Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersoll—Latest
Thomas Paine Liberty of Man, Woman and Child Orthodoxy Blasphemy Some Reasons Why Intellectual Development Human Rights Talmagian Theology (Second Lecture) Talmagian Theology (Third Lecture) Religious Intolerance Hereafter Review of His Reviewers How the Gods Grow The Religion of our Day Heretics And Heresies The Bible Voltaire Myth and Miracle Ingersoll's Letter, on The Chinese God Ingersoll's Letter, Is Suicide a Sin? Ingersoll's Letter, The Right To One's Life
Ingersoll's Lecture on Thomas Paine—Delivered in Central Music Hall, Chicago, January 29, 1880 (From the Chicago Times, Verbatim Report)
Ladies and Gentlemen:—It so happened that the first speech—the very first public speech I ever made—took occasion to defend the memory of Thomas Paine.
I did it because I had read a little something of the history of my country. I did it because I felt indebted to him for the liberty I then enjoyed—and whatever religion may be true, ingratitude is the blackest of crimes. And whether there is any God or not, in every star that shines, gratitude is a virtue.
The man who will tell the truth about the dead is a good man, and for one, about this man, I intend to tell just as near the truth as I can.
Most history consists in giving the details of things that never happened—most biography is usually the lie coming from the mouth of flattery, or the slander coming from the lips of malice, and whoever attacks the religion of a country will, in his turn, be attacked. Whoever attacks a superstition will find that superstition defended by all the meanness of ingenuity. Whoever attacks a superstition will find that there is still one weapon left in the arsenal of Jehovah—slander.
I was reading, yesterday, a poem called the "Light of Asia," and I read in that how a Boodh seeing a tigress perishing of thirst, with her mouth upon the dry stone of a stream, with her two cubs sucking at her dry and empty dugs, this Boodh took pity upon this wild and famishing beast, and, throwing from himself the Yellowrobe of his order, and stepping naked before this tigress, said: "Here is meat for you and your cubs." In one moment the crooked daggers of her claws ran riot in his flesh, and in another he was devoured. Such, during nearly all the history of this world, has been the history of every man who has stood in front of superstition.
Thomas Paine, as has been so eloquently said by the gentleman who introduced me, was a friend of man, and whoever is a friend of man is also a friend of God—if there is one. But God has had many friends who were the enemies of their fellow-men. There is but one test by which to measure any man who has lived. Did he leave this world better than he found it? Did he leave in this world more liberty? Did he leave in this world more goodness, more humanity, than when he was born? That is the test. And whatever may have been the faults of Thomas Paine, no American who appreciates liberty, no American who believes in true democracy and pure republicanism, should ever breathe one word against his name. Every American, with the divine mantle of charity, should cover all his faults, and with a never-tiring tongue should recount his virtues.
He was a common man. He did not belong to the aristocracy. Upon the head of his father God had never poured the divine petroleum of authority. He had not the misfortune to belong to the upper classes. He had the fortune to be born among the poor and to feel against his great heart the throb of the toiling and suffering masses. Neither was it his misfortune to have been educated at Oxford. What little sense he had was not squeezed out at Westminster. He got his education from books. He got his education from contact with fellow-men, and he thought, and a man is worth just what nature impresses upon him. A man standing by the sea, or in a forest, or looking at a flower, or hearing a poem, or looking in the eyes of the woman he loves, receives all that he is capable of receiving—and if he is a great man the impression is great, and he uses it for the purpose of benefiting his fellow-man.
Thomas Paine was not rich, he was poor, and his father before him was poor, and he was raised a sailmaker, a very lowly profession, and yet that man became one of the mainstays of liberty in this world. At one time he was an excise man, like Burns. Burns was once—speak it softly—a gauger—and yet he wrote poems that will wet the cheek of humanity with tears as long as the world travels in its orb around the sun.
Poverty was his brother, necessity his master. He had more brains than books; more courage than politeness; more strength than polish. He had no veneration for old mistakes, no admiration for ancient lies. He loved the truth for truth's sake and for man's sake. He saw oppression on every hand, injustice everywhere, hypocrisy at the altar, venality on the bench, tyranny on the throne, and with a splendid courage he espoused the cause of the weak against the strong, of the enslaved many against the titled few.
In England he was nothing. He belonged to the lower classes—that is, the useful people. England depended for her prosperity upon her mechanics and her thinkers, her sailors and her workers, and they are the only men in Europe who are not gentlemen. The only obstacles in the way of progress in Europe were the nobility and the priests, and they are the only gentlemen.
This, and his native genius, constituted his entire capital, and he needed no more. He found the colonies clamoring for justice; whining about their grievances; upon their knees at the foot of the throne, imploring that mixture of idiocy and insanity, George III., by the grace of God, for a restoration of their ancient privileges. They were not endeavoring to become free men, but were trying to soften the heart of their master. They were perfectly willing to make brick if Pharaoh would furnish the straw. The colonists wished for, hoped for, and prayed for reconciliation. They did not dream of independence.
Paine gave to the world his "Common Sense." It was the first argument for separation; the first assault upon the British form of government; the first blow for a republic, and it aroused our fathers like a trumpet's blast. He was the first to perceive the destiny of the new world. No other pamphlet ever accomplished such wonderful results. It was filled with arguments, reasons, persuasions, and unanswerable logic. It opened a new world. It filled the present with hope and the future with honor. Everywhere the people responded, and in a few months the Continental Congress declared the colonies free and independent states. A new nation was born.
It is simple justice to say that Paine did more to cause the Declaration of Independence than any other man. Neither should it be forgotten that his attacks upon Great Britain were also attacks upon monarchy, and while he convinced the people that the colonies ought to separate from the mother country, he also proved to them that a free government is the best that can be instituted among men.
In my judgment Thomas Paine was the best political writer that ever lived. "What he wrote was pure nature, and his soul and his pen ever went together." Ceremony, pageantry, and all the paraphernalia of power had no effect upon him. He examined into the why and wherefore of things. He was perfectly radical in his mode of thought. Nothing short of the bed-rock satisfied him. His enthusiasm for what he believed to be right knew no bounds. During all the dark scenes of the revolution never for a moment did he despair. Year after year his brave words were ringing through the land, and by the bivouac fires the weary soldiers read the inspiring words of "Common Sense," filled with ideas sharper than their swords, and consecrated themselves anew to the cause of freedom.
Paine was not content with having aroused the spirit of independence, but he gave every energy of his soul to keep that spirit alive. He was with the army. He shared its defeats, its dangers, and its glory. When the situation became desperate, when gloom settled upon all, he gave them the "Crisis." It was a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, leading the way to freedom, honor, and glory. He shouted to them "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.
To those who wished to put the war off to some future day, with a lofty and touching spirit of self-sacrifice, he said: "Every generous parent should say: 'If there must be war, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace'." To the cry that Americans were rebels, he replied: "He that rebels against reason is a real rebel; but he that in defense of reason rebels against tyranny, has a better title to 'Defender of the Faith' than George III."
Some said it was to the interest of the colonies to be free. Paine answered this by saying: "To know whether it be the interest of the continent to be independent, we need ask only this simple, easy question: 'Is it the interest of man to be a boy all his life?"' He found many who would listen to nothing, and to them he said: "That to argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead." This sentiment ought to adorn the walls of every orthodox church.
There is a world of political wisdom in this: "England lost her liberty in a long chain of right reasoning from wrong principles;" and there is real discrimination in saying: "The Greeks and Romans were strongly possessed of the spirit of liberty, but not the principles, for at the time they were determined not to be slaves themselves, they employed their power to enslave the rest of mankind."
In his letter to the British people, in which he tried to convince them that war was not to their interest, occurs the following passage brimful of common sense: "War never can be the interest of a trading nation any more than quarreling can be profitable to a man in business. But to make war with those who trade with us is like setting a bull-dog upon a customer at the shop door."
The Writings of Paine fairly glitter with simple, compact, logical statements that carry conviction to the dullest and most prejudicial. He had the happiest possible way of putting the case, in asking questions in such a way that they answer themselves, and in stating his premises so clearly that the deduction could not be avoided.
