and The American Crisis
by Joseph Lewis
from his book "Inspiration and Wisdom from the Writings of Thomas Paine"
HTML, editing by Cliff Walker
Dedication address delivered at the unveiling of the Thomas Paine Statue in Burnham Park, Morristown, New Jersey, on July 4, 1950, and in the 174th year of American independence.
Upon this hallowed ground where precious blood was shed for our Freedom, we come to dedicate a statue of Thomas Paine. This event is long overdue -- overdue by at least a century and a half.
This statue is to commemorate the critical Crisis which was to determine the success or failure of the American Revolution.
It was here, perhaps upon this very site in Burnham Park, that the turning point of this struggle for freedom took place.
Yes, here in Morristown, where defeat and disaster seemed the inevitable conclusion of our struggle for Freedom, and in the face of desertions and mutiny by the ragged, starving, ill-clothed and ill-fed Continental Army, with the military leaders themselves gripped with fear and discouragement, and with "Surrender" upon their trembling lips, the words of Thomas Paine, the most inspiring ever uttered, produced as if by magic, an enthusiasm and patriotic fervor never yet equalled in the annals of human endeavor.
These words of Paine, each one charged with a force more powerful than dynamite and more devastating than lead, turned what seemed certain defeat into victory, and caused to be established for the first time upon this earth, a government guaranteeing Freedom and Equality, as a basic political right to all who live beneath the folds of her flag.
This conflict, this war, was not a fight between contending parties for power and plunder. It was the historic struggle to determine whether Man was ever to be free.
It was in response to the agonizing cry of George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Army, as well as to the groans of despair from the soldiers themselves, in this critical American Crisis that one man, AND ONE MAN ALONE -- Thomas Paine -- rose to the supreme heights of heroic action, and by the eloquence of his inspiring words and by his own unselfish devotion to the cause of Human Freedom, became both the Creator and Saviour of the American Republic.
While the words of COMMON SENSE -- Thomas Paine's plea for Independence -- were still being eagerly read by the populace, and the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence were being proclaimed throughout the land, and the pealing of the Liberty Bell had not yet subsided, the first shot was fired in the war for Independence.
Confidence pervaded throughout the Thirteen Colonies. Soon the war would be over, and success and victory would crown their efforts.
What an exchange of crowns!
Victory, Independence, and Freedom exchanged for excessive taxation, tyranny and subjection; a Constitution and EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW in exchange for an arrogant and despotic King.
But hardly had the war begun when defeat followed defeat in such quick succession that it seemed not only hopeless, but almost madness to continue the struggle.
Hardly had Washington got his bearings when the first blow of the war took place -- it was the strategic Battle of Long Island during the month of August, 1776.
The British Army under General William Howe moved irresistibly against our improvised defenses and before we had time to realize the critical situation, it looked perilously certain that the entire American force on Long Island would be destroyed.
Even a precipitate retreat in such an untenable position was considered a victory, and Washington gathered his forces and escaped to New York.
Long Island, our first outpost, was in the enemy's hands. The fight was almost over before it started.
It was now early in September, a little more than two months after the Declaration of Independence, when the powerful British fleet began to bombard the approaches of New York.
Suddenly and without warning, the bursting shells and the reverberating noises, startled the people of New York -- startled them as they had never been startled before.
Simultaneously with the bombardment of Manhattan Island the British troops began landing in ever increasing numbers from flat bottomed boats.
This bold stroke took the untrained and unprepared American soldier so completely by surprise that utter collapse seemed imminent. The hideous noises of the bursting shells coupled with the surprise of swarms of trained soldiers, pouring in ever increasing numbers towards them, was a situation too menacing to face.
"Fright, disgrace and confusion" followed, is the testimony of an eyewitness.
We were in no position to defend New York, and Washington himself, in referring to the superior forces of the British General said, "Nothing seems to remain but to determine the time of their taking possession."
And possession they took!
New York, New York was gone!
This proud and prosperous city of the New World, the prize of the Colonies, had changed hands within two hours of battle. The British entered New York City and took possession without firing a shot.
There were only two British casualties.
Our forces were completely demoralized.
