I think, that Paine's faith in this sort of natural goodness was reinforced by heralds of the French Revolution such as Rousseau (see Writings, I, 150; II, 334; III, 80-81 and 104), and by American democrats such as Jefferson.

48Ibid, II, 426.

49Ibid, II, 416-419.

50Ibid, II, 428.

51Ibid, III, 276.

52Ibid, III, 277.

53Ibid., IV, 190. Since it has now been shown that the vigorous deistic book entitled Reason the Only Oracle of Man (Bennington, 1784) was mainly the work not of Ethan Allen but of Dr. Thomas Young of Philadelphia, it is probable that Paine was familiar with its general viewpoint, because Young and Paine were close associates while trying to formulate the constitution of 1776. (See G. P. Anderson, "Who Wrote Ethan Allen's 'Bible'?" New England Quarterly, X, 685-696, December, 1937.)

54 For Paine's favorable earlier references to Christianity see Writings, I, 56-57; 75-79; 92-99; 100; 171; 184; 188; 208; 212; 247; 250; 266. Most of these references are vague and incidental, although certainly tolerant. He speaks of himself, for example, in 1776, as one "who never dishonors religion either by ridiculing or cavilling at any denomination whatsoever" (ibid., I, 121), and in The Rights of Man, Part Two, he argued that "the great Father of all is pleased with variety of devotion" and he urged better pay for "the inferior clergy" (ibid., II, 503-504), although it is there, in 1792, that he shows his hostility to "the connection which Mr. Burke recommends, . . . the Church Established by Law," the adulterous union of Church and State. J. Auchincloss (Paine's Confession of the Divinity of the Holy Scriptures: or the Sophistry of the second part of The Age of Reason [Stockport, 1796, 2nd ed.], pp. 7 ff.) presents a list of quotations from Common Sense and The Age of Reason which contradict each other regarding the divinity of the scriptures.

55Writings, IV, 21.

56 On the datails regarding this contaversey in parilament and out of it, see W. T. Laprade, "England and the French Revolution, 1789-1797," Johns Hopkins University Studies in History and Political Science, Nos. VIII-XII, pp. 22-23 (August-December, 1909).

57 See W. P. Hall, British Radicalism, 1791-1797 (New York, 1912), especially the early part on economic distress; and see the attitude toward the poor not only expressed by Burke but by such supporters as Hannah More (Village Politics) and Bishop Richard Watson ("The Wisdom and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor").

58 See H. H. Clark, "Thomas Paine's Relation to Voltaire and Rousseau," in the Revue Anglo-américaine, avril et juin, 1932. That Paine's destructive violence may have owed something to the similar spirit of the Examen critique de la vie . . . de Saint Paul (1770) by N. A. Boulanger, is suggested by Paine's extensive quotations from this work in The Age of Reason (Writings, IV, 173). For orientation see F. A. Aulard's Christianity and the French Revolution, London, 1927.

59Writings, I, 15.

60 See J. Delvaille, L'histoire de l'idée de progrès (Paris, 1910), p. 52.

61Writings, IV, 380.

62Ibid., II, 406.

63Ibid., II, 454.

64Ibid., II, 121.

65 Edmund Burke, Works, VIII, 179.

66Writings, HI, 269.

67Ibid., II, 424. For discussion see L. M. Levin, The Political Doctrine of Montesquieu's "Esprit des Lois ": Its Classical Background (New York, 1936), especially pp. 16-296.

68Writings, I, 164 f.

69Ibid, I, 166.

70Writings, IV, 407. Paine shows his knowledge of Middleton's Letter from Rome in saying that Middleton "made a journey to Rome, from whence he wrote letters to show that the forms and ceremonies of the Romish Christian church were taken from the degenerate state of the heathen mythology, as it stood in the latter times of the Greeks and Romans."

71Ibid., IV, 25.

72Ibid., IV, 411.

73 For the exotic religions Paine used: Sir William Jones, On the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India (n.p., n.d.) and Supplemental Volumes to the Works of Sir William Jones containing the Whole of the Asiatick Researches hitherto Unpublished (London, 1801), bound with Samuel Davis, On the Astronomical Computations of the Hindus; and Henry Lord, Religion of the Persees (London, 1630).

74Writings, IV, 301.

75Ibid, IV, 296.

76Ibid, IV, 298.

77Ibid., IV, 278-9. Needless to say, Paine, the champion of tolerance, was not anti-Semitic toward contemporaries.

78Ibid, IV, 299.

79 See Bernard Fay, Revolution and Freemasonry, 1680-1800 (Boston, 1935).

80 Aside from his many Masonic friends, Paine's sources were George Smith, The Use and Abuse of Masonry, and an address by Mr. Dodd in dedicating the Freemason's Hall in London.

81Writings, IV, 293.

82Ibid, IV, 303.

83Ibid, IV, 293.

84Writings, IV, 204.

85Ibid, IV, 26. . . .

A. Owen Aldridge (essay date 1955)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6742

SOURCE: "The Poetry of Thomas Paine," in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. LXXIX, No. 1, January, 1955, pp. 81-99.

[Addressing the much-neglected body of Paine's poetical writings, the essay that follows summarizes and assesses some of Paine's most read and more notable poems.]

Even the most fanatic devotees of Thomas Paine have had very little to say concerning his verse. Some of his admirers maintain that his prose has merit enough to secure him a respected place in American literature without the need of poetry. Others say that since he proved his talents in verse to be worthy of his prose, it is regrettable that he failed to encourage his poetic vein. Actually, Paine devoted more attention to poetry than most people realize. In The Age of Reason he discussed the differences between poetry and prose and illustrated the manner in which the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah could be transposed into English couplets.1 More important, he was the author of two poems of unusual merit, as well as a number of bagatelles in verse.

His early literary reputation rested in some measure on the first of these poems, an elegy on General Wolfe, published first in March, 1775, in the Pennsylvania Magazine, which Paine was editing. The second poem, a scathing denunciation of George HI which appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet shortly after the appearance of Common Sense, had a greater vogue than any of his other verse, but after the original printing it appeared under a variety of titles, which have completely obscured the full meaning of the poem for subsequent readers. The purpose of the poem may be seen only in the original text with the original title, not in the versions printed in any of the standard editions of Paine's works. Contrary to the suggestion in the most recent edition, moreover, this poem was not the only verse Paine wrote during the War for Independence.2 He wrote another of similar scope for the same newspaper on the subject of Governor Johnstone's attempts to bribe members of the American Congress. Fired by indignant wrath, he castigated the British as a people less honorable than the devils in hell. Although not the equal of the poem against King George, this verse has a certain epigrammatic wit, as well as satirical vigor.

The poem on the death of General Wolfe has not received the critical attention it deserves. Better than any of Paine's other verse it illustrates his notion that poetry leads "too much into the field of imagination." This Paine asserted in the 1790's in The Age of Reason, adding that distrust of imagination had led him to repress rather than encourage his poetic talent.3 After his death, William Cobbett, repeating the testimony of Mme. Bonneville, asserted that Paine "rather delighted in ridiculing poetry. He did not like it: he said it was not a serious thing, but a sport of the mind, which often had not common sense."4 Near the end of his life, however, Paine had a good opinion of his verse. In a letter to Jefferson, January 25, 1805, in which he mentioned the possibility of collecting his works, he proposed to include "some pieces of poetry which I believe have some claim to originality."5 Paine's song on Wolfe reveals that at the time of its composition he had deliberately sought to penetrate farther into the realm of imagination than he felt contemporary poets were venturing. In his remarks introducing the poem to the Pennsylvania Magazine, Paine asserts that he has not "pursued the worn out tract of modern song," but has "thrown it into fable." This means that instead of eulogizing the fallen hero by means of simple statement, he had elevated his theme by the device of personification. His method derives from the method of Collins, who, in his well-known odes "Occasion'd by the Death of Mr. Thompson" and "Written in the Beginning of the Year 1746," expressed grief by means of pictorial—not abstract—symbols. To the personification of Collins, Paine added a fable based on classical mythology.

In the poem, Britannia is portrayed mourning in a "mouldering cave" for her fallen son, Wolfe. Jupiter sends Mercury to comfort her. Mercury reveals that Wolfe had been called to heaven to participate in a battle there between the gods and "the proud giants of old," who had broken out from their subterranean abodes. In a note Paine explains that "The heathen mythology after describing the defeat of the giants by Jupiter, says, that he confined them under mountains." When Mercury announced to Wolfe on the plains of Quebec that he was needed in heaven, the hero begged merely to stay where he was until victory was won. The god, however, sealing his eyes, bore him away in an urn,

Lest the fondness he bore to his own native shore,
Should induce him again to return.

This final turn accords well with the ingenious conceit upon which the entire song is constructed.

Paine probably wrote this song in England when he was a member of a social, intellectual club at Lewes. According to legend, he recited it at one of the meetings of this society at an inn called the White Hart. This song has been more generally praised than any of Paine's other verse. Benjamin Rush wrote to Paine's enemy James Cheetham that this song, together with Paine's prose reflections on the death of Lord Clive, gave the Pennsylvania Magazine "a sudden currency which few works of that kind have since had in our country."6 Even Cheetham considered it a "beautiful song." Perhaps Paine also considered it to be his best work, and it may have been this ode which he recited to Horne Tooke, who afterwards sneered at all of Paine's work, prose and poetry. According to Tooke's biographer, Tooke once repeated from Paine "a distich, replete with the bathos, .. . as it had been recited to him by the author, who deemed it his masterpiece."7 A contributor to the Port Folio felt that the poem on Wolfe had more faults than virtues and that it did not deserve its "high and general popularity."8

If any thing had been wanting to complete the climax of absurdity which marks this ballad, it is amply supplied in the four last lines. Where, we will not say in elegiac, but even in mock heroic poetry, can we find a more forced conceit, or a more ludicrous representation, than that of Mercury deliberately blindfolding the ghost of general Wolfe, cramming it into an urn, and, when thus disposed of, carrying it off under his arm, for the purpose of having it appointed generalissimo of the celestial armies. . . . Let those who deem it so denominate this a fine thought—a lofty conception; we cannot view it as other than an overstrained, distorted, and most ludicrous conceit—a caricature attempt at the sentimental sublime.

This opinion was echoed a number of years later in the North American Review.9 Here the song is described as "a paltry conceit, of Jupiter snatching General Wolfe from earth to fight his battles against some celestial rebels, . . . rendered in tripping Bacchanalian metre. . . . Dr. Rush must have been a better judge of pills than poetry, if he sincerely praised such stuff as this."

Paine also printed in the Pennsylvania Magazine, July, 1775, his "Liberty Tree," another song widely reprinted by his contemporaries.10 Although the subtitle "A Song, Written Early in the American Revolution" was added subsequently, readers of the song on its first appearance were still not aware that a revolution had begun. The first two of its four stanzas describe the transplanting of the Liberty Tree from the celestial regions to America. The third and fourth stanzas, printed below, describe the unrewarded efforts of the American colonists to support British maritime power, and complain of the tyrannical measures of "Kings, Commons, and Lords."

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate,
Unvexed with the troubles of silver or gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.
With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea:
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.
But hear, O ye swains ('tis a tale most profane),
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons, and Lords, are uniting amain
To cut down this guardian of ours.
From the East to the West blow the trumpet to arms,
Thro' the land let the sound of it flee:
Let the far and the near all unite with a cheer,
In defense of our Liberty Tree.

Some time after the Revolution, Paine revised the song to make it fit all popular revolts against autocratic government. The revised version, a manuscript in Paine's handwriting found among the papers of his friend Colonel John Fellows, has been previously printed only once—in a very obscure deistical periodical, The Beacon, edited by Paine's first sympathetic American biographer, Gilbert Vale.11 In revising the song, Paine eliminated entirely the original third stanza, and caused the fourth (which became the third in the new version) to condemn Kingcraft and Priestcraft instead of merely "Kings Commons, and Lords."

But hear, O ye swains! 'tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers
Of Kingcraft and Priestcraft are joining amain
To cut down this guardian of ours.
Fell Discord, dire torment of gods and of men,
Attacks the celestial decree,
With snake-twisted locks she creeps out from her den,
To strike at our Liberty Tree.

A new, highly optimistic concluding stanza forecasts the universal triumph of freedom and good will.

Ye gods who preside o'er the empire of man,
Dispers'd o'er the face of the globe,
Look cheerfully down and survey thine own plan,
And spare not, if wanted, the probe.
Bid Concord descend from thy charming abodes,
Bid Discord and Jealousy flee,
And then in a bumper of nectar, ye gods,
Drink health to our Liberty Tree.

There is another poem in the Pennsylvania Magazine almost certainly by Paine which does not appear in the latest edition of his works. This is "The Tale of the Monk and the Jew Versified," which appeared in March, 1775, and bears Paine's most common pseudonym in the magazine, Atlanticus.12 It was printed as a Paine piece in an early, but undated, English collection made by William Dugdale of The Theological Works of Thomas Paine. The theme was apparently not original with Paine, for he introduced it with the following comment: "The tale of the Monk and Jew (versified) having appeared in some of the English magazines, but as I am no admirer of that sort of wit which is dashed with profaneness, I herewith send you a versification of the same tale, by a gentleman on this side of the water." The importance of this poem, a satire, is that it reveals an early vein of anticlerical thought. One of the problems of Paine's biography is to explain why Paine seemed to have turned abruptly from political to theological subjects during the French Revolution. It may be that his interest in religion was not at all a new development.

Paine's next two poems, written when the American Revolution had reached its height, served as propaganda pieces, almost identical in purpose with the Crisis papers which were appearing concurrently.

In June, 1778, Governor George Johnstone, one of a British commission to restore peace, attempted to bribe a number of members of Congress to desert the American cause, and also inspired a number of publications designed to turn the people against Congress.13 His activities were immediately exposed and denounced. Among the denunciations hurled at Johnstone, none were more scathing than a hitherto undiscovered poem by Paine in the Philadelphia press. For the first time in his career Paine adopted the satirical style of Pope. He succeeded in capturing the sharp precision of Pope's couplets, but in a sense reduced the rigor of his scorn by the cumbersome length of his title—nonetheless typical of Pope—"To Governor Johnstone, one of the British Commissioners, on his late letters and offers to bribe certain eminent characters in America, and threatening afterwards to appeal to the public."

The poem appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet, July 28, 1778, bearing Paine's signature Common Sense. There can be no doubt that all contributions in this newspaper at this time with the signature Common Sense were written by Paine. The newspaper began publication in July, 1778. During the next twelve months two numbers of Paine's Crisis, as well as his two poems, appeared with the signature Common Sense, which was recognized as Paine's property. On February 4, 1779, Paine, over his initials T. P., condemned a writer in the rival Pennsylvania Journal for stealing his nom de plume. Since the poem on Johnstone has never before been reprinted, it is given here in full.

WHEN Satan first from Heaven's bright region fell,
And fix'd the gloomy monarch of hell,
Sin then was honest; Pride led on the tribe;
No Devil receiv'd—no Devil propos'd a bribe:
But each infernal, while he fought, abhorr'd
The meaner mongrel arts of sap and fraud;
Brave in his guilt, he rais'd his daring arm,
And scorn'd the heavens, unless obtain'd by storm.

But Britain—Oh! how painful 'tis to tell!
Commits a sin that makes a blush in hell;
Low in the ruins of demolish'd pride
She basely skulks to conquer with a bribe,
And when detected in the rank offence,
Throws out a threat—to turn King's evidence.

Yet while we scorn the lure, despise the plan,
We feel an angry sorrow at the man;
Was there no wretch, whose cold unkindl'd mind
Ne'er knew one gen'rous passion for mankind,

Whose hackney'd soul, the purchase of a pound,
No guilt could blacken and no shame confound?
No slave to act the dirty work—and spare,
From men of sentiment, the painful tear?

Must Johnstone be the man? Must he, whose tongue
Such able peals of elocution rung,
Whose tow'ring genius seem'd at times to rise,
And mix a kindred fervor with the skies,
Whose pointed judgment, and connected sense,
Gave weight to wit, and worth to eloquence;
Must he, Oh shame to genius! be the first
To practise acts himself so loudly curst?
Must he exhibit to a laughing mob,
A turn coat patriot conquer'd by a jobb;
And prove from under his adult'rous pen
How few are just of all the sons of men?

When the sad echo of St. Pulchre's bell
Tolls to the carted wretch, a last farewell,
Or when the tyrant sees the lifted steel,
They feel those pains which Johnstone ought to feel.
Man may a while in infamy survive,
And by deception think himself alive,
But time will prove to his eternal shame
He dies in earnest who outlives his fame.
Of PITT and YOU this contrast may be said,
The dead is living; and the living dead.

Paine realized that unrestrained invective is seldom effective in satire. He condemned Johnstone indirectly therefore—but nevertheless forcefully—by complimenting the devils of hell for their political behavior, which seemed honest in comparison to Johnstone's. Mingling praise of Johnstone's intellectual qualities with condemnation of his moral corruption, Paine lamented instead of cursed his lapse from gentlemanly conduct. The somewhat theatrical final stanza concludes with an epigram disparaging Johnstone by contrasting him with the recently deceased Pitt. But lest he be accused of praising British statesmen, Paine retracts his compliment to Pitt in a footnote: "Late accounts from Europe mention the death of this honest, though haughty and ambitious statesman; and though his principles respecting America cannot be justified either by sound policy or universal benevolence, yet, even his enemies must allow that he had a soul too noble for bribery and corruption." Some years later in his Letter to the Abbé Raynal (1782), Paine even further reduced his estimate of Pitt. "Death," he wrote, "has preserved to the memory of this statesman, that fame, which he, by living, would have lost."14

The archvillain of the Revolution, however, Paine considered to be George III. It is true that in Common Sense he attacked the political institution of monarchy without personal reference to the British King, but as time passed he grew more and more bold and sardonic in referring to "His Madjesty," a later phrase of his own coinage for the insane George. The poem which appears in Paine's works under the title "An Address to Lord Howe" was originally called "To the King of England" when it appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet, November 14, 1778. There is nothing whatsoever in the poem to link it to Lord Howe; in fact, the line "From George the murderer down to murderous Cain" ("From CAIN to GEORGE, and back from GEORGE to CAIN" in the original version) clearly shows to whom it is addressed. Neither Lord Richard Howe, crown commissioner, nor his brother General William Howe, commander in chief of the American armies, was despised by the colonists; in fact, they were regarded as personally decent and honorable. Franklin, for example, in addressing Lord Howe on his mission to effect reconciliation spoke of the "well-founded Esteem, and . . . Affection" which he would always have for Howe as an individual.15 Even Paine in Crisis No. II treated the joint commis->sioners in a jocular rather than a bitter tone. His harshest words refer ironically to their announced policy of hanging all armed citizens found without an officer accompanying them. "This is the humane Lord Howe and his brother, whom the Tories and their three-quarter kindred, the Quakers, or some of them at least, have been holding up for patterns of justice and mercy!"16 This has little in common with the tone of hatred and contempt in "To the King of England," which accuses George III of inhuman sentiments and prays for his death.

When Paine's friend Thomas Clio Rickman published the poem in Letters From Thomas Paine to the Citizens of America (London, 1804), the first British publication of the poem that I know of, it bore the title "Verses to a Friend After a Long Conversation on War." Richard Carlile gave it the shorter title "Verses on War" in his London edition of Paine's Miscellaneous Poems (1819), and further shortened it to "On War" in his deistical periodical, The Republican.17 In other English editions the poem appeared completely without a title. I have seen in European libraries outside England, as well as in the British Museum, an undated pamphlet, Address and Declaration of Universal Peace and Liberty, Held at the Thatched House Tavern, St. James's Street. August 20th 1791. By Thomas Paine. . . . Together with some Verses by the same Author, which were printed in a Pennsylvania Newspaper. The verses, printed without title, are those on King George. None of Paine's other poems seem to have been used as propaganda pieces in this way. English publishers of the poem were obliged to drop the title referring to the King or they would have been prosecuted for treason. This does not explain, however, why the title "An Address to Lord Howe" was substituted in America.

Since this work seems to have circulated more widely than any of Paine's other poetry—both because of its sentiments and because of its inherent aesthetic value—and since the original version from the Pennsylvania Packet has never been reprinted verbatim, the entire text is printed here.

THE rain pours down—the city looks forlorn—
And gloomy subjects suit the howling morn.
close by my fire; with doors and windows fast,
And sweetly shelter'd from the driving blast,
To gayer thoughts, I bid a day's adieu,
To spend a scene of solitude with you.

So of't has black revenge engross'd the care
Of all the leisure hours man finds to spare;
So oft has guilt in all its thousand dens
Call'd forth the vengeance of chastising pens;
That when I fain would ease my heart on you,
No thought is left untold—no passion new.
From flight to flight the mental path appears
Worn with the steps of near six thousand years,
And fill'd throughout with ev'ry scene of pain,
From CAIN to GEORGE, and back from

Alike in cruelty, alike in hate,
  In guilt alike, and more alike in fate;
Both curs'd supremely (for the blood they drew)
Each from the rising world while each was new.

Go second Cain, true likeness of the first,
And strew thy blasted head with homely dust—
In ashes sit—in wretched sackcloth weep—
And with unpitied sorrows cease to sleep.
Go, haunt the tombs, and single out the place
Where earth itself shall suffer a disgrace.
Go, spell the letters on some mould'ring urn,
And ask if he who sleeps there can return.
Go, count the numbers that in silence lie,
And learn by study what it is to die.

For sure that heart—if any heart you own—
Conceits that man expires without a groan;

That he who lives, receives from you a grace,
Or death is nothing but a change of place;
That peace is dull; that joy from sorrow spring,
And war the royal raree-show of things.

Else why these scenes that wound the feeling mind,
This sport of death—this cockpit of mankind.
Why sobs the widow in perpetual pain;
Why cries the orphan—"Oh my father's slain.
" Why hangs the sire his paralytic head,
And nods with manly grief,—"My son is dead."
  [Why shrieks the maiden, (robb'd of ease and sense,)
"He's goneHe's kill'd—Oh! Heavens take me hence."]
Why drops the tear from off the sister's cheek,
And sweetly tells the sorrows she would speak.
[Why lisps the infant on its mother's lap,
And looking round the parlour—"Where is pap."
Why weeps the mother when the question's ask'd,
And kiss an answer as the easiest task;]
Or why with lonely steps does pensive John
To all the neighbour's [sic] tell—"Poor master's gone."

Oh! could I paint the passions I can feel,
Or point a horror that would wound like steel,
To thy unfeeling, unrelenting mind,
I'd send a torture and relieve mankind.

Thou, that art husband, father, brother, all
The tender names that kindred learn to call,
Yet like an image, carv'd in massy stone,
Thou bear'st the shape, but sentiment has none;
Allied by dust and figure, not by mind,
Thou only herd'st but lives not with mankind,
[And prone to love like some outrageous ape
Thou know'st each class of beings by their shape.]

Since then no hopes to civilize remain,
And all petitions have gone forth in vain,
One prayer is left, which dreads no proud reply,
That HE who made you breathe, WOULD BID YOU DIE.

In this early version—written and published in haste—some lines are painfully flat and prose-like. One could read thousands of contemporary couplets without finding a line to match the ludicrousness of

. . . looking round the parlour—"Where is pap"

In later versions, however, Paine eliminated his amateurish phrases. The lines in brackets above he simply dropped. The above text should not, therefore, supplant the revised version printed in standard editions, but the original title should be restored. In its improved form this poem deserves the wide circulation it seems to have enjoyed. It successfully creates a somber mood and then rises to a high degree of emotional intensity over the evils of war. This is a rather difficult achievement, since Paine deals with war considered in the abstract, not with a specific campaign or particular fallen hero. Without its title, this poem has nothing even to connect it to the American Revolution.

Although not modeled on any single precursor, the first stanza resembles eighteenth-century poetry of the melancholy tradition. The next three stanzas anticipate the concern of later romanticists with malevolent influences. To be sure the later romantic hero ordinarily portrayed himself as the embodiment of diabolic forces, whereas Paine associates the British monarch with Satan. Nevertheless, the essential theatrical properties are the same: Cain, mental guilt, cruelty, hate, and unreasoned bloodshed. It is precisely because these sensational qualities are attributed to a historical personage rather than to the author himself that the work is saved from affectation and artificiality.

In addition to the final line, hoping for the death of George III, the poem has another very neat conceit. In comparing the British monarch to Cain, the author cleverly refers to the recent nativity of the American nation.

Both curs'd supremely (for the blood they drew)
Each from the rising world while each was new.

"To the King of England" is a notable work, and certainly Paine's best poem.

The most recent editor of Paine's works has included as a Paine piece an "Epitaph on General Charles Lee" found in manuscript in a volume in the John Carter Brown Library entitled Anecdotes of the Late Charles Lee, Esq. (London, 1797). This epitaph is almost certainly not by Paine. It appeared in the Philadelphia Freeman's Journal, July 23, 1783, where it was ascribed to the London St. James's Chronicle.18 Had Paine been the author, he probably would not have sent it to the London press for its first publication. The title of the epitaph in the newspaper, which differs from that in the manuscript, shows, moreover, that it was written by an Englishman, not an American or sympathizer with the American cause: "To the MEMORY of General LEE, who died in America, having served more Nations than Britain." The text itself also shows that the author is an Englishman, who condemns Lee for defection. The newspaper text has a few verbal differences from the manuscript text, giving further proof that Paine was not the author. A line in the manuscript version

At best a true republican at heart

appears in the newspaper version

At best a sad republican at heart.

Paine could hardly have written the latter. Paine also would not have described Lee as "Above all kings, and yet of gold the slave." A very close friendship existed between Lee and Paine. It was Lee who invented the famous expression concerning Paine—"he burst forth upon the world like Jove in thunder."19 Paine was always on the best of terms with the controversial general, and after Paine fell out with Washington he suggested that Lee had been Washington's superior in strategy.20 Paine cannot be held responsible for the half-hearted elegy, admirable as it may be as a poetic composition.

Paine continued his poetic activity during his sojourn in France. A crude version of the song published in collections of his works under the title "Hail Great Republic" was printed in Tom Paine's Jests (Philadelphia, 1796). The first two stanzas of this text are almost identical with later printed versions, but the subsequent stanzas, printed below, later went through great modifications.

From thee may rudest nations learn,
To prize the cause thy sons began;
From thee may future, may future tyrants know,
That sacred are the Rights of Man.


From thee may hated discord fly,
With all her dark, her gloomy train;
And o'er thy fertile, thy fertile wide domain,
May everlasting friendship reign.


Of thee may lisping infancy,
  The pleasing wond'rous story tell;
And patriot sages in venerable mood,
Instruct the world to govern well.


Ye guardian Angels watch around,
  From harms protect the new born State;
And all ye friendly, ye friendly nations join,
  And thus salute the Child of Fate.


The New-York Historical Society has a manuscript text of this song in Paine's handwriting, signed T. P. It is endorsed on the recto in another hand "presented by the author to Mr. R. L. Livingston Paris July 1802." This text is closer to the final form of the poem, but there are still a number of divergences.

In Paris Paine also wrote four occasional pieces on subjects of love and gallantry: "From the Castle in the Air to the Little Corner of the World," "The New Covenant," "Contentment; or, If You Please, Confession," and "To Sir Robert Smyth: What Is Love."

The first of these, the only one with any claim to literary merit, was printed by Joseph Dennie in his Farmer's Weekly Museum, June 12, 1797. In the critical essay in the Port Folio which we have already discussed, "Remarks on the Pretensions of Thomas Paine . . . To the Character of a Poet," the author repudiates the song on Wolfe as evidence of Paine's poetic reputation, but adds that

while the "Castle in the Air" remains to testify in its favour, its case is not desperate. In that sprightly and fine effusion of fancy we perceive much to praise and very little to blame. Although wild and irregular, the imagery is highly picturesque and beautiful; and in no instance does it offend either the judgment or the taste. The conceptions, too, are lofty and spirited, the sentiments unexceptionable, and the language, for the most part, appropriate and chaste.21

There are miscellaneous comments to be made on other poems. "Lines Extempore, by Thomas Paine, July, 1803" appeared for the first time in the Philadelphia General Advertiser (Aurora), August 6, 1803. Cheetham in his highly derogatory life of Paine maintains that Paine wrote his description of three peddlers traveling to a fair ("Star in the East") at the house of a mutual friend, William Carver, while Paine was drunk. Carver later accused Cheetham of deliberate misrepresentation, asserting that the poem had been written in France. Cheetham knew that his statement was false, Carver alleged, since Cheetham had heard Paine repeat the poem long before Paine took up residence with Carver.22 Paine's well-known epigram on Washington, which Foner prints from Barlow's notebook, Cheetham says was written at the same time as the famous letter to Washington and was given to Cheetham soon after Paine's arrival in New York.23

A piece of doggerel satire in the Pennsylvania Packet of December 29, 1778, is probably Paine's. Entitled "By the Goddess of Plain Truth, A Manifesto and Proclamation," the verse pretends to be a repudiation by the goddess of Truth of the writings which had been appearing against Paine under the pseudonym Plain Truth. Another brief poem in the Philadelphia press may also be Paine's. In the Federal Gazette, May 18, 1789, appears a short poem written at a tea table. When the author was asked what kind of woman he would prefer, he replied:

Give me kind Heav'n—if this wide world has one—The girl that loves me for myself alone. . . .

The poem is signed Common Sense. It is possible that some other writer had adopted the name after Paine's return to England, but the title previously had been reserved to Paine in Pennsylvania, and he had used it in the Pennsylvania Gazette as late as March, 1787.

There are three other of Paine's poems which do not appear in the latest edition of his works. Rickman in Letters from Thomas Paine (1804), published an "Epigram on a Long-Nosed Friend," written in Paris in 1800. This appears also in Carlile's edition of Miscellaneous Poems (1819), and in an undated collection of The Theological Works of Thomas Paine printed by William Dugdale. The chief interest in this epigram is that it concerns an actual historical personage, Count Zenobio, whom Paine knew in Paris.

Going along the other day,
Upon a certain plan I met a nose upon the way,
  Behind it was a man.
I called up to the nose to stop.
  And when it had done so,—
The man behind it—he came up,
They made ZENOBIO.

Carlile and Dugdale also printed "The Strange Story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Numbers, Chap. XVI, Accounted For," a doggerel ballad too long for quotation here, and "On the British Constitution," a doggerel epigram. Dugdale alone printed the following "Epigram."24

Some, for the sake of titles grand
Oft stoop to kiss a sovereign's hand;
Others, at Rome, will stoop so low,
They'll kiss the holy father's toe;
But I exceed them all in bliss
When Flora's ruby lips I kiss.

It is interesting to note in connection with Paine's verse that many years after his death an effort was made to father upon him a long poem with pretensions to epic grandeur. The attribution to Paine was apparently a puffing scheme on the part of some unknown to attract attention to his merits. Although it excited nobody, the work deserves some attention as one of the curiosities of American literature.

The author used the names of both Paine and Thomas Jefferson to promote his work. In August, 1826, an Albany weekly reported on the authority of the Boston Courier that "Thomas Paine, near the close of his life, committed to the care of Mr. Jefferson .. . a manuscript work entitled 'The Religion of the Sun.'"25 The Port Folio, reporting the same story, joined with "the editor of one of our Philadelphia papers in condemning anything of that description, from such a source, to the hands of the common hangman."26 The moment for launching the story had been well chosen. Since Jefferson had just died, he could not be called upon to deny or confirm this report. The Escritor had to be content with inquiring "whether such a manuscript was left by Mr. Jefferson among his papers? and if so, what disposition is to be made of it?" Needless to say, such a manuscript has never appeared among Jefferson's papers. Two months later, however, on October 7, 1826, the Escritor reported the discovery of the manuscript and quoted an ecstatic report from the Philadelphia Album:

The poetical world will doubtless be thrown into a ferment at the discovery of a celebrated poem, entitled The Religion of the Sun, which, for dignity of diction, sublimity of metaphor, elegance and perspicuity of period, sprightliness of fancy, and sally of genius, I understand from accurate judges who have had an opportunity of examining this recently discovered manuscript, will not find a parallel in the calendars of Parnassus. These excellencies, combined with the irresistible talent of the author, will render it the Iliad of America.

The poem itself, which appeared in Philadelphia as a pamphlet of twenty-eight pages in November, 1826, contains a confused preface signed S.Y.A. (Samuel Yorke Atlee?), asserting that he had found the manuscript signed by Paine in a secondhand bookshop. The highly Latinized blank verse imitates Milton, but the structure of the poem has more in common with Blake's prophetic books. The device of a war taking place on the sun has some resemblance to the battle between the good and the bad angels in Paradise Lost, but the philosophical concepts of the piece belong to the deistical tradition. To the commonplace notion of a plurality of inhabited worlds, the author adds the more original concept of a hierarchy among the planets. He indicates that a being which seems to be a man in one world is only an ape in another.

The following descriptive passage illustrates the style of the whole.

The mighty God, eternal, infinite,
Omnipotent, omnivident, omniscient,
Whose grandeur is announc'd, from the nerv'd wing
Of viewless insect, to the mighty mass
Of worlds—his handpancratic knit the tendons
That wheel, with instant revolution, round
The insect's eye; and arm'd the vivid storm.

It is perhaps unfair to introduce The Religion of the Sun in a discussion of Paine's poetry since it has nothing in common with the verse Paine actually wrote, which is ineffably superior. Even though Paine was not the greatest poet of the American Revolution, he was a poet. Unlike other masters of political prose, like Bolingbroke, Burke, and Jefferson, who seldom or never followed the lyric impulse, Paine amused himself with a variety of verse forms. Despite a conscious effort to discourage his own poetic vein, he continued to write verse during every period of his life. In France he wrote one or two pleasant songs, and on his return to America he continued to cultivate the Muse. It is of some significance that the first work from his pen to achieve more than local fame was in verse, his ode on the death of Wolfe. Although his address to King George, his most forceful poem, seems to have enjoyed its celebrity primarily as a propaganda piece, it has intrinsic merits to justify our attention to it as a work of art.


1 Philip S. Foner, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine (New York, 1945), I, 475.

2 Paine wrote four poems which can be considered "patriotic." Only the two which appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet were written during the Revolution. "Liberty Tree" was published in July, 1775, and "Hail Great Republic" was probably not written until 1795.

3 Foner, I, 496.

4 Moncure D. Conway, Life of Thomas Paine (New York, 1892), II, 459.

5 Foner, II, 1460.

6 Rush to Cheetham, July 17, 1809, in James Cheetham, Life of Thomas Paine (London, 1817), 21.

7 Alexander Stephens, Memoirs of John Home Tooke (London, 1813), II, 323. Stephens is responsible for preserving an amusing Paine item. Among the "Stephensia" in the Monthly Magazine, December, 1822, appears the following anecdote: Paine "wrote the following epigrams on the heir to the Onslow estates, who then signalised himself as a four-in-hand, by driving a team of little cropped horses, compared to tom-tits or tit-mice, and which begot him the nickname of 'Tommy Titmouse.'

Pray what can Tommy Titmouse do?
  Why drive a phaeton and two.
Can Tommy Tit do nothing more?
  Yes,—drive a phaeton and four!"

8 "Remarks on the Pretensions of Thomas Paine, Author of 'Common Sense,' To the Character of a Poet," Port Folio (Philadelphia, 1815), 488-497.

9North American Review (April, 1843), 9-51, a review article by William B. Reed of "An Oration delivered at the Celebration .. . of the Birthday of Thomas Paine by John Alberger." This is the most denigratory account of Paine ever to be published. Unlike Paine's other detractors, this reviewer condemns even Common Sense, which he calls "trashy jargon."

10 We can be sure that three other poems in the Pennsylvania Magazine are Paine's: "Farmer Short's Dog Porter," "The Snowdrop and the Critic," and "An Account of the Burning of Bachelors' Hall." These were attributed to Paine by Mathew Carey in Works of Thomas Paine (Philadelphia, 1797) and by Richard Carlile, Miscellaneous Poems (London, 1819).

11 Feb. 3,1844 vale also pain in the same issue"From Mr. Paine to Mr. Jefferson" (Foner, II, 1101-1102). Conway printed these lines (Collected Writings of Thomas Paine [New York, 1894-1896], IV, 493) from a manuscript among the papers of William Cobbett. They had also been printed in R. D. Owen's Free Enquirer, Feb. 20, 1830, where they had been forwarded by Fanny Wright.

12 Conway includes it in his Writings of Thomas Paine, IV, 482-483.

13 See Benjamin Franklin's letter to Hartley, Oct. 26, 1778, in A. H. Smyth, ed., Writings of Benjamin Franklin (New York, 1905-1907), VII, 197. See also the Declaration of Congress, Pennsylvania Evening Post, Aug. 13, 1778.

14 Foner, II, 255.

15 Smyth, VI, 461.

16 Jan. 13, 1777, Foner, I, 65.

17The Republican, II, 390-391.

18 Later it appeared also in the American Museum, IV (1788), 189.

19 This expression appears in the preface to Memoirs of the Life of the Late Charles Lee (London, 1792). Richard Carlile, by printing this preface in Paine's Miscellaneous Letters and Essays on Various Subjects (London, 1819), suggests that Paine was the author, but this is unlikely since the editor of the Memoirs remarks that Lee's papers had been delivered to him in London in 1786, and Paine did not return to England until 1787. The complimentary sentiments of the preface, nevertheless, accorded well with Paine's opinion of Lee.

20 Foner, II, 922.

21 Foner remarks (II, 1096), "The original manuscript of this poem, in Paine's handwriting, is in the New York Historical Society. . . . There is another copy in Paine's handwriting in the manuscript division of the New York Public Library." Actually neither manuscript is in Paine's handwriting and neither has any authority whatsoever as a text. The best is still that of Carlile's Miscellaneous Poems (London, 1819).

22Beacon, Mar. 14, 1840. The text in the Foner edition (II, 1103-1106) is said to be based on "the original, undated manuscript .. . in the New York Historical Society." Actually the manuscript in the New-York Historical Society is not in Paine's handwriting, and this text has no authority whatsoever.

