Thomas Paine: World Citizen
by Joseph Lewis
from his books "Inspiration and Wisdom from the Writings of Thomas Paine"
and, "Atheism and Other Addresses"
Edited by Cliff Walker from the "Inspiration and Wisdom" version
with small elements of the "Atheism" version retained.
Picture from "Atheism and Other Essays."
|Left to right: Andre Watelet,
Vice-President of the Paris Municipal Council; Joseph Lewis of New York,
secretary and founder of the committee that sponsored the tribute, and
Roger Verlomme, Perfect of the Seine Department. (New York Herald-Tribune,
Paris, January 30, 1948.)
This picture was taken immediately after Mr. Lewis had unveiled the statue, but, unfortunately, during a downpour of rain.
Presentation speech made by Joseph Lewis at the dedication of the Thomas Paine statue in Paris, January 29th, 1948.
The mother who held a babe in her arms in the obscure town of Thetford, England, 211 years ago today, little dreamed that her child would grow up to be a world figure and play so important a part in the struggles of mankind for emancipation from political tyranny and religious superstition. Little did she dream that today, in this educational center of this beautiful city of Paris, this statue -- an heroic likeness of that babe grown to manhood -- would be unveiled in honor of his memory and as a debt of gratitude and appreciation of those now living for the liberty which he labored so valiantly to establish.
Today, on the anniversary of his birth, in every civilized country, where some degree of freedom exists, liberty-loving people are recounting his deeds of valor and recalling his pleas for justice and humanity, that man might live in peace and understanding with his fellow-man.
A little more than half a century ago, the great Robert G. Ingersoll predicted, at the conclusion of his eloquent tribute to Thomas Paine, that "a few more years, a few more brave men, a few more rays of light," and mankind would venerate his memory. The few years have passed. The brave men have appeared, the light has broken through, and today is proof that mankind is beginning to pay homage to him who said, "Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are without regard to place or person. My country is the world; and my religion is to do good."
Thomas Paine would care nothing for this monument if his ideas should be forgotten. This is not merely another statue honoring the services of a man now dead and soon to be forgotten. This statue is to be both a symbol and a beacon, a symbol of the eternal principles of justice and humanity of which Thomas Paine was so preeminently a representative, and a beacon to guide mankind in the solution of the problems that menace their peace and happiness. We have high hopes for the influence of this statue and sincerely hope that the name of Thomas Paine will forever be synonymous with Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
If Thomas Paine's Peace Plan -- the "Congress of Nations" which he formulated to settle international disputes by peaceful methods -- had been adopted in 1800 when he first proposed it, no one knows how many wars it would have prevented, nor how much progress would have been achieved during those long years of peace and stability.
Paine's Common Sense was the clarion call for the liberation of the American colonies from the tyranny of monarchy. The Crisis, written during the dark days of our struggle, beginning with those immortal words: "These are the times that try men's souls," was the inspiration of our despairing soldiers, and his eloquent and inspiring words have been acknowledged by the leaders of the American Revolution to have accomplished as much in securing American independence as did the sword of Washington. His Rights of Man, written in defense of the French Revolution, is still unequalled as the greatest book on political science and the rights of the individual in society that has yet been written. For writing this book, he was indicted for treason and forced to flee from England. What intelligent man today does not acknowledge that it was The Age of Reason which was responsible for his intellectual emancipation from the mentally-stagnating and superstitious creeds that for so long paralyzed the brain of man. For having written this emancipating book, he received thoughtless rebukes and suffered heartless ingratitude. And for what? Because of the unselfish devotion to the betterment of his fellow-man.
It was because Paine always went to fundamentals that his reason was so clear, his logic so perfect, and his conclusions so sound. It was his method of determining the cause of things that made his position so secure and opposition so untenable. With what simple eloquence does he state this great truth. He said that government was made necessary "by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world." What other political philosopher has expressed this truth so clearly as does Paine in analyzing the difference between society and government? I quote his observation. He said: "Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness;..."