General Howe was so certain of the situation, and so confident that his superior and well-trained and well-equipped soldiers would overwhelm the rebel forces and that the war was all but over, that he offered peace terms to Washington to lay down his arms.
But Washington was made of sterner stuff.
However, all the elaborate preparations for the defense of New York had to be abandoned.
The fortified positions of Harlem Heights and Washington Heights were deserted.
The British mockingly cried that our fortifications would only serve as a "striking monument of our cowardice and folly."
Winter was approaching, and the British found New York a very desirable winter haven. Washington and his men were again on a precipitate retreat. This time north into Westchester County.
Gloom was increasing.
Other defeats like Long Island and New York would prove disastrous. Washington feared to risk his undisciplined army, not yet recovered from the shock of two successive defeats, and still exhausted from uninterrupted retreats, to engage in battle with the confident and overwhelming British forces.
As he continued his retreat into Westchester County, he had less and less with which to defend himself.
His arrival in White Plains did not improve his situation. He could not, he dare not risk battle. His men were so exhausted that they would have wilted under fire.
The loss of stores of ammunition which had been abandoned was another serious problem.
Fort Washington, and Fort Lee on the Jersey coast, directly opposite Manhattan Island, were vital defenses to prevent the British Fleet from sailing up the Hudson and completely cutting off Washington and his men, not only from receiving any help, but even from escaping.
To trap Washington and end the war was exactly what the British intended when Fort Washington suddenly found itself under severe attack.
After a terrific bombardment, this vital defense post fell.
With it, two thousand Continental soldiers were captured. Enormous stores of great value including the best of cannon and equipment fell into the enemy's hands. Shortly thereafter, Fort Lee, under pressure, was evacuated.
Paine was stationed there, as aide de camp to General Greene at the time of the siege. He had to make a hurried retreat with the rest, and it almost broke his heart to leave the boiling kettles of food and the ovens of freshly baked bread so sadly needed by our famished troops for the already well-fed British Army to consume.
The British were jubilant. The struggle for Independence and Freedom had received another staggering blow.
In an attempt to trap Washington on his retreat, the British were now ready to invade the Jerseys -- and this they did.
So hopeless seemed the struggle now that a British spokesman said: "Every thing seems to be over with them, and I flatter myself now that this campaign will put a total end to the war.
The Cause was becoming more hopeless than ever.
Panic was beginning to grip the country. It was hardly believable that conditions could get worse.
But they did!
The people began to wonder if they had not made a grievous mistake. Did they let the persuasiveness of COMMON SENSE get the better of their judgment?
Although smarting under insolent injustice as subjects of Great Britain, their condition had been at least bearable.
What would be their plight, mumbled the people, if they lost the war and England exacted a severe penalty for their daring foolhardiness?
It was now too late to reconsider.
The forces of conflict were in motion.
There was no alternative.
It was to be the fruits of victory or the humiliation and bitterness of defeat.
The Colonies had tasted their third major disaster.
Washington was faced with a momentous decision: To make a stand, he could not; to engage the enemy was suicidal. If he remained in White Plains, all would be lost.
With no help in sight he had but one choice, not to retreat but to escape!
This he did, but at what a cost.
He crossed the Hudson and landed upon the Jersey side.
Here he felt that he would be upon better ground. But here too, disappointment, despair and defeat dogged his tracks. The level terrain of the country favored the enemy who took advantage of every factor. Washington was pursued with relentless attacks. He now had two enemies to contend with -- the British Army and the people themselves.
Instead of resisting the invaders, many of the residents welcomed the victorious army. Victory has a way of making friends. Generally, the defeated go their way alone.
The American Army found itself faced with capture or annihilation. Utter rout and disintegration followed as rapidly as the army retreated.
One soldier said that: "No lads ever showed greater activity in retreating than we."
Arms and supplies were left behind and the trail of their retreat could be followed by the abandoned equipment. Tents, blankets and even their own personal weapons became too burdensome to carry.
Back, back, back they ran -- a hurried and panicky retreat -- through Newark, through the Amboys, through Brunswick to Trenton, farther and farther away with less and less.
Flushed with victory, the British were now no longer interested in a peaceful solution of the conflict with the American Colonies, but in retaliation, revenge and plunder.
