by John Patrick Michael Murphy
When he arrived in America in late 1774, he saw a people ripe for revolt and he loved it. He despised the government of his native England, where the common person was treated a bit better than an ox. He saw the power of Crown, united with Cross, that had taken from the people their natural rights. Poverty and disease were their lot under this rule, which Paine called "an adulterous connection." It was based upon the biblical concept of "the divine right of kings," which allowed the pulpits to say to the pews, "God wants it this way, the Bible says so… so shut up!" This same government ruled in America when Paine arrived.
Even after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and Bunker Hill, the majority of leaders and citizens were not in favor of revolting against the King of England and the Church of England which said God forbade it.
That all changed in January 1776, when Paine's Common Sense was published. In a nation of 4,000,000 it sold half a million copies in a few months. People seemed to be quoting it everywhere. In a few month's time "colonists" became "We the People." They now understood their very nature-as human beings-gave them certain rights that were theirs forever. When the People lead, the leaders will follow. This awakening led to July 4, 1776.
He wasn't finished-during the years of fighting he urged the soldiers to take heart, and be strong. He wrote sixteen letters to the "People of America." Collectively they were called The Crisis and they helped the farmer-fighters of America keep their grit, in the face of the greatest armed force in the hemisphere. Washington ordered his commanders at Valley Forge to read to the shivering troops Paine's recent addition to The Crisis so they would hear the words, "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot, will, in this crisis shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
After the victory he returned to England, where he promptly took on Church and Crown once again by writing The Rights of Man. He escaped arrest in England by fleeing to France, only to be arrested and sentenced to death. Within earshot of the guillotine he wrote The Age of Reason.
In it he attacked the greatest enemy of human freedom- "the monstrous belief that God has spoken to man." He "went marching through the Christian forest with an ax." Here is a sampling from its pages, which should explain why one of our very best has been ignored to this day-his virtue of honesty.
"All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."
"To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead."
What Do You Think?
"Thomas Paine" is copyright © 2000 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
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