Day and night he labored for America. Month after month, year after year, he gave himself to the great cause, until there was "a government of the people and for the people," and until the banner of the stars floated over a continent redeemed and consecrated to the happiness of mankind.
At the close of the Revolution no one stood higher in America than Thomas Paine. The best, the wisest, the most patriotic were his friends and admirers; and had he been thinking only of his own good he might have rested from his toils and spent the remainder of his life in comfort and in ease. He could have been what the world is pleased to call "respectable." He would have died surrounded by clergymen, warriors, and statesmen, and at his death there would have been an imposing funeral, miles of carriages, civic societies, salvos of artillery, a Nation in mourning, and, above all, a splendid monument covered with lies. He choose rather to benefit mankind. At that time the seeds sown by the great infidels were beginning to bear fruit in France. The eighteenth century was crowning its gray hairs with the wreath of progress.
On every hand science was bearing testimony against the church. Voltaire had filled Europe with light. D'Holbach was giving to the elite of Paris the principles contained in his "System of Nature." The encyclopaedists had attacked superstition with information for the masses. The foundation of things began to be examined. A few had the courage to keep their shoes on and let the bush burn. Miracles began to get scarce. Everywhere the people began to inquire. America had set an example to the world. The word liberty was in the mouths of men, and they began to wipe the dust from their superstitious knees. The dawn of a new day had appeared. Thomas Paine went to France. Into the new movement he threw all his energies. His fame had gone before him, and he was welcomed as a friend of the human race and as a champion of free government.
He had never relinquished his intention of pointing out to his countrymen the defects, absurdities, and abuse of the English government. For this purpose; he composed and published his greatest political work. "The Rights of Man." This work should be read by every man and woman. It is concise, accurate, rational, convincing, and unanswerable. It shows great thought, an intimate knowledge of the various forms of government, deep insight into the very springs of human action, and a courage that compels respect and admiration. The most difficult political problems are solved in a few sentences. The venerable arguments in favor of wrong are refuted with a question—answered with a word. For forcible illustration, apt comparison, accuracy and clearness of statement, and absolute thoroughness, it has never been excelled.
The fears of the administration were aroused, and Paine was prosecuted for libel, and found guilty; and yet there is not a sentiment in the entire work that will not challenge the admiration of every civilized man. It is a magazine of political wisdom, an arsenal of ideas, and an honor not only to Thomas Paine, but to nature itself. It could have been written only by the man who had the generosity, the exalted patriotism, the goodness to say: "The world is my country, and to do good my religion."
There is in all the utterances of the world no grander, no sublimer sentiment. There is no creed that can be compared with it for a moment. It should be wrought in gold, adorned with jewels, and impressed upon every human heart: "The world is my country, and to do good my religion."
In 1792, Paine was elected by the department of Calais as their representative in the National Assembly. So great was his popularity in France, that he was selected about the same time by the people of no less than four departments.
Upon taking his place in the assembly, he was appointed as one of a committee to draft a constitution for France. Had the French people taken the advice of Thomas Paine, there would have been no "reign of terror." The streets of Paris would not have been filled with blood in that reign of terror. There were killed in the City of Paris not less, I think, than seventeen thousand people—and on one night, in the massacre of St. Bartholomew, there were killed, by assassination, over sixty thousand souls—men, women, and children. The revolution would have been the grandest success of the world. The truth is that Paine was too conservative to suit the leaders of the French revolution. They, to a great extent, were carried away by hatred and a desire to destroy. They had suffered so long, they had borne so much, that it was impossible for them to be moderate in the hour of victory.
Besides all this, the French people had been so robbed by the government, so degraded by the church, that they were not fit material with which to construct a republic. Many of the leaders longed to establish a beneficent and just government, but the people asked for revenge. Paine was filled with a real love for mankind. His philanthropy was boundless. He wished to destroy monarchy—not the monarch. He voted for the destruction of tyranny, and against the death of the tyrant. He wished to establish a government on a new basis—one that would forget the past; one that would give privileges to none, and protection to all.
In the assembly, where all were demanding the execution of the king,—where to differ with the majority was to be suspected, and where to be suspected was almost certain death—Thomas Paine had the courage, the goodness, and the justice to vote against death. To vote against the execution of the king was a vote against his own life. This was the sublimity of devotion to principle. For this he was arrested, imprisoned, and doomed to death. There is not a theologian who has ever maligned Thomas Paine that has the courage to do this thing. When Louis Capet was on trial for his life before the French convention, Thomas Paine had the courage to speak and vote against the sentence of death. In his speech I find the following splendid sentiments:
"My contempt and hatred for monarchical governments are sufficiently well known, and my compassion for the unfortunate, friends or enemies, is equally profound.
I have voted to put Louis Capet upon trial, because it was necessary to prove to the world the perfidy, the corruption, and the horror of the monarchical system.
To follow the trade of a king destroys all morality, just as the trade of a jailer deadens all sensibility.
Make a man a king today and tomorrow he will be a brigand.
Had Louis Capet been a farmer, he might have been held in esteem by his neighbors, and his wickedness results from his position rather than from his nature.
Let the French nation purge its territory of kings without soiling itself with their impure blood.
Let the United States be the asylum of Louis Capet, where, in spite of the overshadowing miseries and crimes of a royal life, he will learn by the continual contemplation of the general prosperity that the true system of government is not that of kings, but of the people.
I am an enemy of kings, but I can not forget that they belong to the human race.
It is always delightful to pursue that course where policy and humanity are united.
As France has been the first of all the nations of Europe to destroy royalty, let it be the first to abolish the penalty of death.
As a true republican, I consider kings as more the objects of contempt than of vengeance."
Search the records of the world and you will find but few sublimer acts than that of Thomas Paine voting against the king's death. He, the hater of despotism, the abhorer of monarchy, the champion of the rights of man, the republican, accepting death to save the life of a deposed tyrant—of a throneless king! This was the last grand act of his political life—the sublime conclusion of his political career.
All his life he had been the disinterested friend of man. He had labored not for money, not for fame, but for the general good. He had aspired to no office. He had no recognition of his services, but had ever been content to labor as a common soldier in the army of progress, confining his efforts to no country, looking upon the world as his field of action. Filled with a genuine love for the right, he found himself imprisoned by the very people he had striven to save.
Had his enemies succeeded in bringing him to the block, he would have escaped the calumnies and the hatred of the Christian world. And let me tell you how neat they came getting him to the block. He was in prison, there was a door to his cell—it had two doors, a door that opened in and an iron door that opened out. It was a dark passage, and whenever they concluded to cut a man's head off the next day, an agent went along and made a chalk mark upon the door where the poor prisoner was bound. Mr. Barlow, the American minister, happened to be with him and the outer door was shut, that is, open against the wall, and the inner door was shut, and when the man came along whose business it was to mark the door for death, he marked this door where Thomas Paine was, but he marked the door that was against the wall, so when it was shut the mark was inside, and the messenger of death passed by on the next day. If that had happened in favor of some Methodist preacher, they would have clearly seen, not simply the hand of God, but both hands. In this country, at least, he would have ranked with the proudest names. On the anniversary of the Declaration, his name would have been upon the lips of all orators, and his memory in the hearts of all the people.
Thomas Paine had not finished his career. He had spent his life thus far in destroying the power of kings, and now turned his attention to the priests. He knew that every abuse had been embalmed in scripture—that every outrage was in partnership with some holy text. He knew that the throne skulked behind the altar, and both behind a pretended revelation of God. By this time he had found that it was of little use to free the body and leave the mind in chains. He had explored the foundations of despotism, and had found them infinitely rotten. He had dug under the throne, and it occurred to him that he would take a look behind the altar. The result of this investigation was given to the world in the "Age of Reason." From the moment of its publication he became infamous. He was calumniated beyond measure. To slander him was to secure the thanks of the church. All his services were instantly forgotten, disparaged, or denied. He was shunned as though he had been a pestilence. Most of his old friends forsook him. He was regarded as a moral plague, and at the bare mention of his name the bloody hands of the church were raised in horror. He was denounced as the most despicable of men.