The territory they invaded bespoke only too well the thoroughness with which they carried out their determination for revenge.
Perhaps at Trenton he could make a stand, thought Washington.
He pondered well and long before making a decision regarding this important defense post. He would attempt to defend it. But alas, it was useless.
Only by a trick of deception -- leaving his camp fires burning so as to deceive the enemy as to his strength and his readiness to engage in battle, did he succeed in retreating to the Delaware River.
So serious was the situation at this time that Trenton might well have been the graveyard of our hopes for freedom and the burial place of Washington, as Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Army.
The hopes of the people were at their lowest ebb. Murmurs of dissatisfaction were heard, and whispers of discontent with Washington's leadership reverberated back to his ears.
Many thought he should be replaced. Had not Paine come to the defense of Washington at this critical time, we know not what the results would have been.
With the loss of Trenton, the British were again beginning to celebrate victory.
They jubilantly proclaimed that, "That most dangerous and unprovoked Rebellion that ever existed," was about to be completely smashed, and that, "the business is pretty near over." It only remained to mop up the last pockets of resistance.
It is now the middle of December, 1776. The winds and storms of winter entered the fight on the enemy's side. General Charles Lee, who had refused to come to Washington's help in his retreat through the Jerseys, now blamed Washington's incompetence and mismanagement for the perilous situation which faced the Army. Many thought that our Cause would have been better served had Lee, instead of Washington, been Commander-in-Chief.
Washington himself made no secret of his feelings. He wrote:
"I am wearied almost to death with the retrograde motion of things."
And as some people can only measure their loss or despair, or success, in terms of money, he continued with this statement:
"I solemnly protest that a pecuniary reward of a hundred thousand dollars a year would not induce me to undergo what I do."
He realized that his reputation was at stake and continued:
"Perhaps to lose my character, as it is impossible, under such a variety of distressing circumstances to conduct matters agreeably to public expectation."
Shortly thereafter, with matters getting worse, he wrote in a final moment of despair:
"Your imagination can scarce extend to a situation more distressing than mine. Our only dependence now is upon the speedy enlistment of a new army. If this fails, I think the game pretty well up."
To make matters worse, General Charles Lee, second in command to Washington, had been captured.
After the defeat at Trenton and his dash for the Delaware, Washington found little comfort from what remained of his army -- if such it could be called.
They were exhausted, barefooted and ragged.
Sickness, death and desertion had reduced his force to but 2,000 men; men whose morale was at the lowest ebb.
Washington could find consolation nowhere. He knew that it was useless to look for miracles. Something more substantial was needed for so critical a situation. What was it; Where would it come from? In despair, he muttered to himself: "Must such a cause be lost for lack of strength and courage?"
While Washington possessed the fortitude of a great general, he was not immune to defeat and discouragement.
When the cause seemed hopeless, and when his avenues of retreat seemed closed, he pondered with deep seriousness the means and methods by which he might escape to the West so as to avoid being captured and shot as a common rebel.
So imminent was the collapse of our Cause and so serious was the plight of Washington!
If Washington was muttering that "the game was pretty well up," what must have been the depths of despair which gripped the soldiers.
How they survived the harrowing experiences in the campaign of retreat through the Jerseys, no one will ever know.
Paine was with the Army through all its trials and tribulations. He was with the Army during its retreat through the Jerseys. He was with Washington during the perilous crossing of the Delaware and he himself was "surprised how they got through; and at a loss to account for those powers of mind, and springs of animation, by which they withstood the forces of accumulated misfortune."
"Accumulated misfortune." What a description and what fortitude it required to withstand them.
There was gloom in the hearts and camps of the Colonies.
The future looked bleak through the black clouds of despair.
The celebrations, the joys and hopes and expectations of victory of but a few months before made the defeats sting the harder and the more difficult to bear.
Desertions were too numerous to be counted and mutiny raised its ugly head. Many soldiers had not been paid for months.
Those who had opposed the war were jubilant at our defeats. They pompously boasted as prophets.
There was a scramble to get into the good graces of the winning side.
