Born in 1737 on the 29th of January,
Tom Paine would prove to be contrary.
A restless youth from stays to sea
trying to find what he wanted to be.
A staymaker, a trade, an artisan;
then a change at 24 to exciseman.
A sad personal life – there was to be
the loss of wife and child at 23.
And then when he was 34
to Elizabeth Olive, he was wed once more.
In 1768 in London he met Ben Franklin;
on each other they made a good impression.
Settled in his job in Lewes town
Paine became a man of some renown.
The discussions and meetings he would remember
when he was involved as a Headstrong Club member.
They said he was the most “obstinate haranguer.”
There were articles of which he was the author.
Never one to keep quiet or support any lies
he wrote – “The Case of the Officers of Excise”.
Higher pay and better working conditions were aspired:
but as a result of his proposal he was fired.
Unemployed, no prospects, marriage failed, all abrupt,
Tom’s only choice was to declare himself a bankrupt.
He returned to London and met Franklin again
who gave a letter of introduction to Tom Paine.
Many non-conformists had been America bound
to escape persecution at home.
A passage to freedom was what they found
and encouraged others to come.
But Tom knew nobody in the land of the free
and when in Philadelphia the ship docked,
he had a case of ship fever – seriously
which Franklin’s physician skillfully stopped.
In the year 1775 Tom met Robert Aitken,
a printer and publisher for a new magazine.
The position of editor was not taken.
It was offered to Tom whose pamphlets he had seen.
A talented writer, Tom found subjects to pursue,
but at first no thoughts of independence or arms.
The idea to be soldier or author was not due
until British troops showed intention to harm.
Eight American militiamen were killed in Lexington.
The infamous date was April 19th, 1775.
The colonists saw this act as British provocation,
and a threat to their members staying alive.
Tom Paine saw an urgency in this act of violence
and pronounced that it was – “time to stir.”
He would not condone it with an author’s silence,
and wrote political articles that would linger.
Inflamed with anger at the killing conflict of Bunker Hill.
Paine would enshrine that bloody September event
with expressed outrage and eloquence we appreciate still
his pamphlet – Plain Truth – had revolutionary content.
On January the 10th 1776 it was released with speed,
more than 150,000 sold by activist Paine.
Retitled – Common Sense – for colonists to read,
it made their impending independence plain.
He criticized the British monarchy as an institution
giving credence to what some dare not say;
and urged the idea of a Republican Constitution,
encouraging citizens’ involvement, with his radical essay.
Tom pointed out the unfairness of government by succession
although many colonists were loyal to the British Crown.
Washington said he changed the minds of many men
and the founding fathers worked on a strategy of their own.
Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence of July ‘76
inspired Paine to sign up for the Continental Army.
They were ill-equipped – some of them only had sticks.
But these Pennsylvania men began a great journey.
The text of – The American Crisis – was read aloud
on Christmas Day in ‘76, to Washington’s men.
Tom’s essay would then inspire this crowd
to cross the Delaware and attack Trenton.
As early as January ‘77 Tom said – the United States of America.
That same month Adams suggested the Continental Congress
position for him who had come with them so far.
But Tom spoke out and never stayed under duress.
Tom was always a man of principles
and he made enemies of certain rich men,
questioning their profits and scruples,
of fortunes, they made – how and when.
He had a commitment to open government
and was outspoken about selfish behavior.
About the two Morrises he wouldn’t stay silent
but the Congress wasn’t looking for a moral saviour.
Then he made the mistake of telling in advance
of the discussed and proposed alliance in 1779.
The government had not announced this pact with France
and the members of the Congress made him resign.
For the welfare of men, Paine was always consistent
and his philosophy included sound finance.
About being open and frank he was insistent,
believing in democracy, growth and independence.
Not seduced by corruption or political liars,
a marvelous maverick and his own person.
He helped other revolutionary fires,
a rebel dissenter fighting for freedom.
One of the first to demand of slavery – an abolition,
Tom Paine also wrote humanitarian journals;
believing in a need of justice for women,
and even the subject of cruelty to animals.
An ability to see through hypocrisy and society’s ills
Tom struggled for people’s rights, not popularity.
Unfortunately, those convictions don’t pay the bills,
and with no job he was a spent revolutionary.
He left in 1787 on a European expedition.
France was ripe for revolutionary movement.
Later, in England, he was accused of sedition,
which forced a stay for French involvement.
Britain was wary of his radical ideas,
and accused him of treason while in France.
He could not return there to meet with his peers,
but took part in the French revolutionary stance.
Britain was alarmed at his book – The Rights of Man,
liberty, property, security and no oppression.
The British had no such population liberty plan
and clamped down on any hint of such discussion.
Tom was a self-taught and self-made man
with a great interest in all of science.
In Europe, he designed a bridge of iron
but was unable to get building finance.
He says at the close of part two in – The Rights of Man –
“The spring is begun,” and then went on to say
that he wished freedom and happiness to every nation,
and had seen France freed from hereditary monarchy.
Not left-wing enough for the – Reign of Terror
the Jacobins put him in the Luxembourg Jail.
In prison, he wrote – The Age of Reason – with fervor,
questioning the basis of religion and the Bible.
A Parisian citizen in the National Convention,
Tom realized his time in France was at an end.
By 1802, a return to America was his intention,
paid for by Jefferson, his long-term friend.
He had said nature was the only form of divine revelation.
His ideas in – The Age of Reason – were not accepted.
His rejection of Christianity got a negative reaction.
American enemies decided he should be avoided.
His last years there from 1802 to 1809
were spent as an outcast in ill health and poverty.
Nobody agreed he was ahead of his time.
When he died, a churchyard was a forbidden entity.
I like you, Tom Paine, for your independence of spirit and mind
and for your efforts to benefit all humankind.
For the insight of your thoughts and convictions
and for voicing the folly of hereditary systems.
Self-taught and ardently astute,
with a literary ability that was acute,
his pamphlets inspired many an American –
urgent, forceful, emphatic, and with passion.
Unlike many politicians he did not seek power and popularity,
but basic human rights expressed with due clarity.
He did not like to use quotes in his own writing,
but his own quotations are worth repeating.
With Paine’s own words, I reach the end of my discourse.
“A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose.”
Another quotation I have to say –
“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”
Something for which we all search –
“My own mind is my own church.”
And here is one indeed for posterity –
“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from enquiry.”
This one, deploring ignorance is definitely a direct hit.
“Reason obeys itself and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”
This saying makes a positive mark.
“The mind once enlightened cannot become dark.”
This quotation is one with which to begin.
Tom Paine said that it was his doctrine.
“Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.”
With this egalitarian statement, he defined himself.