Not content with following him to his grave, they pursued him after death with redoubled fury, and recounted with infinite gusto and satisfaction the supposed horrors of his death-bed: gloried in the fact that he was forlorn and friendless, and gloated like fiends over what they supposed to be the agonizing remorse of his lonely death.
It is wonderful that all his services are thus forgotten. It is amazing that one kind word did not fall from some pulpit; that some one did not accord to him, at least—honesty. Strange that in the general denunciation some one did not remember his labor for liberty, his devotion to principle, his zeal for the rights of his fellow-men. He had, by brave and splendid effort, associated his name with the cause of progress. He had made it impossible to write the history of political freedom with his name left out. He was one of the creators of light, one of the heralds of the dawn. He hated tyranny in the name of kings, and in the name of God, with every drop of his noble blood. He believed in liberty and justice, and in the sacred doctrine of human equality. Under these divine banners he fought the battle of his life. In both worlds he offered his blood for the good of man. In the wilderness of America, in the French assembly, in the sombre cell waiting for death, he was the same unflinching, unwavering friend of his race; the same undaunted champion of universal freedom. And for this he has been hated; for this the church has violated even his grave.
This is enough to make one believe that nothing is more natural than for men to devour their benefactors. The people in all ages have crucified and glorified. Whoever lifts his voice against abuses, whoever arraigns the past at the bar of the present, whoever asks the king to show his commission, or question the authority of the priest, will be denounced as the enemy of man and God. In all ages reason has been regarded as the enemy of religion. Nothing has been considered so pleasing to the Deity as a total denial of the authority of your own mind. Self-reliance has been thought deadly sin; and the idea of living and dying without the aid and consolation of superstition has always horrified the church. By some unaccountable infatuation, belief has been and still is considered of immense importance. All religions have been based upon the idea that God will forever reward the true believer, and eternally damn the man who doubts or denies. Belief is regarded as the one essential thing. To practice justice, to love mercy, is not enough; you must believe in some incomprehensible creed. You must say: "Once one is three, and three times one is one." The man who practiced every virtue, but failed to believe, was execrated. Nothing so outrages the feelings of the church as a moral unbeliever, nothing so horrible as a charitable atheist.
When Paine was born the world was religious, the pulpit was the real throne, and the churches were making every effort to crush out of the brain the idea that it had the right to think. He again made up his mind to sacrifice himself. He commenced with the assertion "That any system of religion that had anything in it that shocks the mind of a child can not be a true system." What a beautiful, what a tender sentiment! No wonder the church began to hate him. He believed in one God, and no more. After his life he hoped for happiness. He believed that true religion consisted in doing justice, loving mercy; in endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy, and in offering to God the fruit of the heart. He denied the inspiration of the scriptures. This was his crime.
He contended that it is a contradiction in terms to call anything a revelation that comes to us at secondhand, either verbally or in writing. He asserted that revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication, and that after that it is only an account of something which another person says was a revelation to him. We have only his word for it, as it was never made to us. This argument never had been, and probably never will be answered. He denied the divine origin of Christ and showed conclusively that the pretended prophecies of the Old Testament lead no reference to Him whatever. And yet he believed that Christ was a virtuous and amiable man; that the morality he taught and practiced was of the most benevolent and elevated character, and that it had not been exceeded by any. Upon this point he entertained the same sentiments now held by the Unitarians, and in fact by all the most enlightened Christians.
In his time the church believed and taught that every word in the Bible was absolutely true. Since his day it has been proven false in its cosmogony, false in its astronomy, false in its chronology and geology, false in its history, so far as the Old Testament is concerned, false in almost everything. There are but few, if any, scientific men, who apprehend that the Bible is literally true. Who on earth at this day would pretend to settle any scientific question by a text from the Bible? The old belief is confined to the ignorant and zealous. The church itself will before long be driven to occupy the position of Thomas Paine. The best minds of the orthodox world, today, are endeavoring to prove the existence of a personal Deity. All other questions occupy a minor place. You are no longer asked to swallow the Bible whole, whale, Jonah and all; you are simply required to believe in God and pay your pew-rent.
There is not now an enlightened minister in the world who will seriously contend that Sampson's strength was in his hair, or that the necromancers of Egypt could turn water into blood, and pieces of wood into serpents. These follies have passed away, and the only reason that the religious world can now have for disliking Paine, is that they have been forced to adopt so many of his opinions.
Paine thought the barbarities of the Old Testament inconsistent with what he deemed the real character of God. He believed the murder, massacre, and indiscriminate slaughter had never been commanded by the Deity. He regarded much of the Bible as childish, unimportant and foolish. The scientific world entertains the same opinion. Paine attacked the Bible precisely in the same spirit in which he had attacked the pretensions of the kings. He used the same weapons. All the pomp in the world could not make him cower. His reason knew no "Holy of Holies," except the abode of truth. The sciences were then in their infancy. The attention of the really learned had not been directed to an impartial examination of our pretended revelation. It was accepted by most as a matter of course.
The church was all-powerful, and no one else, unless thoroughly imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, thought for a moment of disputing the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The infamous doctrine that salvation depends upon belief, upon a mere intellectual conviction, was then believed and preached. To doubt was to secure the damnation of your soul. This absurd and devilish doctrine shocked the common sense of Thomas Paine, and he denounced it with the fervor of honest indignation. This doctrine, although infinitely ridiculous, has been nearly universal, and has been as hurtful as senseless. For the overthrow of this infamous tenet, Paine exerted all his strength. He left few arguments to be used by those who should come after him, and he used none that have been refuted.
The combined wisdom and genius of all mankind can not possibly conceive of an argument against liberty of thought. Neither can they show why anyone should be punished, either in this world or another, for acting honestly in accordance with reason; and yet a doctrine with every possible argument against it has been, and still is, believed and defended by the entire orthodox world. Can it be possible that we have been endowed with reason simply that our souls may be caught in its toils and snares, that we may be led by its false and delusive glare out of the narrow path that leads to joy into the broad way of everlasting death? Is it possible that we have been given reason simply that we may through faith ignore its deductions and avoid its conclusions? Ought the sailor to throw away his compass and depend entirely upon the fog? If reason is not to be depended upon in matters of religion, that is to say, in respect to our duties to the Deity, why should it be relied upon in matters respecting the rights of our fellows? Why should we throw away the law given to Moses by God Himself, and have the audacity to make some of our own? How dare we drown the thunders of Sinai by calling the ayes and naes in a petty legislature? If reason can determine what is merciful, what is just, the duties of man to man, what more do we want either in time or eternity?
Down, forever down, with any religion that requires upon its ignorant altar its sacrifice of the goddess Reason; that compels her to abdicate forever the shining throne of the soul, strips from her form the imperial purple, snatches from her hand the sceptre of thought and makes her the bond-woman of senseless faith.
If a man should tell you he had the most beautiful painting in the world, and after taking you where it was should insist upon having your eyes shut, you would likely suspect either that he had no painting or that it was some pitiful daub. Should he tell you that he was a most excellent performer on the violin, and yet refused to play unless your ears were stopped, you would think, to say the least of it, that he had an odd way of convincing you of his musical ability. But would this conduct be any more wonderful than that of a religionist who asks that before examining his creed you will have the kindness to throw away your reason? The first gentleman says: "Keep your eyes shut; my picture will bear everything but being seen. Keep your ears stopped; my music objects to nothing but being heard." The last says: "Away with your reason; my religion dreads nothing but being understood."
So far as I am concerned, I most cheerfully admit that most Christians are honest and most ministers sincere. We do not attack them; we attack their creed. We accord to them the same rights that we ask for ourselves. We believe that their doctrines are hurtful, and I am going to do what I can against them. We believe that the frightful text, "He that believes shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned," has covered the earth with blood. You might as well say that all that have red hair shall be damned. It has filled the heart with arrogance, cruelty, and murder. It has caused the religious wars; bound hundreds of thousands to the stake; founded inquisitions; filled dungeons; invented instruments of torture; taught the mother to hate her child; imprisoned the mind; filled the world with ignorance; persecuted the lovers of wisdom; built the monasteries and convents; made happiness a crime, investigation a sin, and self-reliance a blasphemy. It has poisoned the springs of learning; misdirected the energies of the world; filled all countries with want; housed the people in hovels; fed them with famine; and but for the efforts of a few brave infidels, it would have taken the world back to the midnight of barbarism, and left the heavens without a star.