There were spies and traitors and profiteers in those days, only more. Some were so callous toward the Revolution, and some so coldly indifferent toward the Cause, that they cared not which side won.
At one time it was difficult to know who was a Tory and who was a Patriot.
Too many were more interested in how much money they could make out of the misery of our troops than they were in the securing of Freedom. Too many were not even mentally capable of understanding what Independence meant. The situation was becoming more critical and desperate.
Never, never before did defeat seem so certain.
Never, never before were those who had hung together with Franklin in signing the Declaration of Independence about to be hanged separately.
The British had already begun to celebrate victory.
The King was preparing to distribute honors to his successful generals.
But they failed to take into consideration that to ONE man the war was NOT over, and the war would never be over until the Declaration of Independence became the foundation stone upon which to build a government .
It was during the retreat with Washington through the Jerseys and across the Delaware that Paine realized that unless something were done and done quickly, all would be lost.
While he called Washington's retreat "glorious," he, and he alone, realized that THIS was the crucial moment.
This indeed was the CRISIS in America's struggle for Freedom.
Was it to be a success or failure?
Victory or defeat?
Life or death?
Did our people, did our soldiers, did our leaders know what it was that they were fighting for?
He would tell them.
And he did!
Paine himself, in recalling the situation at the time, after having crossed the Delaware with Washington, wrote to General Laurens describing the frightful conditions of the people.
He wrote: "I came to Philadelphia on public service ... and seeing the deplorable and melancholy condition the people were in, afraid to speak and almost afraid to think, the public press stopped and nothing to circulate but fears and falsehoods, I sat down and in what I may call a passion of patriotism, and wrote the first number of the Crisis."
Legend has it that he sat on a stone writing on a drum head, immune to the winter's cold, with his musket across his knee, wearing Washington's coat, and with a stroke of genius, just as he had done in Common Sense, penned "The American Crisis" with these flaming words of inspiration:
|"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 his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: 'tis dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."|
Common Sense was talking and the people listened.
There was no doubt about the honesty, the integrity and the sincerity of Thomas Paine.
HE was genuine.
Hardly had the words been printed when Washington, realizing the power they possessed, had them read and reread to his few remaining soldiers. The results were like magic.
In ringing tones of animation, the officers began:
"These are the times that try men's souls..."
The moment these words were uttered, they became the watchword of the Revolution; the slogan of the Army.
The soldiers listened with eagerness and rapture to every word that Paine wrote. Every word, every line, every sentence had its effect.
General Von Steuben said that a pamphlet by Thomas Paine would produce a better effect than all the recommendations of Congress in prose and verse. And he was right. It did.
Washington's army was rejuvenated. New recruits rallied to the General's side. Men flocked to the Standard Bearer and a new army was created. New and stronger, and more determined than ever before.
"These are the times that try men's souls..." are the most inspiring words ever written! They did more for the freedom of mankind than any other words ever uttered. Never before had words had such an effect!
They were responsible for instilling the greatest amount of courage and did more in the shortest space of time, in the darkest hour of despair, than has ever been recorded in the history of the human race.
They were repeated and repeated until they reverberated into one great crescendo, over the broad spaces of this land; and made every liberty loving person reaffirm his faith that Independence and Freedom were too precious to abandon in times of great physical stress. It made them renew their determination to achieve Liberty regardless of its cost in suffering and sacrifice.
In the midst of battle, these words seemed written across our flag:
|These are the times that try men's souls --
The sun never shined upon a Cause of greater worth.
We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.
But the opening paragraph was not all there was to "The Crisis" which Paine wrote. There were other problems that had to be solved; other arguments that had to be answered; other doubts that had to be resolved.
His pen never stopped until he made certain that every problem had been met; that every argument had been disposed of, and every doubt had been dissipated; and that every man, woman and child was doing his and her share, and every resource had been put into the conflict.
He admonishes the people that, "At such a crisis, the whole country is called to unanimity and exertion." And that, "No ability ought to sleep, that can produce a mite to the general good, nor even a whisper to pass that militates against it. The necessity of the case, and the importance of the consequences, admit no delay from a friend, no apology from an enemy. To spare now," he warns, "would be the height of extravagance," because it would in effect, "be to sacrifice it (Freedom) perhaps forever."