23 Foner, II, 690; Cheetham, 109.

24 The lines on Zenobio and "The Strange Story of Korah" appear in the Conway edition, but the epigram printed by Dugdale does not. So far as I know, "The Strange Story of Korah" was first printed in Cheetham's Life of Thomas Paine (New York, 1809), 272-278. It was dropped from the London edition.

25The Escritor: or Masonic & Miscellaneous Album, I, 239.

26Port Folio, XXI (September, 1826), 261. After the publication of the poem a Boston paper echoed the view that it should be burned by the hangman. The New York Correspondent, Apr. 7, 1827, replied with a defense of Paine, toleration, and free speech.

James T. Boulton (essay date 1962)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5849

SOURCE: "Literature and Politics I: Tom Paine and the Vulgar Style," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XII, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 18-33.

[In the following essay, Boulton seeks to re-evaluate the "vulgarity" of Paine's style in light of its efficacy and purpose; although it may not have suited the aesthetic standards of the era, Boulton argues, it did suit itself to Paine's intended audience and sense of urgency.]

Prose—especially political prose—written for a largely uneducated audience seems to present the literary critic with a difficult problem of evaluation. Writers—such as those examined by John Holloway in The Victorian Sage—who cater for an audience alert to subtleties of allusion, tone, rhythm, imagery and so forth, and who in consequence are able to manipulate a large range of literary techniques, confident of their readers' response—such writers lend themselves readily to conventional literary analysis. But because our critical tools are not normally sharpened on his kind of writing an author like Tom Paine tends to be ignored. He receives a nod from compilers of 'social settings' and 'literary scenes', as if what he had to say and the manner of saying it can safely be disregarded, but no serious critical attention.

It is noticeable that no attempt has been made by literary critics to account for the remarkable impact of one of the best known of political pamphlets, the first part of Paine's Rights of Man (1791). There is no need to insist on the reality of Paine's influence in his own day, it is too well known (though the reminder may be timely in view of the complete absence of his name from the 'Penguin Guide' covering the Revolutionary period). And it is not adequate to leave it to the political historian to explain this influence, or merely to claim, with some eighteenth-century critics, that Paine's was an appeal to the political have-nots against the ruling class. When it is remembered that upwards of fifty books and pamphlets were written in reply to Burke's Reflections, many of them addressed to the same audience as Paine's, this explanation obviously does not account for the distinctive success of the Rights of Man or for the sale (according to Paine) of 'between four and five hundred thousand' within ten years of publication.

One principal reason for Paine's success was the apparent simplicity of his revolutionary doctrine and the lucid directness with which he expressed it. For example, he enters the great eighteenth-century debate on social contract; he rejects the notion that government is a compact between 'those who govern and those who are governed' as 'putting the effect before the cause', and asserts that initially.

the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a Government: and this is the only mode in which Governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.

(Everyman's edn., p. 47.)

Any government that, like the British, was the result of conquest and was founded on the power of a ruling caste and not on the free choice of the people, was ipso facto no true government. Paine will have no truck with Burkean arguments which start from the idea that man is the product of countless ages of human and political development; as in the above quotation he insists on beginning ab initio, 'when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him' (p. 41). The argument is naïve but its persuasive force lies in its simplicity; only by its consequences does the reader recognise how deceptive and how rigorous is the apparent simplicity—man's essential equality is established, privileges claimed as a result of so-called noble descent or hereditary succession vanish, and it is an easy step to the assertion that sovereignty resides in the collective will of a nation (expressed by its freely elected representatives) and not in a single man who has come by chance to the position of king. From the same source springs the belief that 'Man is not the enemy of Man but through the medium of a false system of Government' (p. 137), or, as he expresses it in Part II of the Rights of Man (published 1792), 'man, were he not corrupted by Governments, is naturally the friend of man, and human nature is not of itself vicious' (p. 210). From this premise, expressed with such disarming directness, there follows a conclusion of vast importance for an age of dynastic conflicts: wars are the means by which non-representative governments maintain their power and wealth. (There is little wonder that Horace Walpole was perturbed when 'vast numbers of Paine's pamphlet were distributed both to regiments and ships' on the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille.) (Letters, ed. Lewis, XI, 314.)

Time and again Paine makes statements which appear commonplace in a context of political theory; they prove to be revolutionary in their implications.

The duty of man . . . is plain and simple, and consists but of two points. His duty to God, which every man must feel; and with respect to his neighbour, to do as he would be done by (p. 44).

The assertion seems innocuous enought but, as in Swift's writings, only when the reader has swallowed the bait does he realise how firmly he is hooked. The duty to one's neighbour should be recognised by all men, by rulers as well as the ruled; Paine's reader then discovers that the moral injunction has become a means by which rulers are to be assessed and that those who act well according to this principle will be respected, those who do not will be despised; and finally, the last jerk on the hook, 'with regard to those to whom no power is delegated, but who assume it, the rational world can know nothing of them'. The logic by which this last position is reached is not unimpeachable but there is sufficient appearance of logic to obtain general acceptance of the conclusion from a quite impeccable premise.

There is no need to labour the point or to outline Paine's political philosophy in full detail; based on the French 'Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens' (which Paine includes in translation), his own doctrine has the same clarity that marks the deceptive simplicity of that document. Furthermore it is reinforced by Paine's buoyant confidence: the 'system of principles as universal as truth and the existence of man' which had been operative in the revolutions of America and France would inevitably operate throughout Europe. It would, therefore, 'be an act of wisdom to anticipate their approach, and produce Revolutions by reason and accommodation, rather than commit them to the issue of convulsions'. This conclusion to Part I is matched by the equally confident finish to Part II with its allegory of the budding of trees in February:

. . . though the vegetable sleep will continue longer on some trees and plants than on others, and though some of them may not blossom for two or three years, all will be in leaf in the summer, except those which are rotten. What pace the political summer may keep with the natural, no human foresight can determine. It is, however, not difficult to perceive that the spring is begun.

The allegory is as simple as biblical parable, its message is clear and the experience it draws on is universal; moreover the writer has succeeded in detaching himself from his own powerful feelings and has embodied them in a vivid and concrete image which precisely conveys the desired sense of inevitability. Paine is indeed a conscious artist.

This conclusion so far lacks convincing evidence to support it but it is necessary to introduce it at an early stage. Paine was aware that he was doing something new in the art of political pamphleteering; the first part of the Rights of Man was intended to test 'the manner in which a work, written in a style of thinking and expression different to what had been customary in England, would be received' (p. 143). Immediate reactions to the literary quality of the pamphlet were, of course, coloured by political prejudice, but they remain important for our purpose. For Horace Walpole Paine's style 'is so coarse, that you would think he meant to degrade the language as much as the government' (Letters, XI, 239); the Whig pamphleteer, Sir Brooke Boothby, considered Paine had 'the eloquence of a night-cellar' and found his book 'written in a kind of specious jargon, well enough calculated to impose upon the vulgar' (Observations . . . on Mr. Paine's Rights of Man, 1792, pp. 106n., 273-4); and The Monthly Review, to some extent sympathetic to Paine's politics (it found his principles 'just and right on the whole'), felt obliged to remark that his style

is desultory, uncouth, and inelegant. His wit is coarse, and sometimes disgraced by wretched puns, and his language, though energetic, is awkward, ungrammatical, and often debased by vulgar phraseology. (May, 1791, p. 81.)

On the other hand, Fox is reported as saying of the Rights of Man that 'it seems as clear and simple as the first rule in arithmetic' (Atlantic Monthly (1859), IV, 694).

Both extremes are to some extent right. The book is 'clear' but it is also inelegant and occasionally ungrammatical; Paine can certainly be said to use 'vulgar phraseology'. Yet it was an effective piece of pamphleteering, it 'worked': T. J. Mathias, writing in 1797, observed that 'our peasantry now read the Rights of Man on mountains, and moors, and by the wayside' (The Pursuits of Literature, IV, ii); it handled serious and fundamental issues; and it provided a healthy counterblast to Burke. Moreover, it remains readable. The modern critic, then, finds himself in the position of having to accept that, given the urgency of the situation and the needs of the audience, Paine's effectiveness depended in part at least on his 'vulgarity'. Now 'vulgarity' in normal critical terminology is pejorative; it is the term used by a Boothby or an eighteenth century reviewer accustomed to aristocratic standards of accepted literary excellence; it is the term associated with the word 'mob' as Ian Watt has shown it to have been used in Augustan prose (Paper at the Third Clark Library Seminar, University of California, 1956); and it is, of course, still current. But when the term is applied to Paine and his style the pejorative is completely out of place; 'vulgar' is necessary as a critical word but it should be descriptive, meaning, not boorish or debased, but plain, of the people, vulgus. Reluctance to accept this view leads to an unnecessarily restrictive limitation on the scope of literary criticism; criticism then is in danger of forgetting the principle of the suitability of means to ends and of becoming confined for its standards to those works only which are considered fit for aesthetic 'contemplation'.

Admitting, therefore, that Paine's achievement in the Rights of Man has little to offer to the 'contemplative', what can the critic say about the vulgar style? Take for example a passage ironically described by Walpole as one of Paine's 'delicate paragraphs':

It is easy to conceive, that a band of interested men, such as placemen, pensioners, lords of the bed-chamber, lords of the kitchen, lords of the necessary-house, and the Lord knows what else besides, can find as many reasons for Monarchy as their salaries, paid at the expense of the country, amount to (p. 113).

The humour is crude, decorum is absent, the alliteration is of the kind that occurs in agitated conversation, and the logic is questionable (for others besides sycophants can justify monarchy)—but what are the advantages of such a style? In the first place there is—here and throughout the book—a philosophical claim inherent in the language used: Paine is suggesting by his choice of idiom, tone, and rhythm, that the issues he is treating can and ought to be discussed in the language of common speech; that these issues have a direct bearing on man's ordinary existence—monarchy involves the citizen in heavy taxation for its support; and that they ought not to be reserved (as Burke's language implies they should) for language whose aura of biblical sanctity suggests that such issues are above the head of the common man. Paine's language, his 'vulgarity', is indeed part of his critical method; to use a colloquial idiom about issues which Burke treats with great solemnity and linguistic complexity at once goes some way towards establishing the points just mentioned. Secondly, of course, Paine's style gains in intelligibility and immediacy, and, as one result, his readers were provided with quotable phrases which would become part of their verbal armoury for use against the status quo. And, thirdly, there is a rombustious energy (such as Burke lacked) about this writing; it marks out the writer as a man of vigorous and healthy common sense. Paine, in fact, is creating an image of himself as one of the vulgar, using the language of the masses with just sufficient subtlety to induce their acceptance of his views. (His understanding of the importance of a persona is further illustrated and confirmed in the second part of the pamphlet where, for example, his sympathy with the economic circumstances of his poorer readers prompts him to remind them: 'my parents were not able to give me a shilling beyond what they gave me in education; and to do this they distressed themselves' (p. 234).) If one may accept Paine's own phraseology as describing his intended audience—'the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and down through all the occupations of life to the common labourer' (p. 113)—then his is the kind of idiom to make a direct impact.

It is, moreover, all of a piece with Paine's criticism of Burke's language. More attention will be given to this matter later, but it might be observed here how frequently Paine selects a passage from the Reflections in order to point out the obscurity of Burke's meaning.

As the wondering audience, whom Mr. Burke supposes himself talking to, may not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter (p. 103).

Not only does this kind of remark cement the link between Paine and his unlearned reader, and give him an opportunity to score a witty point through the interpretation that follows, it also implies that the supporters of the status quo wrap up their sophistries in elevated obscurity. By translating Burke's language into the idiom of everyday Paine diminishes his opponent's stature and suggests that his seeming authority resides in the bombastic quality of his diction rather than in the validity of his argument. Paine, on the other hand, is seen to make his points in words that are readily understood; he does not have recourse (so he would have us believe) to any jargon, learned or unlearned, but uses vulgar speech, the language of common sense and common experience.

As his diction is of everyday, so Paine's imagery and allusions are drawn from the common stock. He claims, for instance, that by requiring wisdom as an attribute of kingship Burke has, 'to use a sailor's phrase . . . swabbed the deck' (p. 102); Court popularity, he says, 'sprang up like a mushroom in a night' (p. 116); a State-Church is 'a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up' (p. 67); or his famous comment that Burke 'pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird' (p. 24). Immediately intelligible as they are, such phrases also suggest (as do similar ones in Bunyan) the writer's nearness to and feeling for the life lived by his readers; he is using their phrases and thus implies his oneness with their political position. He is, furthermore, adding to the status of vulgar speech (as Wordsworth did in the first Lyrical Ballads) by showing its capacity for dealing with important issues at a fundamental level; Burke's language, on the other hand, suggests that these issues are the exclusive concern of men using a refined and aristocratic medium.

Similar remarks are prompted by Paine's limited use of literary allusion. Burke's adulation of chivalry is ridiculed by a reference to Quixote and the windmills (p. 22); the interrelation (for the French) between the fall of the Bastille and the fall of despotism is described as 'a compounded image . . . as figuratively united as Bunyan's Doubting Castle and Giant Despair' (p. 25); Burke's researches into antiquity are not rigorously pursued, Paine asserts, in case 'some robber or some Robin Hood should rise' and claim to be the origin of monarchy (p. 104); or again he enquires whether the 'metaphor' of the Crown operates 'like Fortunatus' wishing-cap, or Harlequin's wooden sword' (p. 112). Where Paine refers beyond what might be called folk literature (and Don Quixote had assumed this character in England), he requires little in the way of literary training: a reference to the 'Comedy of Errors' for example, is valuable only for what is invoked by the title itself; it does not depend for its effectiveness, as do some of Burke's Shakespearean allusions, on a knowledge of the play. The only literary knowledge on which Paine counts to any extent is a knowledge of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. He is confident that an allusion to the Israelites' struggle for freedom, through the mention of 'bondmen and bondwomen' (p. 72), will suggest an analogy with contemporary affairs; he clearly expects the language and rhythm of, 'our inquiries find a resting place, and our reason finds a home' (p. 41), to be evocative, and the Litany to be recalled by, 'From such principles, and such ignorance, Good Lord deliver the world' (p. 111). It is noticeable, too, that the only occasion on which irony depends on a literary allusion, a biblical reference is used. Having asserted that a love of aristocratic titles is childish, Paine goes on: 'A certain writer, of some antiquity, says: "When I was a child, I thought as a child . . . " '(p. 59). The irony is, of course, directed at Burke's love of antiquity and precedents, but the interesting point is that Paine is attributing to the ordinary man the literary alertness to appreciate the irony. But, for the most part, Paine relies on the force of his facts and the arguments based on them, and thereafter only on his audience's response to the metaphorical use of language which demanded a minimum of literary awareness. The metaphors involved in the description of the Bastille as 'the high altar and castle of despotism' (p. 30) rely for their effect on political and religious prejudice; the claim that France had 'outgrown the baby-cloaths of Count and Duke, and breeched itself in manhood' (p. 59) requires none but normal experience to achieve its persuasive effect.

As in this last Paine frequently relies on metaphors which are rooted in popular experience. The experiments in aeronautics in the nine years preceding the publication of the Rights of Man—culminating in the Channel flight of Blanchard and Jeffries in 1785—probably account for the charge that Burke has 'mounted in the air like a balloon, to draw the eyes of the multitude from the ground they stand upon' (p. 53). This charge is reiterated elsewhere but here Paine gives it imaginative embodiment in a way that would have popular appeal. Again, Paine draws heavily on what Mr. Christopher Hill has called the 'Norman Yoke' tradition in English political literature, the theory that before 1066 the Anglo-Saxons were blessed with liberty and representative government, whereas the coming of the Normans meant the end of both and the establishment of oppressive monarchy and oligarchy.1 The theory had been current since at least the sixteenth century, it gained new vitality in the writings of the Civil War period, it reappeared in Defoe and then, most vociferously, in Paine. When, therefore, Paine refers to 'the vassalage class of manners' (p. 72) that leads subjects to humble themselves in the presence of kings, or describes William the Conqueror as 'the son of a prostitute and the plunderer of the English Nation' (p. 104), he is writing within a popular tradition which would excite even the most unsophisticated among his readers. Their tendency to look back to a golden age before the advent of tyrannic government would be powerfully stimulated by allusions to this unhistorical but very emotive and widely-held theory. But the kind of popular experience most often exploited by Paine is the dramatic and theatrical. The century abounded with farces, ballad-operas, 'entertainments', pantomime, and such-like theatrical performances; he clearly felt able to rely on experience of them. As Gay had satirised the Walpole 'gang' on the stage, so Paine uses stage-terms in his prose effectively to convey his contempt for the court and aristocracy. The unnatural degradation of the masses results, he says, in bringing forward 'with greater glare, the puppet-show of State and Aristocracy' (p. 33); courtiers may despise the monarchy but 'they are in the condition of men who get their living by a show, and to whom the folly of that show is so familiar that they ridicule it' (p. 72); and the enigma of the identity of a monarch in 'a mixed government', when king, cabinet, and dominant parliamentary group are barely distinguishable, is described as 'this pantomimical contrivance' in which 'the parts help each other out in matters which neither of them singly would assume to act' (p. 132). Furthermore, we hear of 'the Pantomime of Hush', of Fortunatus and Harlequin (favourite characters of pantomime), of the magic lanthorn, and so on. The achievement of this frame of reference is important. It obviously shows Paine drawing on experiences shared with his readers, and this is a significant factor in persuasion. It also allows him to ridicule the constitution Burke defends and generally to identify it as a mode of comic entertainment (since Paine's theatrical allusions are invariably used for the purpose of attack). Consequently the common reader is induced to regard the constitution in the same light and with the same insouciance as he viewed his kind of dramatic entertainment. Some humorous as well as some serious purpose is involved. And it is noteworthy that while Burke himself frequently refers to the drama in the Reflections his is a different purpose: it is more obviously to arouse the emotional fervour normally associated with serious drama and to suggest that the proper state of mind for observers of the French Revolution is that appropriate to watching a tragedy.

To recognise that Paine also conducts a great deal of his literary criticism of the Reflections in terms of dramatic criticism is to see that the concept of drama is more than simply a persuasive technique: it embodies something central in Paine's own thesis. In his 'Conclusion' he lays it down as an axiom that 'Reason and Ignorance, the opposite to each other, influence the great bulk of mankind' and that the government in any country is determined by whichever of these principles is dominant. Reason leads to government by election and representation, Ignorance to government by hereditary succession. Leaving aside the logic of this assertion it becomes plain that the axiom is organic with Paine's choice of literary methods and the nature of his attack on Burke. It may have been no more than fortuitous that what he felt to be a popular interest—theatrical entertainment—provided him with a key metaphor to focus his analysis of Burke's arguments and literary techniques; what is certain is that the essential business of drama—the imaginative interpretation of reality in terms of figures created to embody the dramatist's attitudes and values—perfectly focuses Paine's charges against Burke. (In this sense, for example, Burke 'created' the Marie Antoinette who appears in the Reflections; he did not present the woman from the world of fact.) Used as a metaphor, the drama draws attention to the dichotomy between reason and ignorance, or reality and appearance, life and art, fact and fiction—between, indeed, the position claimed by Paine and the one he attributed to Burke. This is the conflict with which, in some shape or another, Paine constantly faces his readers; his choice of metaphor by which to conduct the argument suggests insight of no ordinary kind.

Once this is grasped, the references to drama fall into place. Burke, says Paine, is 'not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination'; he 'degenerates into a composition of art'; and he chooses to present a hero or a heroine, 'a tragedy-victim expiring in show', rather than 'the real prisoner of misery' dying in jail (p. 24). Again, Burke makes 'a tragic scene' out of the executions following the fall of the Bastille; unlike Paine he does not relate the factual circumstances which gave rise to the event.

As to the tragic paintings by which Mr. Burke has outraged his own imagination, and seeks to work upon that of his readers, they are very well calculated for theatrical representation, where facts are manufactured for the sake of show, and accommodated to produce, through the weakness of sympathy, a weeping effect. But Mr. Burke should recollect that he is writing History, and not plays, and that his readers will expect truth, and not the spouting rant of high-toned exclamation (p. 22).

I cannot consider Mr. Burke's book in scarcely any other light than a dramatic performance; and he must, I think, have considered it in the same light himself, by the poetical liberties he has taken of omitting some facts, distorting others, and making the whole machinery bend to produce a stage effect. Of this kind is his account of the expedition to Versailles (p. 34).

These are statements at length of Paine's literary-political criticism of Burke; in them the clash between truth and fiction, reality and art, reason and imagination, concentrated by the metaphor of the drama, is evident enough. Proof of what is essentially the same approach occurs frequently elsewhere. Seen in this light Paine's frequent use of factual information takes on an extra significance. He charges Burke with focusing attention solely on the deleterious effects of the Revolution and of ignoring the facts which made it necessary and inevitable.

It suits his purpose to exhibit the consequences without their causes. It is one of the arts of the drama to do so. If the crimes of men were exhibited with their sufferings, stage effect would sometimes be lost, and the audience would be inclined to approve where it was intended they should commiserate (p. 34).

Consequently when Paine provides factual details he is not only giving information to justify and propagate his own political attitudes; his intention is to confront 'art' with 'life' and to shatter what he considers is an imaginative façade; he is also attempting to dispel the ignorance which Burke fosters by his 'dramatic method' (as defined above) and which encourages the continued existence of despotic government. It is not necessary to labour any claim for Paine's accuracy as literary critic although it seems to me that his line of approach is sound. Burke merits comparison with a dramatist; he concentrates attention on single human figures who embody attitudes and values he regards as important (or despicable); his narrative of events is essentially conducted by 'scenes'; he stresses human actions to convey the character of a political movement; he does, in a sense, make a tragic heroine out of Marie Antoinette, and so forth. Paine, on his side, is justified in trying to break down the splendid, tragic isolation with which Burke invests the Queen; he is equally shrewd in trying to shift the emphasis that Burke places on Louis as the personal object of revolutionary assault, on to an issue of principle. There is, then, substance in Paine's literary-critical approach; he shows perhaps more insight in this respect than many later critics of Burke; but what is chiefly important here is the way in which his literary criticism coheres with his larger political theory.

The corrolary to his critical onslaught on Burke is that Paine should show himself guided by reason, that his style—by its simplicity and lucidity—should mirror his emphasis on fact and common sense. He should, in other words, write the plain vulgar style in contrast to (what he would describe as) the refined and lofty obscurity of his opponent. If Burke 'confounds everything' (p. 47) by failing to make distinctions and refusing to define his terms, Paine should work by definition and clarity; if Burke's book is 'a pathless wilderness of rhapsodies' (p. 40), then Paine's should be well-ordered and comprehensible. If Paine's writing is found to possess these desired characteristics one's conclusion will not necessarily be that he is superior to Burke as a writer: one would conclude that his style and literary methods embody his political and moral values as effectively as Burke's quite different style and methods are an embodiment of his.

In part the shape of the Rights of Man is dictated by Paine's task: to refute the Reflections. He was compelled to take up separate claims advanced by his antagonist; where he felt it necessary he had to provide evidence omitted by Burke, as in his account of the Versailles incident or his review of the influences leading to the outbreak of the Revolution; and he had to argue his own political theory. The nature of his task led, then, to some disjointedness; he was determined to reason 'from minutiae to magnitude' (p. 53). Again, the presence of a 'Miscellaneous Chapter' may be urged as proof of disorderliness. There is, in fact, some truth in The Monthly Review's charge of desultoriness in presentation. Yet there is a sense in which this had to be. Some roughness of style, the absence of refinement and decorum, an energy that mirrored a scarcely-controllable anger on behalf of the poor and unenfranchised—these things were signs of political good faith and honesty of purpose. From the nature of the theory argued in Paine's book, he had to eschew the literary methods associated with an aristocratic culture linked, in its turn, with the politics of the establishment. There is, then, a significant truth in Sir Brooke Boothby's sneering comment that Paine 'writes in defiance of grammar, as if syntax were an aristocratical invention' (Observations, p. 106n.).

Whatever one's final judgment on the mode of presentation, there is no doubt that Paine's writing is simple and lucid.

There never did, there never will, and there never can exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the 'end of time' .. . (p 12).

When we survey the wretched condition of Man under the monarchical and hereditary systems of Government, dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies, it becomes evident that those systems are bad, and that a general Revolution in the principle and construction of Governments is necessary (p. 134).

Writing such as this—and the examples are innumerable—has the merits of clarity, directness, energy, and the powerful conviction carried by the speaking voice. There is a balance about the phrasing which is not 'literary' but vulgar in the nonpejorative sense; it results from a determination to ensure the reader's agreement by insistent affirmation, the accumulation of facts, and the colloquial phrasing of an accomplished popular orator. Where Paine attempts the kind of 'literary' style that is Burke's province he fails utterly:

In the declaratory exordium which prefaces the Declaration of Rights, we see the solemn and majestic spectacle of a Nation opening its commission, under the auspices of its Creator, to establish a Government; a scene so new, and so transcendently unequalled by anything in the European world, that the name of a Revolution is diminutive of its character, and it rises into a REGENERATION OF MAN (p. 99).

This is rhetoric of the worst kind; it is vague and rhapsodic, pretentious and inflated—it is, indeed, guilty of the faults with which Paine charges Burke. But it is not normal: the two examples previously quoted are more representative of Paine's general style. He is invariably concerned to place his views 'in a clearer light' (p. 46); to enable us 'to possess ourselves of a clear idea of what Government is, or ought to be' (p. 47); and to avoid any word 'which describes nothing' and consequently 'means nothing' (p. 60).

Paine obviously felt that an argument visibly divided into sections was necessary for his audience; his readers presumably required the kind of signposting denoted by phrases such as, 'I will here cease the comparison . . . and conclude this part of the subject', or, 'it is time to proceed to a new subject'. Occasionally he contrives to turn what is avowedly a transition into an opening for humour:

Hitherto we have considered Aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or sideways, or any way else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster (p. 62).

The use of clearly-defined stages is a pointer to Paine's understanding of the capacity of his readers. They required guidance and reassurance; they were not to lose themselves in 'a pathless wilderness'. Nor could Paine count on a willingness in his audience to follow a lengthy discussion of abstract theory—hence his use of anecdote, of plain narrative carefully punctuated with information about the passing of time ('He arrived at Versailles between ten and eleven at night', 'It was now about one in the morning', pp. 37-8), of snatches of conversation with an ordinary soldier or a plain-speaking American, of humorous interjections, and the like. Paine was, indeed, well aware of the necessity 'of relieving the fatigue of argument' (p. 57). And the constant use of facts, the frequent recourse to definition, the impress of personal authority and experience ('I wrote to [Burke] last winter from Paris, and gave him an account how prosperously matters were going on', p. 73), the enumeration of points established—in fact the general concreteness of reference recalling Defoe or the Swift of the Drapier's Letters is based on a thorough understanding of the needs of his audience.

When men are sore with the sense of oppressions, and menaced with the prospect of new ones, is the calmness of philosophy, or the palsy of insensibility to be looked for?' (p. 31). Paine's rhetorical question brings sharply into focus the difficulty posed by his kind of writing for the literary critic. By normal standards his writing must be rated low, and yet what has been said here should confirm his mastery of techniques appropriate to the occasion: if effective adaptation of means to ends be a test of literary merit, the Rights of Man passes the test. The urgency of the times, the seriousness of the issues, and the needs both literary and political of his readers all underline the value of the vulgar style such as he provided.


1 See Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution (1958), chapter 3, especially pp. 99-100.

R. R. Fennessy (essay date 1963)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8671

SOURCE: "Paine Replies to Burke: Rights of Man," in Burke, Paine and the Rights of Man: A Difference of Political Opinion, Martinus Nijhoff, 1963, pp. 160-80.

[In the following chapter from his book, Fennessy investigates the connection of Paine 's Rights of Man to Edmund Burke's famous indictment of the French Revolution, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Overall, Fennessy describes Paine as, first, failing to understand Burke's work and, second, making many logical errors in his own.]

Paine plans to write on the revolution

After writing his letter to Burke,1 Paine stayed on in Paris, watching with approval the progress of the revolution. He now planned to take an active part in it himself, by some publication which, he hoped, would have an influence comparable to that of Common Sense in the American revolution. He was in close contact with Lafayette, who seems to have supplied him with materials for an account of the events of 1789. In January 1790 Lafayette wrote to Washington: "Common Sense is writing for you a brochure in which you will see a portion of my adventures. The result will be, I hope, happy for my country and for humanity."2 This brochure was never published, but there can be little doubt that the material for it was incorporated in Rights of Man, Part I, which was, in fact, dedicated to George Washington.

Further evidence of Paine's desire to take part in revolutionary events is to be found in his letter to William Short in which he mentions a paper on French affairs which he had written and which he wished to have translated into French, and published in Paris as the work of a Frenchman.3 Paine evidently wished to have a personal influence on the course of the revolution. In later years he did, indeed, regard himself as one of those responsible for it: "Of all those who began that Revolution," he wrote in 1802, "I am almost the only survivor."4 The claim was unfounded; Paine had nothing to do with the beginning of the revolution, apart from his acquaintance with such men as Lafayette, Condorcet and Chastellux.5 Certainly he did his best to improve that acquaintance: for example, by his repeated letters to Lafayette during the summer of 1790. Lafayette however did not reply.6

Either because of the coolness of his Paris friends or for some other reason, the paper on French affairs, like the brochure dedicated to Washington, was never published. Perhaps Paine was waiting for a suitable opportunity. He needed some occasion or pretext which would give him a starting-point, and also act as a stimulus. Burke's book would admirably fulfil these functions. Paine was still in Paris when, some 'weeks after writing to Burke, he heard of the latter's speech against the revolution, and of his intention to publish a public letter explaining and justifying his opinions.7

Paine let it be known to his friends, and to Burke himself, that he would reply to such a publication.8

Paine returned to London in April 1790, and the morning after his arrival hastened to the publisher and bookseller Debrett, for the news of Burke's expected publication.9 He was told that Burke was still at work on it, revising and correcting so much that there were rumours he would never publish at all. In fact, Reflections did not appear until November. In the meantime Paine met Burke a number of times, apparently on friendly terms. There was, however, an explicit understanding between them that they should not discuss French affairs. "This agreement is very fair," wrote Paine, "because he knows that I intend to reply to his Book."10

Paine fails to understand Burke

At last the Book appeared, and Paine immediately set to work. He was now addressing the English public for the first time since the failure of his Prospects of the Rubicon in 1787; and the fact that he could now publish his opinions in the form of a reply to Burke certainly gained for them more publicity than they would otherwise have enjoyed. In his "Preface to the English Edition" Paine took care to stress his acquaintance with Burke, and thus contrived to place himself on the same level, and gain the attention of the public who were discussing Burke's book.

Paine was so eager to reply to Burke, and so full of confidence in his own ability to do so, that he did not bother to read Reflections carefully before beginning. He himself makes it clear that he had not read all of it when he started his answer—if indeed he ever did.11 There is some excuse for this negligence: Paine must have found the book difficult going. If Burke's extempore rhetoric was frequently too recondite for the house of commons,12 it is not to be wondered at that the carefully-constructed prose and subtle argument of Reflections was too much for Tom Paine. His puzzlement is obvious when he says "Mr Burke's language . . . continually recedes and presents itself at a distance before you .. . It is therefore difficult to reply to him."13 He complains of "the disorderly cast of his genius," "pathless wilderness of rhapsodies," "mob of ideas tumbling over and destroying one another."14 At best, Burke's ideas seem to Paine "paradoxical," by which he means that Burke undertakes to defend something that is obviously wrong or out of date, such as aristocracy, chivalry, or the union of church and state. The whole book is a "wild unsystematical display of paradoxical rhapsodies," a "general enigma."15

A particular example of Paine's inability to understand Burke may be found in one place where he undertakes to quote from Reflections and comment on the text:

"Ten years ago," says he, "I could have felicitated France on her having a Government, without inquiring what the nature of that Government was, or how it was administered." Is this the language of a rational man?16

It is certainly not the language of Burke, who had asked a rhetorical question "Ten years ago, could I have felicitated France . . . ?"17 The misquotation is significant because it shows that Paine had missed the whole point of Burke's argument: this was to the effect that a country cannot be congratulated on its "liberty" until we know what kind of liberty it is, just as it cannot be congratulated on its "government," until we know what kind of government it is. Paine simply failed to see the point. And this is by no means the only instance where he failed to grasp Burke's meaning. As often as not, what he "refutes" is a mere travesty of Burke's position:

He tells them, and he tells the world to come, that a certain body of men who existed a hundred years ago, made a law, and that there does not now exist in the Nation, nor ever will, nor ever can, a power to alter it.18

The method that Mr Burke takes to prove that the people of England have no such rights .. . is of the same marvellous and monstrous kind .. . ; for his arguments are that the persons, or the generation of persons, in whom they did exist, are dead, and with them the right is dead also.19

Paine does not appear to be conscious of, and is certainly not deterred by, his own inability to understand his opponent. Indeed, when he comes to a passage that he thinks to be particularly obscure, he offers to interpret it for the reader. After quoting (again inaccurately) Burke's passage "The rights of men in governments are their advantages etc."20 he continues:

As the wondering audience, whom Mr Burke supposes himself talking to, may not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter. The meaning, then, good people, of all this is, That Government is governed by no principle whatever; that it can make evil good, or good evil, just as it pleases. In short, that Government is arbitrary power.21

Paine likes to attribute to himself the role of "Common Sense," exposing the pretentious and fallacious arguments of the high and mighty Burke for the benefit of the man in the street—of the "good people." And it seems to be part of his purpose to discredit Burke personally with that part of the public who might still consider him a "friend to mankind"22 and an enemy of tyranny and oppression:

He writes neither in the character of a Frenchmen nor an Englishman, but in the fawning character of that creature .. . a Courtier.23

It is power, and not principles, that Mr Burke venerates.24

The issue, for Paine, is quite clear: Burke has taken sides with hereditary government, and therefore with "arbitrary power," and oppression, with wars and high taxes, and against the cause of rational government, representative assemblies, cheap and honest public administration, enlightenment and peace.

Why should a man like Burke, whose public career had hitherto been devoted to the cause of liberty, have thus gone over to the enemy? Paine does not scruple to repeat a particularly damaging rumour which had already been put into circulation by Burke's enemies:

Mr Burke is labouring in vain to stop the progress of knowledge; and it comes with the worse grace from him, as there is a certain transaction known in the city which renders him suspected of being a pensioner in a fictitious name.15

Paine, then, does not think he needs to be particular about the means he uses to refute and discredit a man whom he believes to be insincere, a renegade, a paid government agent. Similarly he does not think Burke's arguments need to be taken seriously or carefully studied—Burke himself probably does not believe in them; there is no need to unravel the lengthy periods: they are constructed to mislead, not to enlighten. Furthermore, Burke is fighting a losing battle: the revolution which he attacks is already successful in France, and cannot be overthrown; and it is to be expected that the tide of enlightenment will continue to flow, and will reach England. The real purpose of Rights of Man is not to reply to Burke, but to enlighten the British public as Common Sense had enlightened the American public. Paine wanted to "get the ear of John Bull."26 As he later explained to Jefferson, Burke's book "served me as a background to bring forward other subjects upon."27

These subjects were: Paine's interpretation of the French revolution, in terms of his own political theory, and especially the theory of rights; his rejection of the hereditary principle in government; his detestation of the British system of government, and of the British royal house; his belief in the inevitability of revolutionary change in England. Such are the themes that recur in the pages of Rights of Man, spiced with occasional derisive or contemptuous references to Burke.

Paine's interpretation of the French revolution

For Paine the revolution is above all a matter of principle: it is, quite simply, the substitution of a system of government based on right principles for a system based on wrong principles. His point of view is typically abstract and theoretical. Despite the fact that he lived in Paris during the last months of 1789 and the beginning of 1790, he makes no attempt to justify or explain the revolution in terms of the actual social and economic situation. Nowhere does he mention the industrial crisis, the poor harvests, the scarcity of bread; he has nothing to say about the cahiers, and their demand for far-reaching reforms; nothing about the effect of seigniorial rights and feudal obligations; nothing about the incidence of taxation. Paine was not concerned with such petty details: it was the system itself that was wrong: government based on heredity and aristocracy was bound to produce such evils. His scathing comment on Burke's romantic portrait of Marie Antoinette is well known: "He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird."28 But the "dying bird" that Paine refers to is not the ordinary French worker, or peasant, or tradesman, but the prisoner in the Bastille, the victim of "arbitrary power."

Again, the revolution had to be a complete and universal change of the system of government. No partial reform would have been sufficient, because despotism had spread throughout the whole administration:

The original hereditary despotism resident in the person of the king, divides and subdivides itself into a thousand shapes and forms . . . and against this species of despotism, proceeding on through an endless labyrinth of office . . . there is no mode of redress.29

The sweeping changes in France that had so astonished and alarmed Burke are thus simply and dogmatically explained. Burke's failure to understand merely goes to show that he is one of those men who

are not qualified to judge of this Revolution. It takes in a field too vast for their views to explore, and proceeds with a mightiness of reason they cannot keep pace with.30

This insistence on "principle" enables Paine to get round a rather awkward point. Rights of Man was meant to be read in France as well as in England; and France was still a monarchy, and presumably loyal to its king. Paine's anti-monarchism therefore placed him in rather a delicate situation. Besides, he had no wish to criticize Louis XVI, who had given aid and comfort to the American revolution. He therefore insists that the revolution was not against Louis XVI personally, but against "the principle" of despotism. In his account of the events of July and August 1789, he tries to show that Louis was on the side of "the Nation," though he may have been deceived at times by his intriguing advisers:

The King (who has since declared himself deceived . . .31

The King, who, very different from the general class called by that name, is a man of good heart. . .32

The King, who was not in the secret of this business . . . 33

The necessity of being kind to Louis XVI must have been an embarrassment to Paine, who was much more at his ease when showing that all kings are fools and rogues. But he was quite sincere in his benevolent attitude to the French king: this he afterwards proved in the Convention, at considerable danger to himself.34 However, he did not think, even in 1791, that the French monarchy was destined to last:

In America it (i.e. Monarchy) is considered as an absurdity; and in France it has so far declined, that the goodness of the man, and the respect for his personal character, are the only things that preserve the appearance of its existence35

According to Paine's political theory, there is, of course, no place for a king in France or in any other country. The national assembly appears as the true representative of the nation, competent, and alone competent, to govern, and to fix the terms of the constitution. Strictly speaking, says Paine, the national assembly is "the personal social compact."36 By this he means that its members represent the nation considered in its original constitution-making character. It is as though all Frenchmen, feeling the need for a government, were met for the first time under "some convenient tree" to form one. It equivalently abolishes all history and all precedent, and gives the nation a fresh start.