The maligners of Paine say that he had no right to attack this doctrine, because he was unacquainted with the dead languages, and, for this reason, it was a piece of pure impudence to investigate the scriptures.
Is it necessary to understand Hebrew in order to know that cruelty is not a virtue, that murder is inconsistent with infinite goodness, and that eternal punishment can be inflicted upon man only by an eternal fiend? Is it really essential to conjugate the Greek verbs before you can make up your mind as to the probability of dead people getting out of their graves? Must one be versed in Latin before he is entitled to express his opinion as to the genuiness of a pretended revelation from God? Common sense belongs exclusively to no tongue. Logic is not confirmed to, nor has it been buried with, the dead languages. Paine attacked the Bible as it is translated. If the translation is wrong, let its defenders correct it.
The Christianity of Paine's day is not the Christianity of our time. There has been a great improvement since then. It is better now because there is less of it. One hundred and fifty years ago the foremost preachers of our time—that gentleman who preaches in this magnificent hall—would have perished at the stake. Lord, Lord, how John Calvin would have liked to have roasted this man, and the perfume of his burning flesh would have filled heaven with joy. A Universalist would have been torn to pieces in England, Scotland, and America. Unitarians would have found themselves in the stocks, pelted by the rabble with dead cats, after which their ears would have been cut off, their tongues bored, and their foreheads branded. Less than one hundred and fifty years ago the following law was in force in Maryland:
"Be it enacted by the right honorable, the lord proprietor, by and with the advice and consent of his lordship's governor, and the upper and lower houses of the assembly, and the authority of the same: That if any person shall hereafter, within this province, willingly, maliciously, and advisedly, by writing or speaking, blaspheme or curse God, or deny our Savior, Jesus Christ, to be the son of God, or shall deny the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, or the God-head of any of the three persons, or the unity of the God-head, or shall utter any profane words concerning the Holy Trinity, or the persons thereof and shall therefore be convicted by verdict, shall, for the first offense, be bored through the tongue, and fined L20, to be levied on his body. As for the second offense, the offender shall be stigmatized by burning in the forehead the letter B, and fined L40. And that for the third offense, the offender shall suffer death without the benefit of clergy."
The strange thing about this law is, that it has never been repealed, and was in force in the District of Columbia up to 1875. Laws like this were in force in most of the colonies and in all countries where the church had power.
In the Old Testament the death penalty was attached hundreds of offenses. It has been the same in all Christian countries. Today, in civilized governments, the death penalty is attached only to murder and treason; and in some it has been entirely abolished. What a commentary upon the divine systems of the World!
In the days of Thomas Paine the church was ignorant, bloody, and relentless. In Scotland the "kirk" was at the summit of its power. It was a full sister of the Spanish Inquisition. It waged war upon human nature. It was the enemy of happiness, the hater of joy, and the despiser of liberty. It taught parents to murder their children rather than to allow them to propagate error. If the mother held opinions of which the infamous "kirk" disapproved, her children were taken from her arms, her babe from her very bosom, and she was not allowed to see them, or write them a word. It would not allow ship-wrecked sailors to be rescued from drowning on Sunday.
Oh, you have no idea what a muss it kicks up in heaven to have anybody swim on Sunday. It fills all the wheeling worlds with sadness to see a boy in a boat, and the attention of the recording secretary is called to it. In a voice of thunder they say, "Upset him!" It sought to annihilate pleasure, to pollute the heart by filling it with religious cruelty and gloom, and to change mankind into a vast horde of pious, heartless fiends. One of the most famous Scotch divines said: "The kirk holds that religious toleration is not far from blasphemy." And this same Scotch kirk denounced, beyond measure, the man who had the moral grandeur to say, "The world is my country, and to do good my religion." And this same kirk abhorred the man who said, "Any system of religion that shocks the mind of a child can not be a true system."
At that time nothing so delighted the church as the beauties of endless torment, and listening to the weak wailing of damned infants struggling in the slimy coils and poison folds of the worm that never dies.
About the beginning of the nineteenth century a boy by the name of Thomas Aikenhead was indicted and tried at Edinburgh for having denied the inspiration of the scriptures, and for having, on several occasions, when cold, wished himself in hell that he might get warm. Notwithstanding the poor boy recanted and begged for mercy, he was found guilty and hanged. His body was thrown in a hole at the foot of the scaffold and covered with stones, and though his mother came with her face covered with tears, begging for the corpse, she was denied and driven away in the name of charity. That is religion, and in the velvet of their politeness there lurks the claws of the tiger. Just give them the power and see how quick I would leave this part of the country. They know I am going to be burned forever; they know I am going to hell, but that don't satisfy them. They want to give me a little foretaste here.
Prosecutions and executions like these were common in every Christian country, and all of them based upon the belief that an intellectual conviction is a crime. No wonder the church hated and traduced the author of the "Age of Reason." England was filled with Puritan gloom and Episcopal ceremony. The ideas of crazy fanatics and extravagant poets were taken as sober facts. Milton had clothed Christianity in the soiled and faded finery of the gods—had added to the story of Christ the fables of mythology. He gave to the Protestant church the most outrageously material ideas of the Deity. He turned all the angels into soldiers—made heaven a battle-field, put Christ in uniform, and described God as a militia-general. His works were considered by the Protestants nearly as sacred as the Bible itself, and the imagination of the people was thoroughly polluted by the horrible imagery, the sublime absurdity of the blind Milton.
Heaven and hell were realities—the judgment-day was expected—books of accounts would be opened. Every man would hear the charges against him read. God was supposed to sit upon a golden throne, surrounded by the tallest angels, with harps in their hands and crowns on their heads. The goats would be thrust into eternal fire on the left, while the orthodox sheep, on the right, were to gambol on sunny slopes forever and ever. So all the priests were willing to save the sheep for half the wool.
The nation was profoundly ignorant, and consequently extremely religious, so far as belief was concerned. In Europe liberty was lying chained up in the inquisition, her white bosom stained with blood. In the new world the Puritans had been hanging and burning in the name of God, and selling white Quaker children into slavery in the name of Christ, who said, "Suffer little children to come unto Me."
Under such conditions progress was impossible. Some one had to lead the way. The church is and always has been, incapable of a forward movement. Religion always looks back. The church has already reduced Spain to a guitar, Italy to a hand-organ, and Ireland to exile.
Some one, not connected with the church, had to attack the monster that was eating out the heart of the world. Some one had to sacrifice himself for the good of all. The people were in the most abject slavery; their manhood had been taken from them by pomp, by pageantry, and power.
Progress is born of doubt and inquiry. The church never doubts—never inquires. To doubt is heresy—to inquire is to admit that you do not know—the church does neither.
More than a century ago Catholicism, wrapped in robes red with the innocent blood of millions, holding in her frantic clutch crowns and scepters, honors and gold, the keys of heaven and hell, tramping beneath her feet the liberties of nations, in the proud movement of almost universal dominion, felt within her heartless breast the deadly dagger of Voltaire. From that blow the church can never recover. Livid with hatred she launched her eternal anathema at the great destroyer, and ignorant Protestants have echoed the curse of Rome.
In our country the church was all-powerful, and, although divided into many sects, would instantly unite to repel a common foe. Paine did for Protestantism what Voltaire did for Catholicism. Paine struck the first blow.
The "Age of Reason" did more to undermine the power of the Protestant church than all other books then known. It furnished an immense amount of food for thought. It was written for the average mind, and is a straightforward, honest investigation of the Bible, and of the Christian System.
Paine did not falter from the first page to the last. He gives you his candid thought, and candid thoughts are always valuable.
The "Age of Reason" has liberalized us all. It put arguments in the mouths of the people; it put the church on the defensive, it enabled somebody in every village to corner the parson; it made the world wiser and the church better; it took power from the pulpit and divided it among the pews. Just in proportion that the human race has advanced, the church has lost its power. There is no exception to this rule. No nation ever materially advanced that held strictly to the religion of its founders. No nation ever gave itself wholly to the control of the church without losing its power, its honor, and existence.
