The Resurrection of Thomas Paine
by Joseph Lewis
from his book "Inspiration and Wisdom from the Writings of Thomas Paine"
HTML, editing by Cliff Walker
Address delivered June 8, 1953 -- and in the 177th year of the American Republic -- at the unveiling of the tablet marking the site where Thomas Paine was buried on his farm at New Rochelle, New York.
This event commemorates the 144th anniversary of his death.
Let us for a moment, at least for this occasion, turn back the pages of history to April 19th, 1783. This is the day when the American Revolution came to a successful conclusion. On that day, when "the times that tried men's souls" was over, Thomas Paine stood, in the estimation of the American people, as the foremost patriot of his time. He was acclaimed the world over as the Apostle of Liberty. He was held in greater esteem than any other leader of that momentous and historic struggle.
What had Thomas Paine done to deserve this great honor?
I will tell you.
He saved the American Revolution from defeat and disaster.
I need not tell you here that it was his pamphlet, COMMON SENSE, which provoked the struggle for Freedom, caused the Colonies to publish and declare to the world his Declaration of Independence, and aroused the American people to achieve Liberty.
But when the war started and defeat after defeat had been suffered by the Continental Army, it became a grave question as to whether we would be successful in the conflict. This concern was expressed time and again by the Commander-In-Chief of the Army. On more than one occasion, General Washington sent up moans of despair, which culminated in his final gasp of desperation, when he cried, "I think the game pretty well up!"
And now there has just come to public light an hitherto unknown letter which makes us realize the desperation of Washington's plight. This letter was written to George Mason, one of the leaders of the Revolution. Washington wrote: "We are without money ... without provisions ... the history of this war is a history of false hopes ... our efforts are in vain."
If the Commander-In-Chief of the Army thought our struggle for Independence was a "false hope," and that our efforts to achieve Freedom "are in vain," what must have been the temper of the people in such a hopeless situation. They too had become discouraged, enthusiasm began to wane, many deserted the great Cause, and mutiny had already taken place in the Army.
It was during this time, in the very depths of despair, let me repeat, that General Von Stueben said that a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine "would produce a better effect than all the recommendations of Congress, in prose and verse."
He was right. It did. It began with these immortal words: "These are the times that try men's souls...." It was called, THE CRISIS. Washington had it read to his soldiers, and I need not tell you what effect it produced. It was on the lips of all the people, and a revolution in sentiment and determination came over the American Colonies. They were once more determined that the war for Independence must be won. Whenever the situation became desperate, whenever another defeat was suffered, these words of Paine reverberated throughout the camps:
|"These are the times that try men's souls ... He that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."|
Whenever there was a shortage of food, whenever there was insufficient clothing, whenever there were mumblings of discontent, these words suddenly became audible:
|"These are the times that try men's souls ... Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered."|
Whenever plagued by anxious thoughts of home and farm, the soldier heard these words:
|"These are the times that try men's souls ... The harder the struggle the more glorious the triumph."|
Whenever in moments of loneliness, thinking of wife and child, wondering whether his patriotic devotion to enlist in the Cause was too high a price to pay, he was answered by this gem:
|"These are the times that try men's souls ... What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; It is dearness only that gives everything Its value."|
When fighting seemed never to cease, these words rang out, drowning all despairing thoughts:
|"These are the times that try men's souls ... 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."|
In these Crisis papers, thirteen in all, are to be found not only messages of inspiration, comforting and reassuring words, but sound military advice, valuable suggestions of administration, and equally as important, precious knowledge that was so essential for the proper guidance of the people during so serious a time. They also cemented the diverse forces when the country was so dangerously divided. While words can cheer, while words can inspire while words can dry eyes wet with sorrow and soothe the heart gripped with fear, words cannot feed you, they cannot clothe you, they cannot protect you from the chill of night, the winter's blast, the cold of snow, nor can they stay the pangs of hunger. While words can fortify the mind and make the timid courageous, something more practical is needed to meet the realities of life. More than words are needed to plant the food, fell the forests, turn the wheels of machinery, provide transportation for an Army, sustain the soldiers in battle, and to achieve victory in the struggle.
Many a genius has been lost because he needed first the wherewithal to feed and clothe his body.
Many a cause had failed because of the lack of the means of achieving it. Thomas Paine combined inspiration with action and deeds. And so at the crucial moment when the Army was without food and clothing and ammunition, Thomas Paine went to France so secure these things which we lacked, and which were so essential to hold our Army together.
His plea to the French Government resulted in a shipload of ammunition, clothing and money.
Such help in such a crisis is beyond the measure of words to tell. Only let it be known that it was Thomas Paine's efforts which accomplished these results!
No wonder John Adams said, that "History would ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine."