The national assembly not only represents and embodies the French nation in its original character, it also represents the spirit of reason and enlightenment. It is prepared to ignore all existing institutions, all the accretions of time, all accumulated superstitions and privileges, in order to place government on a purely rational basis. Paine is apparently unconscious of any incongruity when he claims that he had done his best to explain all this to Burke, before the latter had committed himself against the revolution:

I referred to the happy situation the National Assembly were placed in . . . Their station requires no artifice to support it, and can only be maintained by enlightening mankind . . . The National Assembly must throw open a magazine of light . . . In contemplating the French Constitution, we see in it a rational order of things.37

It followed that all those who opposed the national assembly were the enemies of a light and reason. Whereas for Burke, Paine and his friends were nothing but a small band of conspirators trying to gain control of the assembly so as to force their own ideas on it (a belief which must have been strengthened by Paine's letter), for Paine the only "conspiracy" was on the other side. It was the courtiers and their friends who were desperately conspiring and intriguing to prevent the triumph of light and reason. When the last of the nobility and higher clergy joined the assembly, this, says Paine,

was only a cover to the machinations that were secretly going on . . . But in a few days time from this the plot unravelled itself.38

One of Paine's complaints against Burke is that he

never speaks of plots against the Revolution; and it is from those plots that all the mischiefs have arisen.39

Paine possessed that characteristic attribute of the born revolutionary—the absolute and unwavering conviction of the Tightness and legitimacy of his revolution from the first moment of its existence, and the absolute wrongness of all who oppose it, no matter what their position or public authority may be. Again and again he states the issue in terms of black and white: "The event was to be freedom or slavery";40 "Accustomed to slavery themselves, they had no idea that Liberty was capable of such inspiration."41 "They had a cause at stake, on which depended their freedom or their slavery."42 In similar fashion Paine deals with the writers who had prepared French opinion for the revolution: they were those, like Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau, in whose writings "the spirit of Liberty" appeared, even though they lived "under a despotic Government."43 The French officers and soldiers who went to help the Americans in their war of independence were "placed in the school of Freedom, and learned the practice as well as the principles of it by heart."44 It is precisely this assumption of virtue, and this use of abstract concepts like Liberty and reason to produce simplified statements of complex political problems, that Burke protested against in Reflections. But Paine is quite unaware even of the nature and import of the protest. As far as he is concerned, all Burke's book means is that Burke has gone over to the side of oppression, despotism, and slavery.

It would, however, be wrong to think that Paine repeated such words without having any idea of what he meant by them. His meaning was indeed a simplified one: but he thoroughly understood it, and kept it constantly in mind. Freedom meant living under a properly-constructed government, and enjoying the rights of man. Slavery was living under the wrong kind of government, that is, any government not purely representative. On these points the voice of nature and reason was as loud and clear to Paine as it was in the days when he wrote Common Sense; and, apart from some elaboration of the idea of rights, the message was the same.

Man and his rights

To establish man's rights, Paine has recourse to the "method of origins." Burke, he complains, has tried to limit the rights of the English nation by appealing to historical documents—"musty records and mouldy parchments."45 But why does he not go back further? Why does he stop at a particular point, instead of going back to the very origin of man?

If we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title . . . We are now got at the origin of man, and at the origin of his rights.46

In Common Sense, Paine had attributed the necessity of government to a lack of moral virtue, and had thereby implied that its purpose is merely to preserve order among men, and prevent the stronger from imposing on or exploiting the weaker. However, since his return to Europe, Paine had been thinking over the subject of rights, and discussing it with Jefferson and Lafayette, and this had led him to form a more positive view of the function of government.

He bases his reasoning on a distinction between natural and civil rights which he first explained in a letter to Jefferson written early in 1788:

Suppose twenty persons, strangers to each other, to meet in a country not before inhabited. Each would be a Sovereign in his own natural right. His will would be his law, but his power, in many cases, inadequate to his rights; and the consequence would be that each might be exposed, not only to each other, but to the other nineteen . . .

It is worth noting that here "natural right" implies, in the first place, individual will. The individual is originally sovereign: he disposes of himself according to his own will, without any reference to others. In Rights of Man Paine modifies this slightly:

Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others.47

No doubt remembering his own doctrine that men live in society before they live under civil government, Paine here introduces a moral limitation of individual rights: they must be exercised with due regard for the corresponding rights of others. But this appears to be a moral obligation governing the use of the right; the right itself is the power of self-determination by free will.

It is because the free self-determination of each individual (which he possesses "in right of his existence") may be in fact hindered by the presence and activity of other men, that he enters into a state of civil government with them; and this is the origin of civil rights: "Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society."48

Paine's theory appears to be this: whatever the human individual can do for himself he has a natural right to do. For example, a man can walk, eat, think, clothe and protect himself. He has these powers from his Maker, and not from other men; or as Paine awkwardly puts it, he has them "in right of his existence." Therefore he can exercise them by his own authority, without permission from anybody else: they are in this sense his "right"—that is, his personal prerogative and privilege. The only limitation of these natural rights that Paine seems to admit is the moral one that each individual ought to respect the rights of others.

However, Paine notes that there are some things an individual may want to do

in which, though the right is perfect in the individual, the power to execute them is a defective .. . A man, by natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause; and so far as the right of the mind is concerned, he never surrenders it. But what availeth it him to judge, if he has not power to redress?49

Though he does not say so, Paine is evidently here thinking of a limitation of individual power, arising from the presence or activity of other men. A man may judge that a certain thing is his property. His power to think so is perfect, and cannot be taken from him. But he may not be able to enforce his claim against other men. This then is the occasion for the formation of civil society, and the submission of men to a common rule. It is not very different from the "defect of moral virtue" mentioned in Common Sense.50 The explanation in Rights of Man proceeds:

He therefore deposits this right in the common stock of society, and takes the arm of society, or which he is a part, in preference and in addition to his own. Society grants him nothing. Every man is a proprietor on society, and draws on the capital as a matter of right.51

Paine does not see that he is using the word "right" in several different senses, or rather that he fails to give it any precise sense; and that his distinction between natural and civil rights is, in fact, based on a thorough muddle. His original "natural rights" in each individual are nothing more than the individual's power of acting for his own benefit, which is conceived to be his "right," because he holds it independently of other men. But such a concept is, strictly speaking, inapplicable to the relationships between men in civil society, that is, living under a common rule. The common rule is necessarily a limitation of individual action, not an extension or enlargement of it: it cannot be based on, or derived from, the original individual "right" which it excludes or limits. Hence it is ridiculous to say that

Every civil right grows out of a natural right; or, in other words, is a natural right exchanged.52

It is precisely this method of reasoning about rights that Burke criticized when he wrote:

. . . how can any man claim under the conventions of civil society, rights which do not so much as suppose its existence? rights which are absolutely repugnant to it?53

But here as elsewhere Paine does not grasp the import of the criticism to which he is supposed to be replying.

Paine's theory of rights, however muddled it may be, nevertheless serves him as a basis for the explanation of the origin and purpose of government. The only legitimate form of government is that which arises when men, already living together in society, agree among themselves to set up a government, and to live under common rules in order to gain certain advantages; the most notable advantage being the exchange of their "defective" natural rights for effective civil rights.[54] In typical fashion, Paine finds that a firm grasp of this one clear idea makes it easy for him to interpret the contemporary political scene:

In casting our eyes over the world, it is extremely easy to distinguish the Governments which have arisen out of society, or out of the social corn-pact, from those which have not; but to place this in a clearer light than what a single glance may afford, it will be proper to take a review of the several sources from which Governments have arisen and on which they have been foun-ded.

They may be all comprehended under three heads.

First, Superstition.

Secondly, Power.

Thirdly, The common interest of society and the common rights of man.

The first was a Government of Priestcraft, the second of Conquerors, and the third of Reason.55

Government by Superstition and by Power are dismissed in a few words:

I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.56

The only form of government which does not arouse Paine's irritation and disgust is that which arises "out of society," that is, which arises when individuals come together "each in his own personal and sovereign right," and enter into a compact to form a government. "This is the only mode in which Governments have a right to arise."57

From a consideration of how governments ought to be formed Paine passes, perhaps unconsciously, to a statement of the nature of civil power, and propounds an extremely mechanistic theory:

Civil power properly considered as such is made up of the aggregate of that class of the natural rights of man, which becomes defective in the individual in point of power, and answers not his purpose, but when collected to a focus becomes competent to the purpose of every one.58

Here again, Paine does not appear to be aware of any difficulty. He conceives natural rights as individual powers of self-determination, and yet he imagines that by being put together in "a focus," they are somehow transformed into a principle of government, which is the opposite of self-determination. He does not see anything gratuitous in his assertion that

Society grants him nothing. Every man is a proprietor in society, and draws, on the capital as a matter of right.59

As though society were a joint banking account. He does not suspect that he may be involved in a contradiction when he says that each individual "takes the arm of society . . . in preference, and in addition to his own."60

A further function of Paine's theory of rights is to provide him with a principle by which he may limit and define the competence of legitimate government over its citizens:

The power produced from the aggregate of natural rights, imperfect in power in the individual, cannot be applied to invade the natural rights which are retained in the individual, and in which the power to execute is as perfect as the right itself.61

Paine has thus secured an area of freedom for the individual living under government—an area of self-determination into which the civil authority may not legitimately enter. His theory thus fulfils the two purposes which were the aim of most eighteenth-century natural-right doctrines: to show that a government is not to be considered legitimate unless it arises from the consent, direct or indirect, of its citizens; and to establish a principle of limitation of the competence of rulers, especially in the domains of opinion, discussion, and religion.

There is another aspect of Paine's theory of rights, which was to become more prominent in the second part of Rights of Man. He has pictured society as somehow forming a "common stock." a capital on which the individual citizen is entitled to draw. He has said that government exists for "the common interest of society" as well as for the "common rights of Man." This suggests that the citizens may look to government for certain benefits, and in the second part of Rights of Man, Paine draws up a plan of such benefits, in which some commentators have seen an anticipation of the Welfare State. Here again, Paine is apparently unaware that this conception may be quite incompatible with his other idea that society consists of separate, self-sufficient individuals, each looking after himself, enjoying his individual rights, and merely looking to society for protection from the "defect of moral virtue" in others. However, this anomaly does not concern us here, since it has little to do with Paine's reply to Burke. This he continues with an attack on the British constitution, and in particular on the hereditary principle in government.

Paine's attack on the constitution of England

Legitimate governments can easily be recognized, from the fact that they are set up by a conscious act of their citizens, and therefore have a positive, indeed a written, constitution. Paine had no time for any implicit contract between ruler and ruled. The pooling of defective rights by which citizens set up government was a specific historical transaction, which would naturally be recorded in a document. A constitution is not an act of government, but an act of the citizens whereby they set up a government, and determine its organs, functions, and powers:

It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article.62

The English constitution, therefore, of which Burke is so proud, is not a constitution at all. Where is it? Burke cannot produce it. He has promised to compare it with the French constitution, but has notably failed to do so. The English constitution, concludes Paine triumphantly, does not exist:

Can, then, Mr Burke produce the English Constitution? If he cannot, we may fairly conclude that though it has been so much talked about, no such thing as a Constitution exists, or ever did exist, and consequently that the people have yet a Constitution to form.63

America and France, on the contrary, can show their written constitutions, made by the people in their "original capacity," and "personal social compact," and therefore evidence that these governments have arisen in the proper way "out of society." By contrast, Paine criticizes the "ill construction of all old Governments in Europe, England included with the rest."64

The radical defect of the English system of government is that it did not arise "out of society," or from the people, but was imposed on them from above:

The English Government is one of those which arose out of a conquest, and not out of society, and consequently it arose over the people; and though it has been much modified from the opportunity of circumstances since the time of William the Conqueror, the country has never yet regenerated itself, and is therefore without a Constitution.65

Rejection of the hereditary principle in government

The hereditary principle is the means by which governments based on conquest or superstitition are perpetuated. To show how wrong it is, Paine develops an argument which he had already outlined in Common Sense. Since government can arise legitimately only from the coming together of citizens to set it up, and since this is their natural right, it follows that succeeding generations of men have the same right; in other words, they are not bound by the decisions of their predecessors unless they choose to assent to them. But the hereditary principle means that the form of government and the persons of the rulers are designated by a given generation of citizens, and imposed on their posterity. Posterity is thus deprived of its natural right to choose its own rulers and settle its form of government. Hereditary government is thus always indefensible in principle: it is fundamentally unjust.66

Secondly, hereditary government is inefficient. "Civil government," says Paine bluntly, "is republican government."67 Monarchy and aristocracy are not part of the process of public administration, which can be carried on perfectly well without them. They merely mean superfluous pomp, courts, titles, undignified subservience, and above all, unnecessary public expense:

It is easy to conceive that a band of interested men, such as placemen, pensioners, lords of the bed-chamber, lords of the kitchen, lords of the necessary-house, and the Lord knows what besides, can find as many reasons for Monarchy as their salaries, paid at the expence of the country, amount to; but if I ask the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and down through all the occupations of life to the common labourer, what service Monarchy is to him? he can give me no answer.68

Paine's opinion of kings is no higher than it was in 1776, nor, despite his respect for Louis XVI, is his language more flattering:

If there existed a man so trancendently wise above all others, that his wisdom was necessary to instruct a Nation, some reason might be offered for Monarchy; but when we cast our eyes about a country, and observe how every part understands its own affairs; and when we look around the world, and see that of all men in it, the race of Kings are the most insignificant in capacity, our reason cannot fail to ask us—What are those men kept for?69

Together with monarchy, Paine rejects aristocracy. He ridicules titles of nobility as mere "nicknames"70 because they do not correspond to any useful social function, and because they actually detract from human dignity, instead of adding to it, as they are erroneously supposed to do. The abolition of titles by the national assembly shows "the elevated mind" of France:

France has not levelled, it has exalted. It has put down the dwarf, to set up the man. The punyism of a senseless word like Duke or Earl has ceased to please.71

Paine particularly criticizes the principle of primogeniture as unjust to younger children, an offence against Nature, and a cause of unnecessary public expense. "Establish family justice and Aristocracy falls."72

Aristocracy cannot be a good system of government, because, like monarchy, it presupposes that wisdom is inherited. "The idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges .. . as absurd as an hereditary mathematician."73 Aristocracy is fundamentally wrong because it is founded in conquest "and the base idea of man having property in man."74 Finally, aristocracy tends to "degenerate the human species"75 by constant inter-marriage between a small number of families. Paine's criticism is rounded off with an appeal to history and nature combined:

Mr Burke talks of nobility; let him show what it is. The greatest characters the world have known have risen on the democratic floor. Aristocracy has not been able to keep a proportionate pace with Democracy. The artificial NOBLE shrinks into a dwarf before the NOBLE of Nature.76

Rejection of state religion

Besides defending the hereditary principle in government, Burke had been at pains to justify one other important feature of the English constitution: church establishment. Paine objects to the union of church and state on two grounds. First, it is a violation of the individual right of conscience. Religion is something between each man and his Maker:

It is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though those fruits may differ from each other like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted.77

Since the Creator is content with whatever worship the individual sees fit to offer, it is presumptuous of an earthly ruler to impose any particular form of worship:

Who then are thou, vain dust and ashes! by whatever name thou art called, whether a King, a Bishop, a Church, or a State, a Parliament or anything else, that obtrudest thine insignificance between the soul of man and its maker? Mind thine own concerns.78

The second objection to church establishment is that it deforms religion itself. Religion is by its nature "kind and benign," but when it unites itself with the civil power it becomes "vicious, cruel, persecuting or immoral":

Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law.79

The error is fortunately easy to correct: "Take away the law-establishment and every religion reassumes its original benignity." This has been done in America, with the happy result that there

a Catholic priest is a good citizen, a good character, and a good neighbour; and Episcopalian minister is of the same description; and this proceeds, independently of the men, from there being no law establishment in America.80

The same desirable effect is to be expected in France, where the national assembly has followed the example of America and established "UNIVERSAL RIGHT OF CONSCIENCE."81

Criticism of the English financial system

Here again Paine endeavours to show that the French position is superior to the English. Before the revolution, the French government was insolvent, but the nation was not.82 The present French government has restored public finances by reducing expenditure, and by selling, on behalf of the nation, the monastic and ecclesiastical landed estates which "the priesthood" had wrongly kept "for themselves."83 As a result of the revolution, Paine confidently predicts, "the annual interest of the debt of France will be reduced at least six millions sterling."84 By contrast Paine considers English finance to be thoroughly unsound. His criticism is based on two clear and simple ideas: first, that money is made of gold and silver, not of paper; second, that to be rich means to have a lot of money. With the aid of these propositions Paine shows that England is not only poorer than France, but is much poorer than she ought to be, given the extent of her commerce:

Either, therefore, the commerce of England is unproductive of profit, or the gold and silver which it brings in leak continually away by unseen means . . . and it absence is supplied by paper.85

This account of the relative financial situation of France and England in 1791 is an extreme example of Paine's blindness to facts which did not fit in with his theories. English finance had in fact been placed on a sound basis by six years of careful administration and progressive reform by Pitt;86 while French finance was still bedevilled by the chaos of the revenue and the inflationary effect of the issue of assignats.87 Paine's economic ideas, however firmly held and confidently stated, have not been found entirely clear and consistent by subsequent commentators.88 The discussion does not concern us here; it is in any case clear that the primary purpose of Paine's incursion into economics in Rights of Man is to show the excellence of the new system of government in France in contrast to the absurdities and abuses of the English system.

It may be remarked that Paine's attitude to the old regime in France is free from passion or resentment. To the French monarchy he is as polite as he can manage. He objects to the principle of aristocracy, but he shows none of that hatred of the nobles as a class which already animated such revolutionary leaders as Mirabeau and Robespierre, and even his friends Condorcet and Brissot;89 nor does he share their dread of a counter-revolution, since he is quite confident that the revolution cannot be undone. Similarly, he shows no anticlericalism: no dislike or contempt for priests, prelates, or monks. Now that the property they wrongly held has been restored to the nation, and the pernicious principle of union of church and state abandoned, Paine believes that clerics will be useful, kind, and benign citizens.

It is only when he turns to his native country that Paine shows active personal dislike; and its object is the English crown and parliamentary system of government.

Attack on the English crown and parliamentary system of government

The English system of government, which Burke has tried to defend, is in Paine's eyes nothing more than a fraud, a gigantic imposition, which, however, is destined soon to be exposed, and rejected by the English nation.

The boasted English constitution is a fraud: it does not really exist at all:

One member says this is constitution, and another says that is constitution—to-day it is one thing, tomorrow it is something else—while the maintaining the debate proves there is none.90

The English parliament is a fraud, because it does not truly represent the nation. The house of commons is elected by only a "small part of the Nation," while the house of lords is

an hereditary Aristocracy, assuming and asserting indefeasible, irrevocable rights and authority, wholly independent of the Nation.91

The so-called "Mixed Government" of king, lords, and commons is a fraud, because in reality it is the Cabinet that governs, by means of corruption:

What is supposed to be the King in a Mixed Government is the Cabinet; and as the Cabinet is always a part of the Parliament, and the members justifying in one character what they advise and act in another, a Mixed Government becomes a continual enigma; entailing upon a country, by the quantity of corruption necessary to solder the parts, the expence of supporting all the forms of Government at once.92

Above all, the crown itself is a fraud: it is a "metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence."93 The English monarchy, in Paine's view, serves no useful purpose whatever:

After all, what is the metaphor called a Crown, or rather what is Monarchy? Is it a thing, or is it a name, or is it a fraud? Is it a "contrivance of human wisdom," or of human craft to obtain money from a Nation under specious pretences?94

The English monarchy is particularly contemptible be-cause it was founded by "William of Normandy .. . the son of a prostitute and the plunderer of the English Nation,"95 and because of the present royal family's connection with German despotism:

A German Elector is in his electorate a despot; how then could it be expected that he should be attached to principles of liberty in one country while his interest in another was to be supported by despotism? . . . The Dutchy of Mecklenburg, where the present Queen's family governs, is under the same wretched state of arbitrary power, and the people in slavish vassalage.96

Such passages leave little room for doubt about Paine's intention: it is to undermine the faith of the English people in their political institutions, so as to prepare the way for a radical change in the English system of government. He makes no secret of this belief that such a change must come about. The English nation, he says "runs in the line of being conquered, and it ought to rescue itself from this reproach."97 The English people are not responsible for the present defects of their government,

but, that sooner or later, it must come into their hands to undergo a constitutional reformation, is as certain as that the same thing has happened in France.98

Paine does not mean to incite his fellow-countrymen to rebellion: his aim is to enlighten them: to show them that they are living under a false and despotic system of government, and thus to create a body of public opinion in favour of the change which he believes to be inevitable, though he does not say how it is to be brought about. The final paragraphs of Rights of Man are a statement of this confidence, and a warning to "old governments" and their supporters not to stand in the way of progress:

As it is not difficult to perceive, from the enlightened state of mankind, that hereditary Governments are verging to their decline, and that Revolutions on the broad basis of national sovereignty and Government by representation, are making their way in Europe, it would be an act of wisdom to anticipate their approach, and produce Revolutions by reason and accomodation, rather than commit them to the issue of convulsions.99


Our conclusions concerning the first part of Rights of Man may be summed up as follows:

First, so far as the French revolution is concerned, Paine's purpose is not so much to reply to Burke as to establish himself with the public as a revolutionary author. His account of the events of the summer and autumn of 1789, derived from Lafayette, was almost certainly written, or prepared, before Burke's book appeared. His interpretation of the revolution is in terms of his own political notions, scarcely changed since 1776. He shows little knowledge of the actual social and economic situation in France, or of the various interests and currents of opinion that influenced the course of events in 1789 and 1790.

Second, Paine does not understand Burke's arguments and ideas, much less refute them. He simply treats Burke as a political renegade, a man who has gone over to the opposition, for reasons which are probably discreditable.

Third, Paine intended Rights of Man to be an important political manifesto which would achieve in England what he believed Common Sense had achieved in America, that is, which would prepare public opinion for a revolutionary change of government.

Thus Paine, like Burke, addressed the English people on the issue of radical constitutional change. It remains for us to see what was the effect of their appeals on English opinion.


1 Paine to Burke, 17 January 1790, Boulton, "An Unpublished Letter from Paine to Burke," 51-53.

2 Lafayette to Washington, 12 January 1790; quoted Aldridge, Man of Reason, 126-127.

3Ibid., 133. Short was the American chargé d'affaires in Paris.

4To the Citizens of the United States, Letter I (1802), Foner, Complete Writings, II, 909.

5 For an account of Paine's friends and activities in Paris, see Aldridge, "Condorcet et Paine, leurs rapports intellectuels."

6 Aldridge, Man of Reason, 132. . . .

7 Aldridge, Man of Reason, 130.

8Ibid., 130, 132; Rights of Man (Ev.), 143; The Writings, II, 394.

9 Paine to [Unknown], 16 April 1790, Foner, Complete Writings, II, 1300.

10 Aldridge, Man of Reason, 132.

11Rights of Man (Ev.), 23, note; The Writings II, 288, note.

12 Hazlitt, Complete Works, XII, 266.

13Rights of Man (Ev.), 22; The Writings, II, 286.

14Ibid. (Ev.), 53, 40, 101; The Writings, II, 314, 302, 357.

15Ibid. (Ev.), 52, 128; The Writings, II, 313, 381.

16Ibid. (Ev.), 21; The Writings, II, 286.

17Reflections (Ev.), 6; Works, II, 282.

18Rights of Man (Ev.), 14; The Writings, II, 279.

19Ibid. (Ev.), 10-11; The Writings, II, 276.

20Reflections (Ev.), 59; Works, II, 335.

21Rights of Man (Ev.), 103; The Writings, II, 358-359.

22Ibid. (Ev.), 4; The Writings, II, 269.

23Ibid. (Ev.), 128; The Writings, II, 381.

24Ibid. (Ev.), 21; The Writings, II, 286.

25Ibid. (Ev.), 104-105; The Writings, II, 360. The accusation that Burke was a pensioner had already been made in Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790). . . .

26 Paine to Hall, 25 November 1791, Foner, Complete Writings, II, 1322.

27 Paine to Jefferson, 1 October 1800, Foner, Complete Writings, II, 1412.

28Rights of Man (Ev.), 24; The Writings, II, 288.

29Ibid. (Ev.), 20; The Writings, II, 285.

30Ibid. (Ev.), 20; The Writings, II, 284.

31Ibid. (Ev.), 90; The Writings, II, 347.

32Ibid. (Ev.), 89; The Writings, II, 346.

33Ibid. (Ev.), 92; The Writings, II, 349.

34 See Aldridge, Man of Reason, 190-192.

35Rights of Man (Ev.), 112; The Writings, II, 366.

36Ibid. (Ev.), 49; The Writings, II, 311. . . .

37Rights of Man (Ev.), 73; The Writings, II, 332.

38Ibid. (Ev.), 92; The Writings, II, 349.

39Ibid. (Ev.), 34; The Writings, II, 297.

40Ibid. (Ev.), 27; The Writings, II, 291.

41Ibid. (Ev.), 28; The Writings, II, 292.

42Ibid. (Ev.), 29; The Writings, II, 293.

43Ibid. (Ev.), 75; The Writings, II, 333-334.

44Ibid. (Ev.), 76; The Writings, II, 335.

45Ibid. (Ev.), 17; The Writings, II, 282.

46Ibid. (Ev.), 41; The W ritings II, 303. .. .

47Rights of Man (Ev.), 44; The Writings, II, 306. (Italics mine).


49Rights of Man (Ev.), 45; The Writings, II, 307.

50The Writings, I, 70.

51Righ ts of Man (Ev.), 45; The Writings, II, 307.


53Reflections (Ev.), 57; Works, II, 332. See above. . . .

54Rights of Man (Ev.), 46; The Writings, II, 308.

55Ibid. (Ev.), 46; The Writings, II, 308.

56Ibid. (Ev.), 47; The Writings, II, 308.

57Ibid. (Ev.), 47; The Writings, II, 309.

58Ibid. (Ev.), 45; The Writings, II, 307.


60Ibid. (Italics mine).


62Ibid. (Ev.), 48; The Writings, II, 310.

63Ibid. (Ev.), 48-49; The Writings, II, 310.

64Ibid. (Ev.), 33; The Writings, II, 296.

65Ibid. (Ev.), 49; The Writings, II, 310. . . .

66Rights of Man (Ev.), 109-111; The Writings, II, 364-366.

67Ibid. (Ev.), 113; The Writings, II, 367.

68Ibid. (Ev.), 113; The Writings, II, 368.

69Ibid. (Ev.), 112; The Writings, II, 367.

70Ibid. (Ev.), 59; The Writings, II, 319.

71Ibid. (Ev.), 59; The Writings, II, 320.

72Ibid. (Ev.), 61; The Writings, II, 321.

73Ibid. (Ev.), 62; The Writings, II, 322-323.

74Ibid. (Ev.), 63; The Writings, II, 323.

75Ibid. (Ev.), 63; The Writings, II, 323.


77Ibid. (Ev.), 66; The Writings, II, 326.


79Ibid. (Ev.), 68; The Writings, II, 327.

80Ibid. (Ev.), 68; The Writings, II, 327.

81Ibid. (Ev.), 68; The Writings, II, 328.

82Ibid. (Ev.), 126; The Writings, II, 379.

83Ibid. (Ev.), 127; The Writings, II, 380.


85Ibid. (Ev.), 124; The Writings, II, 377-378.

86 Watson, The Reign of George III, 283 seq.

87 Thompson, The French Revolution, 176 seq.

88 Dorfman, "The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine"; Penniman, "Thomas Paine—Democrat."

89 Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, 470 seq.

90Rights of Man (Ev.), 119; The Writings, II, 373.

91Ibid. (Ev.), 118; The Writings, 11, 372.

92Ibid. (Ev.), 132; The Writings, II, 383-384.

93Ibid. (Ev.), 55; The Writings, II, 316.

94Ibid. (Ev.), 111; The Writings, II, 366.

95Ibid. (Ev.), 104; The Writings, II, 359.

96Ibid. (Ev.), 114-115; The Writings, II, 369.

97Ibid. (Ev.), 57; The Writings, II, 317.

98Ibid. (Ev.), 120; The Writings, II, 373-374.

99Ibid. (Ev.), 138; The Writings, II, 389.

Works Cited

Aldridge, A. O. "Condorcet et Paine, leurs rapports intellectuels." in: Revue de littérature comparée, (jan.-mars 1958), 47-65.

——. Man of Reason. The Life of Thomas Paine. London: Cresset Press, 1960. Short title: Aldridge, Man of Reason.

Burke, E. Reflections on the French Revolution. (Everyman's Library, 460) London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1910. Short title: Reflections (Ev.).

Conway, M. D. (ed.) The Writings of Thomas Paine. Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway. 4 vols. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1894-1896. Short title: The Writings.

Dorfman, H. "The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine." in: Political Science Quarterly, LIII (Sept. 1938), 372-386.

Foner, P. S. (ed.) The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine. Edited by Philip S. Foner. 2 vols. New York: Citadel Press, 1945. Short title: Foner, Complete Writings.

Hazlitt, W. The Complete Works of William Hazlitt. Edited by P. P. Howe. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1931.

Paine, T. The Rights of Man. Introduction by G. J. Holyoake. (Everyman's Library, 718). London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1906. Short title: Rights of Man (Ev.).

Palmer, R. R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution. A Political History of Europe and America 1760-1800. The Challenge. Princeton N. J.,: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Thompson, J. M. The French Revolution. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1955.

Watson, J. S. The Reign of George III 1760-1815. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960.

Wollstonecraft, M. A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Rt. Hon. Edmund Burke . . . London: J. Johnson, 1790.

Evelyn J. Hinz (essay date 1972)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5308

SOURCE: "The 'Reasonable' Style of Tom Paine," in Queen's Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer, 1972, pp. 231-41.

[In the essay that follows, Hinz argues against the assumption that, because Paine declared his faith in reason alone, his works sought to convince via the laws of reason; Hinz contends quite the conversethat Paine employed many alogical strategies in his efforts to persuade readers.]

"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense ... " wrote Thomas Paine in the first of the trio of works—Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason—which has established his fame as the great American spokesman for democratic principles in thought, politics, and religion.1 Political historians inform us that actually Paine's importance lay less in his ideas, which were common to the times, than in his role as a popularizer, in his "mastery of the art of popular persuasion".2 What is curious is that in consequently assessing Paine's style literary critics have tended to accept his own explanation of his effectiveness. In his Introduction to Thomas Paine, Harry Hayden Clark, for example, organizes his discussion of Paine's practice by quoting his avowed stylistic principles, and then goes on to conclude: "Such were the literary theories which guided him in his literary practice, which enabled him to command the attention of more than half a million readers, vigourously stirring them to accept the political, religious, economic, and social doctrines that helped to call into being the American Republic and the French Republic, as well as many humanitarian movements of later days."3 Without suggesting that such evaluations are inaccurate, I believe it is important to recognize that a good portion of Paine's writing will not bear the scrutiny of common sense, that much of his persuasiveness, consequently, must be explained as demagogic strategy rather than as the presentation of simple facts and the development of plain arguments. I have no desire to appear iconoclastic, but specifically in view of what has been called "The Resurgence of Thomas Paine",4 and generally in view of recent romantic trends in revolution on the one hand, and of the populist structuring of so many contemporary political appeals on the other hand, an inquiry into the methods of a master propagandist may be timely.

Though each of Paine's three major works has a specific angle, their common subject—Paine's controlling thesis—may be summarized as follows: all men are born equal and with two kinds of natural rights, intellectual (the right to reason on all subjects) and civil (the right to act to promote one's physical happiness and well-being). Man's intellectual rights can never be given or taken away; his civil rights the individual may voluntarily surrender in terms of the social compact. The origin of government, therefore, and the continual source of its power comes from the people. But monarchy and its cultural affiliations, according to Paine, have usurped both of man's natural rights; tradition and superstition have put man's reason in bondage; monarchical political systems have taken away man's civil rights by convincing him—by way of divine right theory and hereditary kingship—that the power of government lies in the rulers rather than in the ruled. Whether his point is positive or negative, then, Paine's password is "reason", and it is therefore logical that he should announce "simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense" as his stylistic touchstones.

In practice, however, Paine's characteristic method is repeatedly to invoke common sense and repeatedly to assert that he is using plain reason. "It is repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things, to all examples from former ages, to suppose that this continent can long remain subject to any external power", he writes on the eve of the American Revolution (CS, 25); "The plain truth is, that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into" (CS, 16). "Mankind, as it appears to me, are always ripe enough to understand their true interest, provided it be presented clearly to their understanding, and that in a manner not to create suspicion by anything like self-design, nor to offend by assuming too much", he writes in the Dedication to The Rights of Man (166), employing at the same time as he subtly implies his rhetorical strategy. Similarly, in the Dedication to The Age of Reason, which title in itself is self-advertisement, he announces, "The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall" (234). It is not that the passages preceding and following such declarations are necessarily illogical, but, generally, that assertion is not demonstration, and, specifically, that such protestations have the effect of making his appeal appear more rational than it really is. Commenting upon the secret of his success, a modern demagogue, Hitler, is supposed to have said that if you tell a big enough lie often enough the masses will believe you; according to Paine, "A single expression, boldly conceived and uttered, will sometimes put a whole company into their proper feelings, and a whole nation are acted upon in the same manner" (RM, 231).

The converse of Paine's emphasis upon the rationality of his approach is his habit of branding the theories of his opponents as irrational and illogical. If reason to him is the positive ne plus ultra, absurdity or an equivalent is the negative. The English constitution is "A mere absurdity!" for example: "There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet impowers him to act in cases where the highest judgement is required. The state of a king shuts him off from the world, yet the business of a king requires him to know it thoroughly; wherefore the different parts, by unnaturally opposing and destroying each other, prove the whole character to be absurd and useless" (CS, 7-8). Edmund Burke's theory of hereditary rights can simply be labelled "nonsense, for it deserves no better name" (RM, 136), while with respect to established Christianity, "It is an inconsistency scarcely possible to be credited that anything should exist, under the name of religion, that held it to be irreligious to study and contemplate the structure of the universe that God had made. But the fact is too well established to be denied" (AR, 272). As these examples demonstrate, Paine's technique is to present his opponents in a ridiculous light by drastically oversimplifying and restyling their principles and then rightly to conclude that the picture is absurd, and further the implication that he is a man of eminent common sense for having exposed it. "In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which in plain terms is to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped in the bargain!" (CS, 18). Only the moral indignation and appeal to rationality make this description of royalty different from the discussions of monarchy and government in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!

"It is from our enemies that we often gain excellent maxims, and are frequently surprised into reason by their mistakes", observes Paine in Common Sense (42). It is therefore only poetically just that other of Paine's strategies can be formulated in terms of his attacks upon the discursive methods of his opponents. In The Rights of Man, for example, he writes that "it is difficult to answer [Burke's] book without apparently meeting him on the same ground" because "circumstances are put for arguments" (141). One of Paine's favourite techniques is to make analogy bear the burden of argument. As one would expect, considering that Paine is an eighteenth-century figure, most of his similes can be grouped under three headings—those drawn from human nature, those from natural science, and those from mechanical technology—and by the same token his use of such similes can in part be attributed to the enlightened belief that one Order manifested itself in all aspects of creation. Still, the nature of his arguments in this mode suggests enough demagogical craft to characterize the writer as a clever propagandist as much as straightforward Deist.

The design of the analogies drawn from human nature has the effect of making the reader feel personally involved in the political issue and morally obliged to credit Paine's interpretation. For example, by way of concluding the first section of Common Sense, and introducing the second, Paine writes: "An inquiry into the constitutional errors in the English form of government is at this time highly necessary; for as we are never in a proper position of doing justice to others while we continue under the influence of some leading partiality, so neither are we capable of doing it to ourselves while we remain fettered by any obstinate prejudice. And as a man who is attached to a prostitute is unfitted to choose or judge of a wife, so any prepossession in favour of a rotten constitution of government will disable us from discerning a good one" (CS, 9). Had the argument ended without analogy, the reader could have dismissed Paine's implications as biased politics; by ending with a recourse to morals, Paine blackmails the reader into hearing him out.

More insidious, because reliant upon sentimentality as well as morality, is his second use of a similar analogy in Common Sense. His argument now is no longer for consideration of the errors of the British system of government but for separation: "Ye that tell us of harmony and reconciliation, can ye restore to us the time that is past? Can ye give to prostitution its former innocence? Neither can ye reconcile Britain and America" (CS, 34). By virtue of such a presentation, the reader who believes in the possibility of reconciliation is cornered into defending his position by accepting an impossible and irrelevant moral challenge.

One of the favourite passages of those who admire Paine's literary flair is his analogy in The Rights of Man between the inevitability of political revolution and seasonal rebirth. According to James Boulton, "The Allegory is as simple as biblical parable, its message is clear and the experience it draws on is universal."5 Granting this, one may still ask whether the analogy operates by providing additional evidence or by distracting the reader into the acceptance of a non sequitur.