It was a momentous occasion and only one inspired by a passion for Freedom and emotionally stirred with a passion of Patriotism could have aroused such a passionate response, and accomplish such marvelous results.
While writing The Crisis -- knowing full well the tragic situation, and that only something of an extraordinary nature could save us, Paine's mind reflects upon the past and he wrote:
|"Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment."|
Little did Thomas Paine realize that when he wrote these words that he himself would surpass by a thousand fold the legendary accomplishments of Joan of Arc.
Little did he realize that the very words he was writing was the inspiring message that was to arouse his countrymen to rise and save the most precious cause in which man has been engaged to free himself from tyranny and to secure Freedom.
It was not the Maid of Orleans that turned the tide, it was the Man from Thetford.
It was not a Joan of Arc that saved us, it was Thomas Paine -- Common Sense, himself --
But as the war continued, and the British pursued relentlessly, their determination to end it, there were trembling rumors that Philadelphia was in danger!
What? Had we not suffered enough? Long Island, New York, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee, the Amboys, Newark, Brunswick, and Trenton. Were there no limits to defeat?
But the murmurs continued: "The British are coming." "The British are coming."
This alarm was sounded throughout the country.
It was true. It was only too true, despite the fact that the Continental Congress had but two days before implored the people to remain steadfast, and had requested Washington to deny the rumors of the impending disaster.
Washington knew only too well the situation and remained silent regarding the doomed city, but secretly wrote to his brother, "I tremble for Philadelphia."
Paine made a hurried trip at Washington's request from his headquarters here in Morristown to the besieged city with the hope of inducing the people to resist the invaders, but the populace was engulfed in gloom.
The leaders were equally affected. The first and foremost consideration was to escape with their belongings. Many debated seriously the situation. Shall we go? Shall we surrender? Shall we die?
John Adams said that if the British came to Philadelphia, "I shall run away, I suppose, with the rest." And he did.
In this spirit of defeat, with not even time for adjournment, every Congressman sought his own safety first, some not even taking time to saddle their horses.
The British did come, and they conquered!
Fell to the British!
The Capital of the Thirteen Colonies was in British hands!
Philadelphia, the cradle of Liberty, where the Declaration of Independence had declared Freedom for all, was no longer ours!
What a humiliating situation!
The Tories were happy. They extended welcome arms to the conquerors.
The British were jubilant. The war now seemed to be over.
This looked like the final blow!
But even the fall of Philadelphia could not shake the determination of Washington's re-inspired and re-vitalized army. Not while these words were ringing in their ears:
"These are the times that try men's souls."
No wonder the British marvelled at our resistance. No wonder they could not understand what mysterious force it was that gave us such unbending strength.
The stirring words of Thomas Paine were coursing through the veins of the American soldier.
Our Army was no longer composed of ordinary men. They were now soldiers fighting for Freedom.
Their blood had been mixed with the words of Paine's Crisis, and never before had such a combination flowed through the arteries of man.
The British were driven out of Philadelphia!
Philadelphia was recaptured!
The cradle where Liberty was born was again in the hands of the patriots -- the fruit of Paine's Crisis.
While the struggle continued, George Washington was encamped here in Morristown, with the burdens of the war weighing heavily upon his shoulders -- too heavy for the Commander and Chief of the Revolutionary Army to bear.
The rigors of over three years of bitter warfare were telling upon him.
While we had passed the crisis of Despair, we were now faced with another crisis -- the crisis of poverty -- the lack of money with which to feed and clothe the army.
From his headquarters here in Morristown, to be exact on January 5, 1780, Washington wrote his most distressing letter.
It was an appeal of the hopeless!
It was the final note of despair!
The cloud of Doom had settled over his headquarters -- through the darkness the figure of Defeat was seen advancing. Even Washington failed to see the glimmering ray of a faint light.
In an appeal for help to Joseph Reed, president of Pennsylvania, he concludes his letter with these ominous words.
|"I assure you every idea that you form of our distresses will fall short of reality ... we see in every line of the army the most serious features of mutiny and sedition."|
When this letter was written, Thomas Paine was clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly.