Through seven long years of this struggle Paine continued his labors, both as a soldier and author until the publication of the thirteenth and last Crisis, beginning with these cherished words:
|"The times that tried men's souls are over, and the greatest and completest revolution the world has ever known, gloriously and happily accomplished."|
The entire Crisis papers cannot properly be read, nor understood, unless it is done in connection with the events for which they were written. Each having been designed for a particular purpose, or to solve a pressing problem, or to meet an unexpected situation. Only then can one get an idea of their value and the tremendous influence they exerted upon the people during the critical time of this momentous event.
The American Revolution cannot properly be evaluated without the reading of Paine's CRISIS, and THE CRISIS cannot properly be evaluated without understanding the critical times and situations for which they were written. Only then will one be able to get a proper understanding of the vitally important part that Thomas Paine played in not only preventing defeat, but in achieving victory. It is only then that one will be able to understand and appreciate the value and importance of each Crisis as it was published. The thirteen papers comprise a book of over 220 pages containing more than eighty thousand words; each word worth its weight in gold and more precious than diamonds and pearls. Washington knew what Paine had accomplished, not only for him, but for victory and freedom. He knew as well as Adams that without the pen of Paine, his sword would have been drawn in vain.
Washington knew only too well there would have been no United States of America had there been no Thomas Paine, and he -- George Washington -- would never have been the first President of the American Republic. When the war was over, and each and every one returned to his peaceful pursuits, it was only Thomas Paine who had no gainful occupation to resume, nor did he posses an independent income to sustain him for his labors. He did not profit from the war like others, nor did he come into possession of any confiscated property.
When Washington was made aware of Paine's financial distress, he wrote: "Can nothing be done in our Assembly for poor Paine? Must the merits and services of COMMON SENSE continue to glide down the streams of time, unrewarded by this country? His writings certainly had a powerful effect on the public mind -- ought they not meet an adequate return. He is poor! He is chagrined! and almost if not altogether, in despair of relief."
On another occasion, after inviting him to his Headquarters, Washington wrote, and this letter deserves rementioning: "Your presence here may remind Congress of your past services to this country, and if it is in my power to impress them, command my best services with freedom, as they will be rendered cheerfully by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your works."
And so, on August 26, 1783, Congress voted unanimously this resolution, which should be repeated again and again so that it may never be forgotten:
|"That the early, unsolicited, and continued labors of Mr. Thomas Paine in explaining and enforcing the principles of the late revolution by ingenious and timely publications upon the nature of liberty and civil government have been well received by the people and 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."|
With these sentiments of appreciation went the sum of $3,000.00. The State of New York gave him this farm of 275 acres; the State of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey expressed their thanks with monetary gifts. To what other patriot of that time did the people express so eloquently and so generously their sentiments of appreciation?
Messages of gratitude by the thousands came from those who had shared the dangers of the conflict as well as from the people. Here are but a few: General Nathanial Greene said:
|"America is indebted to few characters more than to you."|
Joel Barlow said:
|"The great American cause owes as much to the pen of Paine as to the sword of Washington."|
General Lafayette said:
|"A free America without her Thomas Paine is unthinkable."|
I need not tell you of the cruelest conspiracy in the history of man that has been responsible for the failure of the American people to properly honor Thomas Paine. But those days are passing. He is rapidly assuming his rightful place not only in the pages of American History, but also in the hearts of the American people. And this tablet, for which we are so grateful to Mrs. Rowena Stillman, marking his violated grave is another step in that growing recognition.
Significantly did Andrew Jackson express this truth when he said:
|"Thomas Paine needs no monument made by hands. He has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty."|
While it is true that Thomas Paine needs no monument, it is only too true that the American people, and the peoples of the world, do need a monument to Thomas Paine.
The recognition of Thomas Paine's services to the Cause of American Freedom will not be complete, until there stands in the Nation's Capital, a memorial giving full expression to both our debt and gratitude to the author of COMMON SENSE and THE AMERICAN CRISIS.
And there should be carved upon its imperishable marble, these eloquent words of Thomas Paine, as a reminder that such a calamity should never befall the people of the earth. Paine wrote:
|"When we contemplate the fall of empires and the extinction of nations of the Ancient World, we see but little to excite our regrets than the mouldering ruins of pompous palaces, magnificent museums, lofty pyramids and walls and towers of the most costly workmanship; but when the empire of America shall fall, the subject for contemplative sorrow will be infinitely greater than crumbling brass and marble can inspire. It will not then be said, 'Here stood a temple of vast antiquity; here rose a babel of invisible height; or there a palace of sumptuous extravagance; but here, ah, painful thought! the noblest of work of human wisdom, the grandest scene of human glory, the fair cause of Freedom rose and fell."|
And if this memorial is commensurate with Thomas Paine's services to the establishment of the Republic of the United States of America, it should be more imposing than the monument to Washington and more classical than the one to Jefferson. It should possess the stately grandeur that belongs to the real founder of our Republic.
When this memorial rises in the Nation's Capital, the admirers of Thomas Paine might well call it His Resurrection.