It is now towards the middle of February. Were I to take a turn into the country, the trees would present a leafless, wintery appearance. As people are apt to pluck twigs as they go along, I perhaps might do the same, and by chance might observe that a single bud on that twig had begun to swell. I should reason very unnaturally, or rather not reason at all, to suppose this was the only bud in England which had this appearance. Instead of deciding thus, I should instantly conclude that the same appearance was beginning or about to begin everywhere; and though the vegetable sleep will continue longer on some trees and plants than on others, and though some of them may not blossom for two or three years, all will be in leaf in the summer, except those which are rotten. What pace the political summer may keep with the natural, no human foresight can determine. It is, however, not difficult to perceive that spring is begun. (RM, 233)

It is, of course, the reader who substitutes revolution for spring in the conclusion, but he has been manipulated into doing so as a result of Paine's metaphorical identification in the penultimate line. "Political summer" is the agent by which the logic of the seasonal argument is brought to bear on a totally different subject.

In a similar way, Paine's argument for separation between America and England depends upon a false analogy and then upon the transference of the logic of the vehicle to that of the tenor. "Small islands not capable of protecting themselves are the proper objects for government to take under their care; but there is something absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet; and as England and America, with respect to each other, reverse the common order of nature, it is evident that they belong to different systems. England to Europe: America to itself (CS, 26). To put the argument into syllogistic form is all one needs to do to highlight the rhetoric: In nature, the smaller does not rule the larger; England is smaller than America; therefore, it is unnatural for England to rule America. As in the former example, and in all of Paine's natural analogies, the effectiveness of the technique depends upon the reader attending to the logic of the isolated terms and discounting the appropriateness or logic of the analogy itself. Is the relationship between England and America simply one of physical magnitude? And what about relative populations?

Since Paine's technological analogies proceed according to similar rhetorical strategies, one example of the type should be sufficient. The best occurs in his attempt to prove that while in theory the English constitution grants parliament the power to check the king, in fact the monarch is all-powerful: "for as the greater weight will always carry up the less, and as all the wheels of a machine are put in motion by one, it only remains to know which power in the constitution has the most weight, for that will govern; and though the others, or a part of them, may clog, or check the rapidity of its motion, yet so long as they cannot stop it, their endeavours will be ineffectual; the first moving power will at last have its way, and what it wants in speed is supplied by time" (CS, 8). This certainly is a common-sensical description of mechanical principles, but it is hardly evidence that the king is a tyrant, although that is the conclusion it is designed to prove: "That the crown is this overbearing part in the English constitution needs not be mentioned, and that it derives its whole consequence merely from being the giver of places and pensions is self-evident; wherefore, though we have been wise enough to shut and lock a door against absolute monarchy, we at the same time have been foolish enough to put the crown in possession of the key" (CS, 8-9). In literature and poetry, analogy has the effect of awakening the reader to the possibilities of new realities; in politics and propaganda it may have the effect of blinding the reader to the actualities, first, by turning the reader's attention away from the issue at hand, and second, by creating the impression that real evidence has been offered.

A corollary to Paine's reliance upon analogy as argument is his use of what might be called the implied premise. On the subject of English-American relations, for example, he asks, "To bring the matter to one point, Is the power who is jealous of our prosperity, a proper power to govern us?" (CS, 28). Reason demands, even of a royalist, that a negative answer be given to the question thus phrased; as stated, that is, the question is one of general principles. But as Paine's answer indicates, the abstract question is a means to a very specific end: "Whoever says No to this question is an independent, for independency means no more than this, whether we shall make our own laws, or whether the king, the greatest enemy this continent hath, or can have, shall tell us, There shall be no laws but such as I like" (28). In saying No, in short, the reader is trapped into saying that the king is the enemy, because the seemingly abstract question is implicitly preceded by the proposition that England is jealous of American prosperity. Structured according to the same principle, but made doubly forceful by the explicit appeal to reason is the statement, "Common sense will tell us that the power which hath endeavoured to subdue us, is, of all others, the most improper to defend us" (CS, 37). What common sense, and Thomas Paine, have not told us, however, is that England has, in terms of Paine's definition, attempted to subdue America. It is ironical that in arguing against reconciliation in another instance, Paine should quote from John Milton, for the best precedent for his use of the implied premise is to be found in Satan's attempts to convince Eve of the jealousy of God in Paradise Lost.

The use of adjectival qualifications suggests a similar method of cornering the reader into an acceptance of his theories. In Common Sense, for example, Paine writes that "the good people of this country are grievously oppressed" by the power politics of England (3). By making "good" and "people" and "grievously" and "oppressed" mutually identical terms, Paine leaves the dissenter with no other choice but to announce himself as morally reprobate and unchristian, at the same time that he makes the assenter feel morally righteous and humanitarian because of his anti-aristocratic biases. Similarly, when Paine argues that "in a well-conditioned republic" (RM, 161) political chicanery is impossible because representation by definition makes for coordination rather than competition, one should consider how the qualification anticipates any logical objections the reader may have to the idea in general. It is like saying, "a good man cannot be bad" when what is demanded is proof that "men are good".

And if the use of one qualification silences objection, the use of two forces the reader into acceptance: "Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived" (CS, 18). The statement appears as the conclusion to Paine's discussion of monarchy and heredity, and its purpose therefore is to assert that kings are, by nature, no better than ordinary men. But as it is presented, the implicitly neutral terms have been so qualified that it is no longer king and commoner but two very different things that are being contrasted: honest and crowned, man and ruffians, with the consequent implication that all common men are honest and all kings are ruffians, while the balancing of the "one" against "all" is designed to suggest both the oppression of the single man by the royal multitudes and the Tennysonian purity which enables him to have "the strength of ten".

"Before anything can be reasoned upon to a conclusion, certain facts, principles, or data, to reason from, must be established, admitted, or denied", writes Paine by way of introducing an attack upon Burke for his "contemptible opinion of mankind" (RM, 85 and 187); "He investigates nothing to its source, and therefore he confounds everything" (91). A better case of self-exposure would be hard to find. To explain, according to Paine man is not naturally depraved but on the contrary naturally altruistic. The cause of evil lies not in man Paine repeats and repeats: "man, were he not corrupted by governments, is naturally the friend of man . . . human nature is not of itself vicious" (RM, 222); "If we would delineate human nature with baseness of heart and hypocrisy of countenance that reflection would shudder at and humanity disown, it is kings, courts, and cabinets, that must sit for the portrait. Man, as he is naturally, with all his faults about him is not up to the character" (RM, 182). And this natural goodness, it is well to add, pertains, according to Paine, not—as the traditional explanation of the origin of evil would have it—merely to prelapsarian man but to all men, because in all respects all men are created equal (CS, 9, 13; RM, 86-87; AR, 251, 256). But whence then, one asks, does evil arise? A Deist, Paine will not even consider the Hesiodic suggestion that man's plight originates with the gods; and enlightened thinker, he rejects the reality of Satan; instead his answer is that evil comes from governments: "man, were he not corrupted by governments, is naturally the friend of man" (RM, 222). But where, one logically asks, does government come from? why do naturally good men suddenly become unnaturally evil? To answer this question, Paine resorts to what must be the funniest expedient on political record: "It could have been no difficult thing in the early and solitary ages of the world, while the chief employment of men was that of attending flocks and herds, for a banditti of ruffians to overrun a country, and lay it under contribution. Their power being thus established, the chief of the band contrived to lose the name of robber in that of monarch; and hence the origin of monarchy and kings" (RM, 181). After such a tour de force, it almost seems unkind to ask where the convenient banditti came from, and how honest men came to be ruffians in the first place.

It is less unkind, however, to point out Paine's willingness to contradict himself should the occasion demand it. We have been observing, for example, Paine's thesis that monarchical government and evil are alien to man and his natural goodness: "We must not confuse the peoples with their governments" (RM, 55). Yet when the issue is the origin of government and the consequent source of its power, the identity of man and government is presented as a donnée that only an imbecile would challenge: "If governments, as Mr. Burke asserts, are not founded on the rights of man, and are founded on any rights at all, they consequently must be founded on the rights of something that is not man. What, then, is that something?" (RM, 208). Before presenting Paine's answer to this carefully structured dilemma, it is profitable to mention that but a few pages earlier Paine had written with respect to an either-or statement by a contemporary, "Such a mode of reasoning on such a subject is inadmissible, because it finally amounts to an accusation of providence, as if she had left to man no other choice with respect to government than between two evils . . ." (RM, 186). Either, therefore, Paine is naturally absentminded or masterfully politic when in answer to his restructuring of Burke's theories he writes, "Generally speaking, we know of no other creatures that inhabit the earth than man and beast; and in all cases where only two things offer themselves and one must be admitted, a negation proved on one amounts to an affirmative on the other, and therefore, Mr. Burke, by proving against the rights of man, proves in behalf of the beast. . ." (RM, 208). Here, by ridiculing Burke, in short, Paine argues that government does come from man. It is not, however, merely that in doing so he contradicts his earlier argument that people must not be confused with their governments, but that immediately following this attack on his opponent, Paine writes, "For want of a constitution in England to restrain and regulate the wild impulse of power, many of the laws are irrational and tyrannical, and the administration of them vague and problematical" (208). Such a statement, it should be obvious, would suggest that Burke's "contemptible opinion of mankind" is indeed nearer the truth than Paine's romantic one, for whence comes the "wild impulse"? On this note, it is also appropriate to point out that while Paine repeatedly argues that it is rights that must make for government, when the need arises he is quite willing to argue that might makes right: "for if they cannot conquer us they cannot govern us" (CS, 26), he says of England's right to rule America—an argument, incidentally, which is essentially comparable to Gulliver's comment upon his opponents: "As they were able to offer no resistance, so they could expect no mercy." And as in the case of his calling upon Milton, it is ironic that Paine has elsewhere enlisted Swift in his cause (RM, 216).

In The Age of Reason, Paine attacks the Christian theory of redemption as a commercial idea structured upon a quibble concerning the meaning of "to die", (251-57) and throughout The Rights of Man his characteristic method of condemning Burke's principles is to decry his style of writing as purposely deceptive. A final aspect of Paine's rhetoric is his own facility in this respect. Significantly, one of the best examples is his continual play on the multiple meanings of that key word in his platform, the word "right", and one of the best instances is in the Introduction to Common Sense. "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom" (3). Here, clearly he is employing the term to imply both historical or factual accuracy and moral correctness or propriety. As he continues, right comes to mean in addition political power and also propria persona: "As a long and violent abuse of power is generally the means of calling the right of it in question . . . and as the king of England hath undertaken in his own right to support the parliament in what he calls theirs, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege [right] to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpation of either." The purpose of such word-play is obviously to establish the political issue as a moral, historical, and personal one so that on the one hand whosoever denies his theory of natural rights becomes a moral reprobate and a misguided political thinker, and so that the reader is disposed to be subjective in his reaction to the discussion, on the other. This being the case, one expects to hear, in The Rights of Man, that "the bill of rights is more properly a bill of wrongs and insults" (206).

The Introduction to Common Sense also introduces a second key word upon which Paine plays expedient variations: "The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which their affections are interested" (3). The appeal here is clearly to the altruism which throughout his writings Paine announces as a characterizing attribute of man. "Interested", therefore means simply involved, and, by reason of the context, emotionally concerned with the moral well-being of others. Yet, but a few pages later, we meet with a very different definition of interest: "We have boasted the protection of Great Britain without considering that her motive was interest not attachment; and that she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account, and who will always be our enemies on the same account" (CS, 20). Suddenly, interest has come to mean the opposite of altruism, has come to mean political advantage and commercial profit. Americans are called upon to despise such interestedness through an appeal to that very quality.

According to Vernon Parrington, "The amazing influence of Common Sense on a public opinion long befogged by legal quibble flowed from its direct and skillful appeal to material interests."6 Better than many, Parrington has seized upon the basis of Paine's appeal, but not upon his method, which is to disguise personal and commercial motives as altruism and humanitarianism: "our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct [sic] us to renounce the alliance: because any submission to, or dependence on, Great Britain, tends directly to involve this continent in European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint. . . . 'Tis the true interest of America to steer clear of European connections, which she can never do while by her dependence she is made the makeweight in the scale of British politics" (CS, 22-23). Thus it is that once again Paine's tactic boomerangs, for what better description of his practice here is there than the following exposé of the art of his opponents: "and though the expressions be pleasantly arranged, yet when examined they appear idle and ambiguous; and it will always happen that the nicest construction that words are capable of, when applied to the description of something which either cannot exist or is too incomprehensible to be within the compass of description, will be words of sound only, and though they may amuse the ear, they cannot inform the mind" (CS, 8).

The purpose of this essay has been to suggest that Paine's style is better labelled demagogic than democratic, that his tactic is to invoke reason rather than to persuade through reason. To this end I have attempted to indicate his reliance upon assertion to create the impression of common sense, his propensity to dismiss his opponents as absurd, his tendency to substitute analogy for argument and to imply premises, his circular argument concerning the origin of evil and his expedient willingness to contradict himself, his habit of directing response through the use of qualifications, and finally his ambiguous and multi-levelled diction. Whether or not these techniques, in turn, account for the popular success of Paine's work, it can be safely said that in his drama of the Irish Rebellion, Juno and the Paycock, Sean O'Casey perfectly characterizes the best audience for Paine's work in his portrayal of the romantic Captain Boyle and his fair-weather friend, Joxer Daly. Boyle has just announced to his buddy that he will no longer be imposed upon by his wife, Juno, to which Joxer replies:

Joxer. Them sentiments does you credit, Captain; I don't like to say anything as between man an' wife, but I say as a butty, as a butty, Captain, that you've stuck it too long, an' that it's about time you showed a little spunk.

"How can a man die betther than facin' fearful odds, "For th' ashes of his fathers an' the temples of his gods?"

Boyle. She has her rights—ther's no one deny in' it, but haven't I me rights too?

Joxer. Of course you have—the sacred rights o' man!

Boyle. To-day, Joxer, there's goin' to be issued a proclamation be me, establishin' an independent Republic, an' Juno'll have to take an oath of allegiance.

If these domestic rebels have taken Paine too literally and subjectively, it is perhaps because it is in the nature of his style to make readers do so.


1 Paine, Common Sense, in Thomas Paine: Representative Selections. With Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes by Harry Hayden Clark, Revised Edition (New York: Hill and Wang, 1961), p. 18. Henceforth all quotations from Paine will be from this readily accessible American Century Series Edition, and will be identified by page number in parenthesis, with the following abbreviations: Common Sense (CS); The Rights of Man (RM); The Age of Reason (AR). I am indebted to Frank H. Ellis for encouraging me to undertake this study; to John J. Teunissen for alerting me to the methods of demagogues; and finally to the Canada Council for providing the financial assistance that enabled me to research this subject and bring it to completion.

2 C. E. Merriam, "The Political Theories of Thomas Paine," Political Science Quarterly, 14 (September 1899), 389-404.

3 See also Clark's more detailed discussion, "Thomas Paine's Theories of Rhetoric," Transaction of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, 28 (1933), 307-39.

4 Richard Gimbel, "The Resurgence of Thomas Paine," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 69 (October 1959), 97-111.

5 James T. Boulton, "Literature and Politics I. Tom Paine and the Vulgar Style," EC, 12 (January 1962), 21.

6 Vernon Louis Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought. Vol. I: 1620-1800, The Colonial Mind (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954), p. 335.

Olivia Smith (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11725

SOURCE: "Rights of Man and Its Aftermath," in The Politics of Language, 1791-1819, Clarendon Press, 1984, pp. 35-67.

[In this chapter from her landmark book The Politics of Language, 1791-1819, Smith uses a close reading of Paine's word choice and grammar in order to establish the significance of his impact on language and political thought.]

John Simple, speaking of his wife's stay-maker to Mr Worthy: 'He is one of the prettiest-spoken men in the world'.1

The publication of Rights of Man demonstrated that a language could be neither vulgar nor refined, neither primitive nor civilized. Such dichotomies of theory did not account for the possibility of an intellectual vernacular speaker, nor did literary values account for the possibility of an intellectual vernacular prose. Even a writer as bold and as experienced as Thomas Paine was somewhat constrained by conventions of language. Describing the reason for the interval between the two parts of his book, he states: 'I wished to know the manner in which a work, written in a style of thinking and expression different to what had been customary in England, would be received before I proceeded further.'2 Other factors besides Paine's talent contributed to the possibility of his writing such a uniquely audacious book. Paine was not denounced as a vulgar author until he had written Rights of Man. The respect of such people as Edmund Burke and the Duke of Portland might well have increased his ability to disregard conventional standards. Also, Paine began writing in revolutionary America, a time and place where English concepts of language lacked a strong ideological hold. That he hesitated at all indicates the tenacity of concepts of language and suggests the greater difficulty of writers who remained in England.

Thomas Paine was hindered by literary convention but not by living within social relations which imposed limits to his abilities and interests, as were his English counterparts. Francis Place, for instance, described the financial necessity of disguising his inappropriate tendency to read. He carefully kept his library hidden because he lost valuable customers when they discovered he was 'bookish': 'Had these persons been told that I never read a book, that I was ignorant of every thing except my business, that I sotted in a public house, they would not have made the least objection to me.'3 The most devastating aspect of eighteenth-century assessment of language was its philosophic justification of this notion of vulgarity. While criticizing the stultification resulting from a rigid class society, Paine simultaneously demonstrated that the limits it imposed were fictitious. He stressed the intellectual and moral capability of his audience and wrote in a language that was alleged not to exist, an intellectual vernacular prose.

Thomas Paine wrote the Rights of Man in reply to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and the two books stand in a curious relation. Generally, the Reflections was received with gratitude by the radical movement for bringing greater definitiveness to political ideas. John Thelwall (principal orator of the London Corresponding Society) claimed that he did not consciously hold a political position until he read the Reflections. Only then did he realize that he had previously believed in the frequently reiterated phrase 'the glorious and happy constitution' and that he believed in it no longer. Others, he reports, responded similarly to the book. Burke

wrote the most raving and fantastical, sublime, and scurrilous, paltry and magnificent, and in every way most astonishing book ever sent into the world. A book, I will venture to say, which has made more democrats, among the thinking part of mankind, than all the works ever written in answer to it.4

Radical democratic clubs, such as the Norwich Society, praised Burke for initiating the great debate 'by which he has opened unto us the dawn of a glorious day'.5 Fully describing a conservative viewpoint, Burke established a background which enabled others to recognize their own thought. Ideas which had previously been unformulated were now held consciously or disowned.

By writing about politics in an unusual manner, Burke made the radical position more capable of being articulated. Making political thought more conscious, in itself, makes it more expressible. This is the usual benefit of good discussion and both Thelwall and the Norwich Society were grateful for it. Also, Burke disregarded various literary conventions in the Reflections which hindered the development of an intellectual vernacular. He wrote in a manner that was recognized as both refined and vulgar. Philip Francis, who read the Reflections before publication, advised Burke not to publish it. It was too emotive, the language was too wide-ranging, it would serve the radical cause, and it would initiate a pamphlet war.6 Reviews of the book concur with Francis's initial assessment. The Monthly Review, which has also been cited in the first chapter, was both awed and offended by the book. Burke's writing drew on an unfamiliarly wide range of metaphors, 'sublime and grovelling, gross and refined'.7 Its vehemence, its disorder, and its disregard of elegance were the characteristics of his prose that did not accord with prevalent appraisals of the refined language. While reading the published and expanded version of the book, Francis sent further criticism to Burke:

Once for all, I wish you would let me teach you to write English. To me, who am to read every thing you write, it would be a great comfort, and to you no sort of disparagement. Why will you not allow Yourself to be persuaded, that polish is material to preservation?

(The Correspondence, p. 151)

Francis's confident tone derives from an authority that was fully supported by an intact and well-known literary code.

Burke held various ideas which disagreed with the basic tenets of language theory. He did not believe that the rationalism of Greek and Roman civilization constituted the most valuable strain of European culture. The inclusion of feeling in feudal modes of behaviour and government makes it superior to Greek and Roman forms:

It is this ['the mixed system of sentiment and opinion'] which has given its character to modern Europe. It is this which has distinguished it under all its forms of government, and distinguished it to its advantage, from the states of Asia, and possibly from those states which flourished in the most brilliant periods of the antique world.8

Burke's idiosyncratic admiration of chivalry included a criticism of the late eighteenth-century's assessment of reason. By arguing against the Dissenters, Burke argued against an ideology which had a radical form, and which also held pervasive sway. The political stance of the Reflections, as Conor Cruise O'Brien explains it, was of a peculiar kind: 'These writings—which appear at first sight to be an integral defence of the established order—constitute in one of their aspects . . . a heavy blow against the established order in the country of Burke's birth, and against the dominant system of ideas in England itself (Introduction to the Reflections, pp. 34-5). Burke's style is one means by which he both attacks and defends the established order. The frequency of such phrases as 'influenced by the inborn feelings of my nature' (p. 168), indicate the extent of Burke's disagreement with theorists who had isolated reason as an autonomous faculty. Burke's willingness to rely on experience, his assumption that emotions are not transitory and irrational but a valid component of thought, and his unwillingness to detach himself from the ordinary world by his diction are the eccentric characteristics of his prose. Burke attacked the Dissenters with a charge that, in fact, does not belong specifically to them but to anyone who concurred with the dominant theory of language: 'They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered men' (p. 148).

Paradoxically, Burke disregarded literary conventions in order to maintain the status quo. Vulgar language appears in his book with full consciousness of its vulgarity, usually portraying the minimal sensibility that would prevail if the radicals were successful: 'The state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, callico or tobacco, or some other such low concern' (p. 194). Such uses of language are effective because their recognizably vulgar vocabulary condemns the minds and morals of those who think in such terms. The alignment of intellectual and spiritual values with class affected by theorists of language allows Burke to insult the radicals by his choice of diction. What is unusual here, however, is Burke's distinctive notion of vulgarity. He employs vulgar terms to portray sensibility that relies only on reason—what was usually considered to be the greatest achievement of the refined languages. Burke's use of vulgar terms does not portray a plebeian and irrational mind, but the brutality of a mind that performs with only one faculty. Elsewhere Burke uses vulgar terms without the pointedness of his comment here. Whereas Philip Francis sarcastically apologizes for the 'elegant' phrase 'I vow to God' in his letter to Burke (The Correspondence, p. 87), Burke adopts the language of workers to convey his meaning more precisely. To do this without apology is extremely unusual: 'A politician, to do great things, looks for a power, what our workmen call a purchase' (p. 267). With a style that was recognizably deviant, Burke brought vulgar terms, arguments based on experience, and impassioned speech into political discourse. For Paine to break the same conventions for the purpose of disrupting traditional class alignments might have been more difficult to achieve without the unsettling of literary conventions performed by the Reflections.

Other contributing factors should be considered before we return to Burke. Paine's reading of French authors and his experience of revolutionary America provided him with a range of conventions that was foreign to English literature and English concepts of language. This externality was essential to his becoming an author and to his becoming the type of author he became. Although he was admired as a debater and had written an unpublished pamphlet while in England, his arrival in the United States brought aimless talents sharply into focus: 'It was the cause of America that made me an author'.9 By the time of writing Rights of Man, Thomas Paine had already contributed to the development of an intellectual vernacular in the United States. Eric Foner points out that Paine's achievement with Common Sense is analogous to his achievement in England with the Rights of Man. With that pamphlet also he was the first pamphleteer to address a broadly-based audience with colloquial language and to articulate political ideas that had remained unexpressed.10

Paine's experience of a culture which was considering the political implications of a range of questions, including language, undoubtedly gave him a greater freedom from the restrictions on language use than was possible in England. The revolutionary movement was quick to recognize the importance of language. By 1789, Noah Webster had developed a critique of the class bias of English theories and practice of language. He argued that language had been distorted in the grammar texts in order to make it more closely resemble Latin and Greek, that the model of grammar should be the spoken tongue, and that English usage had been artificially constructed to maintain and perpetuate class distinctions. According to Webster, the cumulative effect of the works of Johnson, Lowth, Sheridan, and others was to hinder the process of speaking and writing:

The general practice of a nation is not easily changed, and the only effect that an attempt to reform it can produce, is, to make many people doubtful, cautious, and consequently uneasy; to render a few ridiculous and pedantic by following nice criticism in the face of customary propriety; and to introduce a distinction between the learned and unlearned, which serves only to create difficulties for both.11

Although English ideas and concepts of language were present in America (Lindley Murray was American), they did not have the monolithic status which they had in England. There is no need to establish that Paine had read Webster's theory of language. His own writings had helped to create an intellectual vernacular, and his associates in the United States, Franklin and Jefferson for example, were skilled writers of vernacular prose. The literary training of William Cobbett and Joel Barlow in the States, as well as Thomas Paine, is not coincidental. One of the achievements of the radical movement in England, the extension of literature to an increasingly large portion of the population, was greatly furthered by the more flexible literary and linguistic traditions of the United States.

Paine recognized, however, that Rights of Man was a different type of project from Common Sense or The Crisis. These earlier works were shorter pieces written to argue specific positions. Rights of Man portrays a class structure and analyses its contribution to the survival of the English form of government. Paine's task in writing his book was to portray his full sense of that class structure, while also equalling the skills of Edmund Burke, who had an extensive education and was a respected member of the literati. The stylistic combat is an exciting component of the Rights of Man because Paine's ability represents the possible achievements of any member of his audience. In any situation, one of the pleasures of reading exceptionally good prose lies in discovering that the language can achieve more than one had imagined. To the early readers of Paine's book, this pleasure must have been especially strong due to the alleged incapacity of the language in which he wrote. Other replies to Burke, such as James Mackintosh's, refuted Burke's ideas, but they did not challenge the scope of the debate or alter the extent of possibilities. Thomas Paine, with more political acumen, understood that the problem presented by the Reflections lay equally in Burke's style and his definition of the audience. Thus, Paine had not only to write a political vernacular prose, as he had already done, but to write in a manner that would refute the political implications of the literary skills represented by Edmund Burke.

There is more fulness to Paine's writing in Rights of Man than that of Common Sense or The Crisis, and that may have been encouraged by the Reflections. A greater use of metaphor, a more vividly present narrator, and a keener awareness of his audience are the characteristics of Paine's prose that match Burke's use of himself as a narrative device, his broad range of images, and the frequent attention he pays to his readers. Paine seems to have augmented his own skills in the combined gesture of learning and retaliation. Although Burke's style is allusive and literary, and although he distrusted the vulgar populace intensely, he does not write in a language that scorns the vernacular. The Reflections was adapted for the emerging audience simply by the process of omitting certain passages.12 Such writings as Mackintosh's Vindiciae Gallicae or Godwin's Enquiry concerning Political Justice could not be adapted without being extensively rewritten. If the book had been written by an author with a more conventional sense of the gentlemanly language, Paine could not have augmented his own skills in the process of rebuttal while also developing an intellectual vernacular. By disregarding restrictions on prose style, Burke enabled Paine both to meet Burke on his own ground and to write in a manner that was, in spite of the glimmering precedent, revolutionary.

Burke and Paine employ a personal narrator in distinct ways, but both of them convey to their readers a full sense of their personalities and rely on their skill in conveying themselves as the fundamental proof of their argument. Burke had accused the French and English radicals of being unfeeling, and he relied on portraying his sensitivity to support his argument. This accusation pervades Burke's writing sufficiently to require an answer. The balance Paine achieves between a response that is called for by the content of the Reflections and one that is called for by his democratic politics reveals how fully Paine had appraised his opponent and how consciously he employs his own style. To answer the charge of insensibility, Paine chooses to portray himself as a sensitive writer whose reasoning and emotions are unexceptional. By diminishing himself, Paine eventually builds up a clear and powerful portrayal of ordinary men. The Preface and the opening pages of the book contain the most explicit contrast between Paine and Burke. Paine's experience of the French Revolution and of having known Edmund Burke accord Paine some status, but he does not make so much of them that his political thought is portrayed as a result of his unusual life. Paine recognized the necessity of contrasting himself with Burke while concurrently not calling much attention to himself, for such a ploy would undermine the basic assumption of the prose style, that everyone's thought is adequate for political participation. Paine's narrative stance manages both to define himself clearly and to pay an unusual amount of attention to his readers. As a narrator, Paine is both intensely present and unusually self-abnegating. One of the means which enables Paine to manage such a paradoxical position, is to define himself not by direct portrayal, but by leaving readers to recognize the contrast between his characterization of Burke and the image Paine creates of himself by the style of his prose.

In The Language of Politics, J. T. Boulton describes the contrapuntal relationship of the two: 'If Burke "confounds everything" by failing to make distinctions and refusing to define his terms, Paine should work by definition and clarity; if Burke's book is a "pathless wilderness of rhapsodies" then Paine's should be well ordered and comprehensible.' (p. 146.) The difference exists in the formulation of Paine's sentences, as well as in the book's overall organization. The spaciousness and clarity of Paine's writing depend on the syntactical emphasis on the nouns and verbs. There are few adjectives and adverbs in Paine's prose. This conveys the sense that Paine's efforts are concentrated on fundamental issues. Setting a paragraph of the Reflections against the Rights of Man will clarify several of these points.

Always acting as if in the presence of canonized forefathers, the spirit of freedom, leading in itself to misrule and excess, is tempered with an awful gravity. This idea of a liberal descent inspires us with a sense of habitual native dignity, which prevents that upstart insolence almost inevitably adhering to and disgracing those who are the first acquirers of any distinction. By this means our liberty becomes a noble freedom. It carries an imposing and majestic aspect. It has a pedigree and illustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns armorial. (p. 121)

Burke's tendency to couple nouns and adjectives presents the impression that there is one way in which we are compelled to respond to things. It emphasizes appearance because our response is determined by publicly manifested attributes which are uncontestable. Verbs are hardly noticeable in this passage. They serve to augment the power of objects while they do not acknowledge the possibility of choice or action. In Paine's prose, nouns and verbs are rarely modified. In the passage below, Paine employs an unusual number of adjectives and adverbs while he describes Burke's concept of the crown. He presents his own view with a simpler sentence organization. Such a style places great emphasis on the nature of things and the consequences that follow.

Mr Burke talks about what he calls an hereditary crown, as if it were some production of Nature; or as if, like Time, it had a power to operate, not only independently, but in spite of man; or as if it were a thing or a subject universally consented to. Alas! it has none of those properties, but is the reverse of them all. It is a thing in imagination, the propriety of which is more than doubted, and the legality of which in a few years will be denied. (ii. 363)

Such phrases as 'what he calls the hereditary crown' remind readers that the power of certain terms depends on the credence given to them and not on qualities inherent in the object itself. Paine treats monarchy, titles, aristocracy, mixed government, and the church and state as the products of social organization. Terms are defined, not according to an immutable identity, but according to how they came to exist and the bearing they have on 'the sphere of man's felicity' (ii. 320).

During Paine's trial for writing Part Two, the Attorney-General objected to Paine's discussion of the constitution, not only because Paine scorned the thing itself, but also because he thought of the word with too much historical specificity. While Paine discussed the constitution as an identifiable object which had been shaped by the historical process and the needs of various social groups, the Attorney-General presented it as an autonomous idea. The sense he conveyed of it, as changing according to its own life rather than human interference, was common to conservative pamphlets of the time. It 'has been growing,—not as Mr Paine would have you believe, from the Norman Conquest—but from time almost eternal,—impossible to trace' (ST [State Trials: A Complete Collection of State Trials, Compiled by William Cobbett and later by T. B. Howells, 34 vols.], xxii. 384). Behind their contrary interpretations lies an alteration in the word which had resulted from the American Revolution. In John Adams's Answer to Pain's Rights of Man (the Attorney-General relies on this work later in the trial), Adams also considers Paine's use of the word. To Paine's argument that England had no constitution, he replies:

Of course there never was a people that had a constitution, previous to the year 1776. But the word with an idea affixed to it, had been in use, and commonly understood, for centuries before that period, and therefore Mr Pain must, to suit his purpose, alter its acceptations, and in the warmth of his zeal for revolutions, endeavour to bring about a revolution in language also.13

As well as reflecting a change in the word due to the American Revolution, the disagreement between Paine and the Attorney-General also pertains to their differing concepts of signification. Adams's sense that Paine's use of 'constitution' indicates a 'revolution in language also' was borne out by a recently published work on language. John Home Tooke, an associate of Paine's and a fellow member of the London Constitutional Society, wrote the Diversions of Purley, a work which would refute conventional notions of abstract vocabulary To consider 'constitution' as the Attorney-General does here, is to consider it within the framework of the late eighteenth century's concept of abstract ideas. 'Monarchy' and 'constitution' within such a scheme, had an eternal existence whose value was confirmed by their status as ideas 'COMMON TO MANY INDIVIDUALS; not only to Individuals which exist now, but which existed in ages past, and will exist in ages future' (Harris, p. 341). Paine had a sense of such terms as magical because their power as words disguised their historical identities. To give them credence is to be 'immured in the Bastille of a word' (ii. 320). By treating them as concrete nouns, Paine transforms them from permanently fixed ideas to objects which could be produced, altered or removed:

A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. (ii. 309)

By engendering the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying, and not of breeding up, is produced, called the Church established by Law. (ii. 327)

The shift in perspective that Paine performs in the Rights of Man made a tremendous difference. Words which had protected political institutions by the manner in which those words were considered were made vulnerable to 'a style of thinking and expression different to what had been customary'. More than any other discrete facet of his work, this one 'destroyed with one book century-old taboos'.14

Whereas Burke's diction and metaphors define his class allegiance and his aesthetic sensibility (in the passage cited, for example, Burke transforms the 'spirit of liberty' into 'bearings and ensigns armorial'), Paine's is non-individuating. His literary allusions refer to works that were generally read, such as Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible and Don Quixote (Boulton, Language of Politics, p. 141), and his vocabulary does not contain unusual words or words used idiosyncratically. Although Paine considers such words as 'monarchy' in an unusual way, he considers them with a strictly ordinary vocabulary. This gives readers the impression that his words derive from his ideas and not from an eccentric sensibility. Paradoxically, it confirms their faith in the independence of his thought, while confirming also that he is not very distinct from themselves.

Because Paine does not choose to discuss himself directly, his style of writing is the primary ground for substantiating the author's identity. To refute Burke's charge that radicals are unfeeling, Paine describes Burke as a man without compassion who is struck by his own aesthetic vision and not the actual event of human suffering. The portrayal of Burke's reasoning as 'strange and marvellous' (ii. 276) culminates in several pages wherein Paine attacks him with a metaphorical onslaught. The culmination of Paine's portrait of Burke is resounding—one of the moments in the text when Paine's words strike readers with the energy of a sudden and new idea of their own:

It is painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself. Nature has been kinder to Mr Burke than he is to her. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird. (ii. 288)

Here, Paine's portrayal of himself implied in his criticism of another and the confirmation of this portrayal in his language, are well co-ordinated. Paine presents his response to Burke as if everyone would have the discernment and the kindness to respond in the same way. His reaction is grounded in general truth, and his compassion, by the parallel construction of the first two sentences, shares in the qualities and scope of nature's kindness.

The structured appearance of these sentences is a general feature of Paine's prose. Two sentences of equal length are followed by a sentence twice as long divided into two equal parts. The three sentences are summarized by a short sentence divided into two unusually short phrases. The symmetry is pleasing in itself, and, at its best, the expanding and contracting syntax provides for a changing rhythm that marks the pace of Paine's thought. In this instance, the general statement and the specific case are of the same length. A sentence twice as long establishes the contrast between them, and the short phrases of the third appear with a quickness that is designed to imitate the imagination. In another instance, previously cited, a short phrase presents a fact, while the two following phrases, of approximately similar length, describe two results occurring at different times: 'It [the crown] is a thing in imagination, the propriety of which is more than doubted, and the legality of which in a few years will be denied.' The syntax implies that every thought is in its correct place, receiving due weight and completed to the end of its course. Paine's presentation of untraditional and disruptive ideas was muted by their appearance in a grammatical background of order and symmetry. The writer appears more as someone who is fulfilling the form of his sentences than as someone expressing extremely unusual opinions.

Further, the structured syntax heightens the vernacular rhythm of the prose. Paine, in an unusual manner, brings formality and colloquialism together to serve each other's purpose. The syntax conveys the informality of speech rhythm and the traditional eighteenth-century values of balance, order and logic:

The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as Government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right to it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, Who is to decide, the living or the dead? (ii. 281)

The interplay of the vernacular diction and the formal syntax is more reminiscent of Augustan poetry ('Absalom and Achitophel' or The Dunciad, for example) than of late eighteenth-century prose, as are other characteristics of Paine's style; the brevity and self-containment of his sentences, a tendency to present ideas in two parts of similar length, and the accentuated rhythm. At times Paine comes strikingly close to the couplet form by concluding two parallel phrases with words, which although they do not rhyme are closely related to each other by their meaning: 'He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird'; 'Our enquiries find a resting place, and our reason finds a home' (ii. 304). To bring formal syntax and vernacular diction together as successfully as Paine does implies that the attributes of syntactical order are inherently compatible with the spoken language, when formal syntax was widely held to distinguish vulgar from refined usage.

To return to the 'dying bird' passage, the concluding image is all the more effective because it is contained within an extremely balanced framework. Syntactical expertise was an eighteenth-century skill. In the Preface to his Dictionary, the fullness of Johnson's emotions struggles against the confines of his syntax, and the tension between the two is moving. Here the order of the syntactical arrangement does not prepare the readers for the sudden extension of meaning. The tension lies between the intellectual excitement experienced by the readers and the denial of it by the syntax. Paine's ability to perceive beyond appearances is portrayed in an image that simultaneously confirms Burke's cruelty to nature. So much meaning in a four-word phrase provokes an experience of totality when the readers expect the addition of another part.

Paine's criticism of Burke for being a spectator of his own prose contrasts with the casualness of Paine's relation to his own images. As in the 'dying bird' passage, Paine usually disregards his own images while the readers are surprised by them. This is another facet of his self-abnegation as an author for it implies that such skills are unexceptional. It also confirms Paine's refusal to be distracted and his continuing with a steady pace to concentrate on fundamental issues. In one instance, however, Paine pulls back and responds to his own writing. After describing how the 'wondering cheated multitude' was duped by the fusion of the church and state he reacts to the phrase:

When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature had not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon. (ii. 308)

Paine does not appear as a first-person narrator without special occasion. He usually does so to convey information that his readers would not share, such as his first-hand knowledge of events in France, or, as here, to portray his own reaction. The parenthetical phrase is one of the many instances when Paine can strike off repercussive ideas in the readers with a short and seemingly inadvertent phrase. In contrast to the imaginative basis of Burke's hysteria, Paine grounds his emotions in nature and contemplation. His feelings are shown to be a part of his thought, some of which he trusts and others of which he disciplines.