Who can compare with this man in his devotion to the cause of American Freedom?
He was soldier by day, author by night, and statesman during his "spare time." No ordinary person could have managed to have crowded so much fruitful labor in a day's activity.
It was delegated to Paine to read Washington's letter to the Assembly. After Paine had read the letter, he
|"...observed a despairing silence in the house. Nobody spoke for a considerable time. At length, a member of whose fortitude to withstand misfortune I had a high opinion, rose: 'If,' said he, 'the account in that letter is a true state of things, and we are in a situation there represented, it appears to me vain to contend the matter any longer. We may as well give up at first as at last.'"|
But to Thomas Paine there was no "giving up."
Just as at the critical moment he had infused fresh patriotism into Washington's despairing army, so again in a "passion of patriotism," with money instead of words, he met THIS Crisis.
In his own words, he gives a graphic picture of the situation. He writes that:
|"If the Assembly could not give the assistance which the necessity of the case immediately required, it was very proper the matter should be known by those who either could or would endeavor to do it."|
Paine had money due him for his services as Clerk of the Assembly. And what do you think he did?
He took $500.00 of his meager salary, enclosed it with a letter that only a Thomas Paine could write and sent it to a wealthy friend, Mr. Blair M'Clenaghan, and told him that he wanted to start the subscription with his GIFT of $500.00 to establish a bank to finance the war, and was ready to give another $500.00 if needed.
That very evening, Paine's appeal was read to a group of wealthy men meeting in a coffee house, and within less than six months, the subscriptions, spreading like wild fire, had collected a sum of over $1,000,000.00.
This bank was incorporated by the Congress on December 21, 1780 as the Bank of North America, with Robert Morris as its first President. This bank financed the Revolutionary War, and prevented utter collapse.
Years later, when the list of names of those who had subscribed to the original fund with which to establish the bank was published, the name of Thomas Paine was shamefully omitted, while others, who had made millions in profit from their investments, were immortalized as public benefactors.
Such has been the cruel conspiracy to deprive this great patriot of the recognition which he so richly deserves and of his rightful place in the history of our country.
While there is a great doubt that Moses carried the Children of Israel successfully over the waters of the Red Sea, there is no question that Thomas Paine carried the soldiers of Washington's army triumphantly over the turbulent waves of the Revolutionary War.
Not by his own deeds, which alone were sufficient, but by the testimony of those who were present in the struggle, by those who took part in the conflict, by those who were upon the scene of battle, do we know that Thomas Paine deserves our deepest thanks and our highest homage.
|"Washington's sword would have been wielded in vain had it not been supported by the pen of Paine."|
John Adams made that statement. He was there. He saw it happen. He knew. He also said: "History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine."
These statements become even more significant when you take into consideration the fact that Adams was not friendly to Paine. He made these statements because of the sheer force of truth behind them.
James Monroe was there. He saw it happen. He knew. He said: "The citizens of the United States cannot look back upon the time of their own revolution without recollecting among the names of their most distinguished patriots, that of Thomas Paine."
George Washington, who perhaps better than any other single individual in the world knew the value of Thomas Paine's services to the cause of American Independence, when he learned of Paine's neglect and poverty, wrote and invited him to come to his Headquarters. He said:
|"Your presence may remind Congress of your past service to this country, and if it is in my power to impress them, command my best exertions, by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your work."|
The members of the First Congress were there. They saw it happen. They knew. They unanimously passed this resolution (August 26, 1785): "Resolved, That the early, unsolicited and continued labors of Mr. Thomas Paine, in explaining and enforcing the principles of the late Revolution, by the ingenious and timely publications upon the nature of liberty and civil government, have been well received by the citizens of these States, and merit the approbation of Congress; and the benefits produced thereby, Mr. Paine is entitled to a liberal gratification from the United States."
Why, might you ask, has Paine been so shamefully neglected?
I know the answer. I will tell you why.
After he had freed man from political tyranny, he set about to free him from religious superstition. That is all. That was his "crime." If such a thing can be called a crime -- the emancipation of man from the twin enemies of Freedom -- Tyranny and Superstition.
Is the love of mankind and the heroic sacrifice of one's life to Freedom so debasing an act that it deserves censure?