Every church pretends to have found the exact truth. This is the end of progress. Why pursue that which you have? Why investigate when you know. Every creed is a rock in running water; humanity sweeps by it. Every creed cries to the universe, "Halt!" A creed is the ignorant past bullying the enlightened present.
The ignorant are not satisfied with what can be demonstrated. Science is too slow for them, and so they invent creeds. They demand completeness. A sublime segment, a grand fragment, are of no value to them. They demand the complete circle—the entire structure.
In music they want a melody with a recurring accent at measured periods. In religion they insist upon immediate answers to the questions of creation and destiny. The alpha and omega of all things must be in the alphabet of their superstition. A religion that can not answer every question, and guess every conundrum, is in their estimation, worse than worthless. They desire a kind of theological dictionary—a religious ready reckoner, together with guide-boards at all crossings and turns. They mistake impudence for authority, solemnity for wisdom, and pathos for inspiration. The beginning and the end are what they demand. The grand flight of the eagle is nothing to them. They want the nest in which he was hatched, and especially the dry limb upon which he roosts. Anything that can be learned is hardly worth knowing. The present is considered of no value in itself. Happiness must not be expected this side of the clouds, and can only be attained by self-denial and faith; not self-denial for the good of others, but for the salvation of your own sweet self.
Paine denied the authority of Bibles and creeds; this was his crime, and for this the world shut the door in his face and emptied its slops upon him from the windows.
I challenge the world to show that Thomas Paine ever wrote one line, one word in favor of tyranny—in favor of immorality; one line, one word against what he believed to be for the highest and best interest of mankind; one line, one word against justice, charity, or liberty, and yet he has been pursued as though he had been a fiend from hell. His memory had been execrated as though he had murdered some Uriah for his wife; driven some Hagar into the desert to starve with his child upon her bosom; defiled his own daughters; ripped open with the sword the sweet bodies of loving and innocent women; advised one brother to assassinate another; kept a harem with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, or had persecuted Christians even unto strange cities.
The church has pursued Paine to deter others. The church used painting, music, and architecture simply to degrade mankind. But there are men that nothing can awe. There have been at all times brave spirits that dared even the gods. Some proud head has always been above the waves. Old Diogenes, with his mantle upon him, stiff and trembling with age, caught a small animal bred upon people, went into the Pantheon, the temple of the gods, and took the animal upon his thumb nail, and, pressing it with the other, "he sacrificed Diogenes to all the gods." Just as good as anything! In every age some Diogenes has sacrificed to all the gods. True genius never cowers, and there is always some Samson feeling for the pillars of authority.
Cathedrals and domes, and chimes and chants, temples frescoed and grained and carved, and gilded with gold, altars and tapers, and paintings of virgin and babe, censer and chalice, chasuble, paten and alb, organs, and anthems and incense rising to the winged and blest, maniple, anice and stole, crosses and crosiers, tiaras, and crowns, mitres and missals and masses, rosaries, relics and robes, martyrs and saints, and windows stained as with the blood of Christ, never, never for one moment awed the brave, proud spirit of the infidel. He knew that all the pomp and glitter had been purchased with liberty, that priceless jewel of the soul. In looking at the cathedral he remembered the dungeon. The music of the organ was not loud enough to drown the clank of fetters. He could not forget that the taper had lighted the fagot. He knew that the cross adorned the hilt of the sword, and so where others worshiped, he wept and scorned. He knew that across the open Bible lay the sword of war, and so where others worshiped he looked with scorn and wept. And so it has been through all the ages gone.
The doubter, the investigator, the infidel, have been the saviors of liberty. The truth is beginning to be realized, and the truly intellectual are honoring the brave thinker of the past. But the church is as unforgiving as ever, and still wonders why any infidel should be wicked enough to attempt to destroy her power. I will tell the church why I hate it.
You have imprisoned the human mind; you have been the enemy of liberty; you have burned us at the stake, roasted us before slow fires, torn our flesh with irons; you have covered us with chains, treated us as outcasts; you have filled the world With fear; you have taken our wives and children from our arms; you have confiscated our property; you have denied us the right to testify in courts of justice; you have branded us with infamy; you have torn out our tongues; you have refused us burial. In the name of your religion you have robbed us of every right; and after having inflicted upon us every evil that can be inflicted in this world, you have fallen upon your knees, and with clasped hands implored your God to finish the holy work in hell.
Can you wonder that we hate your doctrines; that we despise your creeds; that we feel proud to know that we are beyond your power; that we are free in spite of you; that we can express our honest thought, and that the whole world is gradually rising into the blessed light? Can you wonder that we point with pride to the fact that infidelity has ever been found battling for the rights of man, for the liberty of conscience, and for the happiness of all? Can you wonder that we are proud to know that we have always been disciples of reason and soldiers of freedom; that we have denounced tyranny and superstition, and have kept our hands unstained with human blood?
I deny that religion is the end or object of this life. When it is so considered it becomes destructive of happiness. The real end of life is, happiness. It becomes a hydra-headed monster, reaching in terrible coils from the heavens, and thrusting its thousand fangs into the bleeding, quivering hearts of men. It devours their substance, builds palaces for God (who dwells not in temples made with hands), and allows His children to die in huts and hovels. It fills the earth with mourning, heaven with hatred, the present with fear, and all the future with fear and despair. Virtue is a subordination of the passion of the intellect. It is to act in accordance with your highest convictions. It does not consist in believing, but in doing. This is the sublime truth that the infidels in all ages have uttered. They have handed the torch from one to the other through all the years that have fled. Upon the altar of reason they have kept the sacred fire, and through the long midnight of faith they fed the divine flame. Infidelity is liberty; all superstition is slavery. In every creed man is the slave of God, woman is the slave of man, and the sweet children are the slaves of all. We do not want creeds; we want some knowledge. We want happiness. And yet we are told by the church that we have accomplished nothing; that we are simply destroyers; that we tear down without building again.
Is it nothing to free the mind? Is it nothing to civilize mankind? Is it nothing to fill the world with light, with discovery, with science? Is it nothing to dignify man and exalt the intellect. Is it nothing to grope your way into the dreary prisons, the damp and dropping dungeons, the dark and silent cells of superstition, where the souls of men are chained to floors of stone; to greet them like a ray of light, like the song of a bird, the murmur of a stream, to see the dull eyes open and grow slowly bright; to feel yourself grasped by the shrunken and unused hands, and hear yourself thanked by a strange and hollow voice? Is it nothing to conduct these souls gradually into the blessed light of day—to let them see again the happy fields, the sweet, green earth, and hear the everlasting music of the waves? Is it nothing to make men wipe the dust from their swollen knees, the tears from their blanched and furrowed cheeks? Is it a small thing to reave the heavens of an insatiate monster and write upon the eternal dome, glittering with stars, the grand word liberty? Is it a small thing to quench the thirst of hell with the holy tears of piety, break all the chains, put out the fires of civil war, stay the sword of the fanatic, and tear the bloody hands of the church from the white throat of progress? Is it a small thing to make men truly free, to destroy the dogmas of ignorance, prejudice, and power, the poisoned fables of superstition, and drive from the beautiful face of the earth the fiend of fear?
It does seem as though the most zealous Christians must at times entertain some doubt as to the divine origin of his religion. For eighteen hundred years the doctrine has been preached. For more than a thousand years the church had, to a great extent, the control of the civilized world, and what has been the result? Are the Christian nations patterns of charity and forbearance? On the contrary, their principal business is to destroy each other. More than five millions of Christians are trained and educated and drilled to murder their fellow-Christians. Every nation is groaning under a vast debt incurred in carrying on war against other Christians, or defending itself from Christian assault. The world is covered with forts to protect Christians from Christians, and every sea is covered with iron monsters ready to blow Christian brains into eternal froth. Millions upon millions are annually expended in the effort to construct still more deadly and terrible engines of death. Industry is crippled, honest toil is robbed, and even beggary is taxed to defray the expenses of Christian murder. There must be some other way to reform this world. We have tried creed and dogma, and fable, and they have failed—and they have failed in all the nations dead.