Paine makes the difference between his and Burke's style important by using them as a means of contrasting two political systems. Burke's style embodies methods of the state, for both he and tyrannical governments reduce the population to passive spectators of a theatrical show. Paine's theatre images are effective because they flexibly combine various components of his argument. His incorporation of a public audience points out that Burke ignored an essential factor of his own imagery—the audience, which is the body politic. Again, the extent of Burke's vision is shown to be near-sighted. By referring to less élitist forms of theatre, Paine's imagery is applicable to the experience of a larger reading audience (Boulton, Language of Politics, 143). Finally, Paine adapts an aesthetic image into a political one. Burke's theatre portrayed his response to events in France, especially as he compared the downfall of the Queen to viewing a Greek tragedy. Paine employs the same image to define the political relation between suppressive governments and the oppressed population: 'A vast mass of mankind are degradedly thrown into the back-ground of the human picture, to bring forward, with greater glare, the puppet-show of state and aristocracy' (ii. 296). Paine deflates the grandeur of Burke's scenario by altering Burke's image. By combining many aspects of his argument into an image—one which always contrasts with nature—their interrelation in the exposition also has an imaginative life. The theatre imagery provides a basis for Paine to manoeuvre, with great agility, around his portrait of the state.

Paine equates Burke's style and methods of the state both imaginatively and by discussing political variations in the customs of language use. Paine admires La Fayette's prose for directing attention to the living and for provoking thought with 'clear, concise, and soul-animating sentiments' (ii. 282). Elsewhere, he expresses admiration for Rousseau and Abbé Raynal for a 'loveliness of sentiment in favor of liberty, that excites respect, and elevates the human faculties' (ii. 334). The elected representatives of the National Assembly speak in a style that reflects the dignity of their status as representatives:

They have not to hold out a language which they do not themselves believe, for the fraudulent purpose of making others believe it. Their station requires no artifice to support it, and can only be maintained by enlightening mankind. It is not their interest to cherish ignorance, but to dispel it. They are not in the case of a ministerial or an opposition party in England, who, though they are opposed, are still united to keep up the common mystery. (ii. 332)

The language of Parliament is corrupted both by its origins and by the manner of elections. Members of the House of Commons must ask the King's permission to speak, and the King refers to both Houses as 'my parliament' (ii. 330). Such a practice reflects the origin of the Houses in a grant from the crown. Paine maintains that English political language is a remnant of the Norman Conquest, for it reminds the speakers of their subjection.

That this vassalage idea and style of speaking was not got rid of even at the Revolution of 1688, is evident from the declaration of Parliament to William and Mary in these words: 'We do most humbly and faithfully submit ourselves, our heirs and posterities, for ever.' Submission is wholly a vassalage term, repugnant to the dignity of freedom, and an echo of the language used at the Conquest. (ii. 331)

Generally too much an internationalist to stress the belief that English liberty was based on the more democratic forms of Anglo-Saxon government, Paine apparently believed a linguistic version of the Norman yoke myth. A specific language was brought to England during the Conquest which supported alien and authoritative forms. Language usage is creative in Paine's view in the sense that it defines and perpetuates political relations. Changing the style of language is a means of political and moral reformation. The aim of Paine's writing is similar to his description of the task of the National Assembly: 'The National Assembly must throw open a magazine of light. It must show man the proper character of man; and the nearer it can bring him to that standard, the stronger the National Assembly becomes.' (ii. 332.)

Paine's narrative stance performs an analogous gesture: while disregarding his own position as the author, Paine focuses an intense degree of attention on to his readers. His own thought—the actuality of having conceived and expressed his own ideas—is frequently denied. His thoughts appear in terms of speaking the obvious and the commonplace or recognizing the impossible and the absurd:

There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controuling posterity to the 'end of time'.(ii. 277)

A greater absurdity cannot present itself to the understanding of man than what Mr Burke offers to his readers. (ii. 279)

The weaker any cord is, the less it will bear to be stretched, and the worse is the policy to stretch it. (ii. 280)

Such presentations rapidly build up the readers' sense that there exists a public understanding that is intellectually adroit and competent to deal with political questions. The style of Paine's prose foregoes the necessity of having to establish this point by replacing a contentious idea with a self-evident assumption maintained by the manner of introducing other ideas. Surprisingly, Paine never explicitly states in the Rights of Man that people are generally intelligent enough to merit participating in government. A pamphlet of 1782, written by Sir William Jones, reveals the difficulty of politely convincing the populace that they are intelligent without inadvertently stressing the distance between social classes:

Peasant: Why should humble men, like me, sign or set marks to petitions of this nature? It is better for us peasants to mind our husbandry, and leave what we cannot comprehend to the King and Parliament.

Scholar: You can comprehend more than you imagine; and, as a free member of a free state, have higher things to mind than you may conceive.15

(Sir William Jones, later to become the famous linguist, was a member of the London Constitutional Society, as were Thomas Paine and John Horne Tooke.) Paine's style is more gracious. He compels his readers to be aware that they are thinkers and that their ability to think is powerful:

We have now, in a few words, traced man from a natural individual to a member of society. (ii. 307)

In casting our eyes over the world, it is extremely easy to distinguish . . . (ii. 308)

By frequent use of rhetorical questions and frequent reference to an understanding shared between himself and the readers, Paine brings his readers into the book. 'I' and 'we' become two identities which share a relation and various activities. The signposts (as J. T. Boulton describes such statements as those cited above, p. 119) that indicate the progress of the argument serve more than the function of ordering Paine's ideas. They show Paine to be a skilled and conscious craftsman who knows what needs to be done at which point: 'To possess ourselves of a clear idea of what government is, or ought to be, we must trace its origin' (ii. 309). He reveals explicitly the progress of his argument in order to show how it is done and to remind readers of what has been accomplished. Tasks are designated and achieved with skilful ease. The signposts elucidate the process of thought and make thinking a conscious process by commenting upon the process as the readers are engaged in it. They give to the readers a keen, and at times exhilarating, sense of the 'mightiness of reason' (ii. 284).

The signposts convey a sense of progress and intimacy by disrupting the distinction between writers and readers. By using the present tense and the pronoun 'we', Paine presents the illusion that he and the readers share the activity of constructing an argument. At times, Paine dramatically breaks out of the standard relationship of an author and his audience: 'The instant we ask ourselves this question, reflection feels an answer' (ii. 296). This is an intense moment, when readers self-consciously share the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Elsewhere, Paine discusses his book as if it were a dialogue, and such discussions awaken the rhythm of the prose and the colloquialism of the language. Generally there is a sense that the writer and the readers are engaging in conversation at its best—free-ranging, intellectual, and vivid. This general tone becomes explicit and suddenly lively when Paine starts talking to his readers: 'What will Mr. Burke place against this? I will whisper his answer.' (ii. 315.)

Paine's images are also congenial. The following metaphor is a shared one, not only because it describes an ordinary event, but because Paine describes it in such a way as to make his past and the readers' present as synonymous as they can be:

I know a place in America called Point-no-Point, because as you proceed along the shore, gay and flowery as Mr Burke's language, it continually recedes and presents itself at a distance before you; but when you have got as far as you can go, there is no point at all. Just thus it is with Mr Burke's three hundred and sixty-six pages. (ii. 286)

Paine's presentation of an event in his own memory as a present experience of the readers eliminates the separation between the two. The metaphor performs the same trick again. Readers are told at the end of the sentence that there is 'no point at all'. Paine's comparison of the landscape to Burke's writing is irrefutable because readers are sensing the emptiness which Paine says describes the process of reading the Reflections. Again, the readers and the writer align. The credibility of the metaphor is enhanced also by Paine's use of Burke's language to describe the landscape. The passage concludes with an inversion of the tenor and vehicle. The landscape described by Burke's language turns into a description of the three hundred pages. The metaphor seems remarkably complete and has the thoroughness of a sound argument. The ability of the tenor and vehicle to change positions clenches the analogous nature of the two.

A similar process occurs on a larger scale throughout the book. Shared experience, the inversions of tenor and vehicle, and a convincing use of surprise distinguish Paine's use of metaphor. Paine skilfully controls the reader's experience by turning previous material into imaginative and descriptive language. Analogies between Burke and the state are not overtly stated, but are made by describing the two in similar terms. Readers are familiar with the various elements of the following passage, but reading it has a strong impact because the elements appear in a new configuration:

It is not from his prejudices only, but from the disorderly cast of his genius, that he is unfitted for the subject he writes upon. Even his genius is without a constitution. It is a genius at random, and not a genius constituted. But he must say something. He has therefore mounted in the air like a balloon, to draw the eyes of the multitude from the ground they stand upon. (ii. 314)

The metaphors here condense an argument by recombining earlier descriptions of authoritative power. The image of Burke turning himself into a balloon carries with it previous descriptions of authoritative governments, false elevation, and inventions. Conquering governments had combined the church and state while 'the wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention' (ii. 308). The English government had been criticized for being one which arose 'over the people' (ii. 310). And the mob exists because 'it is by distortedly exalting some men, that others are distortedly debased, 'till the whole is out of nature' (ii. 296). The passage alludes to previously disparate moments in the book while it combines them into a single imaginative description. To the Attorney-General of Paine's trial, this interrelation of the text compounded its wickedness:

to see the whole malignity of it, it is necessary to have a recollection of several preceding passages . . . extracts of it can be made to contain the whole marrow; and at the same time that each passage, taken by itself, will do mischief enough, any man reading them together, will see that mischief come out much clearer. (ST, xxii. 387)

Such words as 'constitution' and 'machine' stimulate a response that is not called for or acknowledged by the passage. Paine can forego the necessity of making an argument by relying on the ability of his diction to portray the analogy between Burke and authoritative governments.

While Paine's prose determines the impact of the images, it simultaneously, and, despite the contradiction, leaves the reader free to respond to the material with an independent imagination. In the Pennsylvania Packet Paine discusses briefly the inability of Gouverneur Morris to lead readers to an idea without explaining it to them in a dull fashion. (Morris later became the American ambassador to France. Against the wishes of the American government, he made little attempt to shorten Paine's imprisonment under Robespierre or to lessen the threat of his execution.) Although Paine is talking specifically about humour here, the passage is pertinent to Paine's ability to depend on readers to complete his thought:

He has yet to learn that affectation of language is incompatible with humour. Wit may be elegantly spoken, but humour requires a peculiar quaintness of expression, just sufficient to give birth to the conception, and leaving, at the same time, room enough for the fancy of a reader to work upon.16

Paine apparently believed that refined language was unsuitable to a prose style that granted the readers some independence of mind. Elegance emphasizes the position of the writer to the extent of excluding participation by the readers. In Rights of Man Paine leaves 'room enough' by relying on the ability of his diction to stimulate his readers' imagination, an imagination which the previous material has already shaped and guided. While Paine's skill lays the groundwork for such passages, readers suddenly perceive more implications to an argument, and the perception appears to be their own. Paine's type of imagery makes the readers aware of what their minds can do by urging them half-way to an idea and then leaving them to complete it. As he does by his narrative stance, Paine abnegates his own position to emphasize the intellectual activity of his readers.

One means Paine has of surprising his readers is to transform previous topics of discussion into images: 'Even his genius is without a constitution' (ii. 314); 'He has stormed it [the French Revolution] with a mob of ideas tumbling over and destroying one another' (ii. 357). Objects of analysis suddenly become part of the imaginative life. By turning what had previously been discussed into a means of description, the scope of an idea enlarges with a discernible sense of expansion. In A Letter Addressed to the Abbé Raynal Paine discusses the ability of an author to strike several faculties at once as one of the achievements of good prose. Writers must

combine warm passions with a cool temper, and the full expansion of the imagination with the natural and necessary gravity of judgement, so as to feel rightly balanced within themselves, and to make a reader feel, fancy, and understand justly at the same time. To call three powers of the mind into action at once, in a manner that neither shall interrupt, and that each shall aid and invigorate the other, is a talent very rarely possessed.17

Paine's prose can achieve this. Readers, at times, feel themselves reflecting a 'rightly balanced' author. Judgement, understanding, and the imagination can be simultaneously active. By using previous ideas as a source of imagery, Paine transforms ideas from an object the readers perceive into a means of perception. This is the inversion of tenor and vehicle on a large and repercussive scale. The transformation is exciting because the difference between the argument and the image is the difference between a discrete idea and consciousness.

To say that Thomas Paine animated his audience would be something of an understatement. His desire to enliven his readers, in the full sense that he used the term, was clearly fulfilled. New readers were brought into the reading public when the Rights of Man initiated a new type of reading material. By November 1792, it was claimed that Rights of Man 'is now made as much a standard book in this country as Robinson Crusoe and the Pilgrim's Progress'.18 Accounts of the sale and distribution of it vary, but not to a great extent. Part One, at the price of three shillings, sold fifty thousand copies in 1791 (for the sake of contrast, Burke's Reflections sold thirty thousand copies in two years, and he believed the sales to be unprecedented). Part One was reprinted when Part Two was published in April 1792, both selling at the price of six pence. E. P. Thompson accepts the figure of two hundred thousand for Parts One and Two between 1791 and 1793, including the number of abridged versions distributed by the democratic clubs and the extensive circulation of the book in Ireland (p. 108). Richard Altick finds this less credible but accepts the figure of fifty thousand for the sale of Part One (and Part Two sold more, as he and others point out) 'in a few weeks'.19 In 1802 Paine estimated the sale of both parts at four or five hundred thousand, and in 1809, at 1,500,000, a figure which includes foreign translations. Of this figure, everyone is doubtful, and accounts of the circulation of the Rights of Man conclude with suspecting the figure and then claiming a less huge, yet still vast extent of circulation.

The intriguing question behind such figures is the unknown numbers of those who began to read or write specifically because of the Rights of Man or because of the continuing political debate. There is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that such a phenomenon occurred. John Butler's Brief Reflections on the Liberty of the British Subject, was one of the many pamphlets which responded to Edmund Burke. Butler apologizes for his style by exerting his talents to portray the 'several disadvantages peculiar to men in servile stations':

I assure you, sir, that there is but little besides the present production to constitute me an author. Honours, titles, places or preferments, I have none. No study to cultivate reflection but a cold chamber, no hours of leisure but the hours destined to the refreshing slumber of soft repose; no assistance but the light of Reason, which lays grovelling under the disadvantages of a barren and uncultivated education.20

Similarly, A Letter to William Paley from a Poor Labourer (1793) replied to the misrepresentation of poverty in Paley's Reasons for Contentment. Although the Reflections and other works stimulated people who had not written before to write, contemporaries most frequently associated the extension of literacy with the Rights of Man: 'We no longer look for learned authors in the usual places, in the retreats of academic erudition, and in the seats of religion. Our peasantry now read the Rights of Man on mountains, and on moors, and by the wayside.'21 The excitement of reading ideas presented as powerfully as Paine presents them, in a style that suddenly brought one's own language into the realm of the literary, must have been immense. Richard Carlile, a radical important in the early nineteenth century, describes the impact of the book on himself in terms that would have warmed Paine's heart. He felt the dissolution of an unnamed confusion and the intellectual awakening which Paine portrayed as the greatest value of political consciousness. Characterizing himself before he read Paine's works, he wrote 'I was a weed left to pursue its own course'.22 William Cobbett, writing in 1805, described the impact of reading the Rights of Man in vivid terms, even though he was at that moment a conservative defending himself against the charge of former radicalism:

I explicitly stated, that, previous to my seeing what republicanism was, I had not only imbibed its principles, I had not only been a republican, but an admirer of the writings of PAINE. The fault, therefore, if there was any, was in the head, and not in the heart; and, I do not think, that even the head will be much blamed by those who duly reflect, that I was, when I took up PAINE's book, a novice in politics, that I was boiling with indignation at the abuses I had witnessed, and that, as to the power of the book itself, it required first a proclamation, then a law, and next the suspension of the habeas-corpus act, to counteract them. (PR [Political Register, ed. William Cobbett, 1802-36, 89 vols.], viii. 523)

For both Carlile and Cobbett, reading Rights of Man initiated politically active and literary careers. Cobbett wrote his first political pamphlet, The Soldier's Friend (1792) in the mood he describes here, buffeted by his experience of corruption in the army and encouraged by the exposition of corruption in the Rights of Man.23 Richard Carlile did not read the book until the nineteenth century when the economic hardship of 1816 led him to consider political questions. Then he began his long, stubborn and eventually successful attack on the legal limitations of freedom of speech by republishing Paine's works. The influence of the Rights of Man extended also to those who had less spectacular political careers.

Its history among the democratic societies further reveals the book's intellectual impact. Among the new political clubs the book was distributed, read out aloud, and debated. Francis Place describes the self-respect which resulted from discussions of such books:

The moral effects of the London Corresponding Society were considerable. It induced men to read books, instead of wasting their time in public houses, it taught them to respect themselves, and to desire to educate their children. It elevated them in their own opinions. (p. 198)

The Constitutional Information Society in Sheffield (founded in the late months of 1791) was the first political club to be founded by mechanics. In that year, it sent Thomas Paine a request for permission to publish two thousand copies of Part One 'for themselves'. Other localities similarly sent Paine requests to print a cheaper edition: '. . . from Rotherham, from Leicester, from Chester, from several towns in Scotland; and Sir James Mackintosh . . . brought me a request from Warwickshire, for leave to print ten thousand copies in that county. I had already sent a cheap edition to Scotland.'24 The publication of the book led to increased activities and the founding of new societies. Paine provided them with both a political ideology and an heroic figure: 'All the leading members of the London Corresponding Society were republicans . . . This they were taught by the writings of Thomas Paine.'25 During 1791, the London Constitutional Society, a more gentlemanly organization that had existed since the 1780s, was primarily concerned with distributing Part One. When Part Two appeared, various members left due to disagreements over Paine's discussion of the economy. The Society then stepped up its activities. Members, especially Home Tooke, assisted the new London Corresponding Society, communicated with groups outside London, began to liaise with the new French government, and distributed other radical pamphlets (E. P. Thompson, The Making, p. 111). The political activity of the 1790s (and this is equally true of the repression) was entangled until at least 1795 with the publication of the Rights of Man. Expressions of gratitude for the book from societies in Manchester, Norwich, and Sheffield (these are the societies mentioned in Thomas Hardy's trial for high treason: there were others as well), indicated the energy and hope which the book brought: 'To Mr. Thomas Paine our thanks are especially due for the First and Second parts of the Rights of Man, and we sincerely wish that he may live to see his labours crowned with success in the general diffusion of liberty and happiness among mankind.'26 The book was instrumental to the democratic movement of the 1790s which 'marked the emergence of "lower and middling classes of society" into organised radical politics' (E. Foner, p. 220).

Thomas Paine taught members of the London Corresponding Society to accomplish the unfamiliar task of writing their ideas (E. Foner, p. 225). There is a metaphorical truth to the anecdote that is only rarely discernible. The extent to which Paine facilitated expression by writing in a vernacular language is the invisible extent of his influence. The accounts of Cobbett and Carlile suggest that in their cases, reading the Rights of Man was virtually a precondition to their writing. Conservative pamphlets frequently portray workers questioning squires or master workmen about the ideas in Paine's book or picking up the pen for the first time to join in the political debate (these will be discussed in the third chapter). Even those who did not want literacy to increase, regretfully gave accounts of the new and active literacy and associated it especially with the Rights of Man. A study which attempted to appraise its influence on the writers who did not have an accustomed position among the reading public would be worth doing. Richard Altick's assessment that the major impact of the book, in spite of the broadening of the literary territory, was in the repression and retaliation that followed, must be appraised with an awareness that discussions in Parliament, accounts in provincial newspapers, King's proclamations, and the activities of Hannah More or the Association for preserving Liberty and Property are more ready to hand than accounts of the stimulation that would lead people to read or write (Altick, p. 72). The repression was widespread and thoroughgoing. Although the literary audience may well have shrunk back to its previous size when repression prohibited the publication of radical tracts in 1795, it reappeared with greater strength in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Thomas Paine's work was instrumental both to the repression of the 1790s and to the movement which countered that repression later in the nineteenth century.

The intellectual excitement released by the book was paralleled by a great deal of terror. Particularly at the end of 1792 and the first few months of 1793, Thomas Paine became a mythical figure, provoking a complex response of fear, vehemence, and glee. He was frequently burned in effigy, in one instance 'with a large Cabbage under one arm and an old pair of Stays under the other'.27 In Littleton 'a wooden image of Paine was pounded to bits with a sledge hammer with such vigour that the executioner's hands ran with blood' (E. P. Thompson, The Making, p. 112). In January and February, the Nottingham Journal reported several events in which Paine was ritualistically killed. At a dinner and dance, ladies stoned Paine's effigy: 'It appeared an entertainment of sweet things, for there were no less than nineteen dozen of China oranges eat, and many of the young ladies fired thirty rounds each at Citizen Tom whose effigy was hung on the eastern arch of the old abbey.' (xlix (9 Feb. 1793), 3.) A week later the journal reported another adaptation of Thomas Paine into a form of entertainment. The following account of his arrest and execution occurs in a column of otherwise factual events.

He was sentenced to be Hanged on the arm of a large tree, near the above Village, which was accordingly done, amidst a great concourse of people; he was left hanging on the tree a considerable time, after which the company retired to the Coffee-House for refreshment . . . Paineites had laid a plan to convey the remains of their Champion away from the Tree, which the LOYALISTS being aware of, fell on, routed, and put to flight; the whole GANG of them. (xlix, (16 Feb. 1793), 3)

By 1793 Paine was perceived half as a ghoulish figure and half as a more realistic danger because of his book's stimulus to new forms of political organization. These two ways of perceiving him were not entirely distinct. Even the King's Proclamation against Seditious Writings (May 1792), conjured a new character of Thomas Paine to suit the purpose of persecution. When members of the House objected that there was no need to hunt out secretive authors when authors were not disguising their identities, the Attorney General and Secretary Dundas replied that 'Paine' was a common name and might easily be a pseudonym for one author or a group of authors (PD [Hansard's Parliamentary Debates. Initially edited by William Cobbett and continuing to the present], xxix. 1504, 1513). The information Paine supplies about himself, as well as his fame, must have made such an answer appear hollow.

Between 1792 and 1795, the circulation of Paine's work was one of the main reasons given for the passage of repressive legislation and one of the main reasons given for the arrests of those charged with high treason. From the King's Proclamation of 1792, to Paine's trial in December, to the Report of the Committee of Secrecy, to the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, to the treason trials of 1794, and to the passage of the Treasonable Practices Act, Parliament debated and attempted to contain the political and intellectual energy released by Paine's writings. Throughout these procedures the Rights of Man and its circulation by the democratic societies were major topics of discussion. The combination of factors which the government recognized as threatening was accurate: the distribution of an inexpensive edition, the correspondence of societies from different parts of the United Kingdom, and the class composition of the societies. Speaking in 1794 in favour of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill, Lord Grenville described May 1792, when the London Constitutional Society began to distribute Part One, as initiating an ever-increasing fervour of treasonable activity:

Precisely at this period it was, that these societies came forward. . .; they began their operations by endeavouring to corrupt the minds of the lower classes of the public, by disseminating pamphlets, containing the whole of their system: they passed a resolution of the 18th of May, 1792, to distribute a cheap edition of a book intituled 'Rights of Man'. Here was the foundation of that system which had since ripened into treasonable practices by subsequent proceedings, which were followed up with incredible activity. (PD, xxxi. 576)

Until 1795 the government often asserted that the distribution of the Rights of Man initiated a profound and dangerous change.

During Paine's trial in December 1792, the prosecuting attorney stressed the alarming availability of Part Two: 'all industry was used .. . to obtrude and force this upon that part of the public whose minds cannot be supposed to be conversant with subjects of this sort' (ST, xxii. 381). Part One had not been prosecuted because the price of the book prevented those who could not argue against it from reading it: 'and when confined to the judicious reader, it appeared to me that such a man would refute it as he went along' (ST, xxii. 381). Price and style were the two means by which the government determined whether or not a work should be prosecuted. Until 1798, works confined to a small audience, such as Godwin's Enquiry concerning Political Justice, remained unhindered by prosecution. In a simplistic manner, the trials for sedition or libel estimated intellectual understanding by a financial scale. An inexpensive price was evidence of the author's malicious intent because it established that the books were addressed 'to the ignorant, to the credulous, to the desperate' (ST, xxii. 383). Also, Paine's style confirmed that the Rights of Man was not a work of reason. During his trial, the language of gentlemen was contrasted to Paine's 'phrase and manner' (ST, xxii. 383). As theories of language had established one type of reasoning, and identified it with a particular class, such comments did not require much argument. The style, the author, and the audience confirmed the identity of each other.

Conservatives seemed to have no means of identifying a non-upper-class movement except in terms of conspiracy and treason. If the political activity was not the spontaneous outburst of a section of society that was by definition undisciplined, inarticulate and emotive, then it was necessarily disciplined by an externally imposed conspiratorial design. Discussing the Report of the Committee of Secrecy (1794), Pitt described these two possible alternatives:

Such language as this, coming from people apparently so contemptible in talents, so mean in their description, and so circumscribed in their power, would, abstractedly considered, be supposed to deserve compassion, as the wildest workings of insanity; but the researches of the committee would tend to prove, that it had been the result of deep design, matured, moulded into shape, and fit for mischievous effect when opportunity should offer. (PD, xxxi. 502)

Treason and conspiracy were more admissible concepts than that of a politically aware vulgar population. Accordingly, Home Tooke was tried for high treason in 1794 for being the detached conspiratorial genius of the democratic societies. As leader of the Constitutional Society who was a friend of Thomas Paine and who aided the London Corresponding Society, he provided a focal point for an alleged systematic network. The Attorney-General describes the societies as Home Tooke's unsuspecting private army:

It was by the strength of the Corresponding Society, consisting of some thousands—by the strength of all these societies, in different parts of the kingdom, that were to be affiliated and associated with this [Tooke's] society, that the objects of this society were to be carried into execution, without much of personal hazard to those who were the real authors of the plan that was in agitation, and was well nigh ripening. (ST, xxv. 538-9)

Such arguments denied the possibility that the movement for political reform was an intellectual choice performed by numerous members of the population. The charge of treason and the belief in a deep malevolent design classified the movement as evil and precluded the necessity of giving it serious attention. The trials of Thomas Hardy, John Thelwall, and John Home Tooke were in effect, a trial of the democratic societies generally. The inclusion of resolutions passed by other societies, the stress placed on the distribution of Paine's book, and the inclusion of the publications of various societies as evidence indicates that the trial was not of an individual but of a political movement.

The Attorney-General, in his opening argument, stakes the credibility of his case on proving that the principles of the democratic societies were those of Thomas Paine and were therefore necessarily treasonable:

I claim no credit for the veracity with which I assert, that this conspiracy has existed, unless I show you by subsequent acts of this society, that at this moment they meant what Mr. Paine says, in principle and practice, is the only rational thing—a representative government; the direct contrary of the government which is established here. (ST, xxiv. 294).

As the government also intended to prove the existence of acts that were more obviously treasonable—that the democratic societies were manufacturing arms and that the convention in Scotland was an extra-parliamentary legislative body—a surprising amount of weight and attention was given to Rights of Man. The Attorney-General proceeded on the basis of an extravagant equation between the ideas of Paine's book and the alleged intentions of the society. Examining a cutler from Sheffield, he asked him:

How do you understand the passage I have read to you, that 'monarchy would not have existed so many ages in the world, had it not been for the abuses it protects'? Did you understand that to be a recommendation, to the people of England, to protect and cultivate the monarchical principle, or to destroy it as soon as they could? (ST, xxiv. 1045)

This is an unconvincing assessment of the process of reading; if Thomas Paine says that monarchy is corrupt, his readers will directly proceed to violence. Because high treason was legally defined as the 'compassing of the death of the King', the Attorney-General emphasized the emotive and violent character of the book's readers in order to justify the charge.

The danger which originally justified the suspension of habeas corpus was disproved during these trials. Of the twelve who were arrested, Tooke, Hardy, and Thelwall were tried and acquitted, the remaining charges were dropped. Arguments to continue the suspension included further discussion of Rights of Man (PD, xxxi. 1159), and the suspension was reactivated yearly until 1801. The discrepancy of attempting to convict on the basis of physical danger to the throne when the danger lay in changing patterns of thought became obvious with the outcome of the trials: 'It was ridiculous in the extreme to have it high treason to kill the king, and not high treason to destroy the monarchy itself (PD, xxxii. 247). Legislation passed in 1795 and 1798 established laws which were designed to curtail the possibility of certain intellectual exchanges. It reasserted the boundaries that had previously been maintained by the hegemonic status of literature and language.


1 Unsigned, A Dialogue between Mr. Worthy and John Simple, 1792, p. 4.

2 'The Rights of Man', The Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. Maurice D. Conway, 1894-6, 4 vols., ii. 394. Conway's edition differs considerably from P. S. Foner's.

3Autobiography of Francis Place, ed. Mary Thrale, Cambridge, 1972, p. 223.

4 John Thelwall, The Tribune, 1795-6, 3 vols., ii. 220.

5 'Resolutions of the United Constitutional Societies of Norwich', cited during the trial of Thomas Hardy, in A Complete Collection of State Trials, initially compiled by William Cobbett and later by T. B. Howells, 34 vols., xxiv. 292. The State Trials will be abbreviated as ST.

6The Correspondence of Edmund Burke; vol. vi, ed. Alfred Cobban and Robert A. Smith, Cambridge, 1967, pp. 85-7.

7Monthly Review, 2nd series, iii (1791), 314.

8Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Conor Cruise O'Brien, 1969, p. 170.

9 Thomas Paine, 'The Crisis', no. 14, The Writings of Thomas Paine, i. 375.

10 Eric Foner, Tom Paine in Revolutionary America, 1976, p. 79.

11Dissertations on the English Language, 1789, EL no. 54, p. 205.

12 James T. Boulton, The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke, Westport, Connecticut, 1975, p. 261. The chapter is generally indebted to this book.

13 1793, p. 10. Misspelling Paine's name was a frequent device of authors who disagreed with his politics. The American edition which the Attorney-General refers to appeared earlier than the London edition.

14 E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, New York, 1966, p. 92.

15Principles of Government in a Dialogue between a Scholar and a Peasant, 1782, p. 1.

16Pennsylvania Packet; or, the General Advertiser (16 March 1779), p. 1.

17Writings, ii. 69-70.

18 Benjamin Vaughan, 30 Nov. 1792, Home Office papers, 42.22, cited by E. P. Thompson, The Making, p. 108.

19The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900, Chicago, 1957, p. 70.

20 Canterbury, undated, pp. 9-10.

21 T. J. Mathias, Pursuits of Literature, 2nd edn., 1797, p. 238.

22 Guy A. Aldred, Richard Carlile, Agitator; His Life and Times, Glasgow, 1941, p. 20.

23 My attributing the pamphlet to Cobbett will be discussed in the next chapter.

24 'Letter Addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamations', Writings, iii. 65.

25 Cited from BL Add. MS 27812 fo. 64 by E. Foner, p. 234.

26 Cited from the 'Resolutions of the United Constitutional Societies of Norwich', ST, xxiv. 292.

27The Nottingham Journal, xiviii (12 Jan. 1793), 3.

A. Owen Aldridge (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7182

SOURCE: "The Crisis," in Thomas Paine's American Ideology, University of Delaware Press, 1984, pp. 240-53.

[In the essay that follows, Aldridge reviews the series of pamphlets collectively titled the Crisis, which Paine published during the course of the Revolutionary War and which, consequently, reflect the array of issues and ideas that then permeated American thought.]

Much less has been written about Paine's Crisis than his Common Sense, probably because it concerns itself primarily with events and circumstances in the military and diplomatic struggle and devotes relatively little attention to ideology.

Its title, like that of Paine's first publication, had previously been used in England. An anti-administration periodical entitled simply The Crisis flourished in London throughout 1775 and 1776. A total of ninety-one numbers were published, as well as one Crisis Extraordinary, a title which Paine also later adopted.1 The London Crisis vigorously supported the colonies in their struggle for liberty and after July 1776 for independence, and it was widely circulated in the colonies. As a matter of fact, many more separate reprintings of this work throughout America in the one year 1775 are known than of all of Paine's more famous Crisis throughout the eight years of the Revolution. Even the London Crisis Extraordinary had an American reprinting. If one were to judge by these individual issues alone, one would be forced to conclude that the London Crisis had a much greater vogue in the thirteen former colonies than had Paine's The American Crisis. This conclusion would be faulty, however, since it would fail to take into consideration newspaper printings. Nearly every number of Paine's Crisis, including the first, was reprinted in at least one newspaper, and most of them were reprinted in newspapers all over the continent.

Paine added the adjective American to the title of his first five numbers to distnguish them from the London work. These were printed originally as pamphlets or broadsides; later numbers were newspaper articles, some labeled simply The Crisis and others having no uniform title.

Although Paine gave the number 13 to his last Crisis, symbolizing the number of states in the union, several more than thirteen essays had been published, including some described as "Supernumerary" or "Extraordinary." Paine himself did not assign the numbers 10 or 12 to any of his articles, and to this day one cannot be absolutely sure of what pieces he felt should be included in the complete text of The Crisis.

Paine recalled that he wrote Crisis No. 1 in "a passion of patriotism,"2 and like the rest of the series it reflects fervor and propaganda much more than argument and ideas. It opens with one of the most inspiring sentences in American literature, "These are the times that try men's souls," and concludes with one of the worst jokes, the grim prediction that if the colonists do not resist British troops and German mercenaries, they will see their homes "turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose father we shall doubt of." Paine, nevertheless, portrays the military situation from an optimistic perspective. He scornfully rejects "the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot" and exhorts his loyal fellow citizens to patriotic dedication, hard work, and sacrifice.

Subsequent numbers of the Crisis maintain this tone of cheerful gloom, portraying actual and potential hardships, disadvantages, and defeats as near disasters, but assuring his readers that American right and reason will triumph in the end. As a group, the Crisis papers have more in common with exhortatory sermons than with political essays, but they nevertheless embody some segments important in themselves or relevant to Paine's other writings.

Paine embroiders the theme introduced in Common Sense of the uniqueness of America and its favored status in the divine dispensation. The theme remains somewhat subdued in Common Sense by virtue of the title-page statement on the second and subsequent editions, "Written by An Englishman," and by Paine's insistence that he is writing for all mankind. In the Crisis, however, Paine writes as a full-fledged American and addresses himself to particular problems and policies of his country and his countrymen.

He is deliberately ambivalent concerning the extent to which divine providence is entering the military campaign, aware as he is that deciding between the role of the Almighty and that of human enterprise had been a constant dilemma in colonial America. He solemnly affirms that God will not allow a peaceful people to be destroyed and adds even more dramatically, "Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that HE has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils."3 At the same time he calls upon all America not to throw "the burden of the day upon Providence." He exhorts his readers in proverbial language to "lay your shoulders to the wheel" (Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, part 2, sec. 1, memb. 2). And in biblical style, he urges them to "show your faith by your works."4

In Crisis No. 8, Paine introduces the theory that the physical size of America exercises a kind of metaphysical influence upon the inhabitants of the country by endowing them with sublime thoughts and superior abilities, a theme which he later developed in Rights of Man and which became celebrated in the bombastic phrases of his admirer, Walt Whitman. Paine suggests that "there is something in the extent of countries, which among the generality of people, insensibly communicates extension of the mind. The soul of an islander, in its native state, seems bounded by the foggy confines of the water's edge, and all beyond affords to him matters only for profit or curiosity, not for friendship. His island is to him his world, and fixed to that, his every thing centers in it; while those who are inhabitants of a continent, by casting their eye over a longer field, take in likewise a larger intellectual circuit, and thus approaching nearer to an acquaintance with the universe, their atmosphere of thought is extended, and their liberality fills a wider space."5 In 1789, Paine wrote in similar vein to Sir Joseph Banks: "Great scenes inspire great Ideas. The natural Mightiness of America expands the Mind and it partakes of the greatness it contemplates."6 In almost identical terms, he maintains in Rights of Man that the scene which America "presents to the eye of a spectator, has something in it which generates and encourages great ideas. . . . The mighty objects he beholds, act upon his mind by enlarging it, and he partakes of the greatness he contemplates."7

The notion of the strong effect of sublime natural scenery on the emotions is a commonplace in European aesthetics of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but Paine was the first to give the notion a political connotation, that is, to associate the influence of the landscape with the destiny of a particular nation. It is significant that neither he nor the many Americans after him who exulted in the uplifting effect of the topography of the New World gave any thought to the landscape in South America, the Caribbean, or Canada on the Spanish and French populations in these areas or, perhaps an even greater omission, on the indigenous ones, the Indians. Paine in later works continued to stress the salubrious environment of America with such insistence that one of his critics remarked caustically that he tries to make his readers believe "that every thing began the other day in America, and that nothing really had ever existed before."8

In Crisis No. 10, Paine affirms that the advantages of America are as much material as spiritual; he initiates, in other words, the myth that the American standard of living is the highest in the world. In his words, "There are not three millions of people in any [other] part of the universe, who live so well, or have such a fund of ability."9 We have seen that in Common Sense, Paine launched another myth associated with America—that of its eternal youth. In Crisis No. 5, he interprets the youth or newness of America as aggravating the heinousness of Britain's crime in attacking her. "America was young, and compared with other countries, was virtuous. None but a Herod of uncommon malice would have made war upon infancy."

