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Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine
Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine

Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine

We know Paine as the writer of Common Sense. (Or we should.) But there is more. “While Paine was pre-eminently a publicist — and in this he was unexcelled — he also possessed a truly Jeffersonian versatility. His political writings overflowed political science, into economics, theology, and natural history. He showed talent as engineer and inventor. Perhaps his best known project was his plan for an iron bridge of a single arch, concerning which he frequently corresponded with Jefferson, and a model of which he actually sent to Peale’s museum. … He was full of practical projects, such as the design for a smokeless candle which he communicated to Franklin. Paine’s letters to Jefferson include plans for a ‘geometrical wheelbarrow,’ a new explanation of the cohesion of matter, a method for estimating the amount of cut timber to be had from standing trees, a design for a motor wheel to be revolved by the explosion of gunpowder (said by Paine to excel the steam engine because of its greater simplicity and its cheapter operation), a new design for the roofs of houses, an improved method of constructing carriage wheels, and a scheme for making one gunboat do the work of two. He developed his own theory of the causes and cure of yellow fever, and shared his experiments in this field with his friend Rittenhouse.” (p. 22, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson, Phoenix edition, by Daniel Boorstin, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, published 1981, (c) 1981 by Daniel Boorstin.) Paine “possessed a rare talent for reducing to simple language and memorable phrase the ideas which other Jeffersonians stated in diffuse and sophisticated fashion. ‘No writer,’ Jefferson observed, ‘has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language.’ ” (p, 21, ibid.) On the Website of Thomas Paine Friends, Inc. there is an essay, “The Philosophy of Thomas Paine,” written by Thomas Edison in 1925. Mr. Edison says:
Then Paine wrote Common Sense, an anonymous tract which immediately stirred the fires of liberty. It flashed from hand to hand throughout the Colonies. One copy reached the New York Assembly, in session at Albany, and a night meeting was voted to answer this unknown writer with his clarion call to liberty .The Assembly met, but could find no suitable answer. Tom Paine had inscribed a document which never has been answered adversely, and never can be, so long as man esteems his priceless possession.
In Common Sense, Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again. It must be remembered that Common Sense preceded the Declaration and affirmed the very principles that went into the national doctrine of liberty. But that affirmation was made with more vigor, more of the fire of the patriot and was exactly suited to the hour. It is probable that we should have had the Revolution without Tom Paine. Certainly it could not be forestalled, once he had spoken. … I was always interested in Paine the inventor. He conceived and designed the iron bridge and the hollow candle, the principle of the modern central draught burner. The man had a sort of universal genius. He was interested in a diversity of things; but his special creed, his first thought, was liberty.
Mr. Edison is not correct on all his assertions, I believe, so read carefully. I would have to have an objective historian — such as Mr. Scott Powell — analyze the essay to see where Mr. Edison is right, and where Edison is wrong. For example, I’d wonder why Mr. Edison implies Jefferson got his theory of rights from Paine (e.g., “The Declaration and the Constitution expressed in form Paine’s theory of political rights”), when it was John Locke who first formulated the theory of natural rights. John Locke is not mentioned at all. And I believe that the Declaration had roots in the Virgina experience with government. Thomas Paine Friends also has a chronology of Paine’s life, a bulletin (the recent one marking the 272nd anniversary of Paine’s birth, as well as the 200th anniversary of his death (June 8, 1809), with tributes and a list of events around the country), some articles about Paine, and a list of books about Paine. At USHistory.org you can read a brief bio of Paine. They also have, online, Paine’s works Common Sense and The Crisis. The Website PositiveAtheism.org has some good quotes of Thomas Paine. Thank goodness this person gives citations for the quotes!!

Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance but the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms: the one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it. — Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. — Thomas Paine, Dissertations on First Principles of Government (July 7, 1795), thanks to Laird Wilcox, ed, The Writer’s Rights (2002) p. 31

It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. — Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794)

I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies another this right makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it. — Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1794), thanks to Laird Wilcox, ed, The Writer’s Rights (2002) p. 31

To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead. — Thomas Paine, The Crisis Happy birthday, Mr. Paine! We owe you a debt of moral and political gratitude we can never fully repay…unless by speaking out and fighting for freedom, as you did.

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