Paine knew that liberty requires responsibility; he also knew that liberty provides for the making of errors. He knew, too, that knowledge and liberty are the great solvents of error and that trials and tribulations are its correctives. That is why he said, "When nations are free, either in matters of government or religion, the truth will finally and powerfully prevail."
Republics are not perfect in all matters of government. Nothing is perfect. Not even the universe. Man's handiwork cannot correct all the mistakes of nature nor can it remedy all of her faults and make righteous all the acts of man. But a republic, the representative system of government with a basic constitution to protect the unalienable rights of the individual society, is by far the best system of government yet devised by man. Paine might well be honored as the father of our modern republican governments.
He wanted to make the American Republic the pattern upon which all future governments were to be founded. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, when our own Benjamin Franklin said to him, "Where liberty is, that is my country," Paine replied, "Where liberty is not, that is mine." And so the man responsible for the freedom of the United States of America set out to bring liberty to those countries still under the yoke of tyranny. It is significant that Thomas Carlyle should say in his book, The French Revolution, that Thomas Paine was a "rebellious staymaker ... who feels that he, single-handed, did by his Common Sense pamphlet, free America; that he can and will free all this world -- and perhaps even the other."
When Paine arrived in Paris he was looked upon as the Incarnation of Liberty ... as the Symbol of Freedom ... as the Apostle of Mankind.... He was hailed throughout France. No wonder he was elected from three Departments to represent them in the National Assembly and was made a French Citizen!
And the opportunity for him to break the shackles of tyranny from the minds and bodies of the French people came when Louis XVI abdicated and fled from Paris. Immediately after the king's flight, Achille Duchatelet and Thomas Paine placarded Paris with a manifesto congratulating the French people on their good fortune in having rid themselves of their King -- and with the least amount of trouble and expense in both blood and money. A copy of this manifesto was nailed even to the door of the National Assembly!
Breathing the sentiments of freedom as does our own Declaration of Independence, this manifesto urged the people to abandon their royalist government and prepare for a Republic based upon the representative system. The manifesto ended with these words: "In defending a just and glorious cause, it is not possible to degrade it, and the universal tranquillity which prevails is an undeniable proof, that a free people know how to respect themselves."
Carlyle recognized the influence of Paine in creating the French Republic and his grasping the opportunity offered by the King's flight to achieve this end. In reference to this momentous event, he said:
|"How great is calm, couchant people! On the morrow men will say to one another, 'we have no King, yet we have slept sound, enough.' On the morrow Achille Duchatelet and Thomas Paine, the rebellious needleman, shall have the walls of Paris plastered with placards, announcing that there must be a republic."|
And there was one!
There have been political philosophers who have expressed their thoughts in fine phrases, and humanitarians who have spoken their ideals in eloquent language, and on rare occasions there have been a few who have combined both of these high qualities. But I know of no other man in the history of the world who combined not only these qualities but, in addition, possessed a still rarer virtue in the fact that he lived the life that was the basis of his philosophy and the underlying moral principle of his humanitarianism.
Man asks so little in happiness for his short existence, and Thomas Paine tried mightily to contribute his small share to achieve that end.
Thomas Paine, with, I believe, some foreknowledge that it might mean his death, stood up in the National Assembly to which he had been elected by three Departments, and made an eloquent plea for the life of Louis XVI, in the face of a raging fanaticism that demanded the King's death. The enraged Assembly, upon the slightest provocation, was ready to tear limb from limb any who dared to interfere with their mad determination to make the King pay the supreme penalty because of the accident of birth. Nevertheless, Thomas Paine stood firm and said, "I would rather record a thousand errors dictated by humanity than one of severe justice"; and at the conclusion of his impassioned plea, he cried, "Kill the King; but not the man." By this act, Paine not only proved his love for mankind, but gave the world an example of unparalleled courage in order that the principles of justice might prevail.