Paine's obsession with newness and modernity presents a paradox when compared with his rhapsodic portrayal in Crisis No. 3 of the pleasures and advantages in the contemplation of history, which he defines as looking back "even to the first periods of infancy," and tracing "the turns and windings through which we have passed." The historical retrospect in America leads to the conclusion that the business of an age has been crowded into a few months. "Never did men grow old in so short a time!"10 Too little attention to the past, according to Paine, interferes with our judgment, and the act of comparing the present with the past frequently imparts wisdom. In very modern terms, Paine explains that "it is a kind of countermarch," by which we get into the rear of time, and mark the movements and meanings of things as we make our return." He suggests that a pattern exists in human events; at least explanations are always available if events are properly studied. In reference to "sentimental differences," by which he presumably means the syndrome of romantic love, however, Paine admits that logic is not always effective. Frequently "some striking circumstance, or some forcible reason quickly conceived, will affect in an instant what neither argument nor example could produce in an age."

We have already noticed Paine's early statement concerning the superiority of the moderns over the ancients in the Pennsylvania Magazine. He recurs to the theme in Crisis No. 5, where he seems to be attempting to overthrow the entire European tradition of historical writing, which uniformly portrays classical antiquity as a kind of golden age. Montesquieu in France and Bolingbroke in England are good examples of this historical classicism, in which, in Paine's words, "the wisdom, civil governments, and sense of honor of the States of Greece and Rome, are frequently help up as objects of excellence and imitation." Paine observes that "mankind have lived for little purpose" if it is necessary continually to go back two or three thousand years for lessons and examples. In his opinion, "could the mist of antiquity be taken away and men and things viewed as they then really were, it is more than probable that they would admire us, rather than we them."11 The short period of American settlement, Paine maintains, has furnished the world "with more useful knowledge and sounder maxims of civil government than were ever produced in any age before." For this reason Paine refuses to yield "the palm of the United States to any Grecians or Romans that were ever born." He particularly seeks to take away from the ancients the universal acclaim which had been generally accorded to them for cherishing freedom. According to Paine, "the Grecians and Romans were strongly possessed of the Spirit of liberty, but not the principle, for at the time they were determined not to be slaves themselves, they employed their power to enslave the rest of mankind." This concept was soon versified by David Humphreys, in a brief poem "On the Love of Country."

Perish the Roman pride a world that braves,
To make for one free state all nations slaves;
Their boasted patriotism at once exprest,
Love for themselves and hate for all the rest.


Paine not only denies liberty to the ancients, but actually maintains that "had it not been for America there had been no such thing as freedom left throughout the whole universe." Here we see a further stage of his survey of the progress of freedom. In his poem "Liberty Tree" he had hailed the appearance of the Goddess of Liberty "In a chariot of light, from the regions of day." In Common Sense, he had described Freedom as being "hunted round the globe," and had called upon America to "receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind."13 Now, in the Crisis, he proudly affirms that the present era in America, in contrast to the ancient world, "is blotted by no one misanthropical vice" and the revolution in progress may be styled "the most virtuous and illustrious . . . that ever graced the history of mankind."14

Paine echoes his ethical indictment of the ancients in a letter to Henry Laurens in the next year, affirming that "all the histories of ancient wars . . . promote no moral reflection, but like the Beggar's Opera renders the villain pleasing in the hero."15 In similar vein, he charges in Crisis No. 13 that "Rome, once the proud mistress of the universe, was originally a band of ruffians" and that her wealth came from plunder and rapine and her greatness from the "oppression of millions." By contrast, everything in America bears the mark of honor, including her birth and the stages by which she has risen to empire. While not discounting the inspirational value of "the remembrance . . . of what is past," Paine calls upon America to look to the future in order to add to "the fair fame she began with," to let the world witness "that she can bear prosperity: and that her honest virtue in time of peace, is equal to the bravest virtue in time of war."16

In Crisis No. 10, Paine repeats from Common Sense the argument that the geographical location of America is a major justification for its independence, suggesting that the eventual military triumph of America over any attempt by an island to conquer her "was as naturally marked in the constitution of things, as the future ability of a giant over a dwarf is delineated in his features while an infant."17 As British visions of totally subjugating America had been dissipated by military-topographical reality, Paine in Crisis No. 12 ridicules the inconsistencies of parliamentary speeches which on one hand boast of the superiority of the British forces and on the other declare that without the economic riches of America the empire is nothing. "Was America, then, the giant of the empire," he taunts, "and England only her dwarf in waiting! Is the case so strangely altered, but those who once thought we could not live without them, are now brought to declare that they cannot exist without us?"18

In Crisis No. 6 Paine refutes another geopolitical concept, the notion that geographical location in itself inevitably makes certain nations mutually antagonistic. The idea was generally attributed in the eighteenth century to the French writer Mably, who asserted in 1757 that "neighboring states are naturally enemies one to the other."19 The notion had been introduced into the American context in 1778 by British peace commissioners who attempted to insert a wedge between the Americans and their French allies by issuing a proclamation to the American people describing France as "the late mutual and natural enemy" of both Britain and America. Going back to the concept of the state of nature, Paine vehemently denies that there exists such a principle as natural animosity. "The expression is an unmeaning barbarism, and wholly unphilosophical, when applied to beings of the same species, let their station in the creation be what it may."20 Paine justifies this assertion on primarily theological grounds, appealing to doctrines which have more in common with Christianity than with deism. Indeed, if his principles in this place can be considered as anything other than Christian, they are pure Manichaeism. "We have," according to Paine, "a perfect idea of a natural enemy when we think of the devil, because the enmity is perpetual, unalterable, and unabateable." But men "become friends or enemies as the change of temper, or the cast of interest inclines them. The Creator of man did not constitute them the natural enemy of each other." Expanding his doctrine to include animals in the chain of being, Paine closes with the statement, "even wolves may quarrel, still they herd together." Here he comes close to repeating an argument which Shaftesbury had used against Hobbes: "Wolves are to wolves very kind and loving creatures."21

Readdressing himself to all of the commissioners, Paine condemns England as a barbarous nation the conduct of which is unworthy of comparison to the civilized behavior of France. He closes with a customary barb at the American Tories, whom he dismisses as "a set of wretched mortals, who having deceived themselves, are cringing, with the duplicity of a spaniel."

In the introduction to Common Sense, Paine had declared the cause of America to be in great measure the cause of all mankind. In keeping with this pronouncement, he suggests in the opening lines of Crisis No. 2 that his remarks there are meant for the world at large even though his subject matter is mainly local. "Universal empire is the prerogative of a writer. His concerns are with all mankind, and though he cannot command their obedience, he can assign them their duty."22 Several years previously Gibbon had prescribed that "he who writes for all mankind should draw his imagery only from sources common to all, from the human heart and the spectacle of literature."23 Paine's ability to probe universal experience explains the success and enduring popularity of his writing. As he sees it, "what I write is pure nature, and my pen and my soul have ever gone together."24 He therefore expresses confidence that this Crisis, like Common Sense, will make its way to England and inform its people of the design of the Americans to help them.25

He affirms that it would be easier for the Americans to bring about a revolution in England than for the British to conquer America, for military expeditions sent to England "with the declared design of deposing the present king, bringing his ministers to trial, and setting up the Duke of Gloucester in his stead, would assuredly carry their point." Paine came back to this notion of an invasion of England many times throughout his career, particularly during and after the French Revolution. It is significant that in the Crisis he does not suggest erecting a republican government for the English people, but merely effecting a change in rulers. In other words, he was at this time committed to republicanism in America, but not in Great Britain. His universalism, in other words, did not embrace republicanism. In Crisis No. 2 he also touches upon two of his other recurrent themes, British cruelties in India, the Caribbean, and Africa, and the imminent bankruptcy of the British government.

Paine says little in the Crisis about the operation of the human intellect except for echoing from Common Sense his belief that reason strikes the mind with automatic conviction. He tells his readers in Crisis No. 2 that "what I write is pure nature," and in No. 5 he observes that "what we now have to do is as clear as light, and the way to do it is as strait as a line."26 Paine is almost Cartesian in the metaphors he uses to describe the operation of reason and the beauties of method. According to Paine, the intellectual realm reacts upon reason as the world of objects reacts upon the eye. Reason seems to have visual force as knowledge is imparted with clarity, directness, and distinctness. In Crisis No. 10, Paine, with his customary cheerfulness, affirms that "misfortune and experience have now taught us system and method; and the arrangements for carrying on the war are reduced to rule and order."27 Shortly after this he adds, "I love method, because I see and am convinced of its beauty and advantage. It is that which makes all business easy and understood, and without which everything becomes embarrassed and difficult."28 In a newspaper article supporting Crisis No. 10, Paine repeats his prescription of "order, system and method." "Method," he says, "is to natural power, what weight is to human strength, without which a giant would lose his labour and a country waste its force."29 These passages share the rapture concerning order of a more famous one in The Age of Reason on the attributes of God. "Do we want to contemplate His power? We see it in the immensity of the creation. Do we want to contemplate His wisdom? We see it in the unchangeable order by which the incomprehensible whole is governed."30 It is not surprising that one of Paine's pseudonyms should be "A Lover of Order."

Paine's political theory, although expressed only fragmentarily in the Crisis, is by and large identical with that in Common Sense. In Crisis No. 3, he suggests that his "creed of politics" is purely pragmatic, embodying a divorce between government and politics. In his words, "if an English merchant receives an order, and is paid for it, it signifies nothing to him who governs the country."31 This is not quite the same as the dichotomy between government and society, but rather one between government and economic activity. In a newspaper letter following upon Crisis No. 10, he makes the assertion, which we have discussed in chapter 4, that "Government and the people do not in America constitute distinct bodies."32 By this he means merely that the members of Congress and the state governments are drawn from the people and do not lose their identity as citizens by becoming lawmakers. In Crisis No. 10, moreover, he describes the war of America against Britain as "the country's war, the public's war, or the war of the people in their own behalf, for the security of their natural rights, and the protection of their own property. It is not the war of Congress, the war of the assemblies, or the war of government in any line whatever."33 This is certainly a reaffirmation of the principle that government and society are separate.

In his letter following upon Crisis No. 10, Paine introduces a concept equivalent to Rousseau's theory that sovereignty in a nation is the expression of the general will. Referring to members of the Congress and the Assembly, Paine explains that they are "the representatives of majesty, but not majesty itself," and that the latter power exists in the "universal multitude." Paine uses the term majesty instead of Rousseau's sovereignty-, otherwise the the theories are the same. In his later Dissertations on Government, 1786, Paine adopts the word sovereignty in essentially the same context and explains it in some detail.34 In 1782, however, when Paine was intent mainly upon persuading his readers that increased taxation was the vital need for the survival of the nation, he did not develop the abstract significance of his theory of sovereignty but used it merely to establish a sentiment of national identification or homogeneity.

In Crisis No. 7, Paine expands his theories of national honor, perhaps in response to the various references to honor in the polemics over Common Sense. He associates personal and national honor by means of his maxim: "That which is the best character for an 0individual is the best character for a nation."35 Yet on an international level, according to Paine, mankind seems not to have developed from its primitive origins but to have retained "as nations all the original rudeness of nature." Here, it will be noted, primitive times are not portrayed as being quite so salutary as they seem in Common Sense. The British as individuals, Paine maintains, judge other people on the basis of their national origins, their religion, and their wealth. Collectively, they seem to consider honor as consisting in "national insult" and in threatening with the rudeness of a bear and devouring with the ferocity of a lion. Paine completely demolishes the concept of a mother country in reference to Britain's relations with America. Instead of conforming to the natural direction suggested by this image, consisting of "everything that is fond, tender and forbearing," Britain, he says, has intruded its false notions of national honor revealing "the violence of resentment, the inflexibility of temper, or the vengeance of execution." All this is, of course, a repetition of the argument from Common Sense that Britain cannot be appropriately termed the parent country since even "brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families."36 In further expanding the connotations of the political term "mother country," Paine observes in the Crisis that the metaphor should have taught the necessity of independence, for all children eventually grow into adults and set up for themselves. "Nothing hurts the affections both of parents and children so much, as living too closely connected, and keeping up the distinction too long."37 Paine states that the natural and the most beneficial policy of Britain would have been to maintain good relations with America and in this way to have preserved her reputation of military strength, which was rapidly being eroded by her impotence in the American campaign. Paine refers to "this method of studying the progress of the passions in order to ascertain the probable conduct of mankind" as a philosophy of politics which the British ministry have no conception of.3

Turning to the question of finance, Paine argues that England is so ridden by obligations that the interest on the national debt is almost equal to annual income. In seeking to demonstrate that British financiers count their debt as part of their national wealth but that it is actually a drain on the country which will bring the whole financial system to eventual collapse, Paine anticipates the argument of one of his later pamphlets, The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance (1796). America, unlike England, could easily pay the expenses of the war, Paine maintains, since it has no debt of any kind other than its non-interest bearing paper currency.39

In reference to the internal political structure of the British nation, Paine draws attention to a conflict of interest between Parliament and the Crown which would have come to a head had Britain won the war. The fundamental question concerned which political segment could be considered responsible for such a victory and which should reap the benefit. As Paine explains the situation, Parliament claimed a legislative right over America, but the army presumably belonged to the Crown; in the event of subduing the colonies, it would not be clear whether Parliament or the Crown would then be in control. This situation, hypothetical as it is, leads Paine to ask among a series of questions whether the people are not the source of the power and honor of any country, whether there is any such thing as the English constitution, and "whether a congress constituted like that of America, is not the most happy and consistent form of government in the world."40 Answers to these queries had already been suggested in Common Sense, and they were to be further developed in the pages of Rights of Man.

Paine addresses the last part of Crisis No. 7 to the "mercantile and manufacturing part" of the English nation, for whose benefit he had already observed that it is never worth while to go to war for profit's sake. Attempting to win over this segment of his readers by describing them as the "bulwark of the nation," he embroiders the theme introduced in Common Sense that trade is more profitable with an independent nation than with a subjugated one. Since a treaty of alliance had already been concluded with France, Paine warns the English merchants against allowing their government to provoke France into a declaration of war. Having already pointed to a conflict of interest between the Crown and Parliament, Paine now maintains that both forces are inimical to the welfare of the business community. "Your present king and ministry will be the ruin of you; and you had better risk a revolution and call a congress, than be thus led on from madness to despair, and from despair to ruin."41 In addressing as a final note the ministry and the merchants collectively, Paine characteristically reduces politics to a "simple thought" and describes his own prescription of applying "the domestic politics of a family" to the national scene as an "easy and natural line."

We have already pointed out that Paine in 1776 in his Four Letters expressed the doctrine of the supremacy of the union over local governments; the concept is suggested also in Common Sense by his warning that "the continental belt is too loosely buckled"42 and his axiom, "'tis not in numbers but in unity that our great strength lies."43 Paine further insisted on the supremacy of the union in his newspaper essay related to Crisis No. 10 (Pennsylvania Gazette, 3 April 1782) in order to persuade his readers that the central government must maintain its autonomy in financial matters, in other words, that "the expenses of the United States for carrying on the war, and the expenses of each state for its own domestic government" must be kept separate and distinct. In Paine's realistic terms, taxes levied for national defense are "properly our insurance money." To establish the principle, Paine declares that "the union of America is the foundationstone of her independence, the rock on which it is built, and is something so sacred in her constitution, that we ought to watch every word we speak, and every thought we think, that we injure it not, even by mistake." This warning was needed to avert conflicts between loyalty to state and loyalty to the union, psychological divisions made particularly acute because some states were still bearing the brunt of British attack while others were remote from it. Paine solemnly affirms, therefore, that "with respect to those things which immediately concern the union, and for which the union was purposely established, and is intended to secure, each state is to the United States what each individual is to the state he lives in. And it is on this grand point, this movement upon one centre, that our existence as a nation, our happiness as a people, and our safety as individuals, depend."

Throughout The Crisis Paine expounds the primary theme of Common Sense, the moral justification of the war of independence. In Crisis No. 3, he summarizes the principal arguments in support of independence and concludes that it is "the moral advantages" which weigh most with all men of serious reflection."44 In this section, however, he concerns himself with only one moral issue, that it is wrong for America through its colonial status to be involved in British wars. In Common Sense, he had framed the argument in political terms, affirming the principle of isolation from the political affairs of Europe.45 In Crisis No. 3, he stresses ethical considerations: in Paine's words, "America neither could nor can be under the government of Britain without becoming a sharer of her guilt, and a partner in all the dismal commerce of death."46 According to this train of thought, Britain has a dishonorable record of international belligerence going back for centuries, and the lot of America were she not set free would be to abet in every quarrel. "It is a shocking situation to live in, that one country must be brought into all the wars of another, whether the measure be right or wrong, or whether she will or not."

In Crisis No. 11, Paine defends the alliance between America and France on ethical grounds, specifically arguing that "the United States have as much honor as bravery" and that their conduct is based upon firm principle, not hazard or circumstance.47 At least two years previously, Paine had suspected that the British were considering the notion of abandoning prosecution of the war in favor of seducing America to abandon her alliance with France, and he had written a paragraph denouncing this tactic as revealing "such a disposition to perfidiousness, and such disregard of honor and morals, as would add the finishing vice to national corruption." But Paine held back the paragraph because of the arrival of news indicating British determination to continue with military operations. He later inserted the paragraph in the eleventh Crisis, however, because of hints in the New York Tory press that the scheme of dividing America from her allies was reviving in British strategy. He thereupon provides evidence of peace gestures which had been made by the British to the courts of France and warns America to be on guard against the same insidious arts should they be used with her. The mere suggestion of coming to a separate arrangement, he denounces as an insult to America. In a realistic metaphor, he observes that no man attempts to seduce a truly honest woman; the very thought of it is a defamation of her good name.

In a passage highly revealing of his own moralistic mode of thinking, Paine affirms that he will not use the argument of selfish interest to defend the alliance but "go a step higher, and defend it on the ground of honor and principle."48 Paine argues that since the French have treated America with the same respect which they would have shown to an old, established country, America cannot do less than fulfill her obligations. "Character is to us, in our present circumstances, of more importance than interest." Paine somewhat weakens the nobility of this sentiment by adding that since America is a young nation the rest of the world is observing its behavior to see whether it is worthy of trust. Also he uses a phrase which he had earlier ridiculed as stale and hackneyed, "the eye of the world is upon us."49 He returns to high morals and vigorous style, however, by affirming that Britain and the world must be shown "that we are neither to be bought nor sold; that our mind is great and fixed; our prospect clear; and that we will support our character as firmly as our independence."

Paine summarizes the moral argument in his Crisis Extraordinary of 1782, joining it with the theme of youthfulness. "America is a new character in the universe," he maintains. "She started with a cause divinely right, and struck at an object vast and valuable. Her reputation for political integrity, perseverance, fortitude, and all the manly excellencies, stands high in the world; and it would be a thousand pities that, with those introductions into life, she suffered the least spot or blow to fall upon her moral fame."50

The thirteenth Crisis, symbolic of the number of states in the American union, is dated 19 April 1783, eighth anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. Last of the series which Paine himself considered to constitute the Crisis, it begins with the triumphant declaration "'The times that tried men's souls,' are over—and the greatest and compietesi revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and happily accomplished." This is the first time Paine uses the word revolution to describe the events which had been taking place, although he is equally hyperbolical in Common Sense in his reference to beginning the world over again. At the end of the war, he says, America has earned the honor and "power to make a world happy, to teach mankind the art of being so," and "to exhibit on the theatre of the universe, a character hitherto unknown."51 Echoing the language of the Scriptures, he describes the pastoral scenes now opening for America, comprising not the "cypress shade of disappointment," but "the sweet of her labors, and the reward of her toil" in "her own land, and under her own vine" (Apocrypha 1 Maccabees 14: 12) In this situation, Paine declares, acquiring "a fair national reputation, is of as much importance as independence." A few paragraphs later he observes, "Character is much easier kept than recovered, and that man, if any such there be, who, from any sinister views, or littleness of soul, lends unseen his hand to injure it, contrives a wound it will never be in his power to heal."

Liberal thinkers throughout Europe, particularly in France and England, had supported the cause of the American colonists, but their adherence had been in the main emotional and humanitarian rather than ideological, comparable to the rhapsodic sponsorship which Boswell and Rousseau had accorded to Paoli in the latter's efforts to bring about a new regime in Corsica. There had been little said on ideological grounds about the ramifications of American independence, and one of the most daring depositories of advanced ideas, the abbé Raynal's Histoire philosophique des deux Indes, even reflected some doubts concerning the principles which were motivating the American "insurgens." Paine published in 1782, as we shall see later, a reply to Raynal consisting of a detailed vindication of the moral integrity of the American independence movement. The thirteenth Crisis offered Paine an additional opportunity of reasserting its ideological significance. He roundly affirms, therefore, that the revolution must be "an honor to the age that accomplished it" to "the end of time" and that it has "contributed more to enlighten the world, and diffuse a spirit of freedom and liberality among mankind, than any human event (if this may be called one) that ever preceded it."52 Noteworthy in this proclamation is the suggestion of divine guidance or supervision, a religious attitude which conforms to both Common Sense and Age of Reason.

In a kind of balance sheet for America at the close of the war, Paine finds only one item on the debit side and two on the credit. The single liability consists in the national debt, which he considers as hardly worth mentioning in comparison with the compensating advantages. The two great assets consist of gaining complete freedom in the economic realm and of acquiring an ally, obviously France, "whose exemplary greatness, and universal liberality," according to Paine, "have extorted a confession even from her enemies." In a footnote supporting a principle originally presented in Common Sense, that the struggle "never could have happened at a better time," Paine affirms that "the great hinge on which the whole machine turned is the UNION OF THE STATES." Observing that no single state or combination of single states can equal in strength "the whole of the present United States," he stresses the advantages and necessity of "strengthening that happy union which has been our salvation, and without which we should have been a ruined people." Finally, in this footnote, Paine quotes from Common Sense the passages concerning the appropriateness of the timing of the struggle for independence—"THE TIME HATH FOUND us"—and the indispensable nature of the glorious union—"It is not in numbers, but in a union, that our great strength lies."53

All this is introductory to a forceful argument on the continued necessity of union after America had become a nation and achieved sovereignty, an argument foreshadowing the influential Federalist papers to be published a few years later in favor of the new constitution. Paine's major principle is based upon the relationship of the United States to the other nations in the world. The individual states lack the wealth and resources to function by themselves; only as the United States, conceived as a wisely regulated and cemented union, can they obtain the respect of other nations, make treaties, protect their commerce in foreign ports, and provide their security at home. Some measure of local autonomy must in the process be sacrificed. Echoing his Four Letters, Paine observes, "It is with confederated states as with individuals in society; something must be yielded up to make the whole secure." Citizenship of a particular state is merely a local distinction, but "citizenship in the United States is our national character. . . . Our great title is, AMERICANS—our inferior one varies with the place."

In the remainder of his remarks, Paine makes a number of personal revelations. In characterizing and vindicating his individual conduct throughout the war, he once more foreshadows a political attitude which became of great consequence in the early years of the republic—the view that political parties are harmful in a nation by fomenting irrational divisions and should, therefore, be avoided if at all possible. This opinion, prevalent in the speeches of George Washington, with whom it is generally associated, is clearly portrayed in Paine's summary of his own political career. "So far as my endeavours could go, they have all been directed to conciliate the affections, unite the interests and draw and keep the mind of the country together; and the better to assist in this foundation work of the revolution, I have avoided all places of profit or office, either in the state I live in, or in the United States; kept myself at a distance from all parties and party connections, and even disregarded all private and inferior concerns: and when we take into view the great work we have gone through, and feel, as we ought to feel, the just importance of it, we shall then see, that the little wranglings and indecent contentions of personal party, are as dishonorable to our characters, as they are injurious to our repose."54 This statement, apart from its ideological reflection on party divisions, must be considered in the nature of a political appeal and as such interpreted in a very broad sense. In actuality, Paine had served as secretary to the committee on foreign relations of the Congress and as clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and he had several times before the writing of Crisis No. 13 appealed to various national leaders to be reimbursed for his services.

Paine reveals his pride of authorship by adding that if he has served the cause of America in the course of more than seven years by opposing "an unnatural reconciliation" with Britain, he has "likewise added something to the reputation of literature, by freely and distinterestedly employing it in the great cause of mankind, and shewing there may be genius without prostitution." He formally takes his leave of the subject—and in a sense of America—speculating upon "whatever country I may hereafter be in"—affirming that "I shall always feel an honest pride at the part I have taken and acted, and a gratitude to Nature and Providence for putting it in my power to be of some use to mankind."


1 Paul Leicester Ford, "The Crisis," Bibliographer 1 (1902): 139-52.

2Writings [of Thomas Paine, ed. by Moncure D. Conway (New York: Putnam, 1894-96), 4 vols.],

3Writings, 1:51.

4Writings, 1:55.

5Writings, 1:164.

6 A. O. Aldridge, Man of Reason: The Life of Thomas Paine (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1959), p. 109.

7Writings, 1:354.

8 William Lewelyn, An Appeal to Men against Paine's Rights of Man (London, 1793), p. 43.

9Writings, 1:203.

10Writings, 1:74.

11Writings, 1:123.

12Miscellaneous Works (New York, 1804), p. 132.

13Writings, 1:30-31.

14Writings, 1:123.

15Writings, 2:1179.

16Writings, 1:231.

17Writings, 1:193.

18Writings, 1:224.

19Des Principes des négociations in Collection complète des oeuvres (Paris 1794-95), 5:93.

20Writings, 1:136.

21Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (London, 1711), 2:320.

22Writings, 1:58.

23 "The Study of Literature," in J. W. Spadden, ed., Miscellaneous Works (New York, 1907), p. 10.

24Writings, 1:72.

25Writings, 1:71. As a matter of fact, the first four numbers of the Crisis appeared in Almon's Remembrances . . . For the Year 1778, and later issues of this periodical published the rest of the Crisis with the exception of Nos. 10, 11, and 12.

26Writings, 1:125.

27Writings, 1:195.

28Writings, 1:205.

29Pennsylvania Gazette, 3 April 1782.

30Writings, 1:483.

31Writings, 1:72.

32Pennsylvania Gazette, 3 April 1782.

33Writings, 1:198.

34Writings, 2:369. . . .

35Writings, 1:147.

36Writings, 1:19.

37Writings, 1:154.

38Writings, 1:148.

39Writings, 1:149.

40Writings, 1:152.

41Writings, 1:155.

42Writings, 1:44.

43Writings, 1:31.

44Writings, 1:81.

45Writings, 1:20.

46Writings, 1:81.

47Writings, 1:209.

48Writings, 1:214.

49Writings, 2:65; 1:215.

50Pennsylvania Gazette, 6 April 1782. This paper, which was intended as a continuation of Crisis No. 10, has never been republished. See A. O. Aldridge, Man of Reason, pp. 92-93.

51Writings, 1:231.

52Writings, 1:232.

53Writings, 1:232-33.

54Writings, 1:234-35.

Jack Fruchtman, Jr. (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10166

SOURCE: "Nature and Man's Democratic Calling," in Thomas Paine and the Religion of Nature, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, pp. 38-56.

[In the following chapter from his book, Fruchtman demonstrates that Paine's rationalist view of nature as product of God and reason at once shaped his belief that democracy was the only political form consistent with human nature and rights.]

Human nature was one dimension of nature in Paine's ministry. Another was the physical world: the landscape and the heavens as God had created them. In the act of creation, God gave his people the trees, the sea, and the sky as well as human freedom and the rights of man. Human beings possessed freedom and rights as naturally as trees produced leaves or the ocean swelled into waves. The idea that human nature was directly joined to freedom and rights provided Paine with still another powerful argument to attack the government of kings, lords, and their supporters. By showing that this form of government conflicted with human nature, hence with God's physical creation, Paine also showed that it was necessarily evil and satanic.

In turning to the natural world, one mode of discourse Paine drew on, consciously or not, was the pastoral, which from the Greek poet Theocritus and the Roman Virgil to Paine's own time focused on the bucolic ideal of peace and serenity. No evidence shows definitively whether Paine used this tradition merely to embellish his style or whether he truly believed the physical world was godly. Elements of the bucolic clearly appear in his writings, especially in The Age of Reason. Throughout this and other works, he demonstrated his fascination with nature, which he made into a veritable religion. Through a series of secular sermons, he was certain he could convince Americans and Europeans that the moment for political transformation had arrived.

According to one literary historian, "the bucolic ideal stands at the opposite pole from the Christian one, even if it believes with the latter that the lowly will be exalted and that only bad shepherds are shepherds of men."1 Paine's ideas mirrored this description. He denounced Christianity as a religion which institutionalized myth and fable. More significantly, the lowly, those enslaved by royalty and aristocracy, would someday conquer their masters. Although he never saw himself as a literary shepherd who left the corrupt cities for quiet musings in the countryside, he shared with pastoral writers the belief in the importance of the world of sight and sound, where lies and superstitions had no place.

The pastoral tradition focused on the plight of the dispossessed as a critical social problem in ways that the gospels could never effectively do. Paine worried about the condition of the poor and outlined social programs for them in Rights of Man and Agrarian Justice. In these works, he expressed his desire that poverty be ended and commercial prosperity achieved. He preached that all people had a duty to aid the lowly.

Two problems immediately arise here: who were the lowly and who were the "people" he expected to help them? Paine never defined the "lowly" only as disadvantaged people at the lowest rung of society. The lowly also included all those below what he called the "exalted" status of king, lord, or priest. As for the people to whom Paine preached this message, in the second part of Rights of Man especially, we can see that he was appealing to the same kind of people whom he wanted to read Common Sense: an audience who understood his direct language, sometimes saturated with phrases they themselves might use. Thus, his appeal was to the lower orders, the artisans and tradesmen, and the middle classes, the merchants and financiers. He asserted that Burke's language was so sophisticated and learned that it was incomprehensible, and he offered to translate it. "As the wondering audience, whom Mr. Burke supposes himself talking to, may not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter." Burke's logic was as silly as his language: "What a stroke Mr. Burke has now made! To use a sailor's phrase, he has swabbed the deck" (RM 117).

At any rate, the trappings of royalty or nobility did not complicate the physical landscape, which was simple and ordered, pure and virtuous. It was, in short, in the tradition of the bucolic. To engage in invention we must look to "a principle in nature, which no art can overturn, viz. that the more simple anything is, the less liable it is to be disordered" (CS 68).2

Richard Price, friend of Paine's and a leading Dissenter and minister of Newington Green, once advised the same thing: that men would be better off if they lived according to nature. "Let us then value more the simplicity and innocence of life agreeable to nature; and learn to consider nothing as savageness but malevolence, ignorance, and wickedness. The order of nature is wise and kind. In a conformity to it consists health and long life; grace, honour, virtue, and joy. But nature turned out of its way will always punish."3 In a passage in Rights of Man that echoed these themes, Paine urged his readers to observe the good things that nature in America, the New World, had to offer:

The scene which that country presents to the eye of a spectator, has something in it which generates and encourages great ideas. Nature appears to him in magnitude. The mighty objects he beholds, act upon his mind by enlarging it, and he partakes of the greatness he contemplates.—Its first settlers were emigrants from different European nations, and of diversified professions of religion, retiring from the governmental persecutions of the old world, and meeting in the new, not as enemies, but as brothers. The wants which necessarily accompany the cultivation of a wilderness produced among them a state of society, which countries, long harassed by the quarrels and intrigues of governments, had neglected to cherish. In such a situation man becomes what he ought. He sees his species, not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy, but as kindred; and the example shows to the artificial world, that man must go back to Nature for information. (RM 159-60)4

This passage suggests Paine's desire that those in the "artificial world" return to nature but not to an original state of mankind. The possibility that America presented to the world of invention was that of a natural environment where all people might learn (he said seek "information") from the example that nature offered.

This passage contains an explicit statement about the relationship among nature, humanity's needs, and political organization. From ancient times to the present, human beings had made great material progress in the world. But moral failure accompanied this material progress. Duping and tricking into kingship was immoral. For a few men to control the lives of many was immoral. Common sense, the very attribute that made man different from the lower animals, had failed when this happened. It was obviously a fallible faculty. Man could no longer enjoy the rights, freedom, and equality that God had given him. Paine seemed certain that his explanations would enable the common people who read his work to understand his message, whereas they could not comprehend the rich phrases of an Edmund Burke.

Paine was thus often preoccupied with natural phenomena and the physical landscape in his French revolutionary writings. This was due, in part, to his new environment, which he found particularly striking. He wrote Franklin his impressions in the summer of 1787. "The country from Havre to Rouen is the richest I ever saw. The crops are abundant, and the cultivation is nice and beautiful order. Everything appeared to be in fulness; the people are very stout, the women excessively fair, and the horses of a vast size and very fat" (CW 2:1262).

His preoccupation with the physical environment in the 1790s was also due, in part, to two Parisian encounters. First, there was his association with the Theophilanthropists and their worship of the sun as both a symbol and a reflection of God's illumination in man's mind and soul. Second, and perhaps more tellingly, there was his close relationship with Nicholas de Bonneville, whom he met in 1791, and le Cercle Social, whose principles included a curious combination of continental Illuminism and French Masonry.5 Moreover, he knew Rousseau's work, often used it in his own writings, and was inspired by the Swiss author's emphasis on and use of nature.6

These two influences aroused in Paine the desire to preach that average men, his lower- and middle-class readers, could now reawaken their common sense, and in effect, as he said in Rights of Man, "go back to Nature for information." Had American independence alone come about, this reawakening could not have taken place. But independence was "accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practices of government" on a continental scale (RM 159). This revolution provided an environment to which people could revive common sense and return to nature. Then they could determine their true needs and legitimate desires in a genuinely democratic society. On this basis, they would then fashion a political order that they themselves legitimized.

If the Old World was to experience the same revolution America had, it would need to look to nature. This evocation of the natural world as a symbol of a person's return to his senses, so to speak, was Paine's way of longing for a new Age of God, a new Arcadian world of perfect justice. At times, he focused on this vision, especially in his rhetorical flourishes, which sang of the common people's power to begin the world over again.

But though Paine often used Utopian language .. . he never espoused a thoroughly Utopian vision. He was too much the realist for that. A return to nature never entailed departing from urban areas for the primitive or rural reaches of the countryside, where he would go unclothed without modern facilities and pursue a natural condition of life. Neither Locke nor Rousseau advocated such a return either, though Rousseau did believe that man was best when he was fresh out of the state of nature and society had not yet corrupted him.

Paine never went that far. Nature for him exemplified simplicity, innocence, and order. The natural environment taught lessons in moral dignity. Nature told people what to do. Paine often personified her and gave her a distinctive personality. "Nature justifies," said Paine, or, "Nature cannot figure." Or "he who takes nature for his guide" or "the simple voice of nature says." Physical nature's moral grandeur included those rights which a person possessed as a part of his physical existence. The outdoors and democracy were united in such a way that, like Rousseau, Paine "turned the pastoral vision into a vehicle for the democratic idea."7 If people were to progress, they must learn God's purposes from nature.8

The Prize of Nature

Paine, like Rousseau and other eighteenth-century writers concerned with nature, had no desire to go beyond the frontier, to return, in effect, to the state of nature.9 He was essentially the product of an urban environment, although he had his early experience of the outdoors in small English Midlands towns. He spent the first nineteen years of his life in the small country town of Thetford. According to Conway, Paine's first serious biographer, the town "conveys the pleasant impression of a fairly composite picture of its eras and generations. There is a continuity between the old Grammar School, occupying the site of the ancient cathedral, and the new Guildhall, with its Mechanics' Institute. The old churches summon their flocks from eccentric streets suggestive of literal sheep-paths."10 A more recent assessment noted that the area "was rich in wildlife and flowers, river and grassland. The young Paine could have plucked the tall-stalked, blue-flowered Viper's Bugloss, the musk thistle and wild mignonette, and watched the flight of innumerable birds, including the Great Bustard who long ago left our shores." These sights and experiences undoubtedly impressed the young Thomas Paine. During the Seven Years' War, his experiences at sea on the King of Prussia must also have had a profound effect. Audrey Williamson notes that he could, "on starry nights, have dreamed his dreams by the ship's sail, and had a vision of those inhabited worlds in space which so prophetically intrude into his book of deistic dissent, The Age of Reason."11 The boundlessness of space and an apparently infinite sea surely impressed the young sailor. After the war, he pursued his interest in the outdoors purchasing globes and a telescope in England from the famous astronomer Dr. John Bevis of the Royal Society. "The natural bent of my mind was to science," he reported in The Age of Reason (CW 1:496).

His adventures at sea might account for his myriad uses of nautical metaphor and his particular interest in navies and gunboats.12 Moreover, his interest in astronomy might directly relate to his theory that "the probability .. . is that each of those fixed stars is also a sun, round which another set of worlds or planets, though too remote for us to discover, performs its revolutions, as our system of worlds does round our central sun" (Age of Reason, CW 1:502). His projection of "a plurality of worlds" and "a multiple creation" might have resulted from stargazing in Thetford and at sea. Even his excise work provided "a healthy, open air life and Paine probably enjoyed it."13 There can be no doubt that early experiences provided him with the grist for his religion of nature.

While Paine was a wanderer, he was no pioneer, like some rude and gruff fellow. He was satisfied with the scientific and cultural atmosphere of modern, urbane Philadelphia, London, and Paris. As he wrote to the Abbé Raynal in 1782, civilized man was no longer a "barbarian. . . . Man finds a thousand things to do now which before he did not. Instead of placing his ideas of greatness in the rude achievements of the savage, he studies arts, sciences, agriculture and commerce, the refinements of the gentleman, the principles of society, and the knowledge of the philosopher" (CW 2:241). These activities were all good, and Paine busied himself with many of them. One, of course, was writing. He had a natural facility for writing, and he used it powerfully.14

Although he was awed "by the immensity of space," the study of nature included all of God's works, including the microscopic world beyond perception. "Every tree, every plant, every leaf serves not only as a habitation but as a world to some numerous race, till animal existence becomes so exceedingly refined that the effluvia of a blade of grass would be food for thousands" (Age of Reason, CW l:499-500).15 From the vastness of the heavens to the secret, quiet world beyond man's sight, nature was a great reflection of God's creative genius.

