Who was Thomas Paine?


Thomas Paine did not sign the Declaration of Independence. He did not sign the Constitution. He was not a representative in any year of the Continental Congress. Here's the full list of members for every year. So he was not a Founding Father by the strictest sense of the word. The only reason he is EVER mentioned by the websites as a supposed "Founding Father" in the search is that he was a Deist. And of course, that empowers those that echo the "all Founding Fathers were deists" belief. Or attempts to. He did server as aide to Gen. Nathanael Greene and as a soldier in Washington's army. Also, In 1777 he became Secretary to the Congressional Committee of Foreign Affairs, but was obligated to resign on January 7, 1779, because he divulged confidential state secrets about treaty negotiations with France.

One of the best online resources for Early American Government and documentation of the Founding Fathers and the Separation of Church and State, is the Separation of Church and State Home Page. It has a list of the Founding Fathers ranked in general order of their importance as they see it. The ranking point system they use is listed here. But strangely, Thomas Paine's name is not on the list.

Here's more:

To say that he hated the Monarchy is inaccurate and misleading. He hated all government and was an Anarchist. "Oh no! He stood for the people!" But that would be for the people trying to overthrow their government. John Quincy Adams also noted Paine's, "[W]armth of his zeal for Revolutions" and that Paine seems to think that he, the French and the English, "[H]ave the right to do whatever they choose."-John Quincy Adams, The Writings of John Quincy Adams (The MacMillion Company, 1913) pg 74 - 75.

Common Sense and The American Crisis had rallied the Colonial troops against the British. Strangely odd how he moved to another country when the first battle was done. In 1787 Thomas Paine left for England, initially to raise funds for the building of a bridge he had designed. During this time he had written Rights of Man, in which he defended the French Revolution and encouraged the same of the English people. The book was banned in England. Paine's attack on English institutions led to his prosecution for treason in Britain and he was charged with seditious libel. Paine fled to France, and was accepted by the Revolutionists and was elected to the National Convention. But then he made grave mistake. He told them he was against capital punishment and the execution of Louis XVI. This coming from someone who never experienced living in France during the end of the reign of Louis XVI. Paine was jailed and was set to be executed. A clerical error prevented this.

His denunciation of traditional Christianity in Age Of Reason had the religious of America disliking him (of course, the current Anarchists, atheists and those from the Far-Left would have you believe that this number was about 10 to 15 people.) His diatribe against George Washington, Letter to Washington, added more fuel to the persisting resentment against him. In the end, Paine's political views had made him both tremendously popular and almost universally despised. After returning from Europe, in New Rochelle, N.Y., he was deprived of the right to vote by the city, and was even refused accommodations in taverns and on stages. Even his wish to be buried in a Quaker cemetery was denied. He died alone and derided by the American public and the real Founding Fathers. A man who had once inspired millions to think in new ways about the world; now a pariah. There were 6 people at his funeral. His obituary read in part, "He had lived long, did some good and much harm." He spent his last years in New York as "an outcast" in "social ostracism" and was buried in a farm field because supposedly, no American cemetery would accept his remains. However, as expected, Paine's writings became part of the intellectual foundation for nineteenth-century radicalism. It continues into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as well.

About the supposed overwhelming support in the colonies for Age Of Reason, it never happened. Before Paine published his Age of Reason, he sent a manuscript copy to Benjamin Franklin, seeking his thoughts. Notice Franklin's strong and succinct reply, and keep in mind that those on all sides of the religion question would concede Franklin to be one of the least religious Founders (Deist as it were):

I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that . . . the consequence of printing this piece will be a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits into the wind, spits in his own face. But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? . . . [T]hink how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue . . . . I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person . . . . If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be without it? I intend this letter itself as proof of my friendship.--Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, Ed., (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, 1840) X:281-282, to Thomas Paine in 1790.

Samuel Adams was harsher with Paine than Franklin was:

[W]hen I heard you had turned your mind to a defence of infidelity, I felt myself much astonished and more grieved that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States. The people of New England, if you will allow me to use a Scripture phrase, are fast returning to their first love. Will you excite among them the spirit of angry controversy at a time when they are hastening to amity and peace? I am told that some of our newspapers have announced your intention to publish an additional pamphlet upon the principles of your Age of Reason. Do you think your pen, or the pen of any other man, can unchristianize the mass of our citizens, or have you hopes of converting a few of them to assist you in so bad a cause?--William V. Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1865) III:372-73, to Thomas Paine on Nov. 30, 1802.

Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration, wrote to his friend and signer of the Constitution John Dickinson that Paine's Age of Reason was “absurd and impious”--Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), Vol. II, p. 770, to John Dickinson on February 16, 1796.

Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration, described Paine's work as “blasphemous writings against the Christian religion”--Joseph Gurn, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (New York: P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1932), p. 203.

John Witherspoon said that Paine was “ignorant of human nature as well as an enemy to the Christian faith”--John Witherspoon, The Works of the Reverend John Witherspoon (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1802), Vol. III, p. 24, n. 2, from “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men,” delivered at Princeton on May 17, 1776.

John Adams spoke against Paine's anti-Christian propaganda: "The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue equity and humanity, let the Blackguard [scoundrel, rogue] Paine say what he will."--John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, Ed., (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856) III:421, dairy entry for July 26, 1796.

John Quincy Adams declared that “Mr. Paine has departed altogether from the principles of the Revolution"--John Quincy Adams, An Answer to Pain’s book “Rights of Man” that "there is no such thing as an English Constitution." (London: John Stockdale, 1793), p. 13

Elias Boudinot, President of Congress, and first president of the American Bible Society, even published the Age of Revelation—a full-length rebuttal to Paine's work.--Elias Boudinot, The Age of Revelation (Philadelphia: Asbury Dickins, 1801), pp. xii-xiv, from the prefatory remarks to his daughter, Mrs. Susan V. Bradford.

Patrick Henry, as well, wrote a refutation of Paine's work, which he described as “the puny efforts of Paine.”--S. G. Arnold, The Life of Patrick Henry of Virginia (Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1854), p. 250, to his daughter Betsy on August 20, 1796; see also, George Morgan, Patrick Henry (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1929), p. 366 n; and Bishop William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1857), Vol. II, p. 12.

When William Paterson, signer of the Constitution and a Justice on the U. S. Supreme Court, learned that some Americans seemed to agree with Paine's work, he thundered, “Infatuated Americans, why renounce your country, your religion, and your God?”--John E. O’Conner, William Paterson: Lawyer and Statesman (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1979), p. 244, from a Fourth of July Oration in 1798.

Zephaniah Swift, author of America's first law book, noted, “He has the impudence and effrontery [shameless boldness] to address to the citizens of the United States of America a paltry performance which is intended to shake their faith in the religion of their fathers.”--Zephaniah Swift, A System of Laws of the State of Connecticut (Windham: John Byrne, 1796), Vol. II, pp. 323-324.

John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers, president of the American Bible Society in 1821, and the original Chief-Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, was comforted by the fact that Christianity would prevail despite Paine's attack, “I have long been of the opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.”--William Jay, The Life of John Jay (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833) Vol. II, p. 266, to the Rev. Uzal Ogden on February 14, 1796.

So you can see how much love there was among the Founding Fathers towards Paine. And how much support for Deism! Not much.