When you consider the circumstances, when you consider Paine's detestation for monarchy, when you consider Paine's hatred of tyranny, then it is the inevitable conclusion that this was the grandest act of moral courage ever performed by a single individual. Paine was ready to die that the principles of justice might prevail.
What greater act is there than that a man should be ready to sacrifice his life to prevent an injustice from being perpetrated even upon his enemy. For this sublime act, Thomas Paine was thrown into the Luxembourg Prison and condemned to be guillotined. He spent eleven months of torment in this detestable environment, and he was totally unaware that only by a thoughtless mistake had he narrowly escaped death. For Paine's restoration to liberty and health, we are indebted to two illustrious Americans -- Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.
The Republic of France gave to the Republic of the United States the majestic Statue of Liberty which stands at the entrance to New York Harbor, and which also stands as a perpetual reminder of the century-old friendship that has existed between the two countries, and it is our wish that this statue of Thomas Paine, while not as imposing as the Statue of Liberty, will represent to the people of France those identical sentiments of friendship, of liberty and of equality that Bartholdi's statue does to us.
But Paine himself, more than this statue, has created a lasting bond between our two countries. Just as he wrote our Declaration of Independence, he also wrote the French Declaration of Rights; just as his ideas and principles were incorporated in our Constitution, so he wrote his ideas and principles into the French Constitution. No wonder he said, "The Cause of America and the Cause of France is the cause of all Mankind."
What greater bond, what greater tie, than that these two great nations have flowing in their civic veins the same vital blood from the same political father! And what greater recognition did Paine receive for this fusing of these twin children of freedom than that, at the liberation of the French people and in celebration of the establishment of their Republic, it was Thomas Paine who was designated to carry the American flag in that parade of jubilation. Let us also remember that it was to Thomas Paine that the Marquis de Lafayette gave the key of the Bastille to be presented as a gift to George Washington.
And the pattern for this statue came from the lips of Napoleon himself when, at a banquet which he gave in Paine's honor, he raised his glass to toast this world citizen, and said, "Every city in the world should erect a gold statue to you." Napoleon made this statement when he considered himself the self-appointed instrument to make the nations of Europe into "One World" based upon Paine's principles of universal justice.
Let us hope that while this is the first of such statues, the others will not be long in following. This statue is proof, too, that Thomas Paine is rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of calumny and vilification under which he has been buried for nearly a hundred and fifty years, as the Rising Star and Inspiration of Liberty-loving people.
The magnificent brain which conceived the Republic of the World and the Religion of Humanity, that wrote new systems of government and from whose cauldron of fire poured forth sentiments of wisdom and justice for a better life, no longer exists. Not even the bones of his body remain because even his grave was violated! We know not his burial place. Perhaps it is well that such a fate befell him. Neither Thomas Paine nor his brain belongs in any one place. He could not remain provincial. The world was truly his country and the product of his brain has spread over the face of the earth. His thoughts are everywhere, his seeds of wisdom have taken root and fruitful results have enriched the life of mankind. No character in all history is comparable to him. He is unique in the annals of the human race. He stands alone, preeminent among men for his unselfish devotion to the cause of freedom and as the noblest advocate of the rights of mankind. He died with the threads of three countries interwoven in him. He was born in England, made a French citizen by decree and was an American by adoption. What other man in all history can boast of such a distinction? He wore no crown of thorns yet suffered the pangs of crucifixion by being banished from the country of his birth, imprisoned in the land whose liberty he defended, and denied citizenship and the right to vote in the Republic he created. He claimed no relationship with the supernatural, but if ever there existed upon this earth an apostle of the human race, his name was Thomas Paine!
Although this statue is not an official gift from the Government of the United States to the French people, it is, nevertheless, a gift from liberty-loving Americans. It is given to the people of France with genuine affection and with the most fervent wish for the enduring of those principles of liberty which Thomas Paine so generously contributed to both countries.
It is a great privilege and honor, Mr. President, to present to you, as a gift to the French people, this magnificent statue of "gold" which our great sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, has created of this truly World Citizen -- Thomas Paine.