Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tom Paine's fate

Thomas Paine is remembered by most of us as the author of "Common Sense," the rallying cry for the American revolution for which Paine received no money. In the dark days of Valley Forge, George Washington read parts of Paine's writings to the troops to keep up their morale.

But how many of us know that Paine died destitute and despised by many?

The cause was his writing of the "Age of Reason," which condemned the excesses of the French Revolution but also attacked all beliefs at odds with science and rational thought. Paine was seen, in the eye of the times, as bad news. His friends, embarrassed by his anti-Christian writings, deserted him. After he died in poverty, his bones eventually were removed to his native England for burial by William Cobbett - who had written a blistering Paine biography but who had changed his mind after actually reading Paine's work. Unfortunately, the bones never were interred, and were lost to posterity. As biographer Moncure Daniel Conway wrote in 1892, "As to his bones, no man knows the place of their rest to this day. His principles rest not."

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