And yet nature, in its primitive and wilderness form, was not a habitable place for Paine though he thought it possessed a part of God's divinity. God was the foundation of all life in the universe. A Quaker by upbringing, Paine noted that, while he agreed with the morality of the Friends, "if the taste of a Quaker could have been consulted at the Creation what a silent and drab-colored Creation it would have been! Not a flower would have blossomed its gayeties, nor a bird been permitted to sing" (Age of Reason, CW 1:498). The loss to him of these natural wonders, which he loved so much, would have been immeasurable.

Nature, Invention, and the Bastille

Like many eighteenth-century writers, Paine distinguished nature from invention—those things which had come into being through natural (or divine) causes from those things which exist because of man's creativity. This distinction focused first on things natural, which a person's common sense identified as good. Opposed to these were human inventions which, depending on the purposes for which they were used, might either be good or bad.16

To Paine, man's most evil institutions were monarchy, aristocracy, and the priesthood (and, later, political factions such as the Federalists). All of these worked against the dictates of common sense. The people could create good government only if they went "back to Nature for information." This hearkening back to nature was a constant knell sounded in his French revolutionary writings. He used it to argue that the revolution possessed a historical dimension so profound that it had a cosmic meaning. The very future of the world was at stake. In using images from nature during the 1790s, Paine expresses his desire about the future.

His intention was to show that the alternative to monarchy and aristocracy was what nature herself justified. What was a "natural" political association for mankind? The democratic republic was comparable to an organic, hence natural, being. "Like the nation itself, it possesses a perpetual stamina, as well of body as of mind, and presents itself on the open theatre of the world in a fair and manly manner" (RM 182). Indeed, "the representative system is always parallel with the order and immutable laws of nature" (RM 183). Monarchy, on the contrary, was "a mode of government that counteracts nature" (RM 182).

If all men were makers, Paine found it unthinkable that some men were barred from political decision making. He failed to understand, much less be convinced by, Burke's argument that the propertied class born to wealth should govern society. For Burke, any other class's claim to govern was foolish and wrongheaded and against nature.

As ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it never can be safe from the invasions of ability, unless it be, out of all proportion, predominant in the representation. It must be represented too in great masses of accumulation, or it is not rightly protected. The characteristic essence of property, formed out of the combined principles of its acquisition and conservation, is to be unequal. The great masses therefore which excite envy, and tempt rapacity, must be put out of the possibility of danger.17

Paine's response was that anything that compromised "things natural" (such as Burke's myth of the gentry) was unnatural or, in the case of Christianity, supernatural. People like Burke compromised nature to obtain political control for their own insidious purposes. Indeed, they misused language to convince their audiences of what (to Paine, at least) was wrong, misleading, and confusing.

Paine desired a return not to nature herself but to nature's calling. He argued that through common sense man knew what was natural. By studying God's creation, people could learn to use common sense wisely. There was a direct connection between the power of one's mind and heart and the natural physical world. Through individualization and self-realization, the self develops to its greatest potential. But first it is necessary to learn from nature. Two of Paine's best-known passages, both from his French revolutionary writings, reflect his use of physical nature to draw lessons from. The first occurs at the end of the second part of Rights of Man and focuses on the arrival of spring, the budding revolutionary era that had started in America and was now flowing into France in 1789 and from there throughout the world. The renewal of the earth symbolically represents the coming regeneration of continental government. This kind of symbolism is also part of Paine's homiletic style.

It is now towards the middle of February. Were I to take a turn into the country, the trees would present a leafless winterly appearance. As people are apt to pluck twigs as they walk along, I perhaps might do the same, and by chance observe, that a single bud on that twig had begun to swell. I should reason very unnaturally, or rather not reason at all, to suppose this was the only bud in England which had this appearance. Instead of deciding thus, I should instantly conclude, that the same appearance was beginning, or about to begin, everywhere; and though the vegetable sleep will continue longer on some trees and plants than on others, and though some of them may not blossom for two or three years, all will be in leaf in the summer, except those which are rotten. What pace the political summer may keep with the natural, no human foresight can determine. It is, however, not difficult to perceive that the spring is begun.18 (RM 272-73)

In this famous passage, Paine drew together several elements of his political ideology with natural imagery to make a powerful argument.19 First, of course, was nature herself. Walking in the country in midwinter the observer might be tempted to conclude that all was yet dormant. But common sense told him this was not the case. The natural transformation that the change of seasons brings has already begun to happen, as has the transvaluation of human political principles. The springtime of political renewal was just beginning. This springtime was different from all other springs. It was to last forever, and the people would never return to "the present winter," something the Americans also had experienced before their revolution (CS 89).

The new spring was inevitable, just as it was the fate of the worm to become a butterfly, an image he used in The Age of Reason. The worm in this image is different from the worms he used to represent kings. Like the spring, the transformation of the worm parallels the transvaluation of politics.

The most beautiful parts of the creation to our eye are the winged insects, and they are not so originally. They acquire that form and that inimitable brillancy by progressive changes. The slow and sleeping caterpillar-worm of today passes in a few days to a torpid figure and a state resembling death; and in the next change comes forth in all the miniature magnificence of life, a splendid butterfly. (CW 1:592)

The lowliest of creatures, the worm, once emblematic of the king, has now been transformed into a new being. A transvaluation of kingship to democracy has taken place with the transformation of worm to butterfly. First, the worm appeared to enter a deathlike state, but not death itself. It was rather "a state resembling death." From this state, the new creature emerged. Like the passage from winter to spring, this change was quite natural. And as the new springtime was permanent, worms would never again be like kings. Now only butterflies and springtime abound. From cold, dark slavery and tyranny, man entered into a new era of light, freedom, and democracy.

In this connection, the storming and subsequent destruction of the Bastille in 1789 became a powerful metaphor for revolutionary action.20 Its fall, like the transformation of the king-worm into the butterfly, eliminated an unnatural creation. Here Paine's homiletics reached a heightened sense of immediacy: his tone was full of anxiety and fear. As we will soon see, for Paine, it was a battle in extremis. The Bastille, a physical extension of monarchy, had to be destroyed. On its site, Parisians erected nature herself: a statue of great fertility, where on 10 August 1793, a celebration took place, a celebration that the great revolutionary artist, Jacques-Louis David himself, arranged:21

The gathering will take place on the site of the Bastile [sic]. In the midst of its ruins will be erected the fountain of Regeneration representing nature. From her fertile breasts (which she will press with her hands) will spurt an abundance of pure and healthful water of which shall drink, each in his turn, eighty-six commissioners, sent by the primary assemblies—one, namely from each department, seniority being given the preference.

A single cup shall serve for all. After the president of the National Convention shall have watered the soil of liberty by a sort of libation, he shall be the first to drink; he shall then pass the cup in succession to the commissioners of the primary assemblies. They shall be summoned alphabetically to the sound of the drum, a salvo of artillery shall announce the consummation of this act of fraternity.22

Paine pronounced the Bastille "the high altar and castle of despotism" (RM 56). Even the conservative Horace Walpole called it "a curious sample of ancient castellar dungeons, which the good fools the founders took for palaces—yet I always hated to drive by it, knowing the miseries it contained."23

David described what would happen as the great August procession continued through the streets of Paris:

At [Liberty's] feet will be an enormous pyre, reached by steps from on all sides: there in profoundest silence shall be offered in expiatory sacrifice the impostured attributes of royalty. There, in the presence of the beloved goddess of the French, eighty-six commissioners, each with a torch in his hand, shall vie with each other in applying the flame; there the memory of the tyrant shall be devoted to public execration and then immediately thousands of birds restored to liberty and bearing on their necks light bands on which shall be written some articles of the declaration of the rights of man, shall take their rapid flight through the air and carry to heaven the testimony of liberty restored to earth.24

David here combined the elements that Paine, too, believed were united into a single whole: nature in all her glory, the new light that emanated from Liberty, the rights of man, and eternal freedom. David's report of this celebration, this fête révolutionnaire, was very Rousseauistic. Rousseau had presaged just such a fête in Emile (474) when he wrote of the festivals that Emile and Sophie might bring to countryside. For the French after 1789, their newly won freedom became a cause for celebration in a natural setting. Indeed, as early as 1758, Rousseau noted, in his Letter to d'Alembert, that "we already have many of these public festivals; let us have even more. .. . It is in the open air, under the sky, that you ought to gather and give yourselves to the sweet sentiment of your happiness. . . . Plant a stake crowned with flowers in the middle of a square; gather the people together there, and you will have a festival."25 The French celebrated such open-air festivals in Paris in just the way David described the transformation of the Bastille into "a ballroom beneath the trees" and the symbolic transformation of the Champ de Mars from a field of military assembly to "a natural earthen arena" to commemorate the first anniversary of the revolution.26 Thereafter, the revolution was dedicated to nature, especially the sun, the symbol of the great illumination that had taken place in 1789. It was "pure fire, eternal eye, soul and source of all the world," one historian has remarked.27 Fire was present in the spectacular burning of the remnants of royalty, from clothes and crown to sword and shield, as David noted. As for Rousseau, the idea of open spaces and an illuminated sky was paramount. This meant that "the national festivals can have no other boundary than the vault of heaven, since the sovereign, that is to say, the people, can never be enclosed in a circumscribed and covered space and because it is alone its own object and greatest ornament."28

Such fêtes took place throughout the early 1790s. No Paine biographer mentions whether he ever personally participated in or witnessed them (nor did he ever mention them), but he surely must have known of them. The same images that Rousseau had used and the idea of the celebrations themselves run throughout his major works. The Bastille stood prominently in Paine's constellation of evils at the opposite pole of nature. His description of the revolutionaries' assault on the fortress was filled with symbolic darkness and dread. "The Bastille was to be either the prize or the prison of the assailants" (RM 52). It was all or nothing, salvation or doom, said Paine, who was in part responsible for turning the fall of the Bastille into historical myth. "The event was to be freedom or slavery," which to him meant that forces of absolute good were pitted against forces of absolute evil. "On one side, an army of nearly thirty thousand men; on the other, an unarmed body of citizens: for the citizens of Paris, on whom the National Assembly must then immediately depend, were as unarmed and as undisciplined as the citizens of London are now" (RM 54).

The image of a free people, anomic at first, but then drawn together for a cause greater than anything they had achieved before, was articulated in livid language designed to instill a similar response in the reader. The people, though unarmed, possessed "desperate resolution" to destroy the shackles that bound them to feudal institutions. Paine applauded the heroism of those who struck out at the hated symbol of evil. He hoped that a similar downfall of the British government would soon follow.

The Bastille fell with hardly a fight. Nature was victorious because the people had triumphed, inspired by "the highest animation of liberty" (RM 56).29 Taken and then crushed, the Bastille crumbled, and the earth returned to its natural condition. The revolution had just begun.

The Great Oak

With the transformation of the Bastille into "a ballroom" under the trees, other natural images served Paine's linguistic and ideological purposes. One of these was the great oak, an often used emblem in eighteenth-century poetry and literature, and one that Paine emphasized in America in the 1770s and in France in the 1790s.30 The oak had both pagan and patriotic overtones.31 The American Sons of Liberty prayed at a "liberty tree," usually an oak because of its great strength, for God's blessing on the righteousness of their cause.

The oak suggested a set of sentiments with which both Americans and Europeans could identify: it was a creation of God through which a person might return to nature and to his own true, natural self. Joining together, taking a solemn oath of solidarity beneath its full boughs, true patriots pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the cause of freedom and its blessings. Its sacred image served Paine's homiletics perfectly as he argued that its height and power reflected virtuous strength and security.

The great oak served opposite purposes as well. Burke, for example, used the tree to pinpoint the power of monarchy and aristocracy in the English historical tradition. In 1782, he wrote to the Duke of Richmond that

you people of great families and hereditary trusts and fortunes are not like such as I am, who whatever we may be by the rapidity of our growth and of the fruit we bear, flatter ourselves that while we creep on the ground we belly into melons that are exquisite for size and flavour, yet still we are but annual plants that perish with our season and leave no sort of traces behind us. You if you are what you ought to be are the great oaks that shade a country and perpetuate your benefits from generation to generation. In my eye—the immediate power of a Duke of Richmond or a Marquis of Rm is not so much of moment but if their conduct and example hand down their principles to their successors; then their houses become the publick repositories and offices of record for the constitution, not like the Tower or Rolls Chappel where it is searched for and sometimes in vain in rotten parchments under dripping and perishing walls; but in full vigour and acting with vital energy and power in the characters of the leading men and natural interests of the country.32

The attempt to "root out" this organic link of time, family, and nature was the cause of all social and political ills. Such "hacking" and "rooting out" Burke thought were the activities of the mean-spirited, misguided few who would destroy what history had wrought, including the brilliant settlement of 1688. "We [English people] are taught to look with horror on those children of their country who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in pieces, and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by their poisonous weeds, and wild incantations, they may regenerate the paternal constitution, and renovate their father's life."

Burke rejected the claim of British noisemakers, rabble like Richard Price, that they themselves represented a majority in English society. "No such thing," he thundered, "I assure you."

Because a half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine, that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field, that of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour."33

The "shadow of the British oak" extended far. It stultified the annoying bugs that made all the commotion beneath its great branches.

Paine would have none of it. The British oak must come down, or it would rot. So must the French oak. For Paine, the tree directly contrasted with the castle prison of the Bastille. In 1791, speaking at the Thatched House Tavern in London, Paine congratulated the French people "for having laid the axe to the root of tyranny, and for erecting government on the sacred hereditary rights of man."34 In its place, in the place of the aristocratic oak of Edmund Burke, free men could now plant a liberty tree.

Rousseau used this same natural imagery when he described "bands of peasants .. . regulating their affairs of state under an oak tree, and always acting wisely."35 Echoing this, Paine early on had cited the precedent that men long ago had gathered to form their first government "at some convenient tree" to "afford them a State House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters" (CS 67).36 This tree, Paine's version of the oak, was emblematic not only of their association, but of men's free choice to join together. In the shade of this tree, they found comfort and solace, which was quite different from what the English found under "the shadow of the British oak." Here, they found that they could naturally use their innate capabilities without outside interference. It was not by accident that they chose a tree to do it under. Like the earth, the tree united the community to nature.

They gathered there to deliberate the great issues of the day. The tree was not left to those sleepy-eyed, cud-chewing cows in the pasture lying in a somnolent state under its rotten branches. For Paine, the grasshoppers (in Burke's imagery) now abounded. They were not merely noisemakers, that is, they were different from the ungainly mobs of the Gordon riots, "who committed the burnings and devastations in London" (RM 58). Those engaged in revolution were, for the most part, now behaving naturally. "The Almighty hath implanted in us these unextinguishable feelings for good and wise purposes. They are the guardians of his image in our hearts" (CS 99-100). This was true of all people. No matter what anyone, including Burke, said, this could not be changed. After all, said Paine, "whatever appertains to the nature of man, cannot be annihilated by man" (RM 44). Man in his person reflected the justice of God. No person could ever destroy this phenomenon.

Addressed to the Americans in 1775, Paine's poem, "Liberty Tree," allowed the poet to sing of the arrival of "the Goddess Liberty" in "a chariot of light." She brought with her a gift: a plant, which was "a pledge of her love." She called the plant "Liberty Tree."

The celestial exotic stuck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
  The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
  To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
  For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

These "freemen" thrived beneath its boughs. But England, which he mentioned by name, showed

How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons, and Lords, are uniting amain
To cut down this guardian of ours.

For the poet, the tree would survive this assault and grow to full fruition for all people everywhere, because they would "unite with a cheer, / In defense of our Liberty Tree."37

No barriers, then, separated the American people from nature, or from God. Nor, in fact, did they separate any people anywhere from God. "Before any institution of government was known in the world, there existed, if I may so express it, a compact between God and Man, from the beginning of time; and that as the relation and condition which man in his individual person stands in towards his Maker, cannot be changed" (RM 113).

Burke would have wanted intermediaries (kings, lords, and priests) to stand between the people and God, on the one hand, and between the people and nature, on the other. Not so Paine: For the first time, a person could become truly conscious of his status in the natural world. He could learn what nature meant him to be and what nature had imparted to him. It was a powerful argument, expressed clearly and homiletically, and especially frightening for the British establishment, which feared the spread of revolutionary ideas and actions to their island nation. Paine's case was so forcefully made that Rights of Man (like The Age of Reason within a few years) was banned in England, and Paine outlawed.

God, Nature, and Light

In considering this permanent bond among the people, God, and nature, we should wonder how far Paine was willing to take it. In a 1797 pamphlet, written as a letter to Thomas Erskine, in which Paine defended The Age of Reason, he contended that he had a right to deny the truth of the Bible. He then set out to argue why it was "a duty which every man owes himself, and reverentially to his Maker, to ascertain by every possible inquiry whether there be a sufficient evidence to believe [the scriptures] or not." In the course of his analysis, Paine suddenly broke off, as he was wont to do, and wondered why it was necessary for anyone to have to explain contradictory and miraculous stories. Having concluded that such contradictions should cause any reasonably intelligent person "to suspect that it is not the word of God," he continued:

What! does not the Creator of the universe, the Fountain of all wisdom, the Origin of all science, the Author of all knowledge, the God of order and harmony, know how to write? When we contemplate the vast economy of the creation, when we behold the unerring regularity of the visible solar system, the perfection with which all its several parts revolve, and by corresponding assemblage form a whole;—when we launch our eye into the boundless ocean of space, and see ourselves surrounded by innumerable words, not one of which varies from its appointed place—when we trace the power of a creator, from a mite to an elephant, from an atom to a universe—can we suppose that the mind that could conceive such a design and the power that executed it with incomparable perfection, cannot write without inconsistence, or that a book so written can be the work of such a power?38

On the simplest level, this passage reflected Paine's deism. He presented God, nature's God, as a creator, a first cause, who brought order and harmony to the universe and who was the author of human reason. And yet, something deeper, more mystical, was going on here. The bond that he saw between the people, God, and nature placed him in the company of those whom Margaret C. Jacob has termed members of "the Radical Enlightenment:" the freemasons and pantheists who, like Paine, were mystical, democratic thinkers at the end of the eighteenth century.

There are indications that Paine's version of the bond among God, the people, and nature tended to mimic in language the radical Enlightenment, which included pantheistic elements, a curious notion for a deist. Even so, the essentials of this tendency included the idea that God was more than the creator, more than the force that ordered the universe. He resided in that very order itself. He was "the Grand Architect," whose spirit dwelled within every living creature in the natural world.39 This spirit empowered people to rule themselves without the intervention of kings, lords, and priests. Nature and man were linked in a way that had mystical, almost magical, connotations. It was the convergence of these three elements—God, the people, and nature—which gave substance to Paine's religion of nature, the way in which he expressed his worship of God's manifest creation in his own peculiar way (largely through his writings).

Paine's evocation of an orderly and well-regulated universe in his letter to Erskine went beyond a Newtonian vocabulary. God was more than a watchmaker. He was a divine immanence in the world. His power was traceable throughout all creation: from the lowliest, tiny mite to the gigantic elephant; from the atom, the smallest known element, to the entire universe itself. God not only created but continued to create the universe. His spirit and power were eternally present in time and space as a continual creation. Paine said in The Age of Reason that "the Creation speaks a universal language. .. . It is an ever-existing original, which every person can read" (CS 1:483). Do we want to know what God is? We will find God only in what we are, what we see, what we feel. God was in our very being. A person reflected God's nature, and a person's common sense, through its combination of reason and sensibility, reflected God's wisdom. Follow the dictates of your heart and mind, and your "moral life will follow," said Paine, adding an "of course" to the end of this sentence (CS 1:485). Through the medium of the natural world, through nature herself, "God speaketh universally to man." Study nature, Paine advised, and you will not only find "the works of God" but will soon discover that the power of God dwells in all living things (CW 1:487).

Shortly before writing to Erskine, Paine helped form an association in Paris whose purpose was to underscore the bond of the people, God, and nature. This association was the Society of the Theophilanthropists, the "adorers of God and friends of man."40 While it remains debatable that Paine was ever a member of a Freemasonry lodge, he was definitely an early member of the society. Its records show that he addressed its membership at its gatherings, and he probably had a hand in drafting its bylaws.41 Attached to the Erskine letter was a history of the Theophilanthropists, which Paine himself wrote.

The term theophilanthropist embodied the spiritual linkage that Paine thought existed among God, the people, and nature. Paine's history of the society made clear that worship of God was a matter of individual faith and belief. Not only were interventions by priests and appeals to superstition unnecessary; they were beyond the bounds of belief. God-in-his-natural-creation was the only subject of the theophilanthropists' adoration. The ethical traditions recounted in their "festivals," as Paine called their worship (echoing perhaps the celebrations and fêtes révolutionnaires in the 1790s), were not foreign to Paine. After all, "the wise precepts that have been transmitted by writers of all countries and in all ages" provided the foundation for these ethical traditions. Theirs was a universal understanding of God-in-nature, and their ideas were the same ones he incorporated into The Age of Reason.42

Paine's linkage of the people, God, and nature was even more pronounced in his discussion of Freemasonry. He often used the contrast between dark and light to emphasize the transvaluation of life in the new revolutionary age. While darkness might be as much a part of nature as light, blackness embodied evil and slavery. In Rights of Man, he preached that "what we have to do is clear as light" and that the rights of man emanated as "illuminating and divine principles." A person could know this immediately and automatically, for "the sun needs no inscription to distinguish him from darkness" (RM 159). Paine's understanding of Freemasonry and its origins fitted into this scheme. It originated with the ancient druids, whose primary focus was sun worship. Their beliefs, pure and virtuous, were grounded in a simple, innocent piety that served as a model for those who claimed to be in the community of the faithful.

The druids' sun worship greatly inspired Paine. In the course of his discussion, independent even of his history of Freemasonry, he remarked that the sun was "this great luminary." In "Origins of Freemasonry" he called it "the great visible agent" of God.43 He evidently admired the centrality of nature in the druids' lives. They possessed "that wise, elegant, philosophical religion," which he took for the exact "opposite to the faith of the gloomy Christian Church" (CS 2:835). Those who founded their practices and who formulated their beliefs were obviously "a wise, learned, and moral class of men," everything that Paine hoped he could be (CW 2:837). Through them, all people could learn true moral duty and acquire a love of nature that worked its way directly and inevitably to the divine itself.

Paine worshiped the sun as a reflection of the luminescence of God's creation. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how Paine arrived at a religion of nature. His experiences in Thetford and the English countryside in early life were important influences on his love of and appreciation for the physical landscape. They may explain the place of nature in his work of the 1770s and 1780s. But his later writings led in an alternative direction toward his French experiences, in particular to his long association with one of the most interesting and curious journalists of the time, the romantic Nicholas de Bonneville.

Paine met Bonneville perhaps as early as 1791 and visited him often from 1797 until his return to America in 1802.44 Bonneville's wife, Marguerite, with her three sons (one of whom was Paine's godson and namesake, Thomas Paine Bonneville), followed Paine to America the next year and at various times lived on his farms in Bordentown and New Rochelle. Paine provided for them in his will to ensure their financial stability. In the meantime, he took it upon himself to look after two of her sons (the eldest in 1804 returned to his father) and saw to their education.45 Paine and Nicholas de Bonneville, twenty-three years his junior, were intimate friends. After 1802, in correspondence, Paine continually urged Bonneville to come to America, but it appears that he was unable to emigrate under the Napoleonic regime. He finally arrived after Paine's death.46

Bonneville was the founder of a revolutionary organization called "le Cercle Social, " of which Paine was probably a member.47 As a journalist, he edited several newspapers, some of which printed Paine's writings. For James H. Billington, the Social Circle "combined the Masonic ideal of a purified inner circle with the Rousseauist ideal of a social, and not merely a political contract."48 Bonneville was an early follower of Illuminism (which, because he spoke German, he helped bring to France from Germany). Illuminism paralleled existing French Masonic ideas of peace and brotherhood, light and brilliance. These were things that Paine was interested in as well. From the Social Circle, Bonneville declared, there would "emanate a circle of light which will uncover for us that which is hidden in the symbolic chaos of masonic innovations."49

The Social Circle was a small, secret, Masonic-like organization whose members adopted assumed names and carried secret identity cards. To support it, Bonneville organized a larger mass association, "the Universal Confederation of the Friends of Truth," the "servant of the Social Circle" and "of all the circles 'of free brothers affiliated with it.'"50 Bonneville envisioned it producing yet another new society for the new breed of men: the new Illuminati, the men of vision. "The Circle of Free People [will] pour forth with a sure hand thy luminous rays into the dark climates."51 The French newspaper Mercure reported that Bonneville addressed these remarks to the sun with the words, "Eclairé, le monde sera éclairé!"52

It is difficult, if not impossible, to know with certainty whether long association with Bonneville and his Illuminisi ideals directly or indirectly stimulated Paine's religion of nature. His ideas were certainly suggestive. Because fire destroyed much of Paine's work after his death, the difficulty is compounded. And yet, the pattern that Paine established in his writing does, however circumstantially, point to Bonneville and his followers.

The brilliant spirit and power of God penetrated the natural world. The people reflected this spirit and power through their inventive capabilities, particularly their power to transform the world, if they wished. The Freemasons, the Theophilanthropists, the Illuminati all focused on nature's link to God and the people. In so doing, they provided a means, indeed an entire language, for Paine to attack those who, in his opinion, denied the people what was theirs by nature, and hence by God. By using common sense, people could know that the natural world, from the landscape to the rights of man, was authentic, virtuous, and ultimately sacred.

Natural rights were inherent qualities of all mankind to a greater extent than anyone before had suspected. A person had a natural right, in effect, to these rights because they were part of nature with its indwelling presence of God and his power. More important, the people possessed a divine right to them, because God from the beginning of time itself, from eternity, had ordained it. This was the lesson Paine preached in the 1790s to his audience of common people, principally in America and England, but also in France. He hoped this message would soon spread to Britain and eventually throughout the continent to induce all Europeans to restore the rights of man.


1 Renato Poggioli, The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 1.

2 See McWilliams, Fraternity in America, 178-80; "The environment, after all, had been the basis for the messianic hopes that European visionaries held for America. Ours was the environment of nature, where man could begin again" (178). . . .

3 Richard Price, Observations on Reversionary Payments, second ed. (London, 1772), 276.

4 See A. Owen Aldridge, "The Apex of American Literary Nationalism," in Early American Literature: A Comparative Approach (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 186-208, esp. 296, and Robert Hole, Pulpits, Politics and Public Order in England, 1760-1832. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 115-18.

5 These are discussed later in this chapter.

6 Robbins, "Lifelong Education of Paine," 138, admonishes that we ought not exaggerate Paine's debt to Rousseau. Certainly the emphasis on nature in both suggests a greater debt than Robbins concedes.

7 Poggioli, Oaten Flute, 216, 214. For Paine's relation to William Blake in regard to things natural, see Robert N. Essick, "William Blake, Thomas Paine, and Biblical Revelation," Studies in Romanticism 30 (Summer 1991): 189-212.

8 While Paine's bucolic vision was rooted mostly in the French landscape, his feelings about America indicate an earlier preoccupation with the physical landscape. Thus, he offered a grand vista ranging from the far reaches of the western lands to the newly cultivated frontier to the rural countryside near and around the towns of America. See Thomas Paine, Public Good (1780), CW 2:303-33, esp. 332. For the power of the physical landscape in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see Peter S. Onuf, The Origins of the Federal Republic: Jurisdictional Controversies in the United States, 1775-1787 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983); R.W.B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955); Charles L. Sanford, The Quest for Paradise: Europe and the American Moral Imagination (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1961); Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964); Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950).

9 Paine thought the wilderness, which he once called a "savage uncivilized life," was a kind of state of nature (RM 211). Intriguing comparisons could be made with Rousseau, especially the "Idyll of the Cherries" in the Confessions. See James Miller, Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Christopher Frayling and Robert Wokler, "From the Orang-Utan to the Vampire: Towards an Anthropology of Rousseau," in Rousseau after Two Hundred Years: Proceedings of the Cambridge Bicentennial Colloquium, edited by R. A. Leigh (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 109-29. Parallels can also be found in Crèvecoeur, though there is no evidence Paine even heard of this rural Tory writer in New York State. See J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America, edited by Albert E. Stone (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981), 7, 55-56, 61, 67, 69, 70-71; Myra Jehlen, "J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur: A Monarcho-Anarchist in America," American Quarterly 31 (Summer 1979): 204-22; and Marx, Machine in the Garden, 107-16.

10 Conway, Life of Paine, 1:6.

11 Audrey Williamson, Thomas Paine, 21, 27. See Alyce Barry, "Thomas Paine, Privateersman," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 101 (October 1977): 451-61.

12 Barry, "Privateersman," 460-61.

13 Williamson, Thomas Paine, 29, 43.

14 One of his early pieces in the Pennsylvania Magazine (Feb. 1775) was "Useful and Entertaining Hints," an essay which was in part an admiring ode to nature. There, he remarked that

in such gifts as nature can annually re-create, she is noble and profuse, and entertains the whole world with the interest of her fortunes; but watches over the capital with the care of a miser. Her gold and jewels lie concealed in the earth, in caves of utter darkness; and hoards of wealth, heap upon heaps, mould in the chests, like the riches of a necromancer's cell. It must be very pleasant to an adventurous speculisi to make excursions into these Gothic regions; and in his travels he may possibly come to a cabinet locked up in some rocky vault, whose treasure shall reward his toil, and enable him to shine on his return, as splendidly as nature herself. (CW 2:1023)

15 Even Paine's idea of his bridge came from the natural world. "I took the idea of constructing it from a spider's web, of which it resembles a section, and I naturally supposed that when nature enabled that insect to make a web she taught it the best method of putting it together." Letter to Sir George Staunton, Bart., Spring 1789, CW 2:1044-45. See also RM 181-82 and letter to Joseph Banks, 25 May 1789, cited in Aldridge, Man of Reason 109.

16 Paine seems to approach a rudimentary theory of utility here, but he never explicitly says that he believed that all natural phenomena, like natural disasters, were good.

17 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, edited by Conor Cruise O'Brien (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), All references are to this edition.

18 Boulton, Language of Politics, 137, calls this passage an "allegory .. . as simple as biblical parable[;] its message is clear and the experience it draws on is universal." See also Smith, Politics of Language, 35-67. For comparison with other revolutions, see Ronald Paulson, "Revolution and the Visual Arts," in Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich, eds., Revolution in History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 240-60, esp. 254.

19 See Paulson, Representations of Revolution, 73-74.

20 Ibid., 41-47, 75-76.

21 This festival actually took place. See Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, translated by Alan Sheridan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 83-84, 172-74.

22 Ernest F. Henderson, Symbol and Satire in the French Revolution (New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1912), 357-58. See also Bronislaw Backo, Lumières de l'utopie (Paris: Payot, 1978), 263-71.

23 Horace Walpole to Hannah More, 10 Sept. 1789, in Horace Walpole's Correspondence, edited by W.S. Lewis Vol. 31 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), 323.

24 Henderson, Symbol and Satire, 361-62.

25 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Letter to M. d'Alembert on the Theatre," in Politics and the Arts, edited by Allan Bloom (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), 125-26.

26 James H. Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith (New York: Basic Books, 1980), 48. The transformation of the Bastille into "a ballroom beneath the trees" (a public park) is from Ozouf, Festivals, 149.

27 J. Tiersot, Les Fêtes et les chants de la révolution française (Paris: Hachette, 1908), 40.

28 Quoted by Ozouf, Festivals, 129.

29 For a quite different set of arguments for his American audience, see Paine's view of an urban institution, the bank, in chapter 6 and chapter 8 for his cosmic use of this nature imagery.

30 Arthur Schlessinger, "Liberty Tree: A Genealogy," New England Quarterly, 25 (Dec. 1952): 435-48.

31 Jordan, "Familial Politics," 294-308. See also Ozouf, Festivals, 217-61.

32 Edmund Burke to the Duke of Richmond, 15 Nov. 1772, in The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, edited by Thomas W. Copeland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 2:377.

33 Burke, Reflections, 194; 181.

34 "Address and Declaration" (London, 1791), CW 2:534. See also RM 58, where Paine makes his famous statement, "Lay then axe to the root, and teach governments humanity."

35 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract, edited by Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 79.

36 For a different view, see Aldridge, Paine's American Ideology, 104 and 304, n. 33.

37 "Liberty Tree," Philadelphia Evening Post (16 Sept. 1775), CW 2:1091-92. See A. Owen Aldridge, "Poetry of Thomas Paine."

38Prosecution of "The Age of Reason" (1797), CW 2:729, 732.

39 Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), 110.

40Prosecution of "The Age of Reason", CW 2:745. See McWilliams, Idea of Fraternity, 182, 203-9.

41 Foner, Paine and Revolutionary America, 252-53; Hawke, Paine, 326; Jacob, Radical Enlightenment, 154; Williamson, Thomas Paine, 237. Jacob says that Paine was a Freemason. Williamson says there is no proof he was. Aldridge and Hawke say nothing. The conclusion now is that we do not have enough evidence to make a final judgment.

42Prosecution of "The Age of Reason, " CW 2:747. See also "The Existence of God" (Paris, 1797), CW 2:248-56.

43 "Origins of Freemasonry" (unpublished, 1805), CW 2:833.

44 Aldridge, Man of Reason, 255-56; Hawke, Paine, 332; Williamson, Thomas Paine, 249-50, 253; Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men, 42 (on Paine's introduction to Bonneville in 1791).

45 Aldridge, Man of Reason, 271-72, 186-87; Williamson, Thomas Paine, 274; Hawke, Paine, 394. The youngest son, Benjamin, became an important military officer in the United States and the subject of a biography by Washington Irving.

46 Thanks largely to the nefarious biography by Paine's enemy, James Cheetham, a great deal has been made over whether Marguerite de Bonneville was Paine's paramour, whether Paine really fathered her two youngest sons, and ironically, whether Paine was impotent during most of his life. Paine's biographers discount all of this. On Bonneville's detention in France, see Conway, Life of Paine, 2:432-33.

47 Aldridge, Man of Reason, 146, claims he was. For the history of this extraordinary group, see Gary Kates, The Cercle Social, the Girondins and the French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

48 Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men, 39, 66.

49 Nicholas de Bonneville, The Jesuits Driven from Free Masonry (Paris, 1788), 1:26, quoted in Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men, 97.

50 C. Delacroix, "Récherches sur le Cercle Social (1790-1791)," Doctoral thesis, University of the Sorbonne, 1975, 33-34, quoted by Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men, 39.

51 Nicholas de Bonneville, On the Spirit of Religions (Paris, 1792), quoted in Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men, 41.

52 Billington, Fire in the Minds of Men, 522, n. 124.

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Poggioli, Renato. The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Robbins, Caroline. "The Lifelong Education of Thomas Paine 1737-1809: Some Reflections upon His Acquaintance among Books." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 127 (June 1983): 135-42.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Confessions, edited by J. M. Cohen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

Smith, Olivia. The Politics of Language, 1791-1819. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work and Times. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973.

Edward H. Davidson and William J. Scheick (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8790

SOURCE: "Paine Reads the Bible," in Paine, Scripture, and Authority: The Age of Reason as Religious and Political Idea, Lehigh University Press, 1994, pp. 70-87.

[Focusing on The Age of Reason, the following chapter from Davidson and Scheick's book analyzes Paine's effort to undermine the authority of the Bible and his effort to create a sense of authority for himself]

Paine intended The Age of Reason to present what he called "the theology that is true" (1:464). His own faith, he professed, contained two articles: "I believe in one God, and no more; . . . and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy" (1:464). For Paine, the Deity is worthy of belief and worship, not as He is described in the Bible, but as He is made known, represented, in the ever-widening knowledge of science.

The Age of Reason, as Paine affirmed, was designed to counter the atheism coming as an effect of the French Revolution and to clarify a belief in God based on "true" religion, free from cant and superstition, and based on the uniform laws of nature and human thought. The "Almighty lecturer" speaks "universally to man" in "all nations" on "all worlds" through the "universal language" of his creation (1:482-83).

Paine conceded (1:485), however, that occasionally the Bible conveyed something of this divine revelation, particularly in the book of Job and in the Nineteenth Psalm (as paraphrased in Joseph Addison's wellknown hymn). Paine also affirmed his belief in the person of Jesus as a good man who lived and died at a certain time in history. Paine accepted the Bible as a history of a people over a long span of time, a history of the great effects of certain patriarchs on the lives of their people. Paine recognized elements of truth in Scripture that were, he thought, acceptable to persons of reason.

Nevertheless, to appreciate these features of the Bible, Paine maintained, it is necessary to penetrate through the pretensions, flaws, discrepancies, and errors in its narrative. Only then could the Word have any place or pertinence in the human future that Paine prophesied. It was to this end, as a requirement for his underlying political agenda, that Paine set out in The Age of Reason to reveal the true nature of Scripture.

Tradition and Authority in Biblical Interpretation

As we observed in the last chapter, for centuries old questions about Scripture had been raised by scholars, exegetes, and commentators: How had the Bible come to be? Who wrote it? Can it be rightly called "the Book of God," or was it the work of human hands? Paine had his own answers to these long-considered questions. Although, . . . he had been exposed to something of this legacy, he indicated that he had no need for it, that he would inquire into these and other matters on his own, authorized only by the universal human attribute of "reason and philosophy" (1:467).

One truism of this long-established and generally unquestioned heritage (at least from Luther onward in Protestant thought) held that "scripture doth best interpret itself." Holy Writ contains everything necessary for its understanding. All that is needed to read and perceive its truth is a humble inquirer, enlightened (some would say "saved") by the very Word itself and the spirit of God acting in and through the Word. As authorities and lay readers averred, Scripture requires no exegesis or commentary to be efficacious.1

This long Protestant tradition, that the Word explains itself, prevailed side by side with a different idea, the Pauline notion that Scripture can be difficult and obscure. The Bible could reveal itself only because it was divine in origin; but this divine origin necessarily meant that the truth scripturally revealed to postlapsarian humanity must finally be an ultimate truth far beyond the limits of human language (the means) and human understanding (the end). Thus, according to this second tradition, even if the Word accommodates the language and ways of human thinking, there always must be a significant distance between its divine origin and purpose, on the one hand, and its human reception and understanding, on the other. This sense of the Bible as a deep and complex mystery, as Paine himself perceived it, persisted together with the tradition affirming that Scripture readily interprets itself to human readers.