If such conduct deserves censure then man does not deserve a benefactor.
Man has a peculiar way of being indifferent to his benefactors, of rewarding evil for good, ingratitude for thanks, abuse for honor. But in no instance in history, do I know of a case where all of these shameful acts have been heaped so unjustifiably upon one man.
No wonder the sting of ingratitude saddened the last years of his life and there was no one to cheer him in the times that tried HIS soul.
Well might his last unhappy days be called the Crucification of his life. His was the Cross of Ingratitude.
He was denied citizenship and the sovereign right to vote in the Republic he created. He was unjustly imprisoned by those whom he had helped to make famous, while others turned a deaf ear to his plea for help, and remained silent as he was condemned to be guillotined!
An ignorant conductor ordered him off a coach in an arrogant and insulting manner as if he had been a dangerous criminal or a moral leper. This great patriot was "unfit" to ride with other passengers -- men and women who were enjoying the benefits of freedom only because of him. What irony!
He was spat upon and tripped into the gutter.
He was burnt in effigy.
Nails were made with the initials "T. P." and put into the soles of shoes to symbolize grinding him into the earth.
He was humiliated and insulted.
He was obscenely caricatured.
He was slandered, vilified, and libeled.
Every filthy epithet was hurled at him.
And many ignorant people even today would heap upon this great patriot these hateful and slanderous acts.
And for what?
What did he do?
What was his "crime"?
He created the American Republic, suffering every known personal sacrifice so that we might live under a government guaranteeing to every individual, regardless of race, color or creed, the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Thomas Paine's Idealism in the face of such conduct is heart-breaking.
But he never faltered a moment.
He never asked the cost.
He never sought or expected a reward.
His only compensation for his unselfish devotion to the cause of Freedom and Independence was VICTORY.
He had only one defense. His sterling character; his honesty and his integrity, and that was the only armor he needed to protect him from the scandal-mongers of his day.
As Shakespeare truly says: "Honesty was his fault."
Thomas Paine lived as exemplary a life as any man who ever walked upon this earth, and if Nature is capable of rendering a service to Mankind, she could not give us a greater gift than another Thomas Paine.
The struggle for American Independence started with the publication of Common Sense, on January 10, 1776, followed by the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, and ended with the publication of the last number of The American Crisis on April 19, 1783, on the eighth anniversary of the first shot fired at Lexington.
And nothing could be more appropriate in the observance of this Independence Day than the dedication of a statue to the man who was the author of all three immortal documents.
You cannot separate Thomas Paine from the American Revolution. The one is interwoven into the other.
Common Sense, The Declaration of Independence, and The American Crisis might very properly be called the Bible of the American Republic, and the Charter and Testament for the Freedom of Mankind.
You cannot celebrate the birth of this Republic without at the same time celebrating the publication of Common Sense.
You cannot praise the brave soldiers of the Revolution and honor the founding Fathers without including the author of The American Crisis.
You cannot celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence without honoring Thomas Paine, its author. The Declaration of Independence, the Charter of America's Freedom, is the literary and political connecting link between Common Sense and The American Crisis. It is as definitely the work of Thomas Paine as if he had signed his name to it. They cannot be separated. They are part and parcel of each other.
Only Thomas Paine said that a DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE made it impossible for him to give up the struggle. It made it impossible for him because he had written in this greatest manifesto of Freedom, the pledge of his life, his fortune and his sacred honor, to establish its principles.
While I consider it a great privilege and not an inconsiderable honor to dedicate this statue today, I also feel that I could not perform a greater act of patriotism than by honoring Thomas Paine on this 4th of July.
Without him there would have been no United States of America. There would have been no Independence Day. There would be no waving of the Star Spangled Banner in the breezes above our heads to let us know that Liberty still prevails in our land.
And now to you, Mayor Mills, with a "passion of patriotism" on this glorious 4th of July, in the one hundred and seventy-fourth year of American Independence, I give you this inspiring statue, as a gift to the people of Morristown, which our great sculptor, Mr. Georg Lober, has made of Thomas Paine -- the one man who, more than any other single individual, was responsible for the establishment of our Great Republic.