Nothing but education—scientific education—can benefit mankind. We must find out the laws of nature and conform to them. We need free bodies and free minds, free labor and free thought, chainless hands and fetterless brains. Free labor will give us wealth. Free thought will give us truth. We need men with moral courage to speak and write their real thoughts, and to stand by their convictions, even to the very death. We need have no fear of being too radical. The future will verify all grand and brave predictions. Paine was splendidly in advance of his time, but he was orthodox compared to the infidels of today.
Science, the great iconoclast, has been very busy since 1809, and by the highway of progress are the broken images of the past. On every hand the people advance. The vicar of God has been pushed from the throne of the Caesars, and upon the roofs of the Eternal city falls once more the shadow of the eagle. All has been accomplished by the heroic few. The men of science have explored heaven and earth, and with infinite patience have furnished the facts. The brave thinkers have aided them. The gloomy caverns of superstition have been transformed into temples of thought, and the demons of the past are the angels of today.
Science took a handful of sand, constructed a telescope, and with it explored the starry depths of heaven. Science wrested from the gods their thunderbolts; and now, the electric spark freighted with thought and love, flashes under all the waves of the sea. Science took a tear from the cheek of unpaid labor, converted it into steam, and created a giant that turns with tireless arm the countless wheels of toil.
Thomas Paine was one of the intellectual heroes, one of the men to whom we are indebted. His name is associated forever with the great republic. He lived a long, laborious, and useful life. The world is better for his having lived. For the sake of truth he accepted hatred and reproach for his portion. He ate the bitter bread of neglect and sorrow. His friends were untrue to him because he was true to himself and true to them. He lost the respect of what is called society, but kept his own. His life is what the world calls failure, and what history calls success.
If to love your fellow-men more than self is goodness, Thomas Paine was good. If to be in advance of your time, to be a pioneer in the direction of right, is greatness, Thomas Paine was great. If to avow your principles and discharge your duty in the presence of death is heroic, Thomas Paine was a hero.
At the age of 73, death touched his tired heart. He died in the land his genius defended, under the flag he gave to the skies. Slander can not touch him now; hatred can not reach him more. He sleeps in the sanctuary of the tomb, beneath the quiet of the stars. A few more years, a few more brave men, a few more rays of light, and mankind will venerate the memory of him who said:
"Any system of religion that shocks the mind of a child can not be a true system. The world is my country, and to do good my religion."
The next question is: Did Thomas Paine recant? Mr. Paine had prophesied that fanatics would crawl and cringe around him during his last moments. He believed that they would put a lie in the mouth of death. When the shadow of the coming dissolution was upon him, two clergymen, Messrs. Milledollar and Cunningham, called to annoy the dying man. Mr. Cunningham had the politeness to say: "You have now a full view of death; you can not live long; whoever does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, will assuredly be damned." Mr. Paine replied: "Let me have none of your popish stuff. Get away with you. Good morning." On another occasion a Methodist minister obtruded himself. Mr. Willet Hicks was present. The minister declared to Mr. Paine that "unless he repented of his unbelief he would be damned." Paine, although at the door of death, rose in his bed and indignantly requested the clergyman to leave the room. On another occasion, two brothers by the name of Pigott sought to convert him. He was displeased, and requested their departure. Afterward, Thomas Nixon and Capt. Daniel Pelton visited him for the express purpose of ascertaining whether he had, in any manner, changed his religious opinions. They were assured, by the dying man that he still held the principles he had expressed in his writings.
Afterward, these gentlemen, hearing that William Cobbet was about to write a life of Paine, sent him the following note: I must tell you now that it is of great importance to find out whether Paine recanted. If he recanted, then the Bible is true—you can rest assured that a spring of water gushed out of a dead dry bone. If Paine recanted, there is not the slightest doubt about that donkey making that speech to Mr. Baalam—not the slightest—and if Paine did not recant, then the whole thing is a mistake. I want to show that Thomas Paine died as he has lived, a friend of man and without superstition, and if you will stay here I will do it.
"New York, April 21, 1818.—Sir: Having been informed that you have a design to write a history of the life and writings of Thomas Paine, if you have been furnished with materials in respect to his religious opinions, or rather of his recantation of his former opinions before his death, all you have heard of his recanting is false. Being aware that such reports would be raised after his death by fanatics who infested his house at the time it was expected he would die, we, the subscribers, intimate acquaintances of Thomas Paine since the year 1776, went to his house. He was sitting up in a chair, and apparently in full vigor and use of all his mental faculties. We interrogated him upon his religious opinions, and if he had changed his mind, or repented of anything he had said or wrote on that subject. He answered, "Not at all," and appeared rather offended at our supposition that any change should take place in his mind. We took down in writing the questions put to him and his answers thereto, before a number of persons then in his room, among whom were his doctor, Mrs. Bonneville, etc. This paper is mislaid and can not be found at present, but the above is the substance, which can be attested by many living witnesses.—Thomas Nixon, Daniel Pelton"
Mr. Jarvis, the artist, saw Mr. Paine one or two days before his death. To Mr. Jarvis he expressed his belief in his written opinions upon the subject of religion. B.F. Haskin, an attorney of the City of New York, also visited him, and inquired as to his religious opinions. Paine was then upon the threshold of death, but he did not tremble, he was not a coward. He expressed his firm and unshaken belief in the religious ideas he had given to the world.
Dr. Manly was with him when he spoke his last words. Dr. Manly asked the dying man, and Dr. Manly was a Christian, if he did not wish to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and the dying philosopher answered: "I have no wish to believe on that subject." Amasa Woodsworth sat up with Thomas Paine the night before his death. In 1839 Gilbert Vale, hearing that Woodsworth was living in or near Boston, visited him for the purpose of getting his statement, and the statement was published in The Beacon of June 5, 1830, and here it is:
"We have just returned from Boston. One object of our visit to that city was to see Mr. Amasa Woodsworth, an engineer, now retired in a handsome cottage and garden at East Cambridge, Boston. This gentleman owned the house occupied by Paine at his death, while he lived next door. As an act of kindness, Mr. Woodsworth visited Mr. Paine every day for six weeks before his death. He frequently sat up with him and did so on the last two nights of his life. He was always there with Dr. Manly, the physician, and assisted in removing Mr. Paine while his bed was prepared. He was present when Dr. Manly asked Mr. Paine if he wished to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He said that lying on his back he used some action and with much emphasis replied: 'I have no wish to believe on that subject.' He lived some time after this, but was not known to speak, for he died tranquilly. He accounts for the insinuating style of Dr. Manly's letter by stating that that gentleman, just after its publication, joined a church. He informs us that he has openly proved the doctor for the falsity contained in the spirit of that letter, boldly declaring before Dr. Manly, who is still living, that nothing which he saw justified the insinuations. Mr. Woodsworth assures us that he neither heard nor saw anything to justify the belief of any mental change in the opinions of Mr. Paine previous to his death; but that being very ill and in pain, chiefly arising from the skin being removed in some parts by long lying, he was generally too uneasy to enjoy conversation on abstract subjects. This, then, is the best evidence that can be procured on this subject, and we publish it while the contravening parties are yet alive, and with the authority of Mr. Woodsworth.—Gilbert Vale"
A few weeks ago I received the following letter, which confirms the statement of Mr. Vale:
"Near Stockton, Cal., Greenwood Cottage, July 9. 1877.—Col. Ingersoll: In 1812 I talked with a gentleman in Boston. I have forgotten his name; but he was then an engineer of the Charleston navy yard. I am thus particular so that you can find his name on the books. He told me that he nursed Thomas Paine in his last illness and closed his eyes when dead. I asked him if he recanted and called upon God to save him. He replied: No; he died as he had taught. He had a sore upon his side, and when we turned him it was very painful, and he would cry out, 'O God!' or something like that. 'But,' said the narrator, 'that was nothing, for he believed in a God.' I told him that I had often heard it asserted from the pulpit that Mr. Paine had recanted in his last moment. The gentleman said that it was not true, and he appeared to be an intelligent, truthful man. With respect, I remain, etc., Philip Graves, M.D."