Also, tradition taught that Holy Writ offers its divine teaching in human verses, that is, in small compact pieces. Whether single verses, chapters, or books, these pieces are, nonetheless, parts of a uniform whole. Believing in such an association, interpreters followed a course through these small segments, units of thoughts, and little increments to disclose this whole. Therefore, tradition held, people should read Scripture—telling what the Book opens to them and what they are privileged to know—by following in order the compact segments and then by speaking in their own voice. Their voice is empowered, not by itself, but by the form and power of the Bible, with its every unit in place leading to the complete text as designed and executed when the Word itself was revealed.

But how had every word of Scripture been given at that revelation, and how had every word been put in place just as it is printed in the Bible? And how can the verses in their divine order be made clearly understandable as revelation if human comprehension depends on a translation of this revelation into the inadequate terms of everyday speech? Such awareness of the need for an extreme translation to bring revelation of the divine Word to human words included, as well, an awareness of the need for an arduous retranslation of these human words to render the revelation of the divine Word. Obviously, Holy Writ, for all its surface simplicity and ordinariness, is not plainness all through, as is suggested by the notion that Scripture best interprets itself.

Paine made use of both points of view. First, in a disingenuous gesture, he seemed to accept the tradition that Scripture best interprets itself. He affirmed at one point, "The evidence I shall produce is contained in the book itself; I will not go out of the Bible for proof against the supposed authenticity of the Bible" (1:531). But, second, when he added in the next sentence that "false testimony is always good against itself," he suggested the other biblical tradition concerning Scripture as a deep and complex mystery that is not plainness all through.

The latter tradition prevails in The Age of Reason, with the primary difference that Paine emphasized, with a vengeance, the distance between divine revelation and human expression. For him, finally, the Bible should be approached solely in the light of what such a distance implies: not only that the divinity of Scripture should be doubted, but also that its commentary should be empirically assessed primarily in terms of contemporary thought and human behavior. Paine read Holy Writ the same way he read a historical narrative, a moral argument, or a social or political treatise of his own time—each of which, in fact, he assumed Scripture to be. It could, then, like any narrative, argument, or treatise, be answered and countered.

Such an approach naturally led to Paine's reconsideration of those centuries-old questions: Who wrote the Bible? Are the names attributed to its individual books accurate designators of their authors? If Holy Writ is both divine revelation and human expression, how did it come to be in the form it now has? When did it receive this form?

From the outset Paine alleges that the Bible has no claim to divine authorship or authority. He concedes that while some of its parts seem to have divine sanction, equal importance cannot be given to most of the scriptural narratives. Some of these narratives, he is sure, are authentic historical records, and many of the prophecies, poems, and wise sayings express the age in which they were composed.

The Bible is, for Paine, a collection of various kinds of writings that resemble similar assemblages by other people of ancient times. Fragments of history in some written form, documents, poems, declarations, speeches, and various certificates of governmental action comprised the original records that the Jews kept throughout times of war and settlement. There was as well, in Paine's view, something of a long-surviving original narrative—including stories, poems, and sayings—that had been orally transmitted from one generation to another and perhaps crudely recorded in the Bible.

Because Paine sees a glaring discrepancy between this original simple narrative and what (to him) quite obviously was editorially manipulated and distorted later, he assumes a two-stage composition of the scriptural documents. The book of Ruth, for example, strikes Paine as essentially a simple folktale concerning a young woman who worked in the fields of a wealthy man, was taken to his bed, and eventually became his wife; but at some later stage this story was made to account for the beginning of a generation of Israelite kings who represent the founding of David's royal line. Paine concludes that, in this instance as throughout the Old Testament, the later "compilers were ignorant" of the identity of "the first narrators" and "confounded the writings of different authors with each other" (1:552-53). These later editors elaborated on early folktales to give them an allegorical and sacral significance. Through this endeavor these editors sought to inspire the Jewish people with a sense of their religious and national destiny; but they also connived for personal advantage in their management of the scriptural texts. That such corrupting political intentions inform much of Scripture is a critical feature of Paine's argument in The Age of Reason.

Paine accordingly assumes that he can read the Old Testament both for what "the first narrators" had seen or known, and for what they could not have seen or known but what was credited to them afterward. Despite Paine's hostility toward these original narrators, toward Moses and other famous Old Testament patriarchal figures, he, in some sense, imaginatively identifies with them, as if he too were a first recorder. Like them, he sets out to tell the truth. In another sense, he imaginatively identifies with the later "compilers," with the important difference that (in his opinion) he demystifies, rather than mystifies, the texts. Like these later priests or scribes, Paine discloses the form and character of the scriptural records.

Primarily he discloses how the "contradictions in time, place, and circumstances that abound in the books" were the handiwork of three different but related designers: the "Bible-makers," the "chronologists," and the "compilers" (1:531, 551). The Bible-makers put together the separate books as they were given an early and perhaps tentative form. The chronologists put the books in their order according to a design of history that the Bible seemed to reveal to them. And, as we saw, the compilers edited the text in its present form. In Paine's opinion, each group was unaware of what the other was doing, although the Bible-makers had not completed their undertaking when the chronologists set about their task, and although while these two groups were still making their final decisions and additions, the compilers entered the process. Besides numerous contradictions and discrepancies, this confusion of hands strikes Paine also as evidence of fraud. The books of the Bible, Paine concludes, were made to promise far more than was ever intended at first and were made to perpetuate false beliefs for the purpose of controlling human minds and maintaining a tyrannical state.

The Historical Books of the Old Testament

In demystifying the Old Testament, Paine conducts two inquiries. The first concerns the accuracy of dating; the second concerns the attribution of authorship.

Paine reasons that the Old Testament chronology should successfully withstand the test of mathematical judgment. Besides the fact that the fourth book is titled Numbers, the Scriptures evidence throughout a scrupulous concern with such matters as the populations of neighbors, the size of triumphant or slain armies, and the number of sheaves of grain. Aided by Ussher's chronology (which . . . seemed to many to be a part of Holy Writ itself),2 Paine tests the accuracy of the Bible by what he assumes is Scripture's own testimony.

Paine establishes two dates central to the biblical record: the death of Moses in 1,451 B.C. and the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Captivity in 588 B.C. These dates, Paine contends, are reliable because of evidence from ancillary pagan commentaries; hence, these dates can serve as an accurate measure for a biblical chronology. Subtracting the date of Moses' death from earlier dates, Paine deduces that the historical placement of the Israelite patriarchs is in all respects correct.

While assessing the accuracy of these dates, Paine makes two particularly noteworthy mistakes. He places the death of Joshua 331 years after the death of Moses, resulting in an improbable statistic for the duration of Joshua's life that conflicts with the scriptural report that Joshua died twenty years after Moses' passing. Likewise, after reviewing the chronology of Judges, Paine sets the difference between chapters 16 and 17-21 as twenty-eight years, whereas the scriptural dating amounts to 286 years.

Concerning his other primary inquiry, the attribution of authorship, Paine especially focuses on the Pentateuch. From the outset Paine assumes that Moses could not have written its books:

They were not written in the time of Moses, nor till several hundred years afterward; . . . they are no other than an attempted history of the life of Moses, and of the times in which he is said to have lived, . . . written by some very ignorant and stupid pretenders to authorship several hundred years after the death of Moses, as men now write histories of things that happened, or are supposed to have happened, several hundred or several thousand years ago. (1:521)

The Pentateuch, particularly the account of Creation, Paine reports, owed much to its being based on "a tradition which the Israelites had among them before they came out of Egypt; and after their departure from that country they put it [the story of the Creation] at the head of their history" (1:473). One reason why an Egyptian legend appears at the beginning of an Israelite history, and was assigned to Moses, Paine deduces, was that this patriarch "was not an Israelite," but had "been educated among the Egyptians, who were a people as well skilled in science, and particularly in astronomy, as any people of their day" (1:474).3

Paine also adduces that the style of the Pentateuch represents a "person speaking of Moses" in the third person. "Any man might speak of himself in that manner," Paine reasons, but it cannot be supposed "that it is Moses who speaks" concerning his own meekness (Numb. 12:3) or his own death and burial in the land of Moab (Deut. 34:5-6) "without rendering Moses truly ridiculous and absurd." On the basis of these details and other "fallibilities," Paine concludes that the Pentateuch was written by "some Jewish priest, who lived .. . at least three hundred and fifty years after the time of Moses" (l:521-24).4

After enumerating other "fallibilities"—including references to Dan and to Israelite kings that make Mosaic authorship impossible—Paine turns from the Pentateuch to the subsequent historical books of the Old Testament. He claims that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, that it contains astronomical allusions foreign to the Israelites, and that, as we noted in chapter 3, it was originally a Gentile work "translated from another language into Hebrew" (1:547). The historical books from Samuel, through Kings and Chronicles, Paine indicates, betray in every chapter the haphazard joint work of their editors.5 The Psalms, too, Paine affirms in correspondence with contemporary scholarship, were not all written by King David, but "by different song-writers, who lived at different times" from the Israelites' occupation of the Holy Land to the Babylonian Captivity (1:549). Nor were the Canticles or Proverbs, with matter clearly dating after the death of Solomon, entirely composed by that "worn-out debauchee" with "seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines" (1:550).

The Prophetic Books of the Old Testament

Paine's consideration of these historical books is surpassed by his interest in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, "the writings of the Jewish poets" that "deserve a better fate than that of being bound up . . . with the trash that accompanies them, under the absurd name of the Word of God" (1:477).6 He constructs a chronological table and assigns to each prophet his time and place according to that determining date, 588 B.C. when Jerusalem was destroyed. By subtracting this date from the number assigned to each prophet, Paine arranged all the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi, from the year 760 to 397 B.C. He erred in assigning the dates of Hosea by one hundred years, of Amos by two years, Obadiah by ten years, Habbakuk by four years and Haggai by eighteen years.

Paine registers a special interest in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, which were the prophecies most highly regarded by Jews and Christians throughout the centuries. Both, Paine argues, have been made to appear as prophecies inspired by God, but both reveal that they are only self-betraying and disordered assemblages—like "a bundle of newspapers" (1:556)—of anecdotes and scraps of historical accounts surviving by word-of-mouth or in priestly records. As a result, what might have been intended as prophecies in the original statements may have been clear to their composers (whoever they may have been), but the transcriptions of these prophecies with interpolated interpretations several centuries later were based on a language obscured during the Babylonian Captivity and on a confusion and mystery of meanings that were lost.

Paine's discussion of these two books is very detailed. Typical of his argument is his consideration of the prophecy of the virgin and child in Isaiah, which book also foretells that King Ahaz of Judah would defeat in battle two kings who challenged him. This prophecy, Paine is quick to point out, was wrong, and significantly wrong: "Ahaz was defeated and destroyed, a hundred and twenty thousand of his people were slaughtered, Jerusalem was plundered, and two hundred thousand women, and sons and daughters, carried into captivity" (1:555).7

The book of Jeremiah, Paine contends, is similarly plagued by "contradictory accounts" emerging from its origin in a "medley of detached, unauthenticated anecdotes" assembled later by some unknown and "stupid book-maker" (1:559): the prophet is imprisoned for being a spy in one verse, but for being a false prophet in another verse; the prophet predicts Nebuchadnezzar's slaughter of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but they were spared and taken into captivity;8 and the prophet reassures Zedekiah of his safety, but this king of Judah is mutilated and imprisoned until he dies.

Furthermore, Paine observes, if the prophecies in the Old Testament had indeed forecast the events of the New Testament, surely the writers of the Gospels would have made the connection. Yet no such clear association occurs, only vague implications. Paine suspects that the books of the prophets are not, after all, about prophecy.

When Paine considers who were the original personages whose sayings have been assembled, edited, interpreted, and distorted, he indicates that they were not in their time considered to be soothsayers. They were like the entertainers in medieval courts who told stories celebrating "the event of battle . . . or of a journey, or of [an] enterprise" (1:561), either in the past or in the future. They were seers not only in expressing hopeful expectations, but especially in composing verses; for the term seer, Paine asserts, meant poet as well as fortune-teller. Transmitted to later generations, these seers' elemental stories—"fictitious, and often extravagant, and not admissible in any other kind of writing than poetry" (l:475n)—acquired great importance as the various assemblers of the Bible embellished these simple, primitive narratives with profound religious and cultural implications.

In a very important move in his book, Paine argues that the composers of these original narratives were members of parties, akin to political alignments and factions in contemporary politics: "They prophesied for or against, according to the party they were with, as the poetical and political writers of the present day write in defense of the party they associate with against the other" (1:562). This alignment of the poet-prophets to parties became crucial after the death of Solomon, when the kingdom splintered into Israel and Judah. "Each party had its prophets, who abused and accused each other of being false prophets, lying prophets, impostors," Paine concludes; "the prophets of the party of Judah prophesied against the prophets of the party of Israel; and those of the party of Israel against those of Judah" (1:562).

This political dimension emerges somewhat differently in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel, which Paine allows were indeed written by the individuals named in their headings but which he disallows as prophecies.9 Paine reads these two books as an effort by their captive authors to relate to their compatriots back in Jerusalem certain "political projects and opinions." They did so, however, "in obscure and metaphysical terms," and masqueraded their views and intentions as "dreams and visions" to evade detection by their captors. However "wild as . . . dreams and visions," Paine notes, these remarkable documents concealed the political hopes of a captured people for their restoration (1:564-65). Paine's reading of these books, like his reading of the Pentateuch as bearing political implications, is an important component in his agenda underlying the biblical commentary in The Age of Reason.

The New Testament

Paine also questions the authenticity of the New Testament. Whereas he allows that Jesus was indeed a "virtuous reformer and revolutionist" (1:469), he disallows everything else in the New Testament as a fiction perpetrated as divine inspiration by Jesus' followers long after his death. Finding discrepancies in the gospel account of Jesus' genealogy, Paine concludes that this genealogy is as much a fabrication as is the attribution of the Gospels to the names appearing at their headings. Since the Gospels are fictional, as the "impositions" of the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension particularly suggest, the Pauline epistles, dependent on these Gospels, are similarly suspect. Paine claims thereby to have shown that the Gospels were "forgeries" on the basis of evidence "extracted from the books themselves" (1:594).10

One of Paine's most outspoken, and perverse, conclusions is that none of the Four Gospels could have been composed before three hundred years after the death of Jesus (1:585-86). Instead of offering any evidence, he let this assertion stand as the well-supported conclusion of other authorities. Perhaps in reaching this conclusion he had in mind the First Council of the early church (Laodicea), which fixed the canon of Scripture in 363.11 By dating the Gospels this late, Paine challenged their accuracy and their inspiration as divine expression. From the fourth century to the present, Paine believed, Christianity has been an imposition on credulous and trusting people.

The followers of Jesus at first were unaffected by priesthood, Paine speculates, but they had the example of Judaism, from which they had separated. Within a century or so, these Christians organized themselves much on the model of their religious predecessors, Jewish as well as pagan, in order to achieve a coherence and authority, both important to the survival of the new faith. Accordingly, Paine reports, they made Jesus, who was originally a simple man-founder of their faith, into a figure quite out of proportion to what he had been in real life, a figure now empowered with the ability to work miracles. This process of mystification included the attribution to Jesus of all manner of wonderful perquisites typical of a god: mysterious comings and goings, strange Orphic sayings, obscure hints, cryptic messages, magical workings, and divine descent. Now he had become the Messiah prophesied centuries before his time.

Thus, for Paine, the books of the New Testament are as replete with fable and superstition as are the books of the Old Testament. Although the first Christians lived in a time when certain rays of the light of reason illuminated the Greek and Roman world, they (like the people of classical antiquity) were still the victims of priests in league with rulers, both of whom enforced the worship of idols and gods as a way of sustaining their own very human power. Recalling similar observations about the scribal work in the Pentateuch and the role of the poetic seers in the prophetic books, this conclusion about the New Testament similarly touches on Paine's underlying political agenda in The Age of Reason.

The Question of Miracles and Political Power

Church authorities argued that the accounts of the miracles attributed to Jesus in the New Testament are trustworthy because they were either witnessed by persons who were present on the occasion or were recorded by intelligent persons not long afterward. One official version held that the evidence for miracles is identical to that for natural facts and events as experienced by people: both involve signs, actions, and results verifiable at the time of their occurrence by reliable witnesses close enough to the events to testify to their truth. Although miracles, by their nature, are in other ways separate from natural facts, nevertheless, authorities claimed, there is sufficient reason to trust those reported in the New Testament because of the sufficient number and the unbiased nature of the witnesses. In short, church spokesmen imputed a dual character to these divine and true gospel episodes: the events were extraordinary, but the persons reporting these events were not unusual, even if inspired.

What could be accepted as evidence for miracles in their own time, and what could be construed as evidence for miracles that could be sustained and believed in later times? Was that evidence the same or different? Orthodox authorities argued that the reasons for belief in miracles remained the same throughout time. Miracles were necessary, they indicated, not to excite wonder, but to herald and characterize the divine nature of the revelation contained in Christ's precepts and teachings. Consequently, the first baptism in the River Jordan required the appearance of a dove and the hearing of a voice; the celebration of the Last Supper required the transmutation of bread and wine; and the promise of eternal life required the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Nearly all the defenses of miracles and revealed religion depend on this principle: that the most enlightened moral system the world has ever known, Christianity, could have come into the world only in the way the biblical accounts provide. To deny the evidence for and the reliability of the New Testament accounts of miracles is to deny the claims for the Christic divine revelation they herald. Without this evidence, the Christian faith and its moral system disintegrate.

Of course, Paine denies the authenticity of this evidence. He advances arguments and language similar to those articulated by Conyers Middleton and the circle of Paul Henry Thiry, Baron d'Holbach. . . . Like Middleton, Paine asserts the function of mere human credulity in the biblical accounts of miracles, accounts composed by weak-minded narrators. Moreover, Paine repeats several of the related conclusions of the coterie holbachique, especially concerning Paul's invention of miraculous events to create a mystique about himself and his narratives. Paine and the clique of d'Holbach agree, too, that in the period when Christianity was gaining recognition in the Roman Empire and when it set about legitimatizing its power, self-aggrandizing church fathers altered and further corrupted the scriptural texts—mystified them with a sense of the miraculous—during councils of ecclesiastical legislation. "It was upon the vote of such men as Athanasius," Paine declared, "that the Testament was decreed to be the Word of God; and nothing can present to us a more strange idea than that of decreeing the word of God by vote" (1:594).

This last point is the final link in what is a chain of associations for Paine in The Age of Reason. In this scheme, the church fathers had exerted on the New Testament a corrupting priestly manipulation just as, before them, had the disciples of Jesus who themselves had followed the example of the scribes and prophets of the Old Testament. From the Pentateuch, through the books of the prophets, to the Gospels and epistles of the New Testament, and to the later interpretations of them by the church fathers, Paine contends, there has been one long and continuous history of priestly conspiracy to maintain a superstitious mystique in support of their own authority.

This authority has always meant worldly power over people, and so Paine is not surprised to find that these priests throughout time aligned themselves to parties, to the political forces of civil magistracy. In regard to the Judeo-Christian tradition, this alignment dated back to "the wretch" Moses, who "carried on wars .. . on the pretense of religion" (1:528), and to the prophets, who "prophesied for or against, according to the party they were with, as the poetical and political writers of the present day write in defense of the party they associate with against the other" (1:562). Jesus' followers inevitably followed this Judaic example, and this same pattern was continued by the early Christians and the church fathers, who (Paine believes) became allied with the civil power of the Roman Empire, under the emperor Constantine, when the first Council of Nicea was held in 325. From that time onward, the oppressive tyranny of church and state increasingly encroached on the natural liberties of the people of the West.

Through the invention of sacred texts, stories, and legends, as well as of holy places, rites, rituals, and ceremonies, priests and magistrates mystified their own power in an effort to command unquestioned reverence and obedience from a credulous multitude "enslaved" by this claim to divine right by both their religious and civil guardians. Paine's claim here about biblical mystification recalls a political point in Rights of Man, which specifically addresses how the ruling class has always taken "care to represent government as a thing made up of mysteries, which only [they] themselves understood," and has always aimed to convince their property-like inherited subordinates to "believe that government is some wonderful mysterious thing" (1:361, 375). Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) had made a similar observation in Leviathan (1651), which reports that the Bible derives its power from the decree of Christian rulers, who demand that the Sacred Book be regarded as divine law. Revealing this connection between church and state throughout time is the real design behind Paine's religious commentary in The Age of Reason. In this work he assails scriptural authority because this authority seemed to him to be the dubious foundation of both religion and state in the Western world.

Pertinent hints of this central concern typically emerge in Paine's language when he fashions such expressions as "the amphibious fraud" and "the adulterous connection of church and state" to expose how the political "sword," used to acquire "power and revenue," is the main instrument of "this impious thing called revealed religion" (1:465, 467, 586, 596). The most telling moments, however, significantly frame Paine's book. In "The Author's Profession of Faith" he says that his work is "exceedingly necessary" because "of the false systems of government and false theology," because the "institutions of churches" are "human inventions" designed to "monopolize power and profit" (1:464). And in his "Conclusion" Paine recalls this very point—the underlying point of his book—by bluntly writing, "It has been the scheme of the Christian Church, and of all the other invented systems of religion, to hold man in ignorance of the Creator, as it is of Governments to hold man in ignorance of his rights. The systems of the one are as false as those of the other, and are calculated for mutual support" (1:601; emphasis added). What could be clearer than this revelation of Paine's intent, of the rationale behind his subversion of the authority of Scripture, on whose imputed authenticity the Western church and state were and are founded?

The Authority of a Dismembered Hand

The issue of authority, as we have seen, is an abiding concern in Paine's major works. In Common Sense and the Crisis papers he deposes the sovereignty of monarchies; in Rights of Man he deposes the legitimacy of aristocratic monarchical minions such as Edmund Burke; in The Age of Reason he deposes the supremacy of priests, from Moses to clerics and theologians at the end of the eighteenth century. Now and then, as we have seen, the earlier works anticipate the later book; and in fact from Common Sense to The Age of Reason Paine progresses from dealing with "appearances[, which] are so capable of deceiving" (1:508), to scrutinizing origins, which are buried in the past. In attacking the authenticity of Scripture, Paine tries to uproot, expose, and destroy these hidden origins of the power attributed to church and state, that "amphibious fraud."

But from where did Paine derive his own empowerment to pontificate on Scripture? We noted . . . his exposure to the ideas of several previous French and English commentators and to prevalent notions circulating within the international intellectual milieu of his time. But such an encounter was hardly sufficient, and Paine claimed (albeit disingenuously) it was utterly unnecessary (although in infrequent lapses he mentions scriptural authorities sympathetic to his position). In resorting to the dual, contrary biblical traditions holding that Holy Writ is its own best interpreter and that the Word could be difficult and obscure, Paine proclaimed (as we remarked) his autonomy in reading Scripture: "The evidence I shall produce is contained in the book itself; I will not go out of the Bible for proof against the supposed authenticity of the Bible" (1:531). As we have also seen in Common Sense and Rights of Man, however, such claims to self-fathering are fraught with paradox, and this paradox reaches a fascinating epitome in Paine's strategies for self-authorization in The Age of Reason.

Some of Paine's maneuvers in this book recall those in his earlier writings. There is, first, his enablement through opposition, the instating of himself by virtue of the substantiality of his priestly opponents, without whom his voice would have no cause to perform, indeed no raison d'être. There is, second, his use of the mechanism of transference or displacement when he insists on and repeats his claim to write by the light (the Inner Light, as it were) of "reason and philosophy," even if this formulation, as a mere abstract assertion, lacks any evidence of the empiricality imputed to it in Paine's invocations. In a related maneuver, reminiscent of a strategy in Rights of Man, Paine consigns the authorization of his book of "consolation" to the historical moment—"the times and the subject demand it be done" (1:472)—and to the example of others who have met peoples' need for "consolation" at this moment:

As several of my colleagues and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself. (1:464)

As these strategies, and his ever-so-subtle sympathetic identification with the "the reformer[s] and revolutionist[s]" Jesus and Luther (1:469, 495) suggest, Paine's claim of independent self-communication, his reiteration of sole reliance on pure reason, does not, in fact, prevail. Nor does he successfully demonstrate his claim to be his own patriarch or priest in his "own mind," as his "own church," where "almost all the knowledge" that he has acquired has derived from the revelation (from whence?) of "thoughts . . . that bolt into [his] mind of their own accord" (1:464, 497). Such an effort to appropriate extreme independence falters because, as our Introduction indicated, the assertion of self-authorization is a performance always caught between dependency and autonomy; it is an act always conflicted by rage against the established priestly patriarchy and by fear of the self-inflicted, potentially suicidal wound of becoming (as Paine himself pejoratively uses the expression) "altogether fatherless" (1:534)—that is, without authenticity.

In The Age of Reason Paine attempts another mode of the mechanism of transference, one that he had briefly suggested in Rights of Man and one that pretends a sort of hermetic closure with himself, as if an otherwise elusive sense of autonomy has indeed been attained. In this gambit, Paine grounds his authority on his previous performance, in effect telling his audience, "All of you already know who I am, what I stand for." And that this audience did know mattered, of course; but Paine's recourse to this manner is nonetheless a rhetorical tactic for self-authorization.

"You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion" (1:463), contains phrasing not only looking backward ("remember") but also forward to what is to come: Paine's controversial opinion. This comment at once asserts dependence on the past and assertion of independence from it, a gesture recalling the same dilemma in Paine's earlier writings, which overtly, at least, declare the need for a complete emancipation from the past but always fail to achieve it. That the authority invoked from the past is Paine's own authority does not dismiss the conflicted implications of the stratagem itself.

This curious backward-and-forward looping is even more evident when Paine evokes, for the purpose of authorizing his present controversial discourse, the reader's memory of his role in the American Revolution (the past) and especially of Common Sense, falsely said to be "the first work [he] ever did publish," as the foreground of The Age of Reason: "I believe I should never have been known in the world as an author on any subject whatsoever had it not been for the affairs of America" (1:496-97). Covertly he instates himself as already "known"; and this worldly reputation, dependently grounded not only on his own past performance, but also on the substantial past success of a whole nation, authenticates Paine's present authorship/authority in The Age of Reason.

If such reflexivity seems on first encounter to signify a sort of hermeneutic of self suggesting an autonomous authority, on second thought it reveals a dependency on a past as witnessed by others, who must remember Paine, that alleged autonomous self, in a double regression to critical precedent events: the publication of his book, itself founded on the evident substantiality of the new American republic. This contestatory engagement of dependency on the past and freedom in the present in Paine's authorship of The Age of Reason registers in another form as well, the paradox that has been evident in his previous writings.

This paradox inheres in all of the tactics for authorization to which Paine resorts. First, his enablement through opposition: if Paine successfully deposes all priestcraft, there would then be an erasure of the substantial cause of the performance of his voice, which in any event is defined (and thereby curiously identified with) priestly fraud. Second, the resort to the abstract assertion of reason and rights amounts to a nonevidentiary empiricality, an absence, which in effect opens a void behind Paine's speech. Third, the reference to the late eighteenth century for authorization results, in effect, in a vacancy because all times are transient and, worse still, become the very pernicious past that Paine seeks to drive out of existence, even out of human memory. Fourth, references to the example of others' work and others' lives disable claims to autonomy, not only by yoking Paine's present performance to the always corrupt past to be buried, but also by eradicating any sense of the individuality, uniqueness, even substantiality of Paine's voice. Fifth, and most fascinating, the invocation of Common Sense raises a number of instances of this paradox of erasure.

Paine published Common Sense anonymously, perhaps a clue to a hesitation at that time to take responsibility for the authority literally asserted in his book. An anonymous author is, in effect, an absent author; yet in The Age of Reason this "authorless" Common Sense is invoked as authorizing. This maneuver is all the more puzzling because in The Age of Reason Paine specifically disparages anonymity, as if he forgets that he used it previously himself in Common Sense, the very book he now calls on to authenticate his biblical commentary. "The book of Genesis is anonymous and without authority," he states, repeating this point later when he speaks of the two works attributed to Samuel as "anonymous and without authority" like "all [the] former books" of the Bible (1:526, 535). This attribution of the absence of authority subverts Paine's strategy of predicating his new book on his old anonymous book.

This predication evinces another dilemma. In deriving authenticity from Common Sense Paine implies something positive about the durability of language. Although he does suggest in one place that writing is as close to immortality as one can come (1:591), he contrarily notes that languages die (1:491), that print is corruptible (l:585n), and that words are always an unreliable vehicle for expressing reality and truth. For Paine, it is not just that "the Word of God cannot exist in any written or human language" because of, among other reasons, "the continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject"; for Paine, "human language is [always] local and changeable, and is therefore incapable of being used as the means of unchangeable and universal information" (1:477, 482; cf. 483). Oddly, Paine has appropriated Burke's sense of his opponents' language as Babel-like, which we observed in chapter 2. Paine's notion of the inability of language to convey "universal information" annihilates his claim that The Age of Reason is based on and expresses "reason and philosophy"; and it does violence to its other prop of displaced authorization, the invocation of Common Sense.

The stratagem of recalling Common Sense as an enabling agent for Paine's proclamations in The Age of Reason is vexed by more than Paine's attack, in the latter book, on the efficacy of language in relation to reality and truth. . . . [In] Common Sense Paine confiscated regal scriptural authority to support his assertions. A paradox occurs when Paine resorts to a book credited by its arrogation of scriptural authority to authenticate his performance in a book explicitly deposing "Bible authority" (1:517). Paine's effort to close hermetically with him-self, by privileging his authority on the basis of previous authorship in this instance, enters a logical void.

All of these conflicted strategies, at once enabling and disabling the claims for authority in The Age of Reason, dramatize the stagelike middle ground between independence and dependence on which Paine is necessarily situated. And it is at this site of spectacle that the paradox of mimicry also occurs, as it did in Common Sense and Rights of Man, Paine faults the patriarch Moses, the poet-prophets, the Old Testament scribes, the followers of Jesus, and the church fathers for "performances by sleight-of-hand" (1:508) when they religiously mystified natural and human matters, particularly in Scripture, in order to empower themselves politically as tyrants over others. But a close consideration of Paine's many tactics for dramatizing his own priestly authority in The Age of Reason, which he hopes might become (scripturally?) immortal as self-evident revelation (1:591), may also be seen as a bare performance similar to his opponents' sleight of hand. If their authority is vacant, as he asserts, then so is his own, which mimics their manner of mystifying origins whenever he uses his religious argument politically to authorize his own millennial vision of what humanity might ideally become.

While debunking miracles Paine fashions an image that we find to be remarkably reflective of this dilemma concerning authority and, as well, of Paine's self-doubt, here masked as skepticism toward others' claims to authority:

Suppose I were to say that when I sat down to write this book a hand presented itself in the air, took up the pen and wrote every word that is herein written; would anybody believe me? Certainly they would not. Would they believe me a whit more if the thing had been a fact? Certainly they would not. (1:508)

In this passage Paine imaginatively reduces himself to a metonymic image, a mere hand. There is no body, no substantive identity behind this hand; yet it writes, and it specifically writes this book, the very book in the reader's hands. The author may this time have a name—Thomas Paine—but his identity is anonymous, erased in the void behind the hand. Dismembered from something empirically substantial, the identityless hand is necessarily insubstantial and unsubstantiated; yet, as if by a kind of miracle, it writes, it represents and thereby authenticates the author, who is reified and known only through the performance, the very spectacle of authorship.

What analogy could be more apt in summarizing the many conflicts informing Paine's struggle for authority in The Age of Reason? At the very core of this analogy lies the dilemma that Paine's literary acts of self-fathering authorship inherently incur the dismembering wound of father-lessness; and, as Paine defined the term, to be fatherless is to be without authority. In short, self-authorization is merely an act of self-authoring, a "fictitious, and often extravagant" performance, as Paine observed of the biblical prophets. That he himself should have fashioned this image of the authoring/authorizing hand may well be a testament to his belief that "our own existence is a mystery" (1:505).


1 A detailed inquiry into biblical commentary in the eighteenth century is provided by Thomas P. Preston, "Biblical Criticism Literature, and the Eighteenth-Century Reader," in Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England, ed. Isabel Rivers (New York:St. Martin's Press, 1982), pp. 97-126. See also Robert M. Grant and David Tracy, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963); and Robert Morgan and John Barton, Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

2 Whether Paine knew the "Bible Chronology" he used was the creation of Bishop Ussher remains uncertain. In the years of the publication of The Age of Reason and the attendant controversy, three large and imposing chronologies appeared: Robert Walker's Analysis of Researches into the Origin and Progress of Historical Time (London, 1796), Philip Howard's The Scripture History of the Earth and Mankind (London, 1797), and Thomas Falconer's Chronological Tables (London, 1796). They reviewed all the dates provided by scriptural and pagan history and confirmed the chronological scheme of Ussher. The reviews of these works signify the wide acceptance of this system of dating, one review even concluding that "divine truth shall gain a full ascendancy by its native energy" (Critical Review 23 [1797]: 180). There is no hint of the existence of any forces aimed at undercuting and destroying such systems of chronology. See, for example, Critical Review 23 (1798): 169-80; and Gentleman's Magazine 66 (1796): 762-65.

3 Traditional arguments for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch rested on the principle that Ezra could not have been the composer because he himself ascribed the books of the law to Moses (Ezra 3:2), that every subsequent book of the Old Testament implies and relies on the existence of the Pentateuch (Josh. 1:7, 8; 8:31; 23;6; 1 Kings 2:3; 2Kings 14:6; 2 Chron. 17:9; 24:6); that Hebrew ceased to be a living language among the Israelites before or about the time of the Babylonian Captivity; and that the law of Moses was deposited in the Temple and read to the people every seventh year from the time of its bestowal to the setting down of the record (Deut. 31:10, 24).

4 Curiously, Paine makes no mention of the two disinct accounts of the Creation in the first two chapers of Genesis, a problem well known in intellectual circles of Paine's time and supportive of his case against the literal accuracy of the Pentateuch. However, in defending himself in his "Letter to Mr. Erskine" (1797), addressed to the barrister who prosecuted the publisher of The Age of Reason, Paine clearly distinguishes between the two accounts in Genesis. "Here are," he concludes, "two different stories contradicting each other" (2:731), a point he repeated in his "Reply to the Bishop of Llandaff" (2:764-65).

5 Even with a copy of the Bible at hand, Paine nearly himself invents a passage of Scripture when he describes David's taking of Jerusalem (1 Chron. 5:4ff.; 14:4ff.) as evidencing a bloodthirstiness not supported by the biblical account: "It is not said . . . that they utterly destroyed men, women, and children; that they left not a soul to breathe, as is said of their other conquests" (1:535). Paine may have made up this seeming quotation out of Josh. 11:11-14 and 1 Sam. 27:9, where the vengefulness is nearly as strong as expressed in Paine's invented verse.

6 The argument for prophecy had been set forth with great vigor in Samuel Clarke's Boyle lectures of 1705; as he wrote in the ninth edition of A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation (London: James and John Knapton, 1738), p. 371, Christian prophecy "is positively and directly proved, to be actually and immediately sent to us from God, by the many infallible Signs and Miracles which the Author of it worked publickly as the evidence of his Divine Commission. " For the savants and biblical scholars of the eighteenth century, the controversy concerning prophecy began in 1724, when the mathematician William Whiston published a tract that provided Anthony Collins with an opportunity to attack the argument from prophecy in his Discouse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion (1724). The major treatment of prophecy, especially in respect to Paine's handling of the subject, was Nathaniel Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History (1730), which disclosed that the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the New Testament and were, in turn, confirmed by passages of ancient authors who were contemporary with Jesus and the apostles or who lived not long afterward. Lardner offered testimony from the earliest church fathers down through the saints and martyrs to the time of Constantine the Great and the Councils, including Josephus and opponents, to the year 1325, all showing that the prophetic scheme of Scripture was infallible and confirmed by every testimony.

7 This tragic outcome was not relevant to Isaiah 7 nor to the prophecy of the virgin and the child. By the verses concerning the defeat of Ahaz, Paine saw in his Bible a small-print, italicized reference to 2 Chron. 28, to which he apparently turned and there found what had happened to Ahaz. Matthew, who is surely the first to do so, takes the word virgin in the prophecy to mean specifically the Virgin Mary and thus introduced a miraculous element into what was meant by the prophet to be simply a way of measuring time between the virgin's conceiving and of the land's coming into production and fruition. Paine, however, reverses the process and speaks of the "lying prophet" who devised such a "barefaced perversion of this story, that the book of Matthew, and the impudence and the . . . sordid interests of priests in later times, have founded a theory which they call the Gospel . . . 700 years after this foolish story was told" (1:555).

8 Paine apparently discovered this discrepancy by following the marginal reference in his Bible that linked Jer. 37:11-13 with Jer. 21:1-8 and 38:1-17. So the prophet, in Paine's view, stood condemned of falsehood by his own words, or in the words given to him by others long afterward.

9 He also rules against the book of Jonah, which he reads as a simple tale of how a Jew was treated by Gentiles and as a critique of prophecy itself: "As a moral, it preaches against the malevolent spirit of prediction; for as certainly as a man predicts ill, he becomes inclined to wish it" (1:569). And of the minor prophets, Paine claims they were only "itinerant preachers who mixed poetry, anecdote, and devotion together" (1:477).

10 The "Harmonists" were a number of leading expositors and defenders of Scripture who responded to the attacks of the Deists. Their chief works included Philip Doddridge's six-volume The Family Expositer (1739-56), Thomas Townson's Discourse on the Evangelical History (1793), and James Mcknight's Harmony of the Gospels (1778). Joseph Priestley criticized the last volume in A Harmony of the Evangelists (1780), and for a time he engaged in a series of Letters with Newcome, archbishop of Armagh.

11 For an authoritative account, in Paine's time, of the fixing of the canon of the New Testament and the recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, see William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity (London: R. Faulder, 1794), 2:199-203.

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