The next witness is Willet Hicks, a Quaker preacher. He says that during the last illness of Mr. Paine he visited him almost daily, and that Paine died firmly convinced of the truth of the religious opinions that he had given to his fellow-men. It was to this same Willet Hicks that Paine applied for permission to be buried in the cemetery of the Quakers. Permission was refused. This refusal settles the question of recantation. If he had recanted, of course there would have been no objection to his body being buried by the side of the best hypocrites in the earth. If Paine recanted, why should he denied "a little earth for charity?" Had he recanted, it would have been regarded as a vast and splendid triumph for the gospel. It would, with much noise and pomp and ostentation, have been heralded about the world.
Here is another letter:
"Peoria, Ill., Oct. 8, 1877.—Robert G. Ingersoll—Esteemed Friend: My parents were Friends (Quakers). My father died when I was very young. The elderly and middle-aged Friends visited at my mother's house. We lived in the City of New York. Among the number I distinctly remember Elias Hicks, Willet Hicks, and a Mr. — Day, who was a bookseller in Pearl St. There were many others whose names I do not now remember. The subject of the recantation of Thomas Paine of his views about the Bible in his last illness, or any other time, was discussed by them in my presence at different times. I learned from them that some of them had attended upon Thomas Paine in his last sickness, and ministered to his wants up to the time of his death. And upon the question of whether he did recant there was but one expression. They all said that he did not recant in any manner. I often heard them say they wished he had recanted. In fact, according to them, the nearer he approached death the more positive he appeared to be in his convictions. These conversations were from 1820 to 1822. I was at that time from ten to twelve years old, but these conversations impressed themselves upon me because many thoughtless people then blamed the society of Friends for their kindness to that "arch-infidel," Thomas Paine. Truly yours, A.C. Hankenson"
A few days ago I received the following:
"Albany, N.Y., Sept. 27, 1877.—Dear Sir: It is over twenty years ago that, professionally, I made the acquaintance of John Hogeboom, a justice of the peace of the County Rensselaer, New York. He was then over seventy years of age, and had the reputation of being a man of candor and integrity. He was a great admirer of Paine. He told me he was personally acquainted with him, and used to see him frequently during the last years of his life in the City of New York, where Hogeboom then resided. I asked him if there was any truth in the charge that Paine was in the habit of getting drunk. He said that it was utterly false; that he never heard of such a thing during the lifetime of Mr. Paine, and did not believe anyone else did. I asked him about the recantation of his religious opinions on his deathbed, and the revolting deathbed scenes that the world heard so much about. He said there was no truth in them; that he had received his information from persons who attended Paine in his last illness, and that he passed peacefully, as we may say, in the sunshine of a great soul. Yours truly, W.J. Hilton"
The witnesses by whom I substantiate the fact that Thomas Paine did not recant, and that he died holding the religious opinions he had published are:
1. Thomas Nixon, Capt. Daniel Pelton, B.F. Haskin. These gentlemen visited him during his last illness for the purpose of ascertaining whether he had, in any respect, changed his views upon religion. He told them that he had not.
2. James Cheetham. This man was the most malicious enemy Mr. Paine had, and yet he admits that "Thomas Paine died placidly, and almost without a struggle."—Life of Thomas Paine, by James Cheetham.
3. The ministers, Milledollar and Cunningham. These gentleman told Mr. Paine that if he died without believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, he would be damned, and Paine replied: "Let me have none of your popish stuff. Good morning."—Sherwin's Life of Paine, page 220.
4. Mrs. Hedden. She told these same preachers, when they attempted to obtrude themselves upon Mr. Paine again, that the attempt to convert Mr. Paine was useless; "that if God did not change his mind, no human power could."
5. Andrew A. Dean. This man lived upon Paine's farm, at New Rochelle, and corresponded with him upon religious subjects.—Paine's Theological Works, page 308.
6. Mr. Jarvis, the artist with whom Paine lived. He gives an account of an old lady coming to Paine, and telling him that God Almighty had sent her to tell him that unless he repented and believed in the blessed savior he would be damned. Paine replied that God would not send such a foolish old woman with such an impertinent message.—Clio Rickman's Life of Paine.
7. William Carver, with whom Paine boarded. Mr. Carver said again and again that Paine did not recant. He knew him well, and had every opportunity of knowing.—Life of Paine, by Vale.
8. Dr. Manly, who attended him in his last sickness, and to whom Paine spoke his last words. Dr. Manly asked him if he did not wish to believe in Jesus Christ. and he replied: "I have no wish to believe on that subject."
9. Willet Hicks and Elias Hicks, who were with him frequently during his last sickness, and both of whom tried to persuade him to recant. According to their testimony Mr. Paine died as he lived—a believer in God and a friend to man. Willet Hicks was offered money to say something false against Paine. He was even offered money to remain silent, and allow others to slander the dead. Mr. Hicks, speaking of Thomas Paine, said: "He was a good man. Thomas Paine was an honest man."
10. Amasa Woodsworth, who was with him every day for some six weeks immediately preceding his death, and sat up with him the last two nights of his life. This man declares that Paine did not recant, and that he died tranquilly. The evidence of Mr. Woodsworth is conclusive.
11. Thomas Paine himself. The will of Mr. Paine, written by himself, commences as follows: "The last will and testament of me, the subscriber, Thomas Paine, reposing confidence in my Creator, God, and in no other being, for I know of no other, nor believe in any other," and closes with these words: "I have lived an honest and useful life to mankind. My time has been spent in doing good, and I die in perfect composure and resignation to the will of my Creator, God."
12. If Thomas Paine recanted, why do you pursue him? If he recanted he died in your belief. For what reason, then, do you denounce his death as cowardly? If upon his death-bed he renounced the opinions he had published, the business of defaming him should be done by infidels, not by Christians. I ask Christians if it is honest to throw away the testimony of his friends, the evidence of fair and honorable men, and take the putrid words of avowed and malignant enemies? When Thomas Paine was dying he was infested by fanatics, by the snaky spies of bigotry. In the shadows of death were the unclean birds of prey waiting to tear, with beak and claw, the corpse of him who wrote the "Rights of Man," and there lurking and crouching in the darkness, were the jackals and hyenas of superstition, ready to violate his grave. These birds of prey—these unclean beasts—are the witnesses produced and relied upon to malign the memory of Thomas Paine. One by one the instruments of torture have been wrenched from the cruel clutch of the church, until within the armory of orthodoxy there remains but one weapon—Slander.
Against the witnesses that I have produced there can be brought just two—Mary Roscoe and Mary Hinsdale. The first is referred to in the memoir of Stephen Grellet. She had once been a servant in his house. Grellet tells what happened between this girl and Paine. According to this account, Paine asked her if she had ever read any of his writings, and on being told that she had read very little of them, he inquired what she thought of them, adding that from such an one as she he expected a correct answer.
Let us examine this falsehood. Why would Paine expect a correct answer about his writings from one who read very little of them? Does not such a statement devour itself? This young lady further said that the "Age of Reason" was put in her hands, and that the more she read in it, the more dark and distressed she felt, and that she threw the book into the fire. Whereupon Mr. Paine remarked: "I wish all had done as you did, for if the devil ever had any agency in any work, he had in my writing that book."
The next is Mary Hinsdale. She was a servant in the family of Willet Hicks. The church is always proving something by a nurse. She, like Mary Roscoe, was sent to carry some delicacy to Mr. Paine. To this young lady Paine, according to his account, said precisely the same that he did to Mary Roscoe, and she said the same thing to Mr. Paine.
My own opinion is that Mary Roscoe and Mary Hinsdale are one and the same person, or the same story has been, by mistake, put in the mouths of both. It is not possible that the identical conversation should have taken place between Paine and Mary Roscoe and between him and Mary Hinsdale. Mary Hinsdale lived with Willet Hicks, and he pronounced her story a pious fraud and fabrication.
Another thing about this witness. A woman by the name of Mary Lockwood, a Hicksite Quaker, died. Mary Hinsdale met her brother about that time and told him that his sister had recanted, and wanted her to say so at her funeral. This turned out to be a lie.
It has been claimed that Mary Hinsdale made her statement to Charles Collins. Long after the alleged occurrence Gilbert Vale, one of the biographers of Paine, had a conversation with Collins concerning Mary Hinsdale. Vale asked him what he thought of her. He replied that some of the Friends believed that she used opiates, and that they did not give credit to her statements. He also said that he believed what the Friends said, but thought that when a young Roman she might have told the truth.
In 1818 William Cobbett came to New York. He began collecting material for a life of Thomas Paine. In this way he became acquainted with Mary Hinsdale and Charles Collins. Mr. Cobbett gave a full account of what happened in a letter addressed to The Norwich Mercury in 1819. From this account it seems that Charles Collins told Cobbett that Paine had recanted. Cobbett called for the testimony, and told Mr. Collins that he must give time, place, and circumstances. He finally brought a statement that he stated had been made by Mary Hinsdale. Armed with this document, Cobbett, in October of that year, called upon the said Mary Hinsdale, at No. 10 Anthony Street, New York, and showed her the statement. Upon being questioned by Mr. Cobbett she said that it was so long ago that she could not speak positively to any part of the matter; that she would not say that any part of the paper was true; that she had never seen the paper, and that she had never given Charles Collins authority to say anything about the matter in her name. And so in the month of October, in the year of grace 1818, in the mist of fog and forgetfulness, disappeared forever one Mary Hinsdale, the last and only witness against the intellectual honesty of Thomas Paine.
A letter was written to the editor of The New York World by the Rev. A.W. Cornell, in which he says:
"Sir: I see by your paper that Bob Ingersoll discredits Mary Hinsdale's story of the scenes which occurred at the death bed of Thomas Paine. No one who knew that good old lady would for one moment doubt her veracity, or question her testimony. Both she and her husband were Quaker preachers, and well known and respected inhabitants of New York City.
"Ingersoll is right in his conjecture that Mary Roscoe and Mary Hinsdale were the same person. Her maiden name was Roscoe and she married Henry Hinsdale. My mother was a Roscoe, a niece of Mary Roscoe, and lived with her for some time.—Rev. A.W. Cornell, Harpersville, N.Y."
The editor of the New York Observer took up the challenge that I had thrown down. I offered $1000 in gold to any minister who would prove, or to any person who would prove that Thomas Paine recanted in his last hours. The New York Observer accepted the wager, and then told a falsehood about it. But I kept after the gentlemen until I forced them, in their paper, published on the 1st of November, 1877; to print these words:
"We have never stated in any form, nor have we ever supposed, that Paine actually renounced his infidelity. The accounts agree in stating that he died a blaspheming infidel."
This, I hope, for all coming time will refute the slanders of the churches yet to be.
The next charge they make is that Thomas Paine died in destitution and want. That, of course, would show that he was wrong. They boast that the founder of their religion had not whereon to lay his head, but when they found a man who stood for the rights of man, when they say that he did, that is an evidence that this doctrine was a lie. Won't do! Did Thomas Paine die in destitution and want? The charge has been made over and over again that Thomas Paine died in want and destitution; that he was an abandoned pauper—an outcast, without friends and without money. This charge is just as false as the rest. Upon his return to this country, in 1802, he was worth $30,000, according to his own statement, made at that time in the following letter, and addressed to Clio Rickman:
"My dear friend, Mr. Monroe, who is appointed minister extraordinary to France, takes charge of this, to be delivered to Mr. Este, banker, in Paris, to be forwarded to you.
"I arrived in Baltimore, 30th of October, and you can have no idea of the agitation which my arrival occasioned. From New Hampshire to Georgia (an extent of 1,500 miles), every newspaper was filled with applause or abuse.
"My property in this country has been taken care of by my friends, and is now worth six thousand pounds sterling, which, put in the funds, will bring about L400 sterling a year.
"Remember me in affection and friendship to your wife and family, and in the circle of your friends.—Thomas Paine"
A man in those days worth $30,000 was not a pauper. That amount would bring an income of at least $2,000. Two thousand dollars then would be fully equal to $5,000 now. On the 12th of July, 1809, the year in which he died, Mr. Paine made his will. From this instrument we learn that he was the owner of a valuable farm within twenty miles of New York. He was also owner of thirty shares in the New York Phoenix Insurance Company, worth upward of $1,500. Besides this, some personal property and ready money. By his will he gave to Walter Morton and Thomas Addis Emmet, a brother of Robert Emmet, $200 each, and $100 to the widow of Elihu Palmer. Is it possible that this will was made by a pauper, by a destitute outcast, by a man who suffered for the ordinary necessities of life?
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that he was poor, and that he died a beggar, does that tend to show that the Bible is an inspired book, and that Calvin did not burn Servetus? Do you really regard poverty as a crime? If Paine had died a millionaire, would Christians have accepted his religious opinions? If Paine had drank nothing but cold water, would Christians have repudiated the five cardinal points of Calvinism? Does an argument depend for its force upon the pecuniary condition of the person making it? As a matter of fact, most reformers—most men and women of genius—have been acquainted with poverty. Beneath a covering of rags have been found some of the tenderest and bravest hearts. Owing to the attitude of the churches for the last fifteen hundred years, truth telling has not been a very lucrative business. As a rule, hypocrisy has worn the robes, and honesty the rags. That day is passing away. You can not now answer a man by pointing at the holes in his coat. Thomas Paine attacked the church when it was powerful; when it had what is called honors to bestow; when it was the keeper of the public conscience; when it was strong and cruel. The church waited till he was dead, and then attacked his reputation and his clothes. Once upon a time a donkey kicked a lion. The lion was dead. You just don't know how happy I am tonight that justice so long delayed at last is going to be done, and to see so many splendid looking people come here out of deference to the memory of Thomas Paine. I am glad to be here.
The next thing is: Did Thomas Paine live the life of a drunken beast, and did he die a drunken, cowardly, and beastly death? Well, we will see. Upon you rests the burden of substantiating these infamous charges. The Christians have, I suppose, produced the best evidence in their possession, and that evidence I will now proceed to examine. Their first witness is Grant Thorburn. He made three charges against Thomas Paine:
1. That his wife obtained a divorce from him in England for cruelty and neglect.
2. That he was a defaulter and fled from England to America.
3. That he was a drunkard.
These three charges stand upon the same evidence—the word of Grant Thorburn. If they are not all true, Mr. Thorburn stands impeached. The charge that Mrs. Paine obtained a divorce on account of the cruelty and neglect of her husband is utterly false. There is no such record in the world, and never was. Paine and his wife separated by mutual consent. Each respected the other. They remained friends. This charge is without any foundation. In fact, I challenge the Christian world to produce the record of this decree of divorce. According to Mr. Thorburn, it was granted in England. In that country public records are kept of all such decrees. I will give $1,000 if they will produce a decree, showing that it was given on account of cruelty, or admit that Mr. Thorburn was mistaken.
Thomas Paine was a just man. Although separated from his wife, he always spoke of her with tenderness and respect, and frequently lent her money without letting her know the source from whence it came. Was this the conduct of a drunken beast?
The next is that he was a defaulter, and fled from England to America. As I told you in the first place, he was an exciseman; if he was a defaulter, that fact is upon the records of Great Britain. I will give $1,000 in gold to any man who will show, by the records of England, that he was a defaulter of a single, solitary cent. Let us bring these gentlemen to Limerick.
And they charge that he was a drunkard. That is another falsehood. He drank liquor in his day, as did the preachers. It was no unusual thing for a preacher going home to stop in a tavern and take a drink of hot rum with a deacon, and it was no unusual thing for the deacon to help the preacher home. You have no idea how they loved the sacrament in those days. They had communion pretty much all the time.
Thorburn says that in 1802 Paine was an "old remnant of mortality, drunk, bloated, and half asleep." Can anyone believe this to be a true account of the personal appearance of Mr. Paine in 1802? He had just returned from France. He had been welcomed home by Thomas Jefferson, who had said that he was entitled to the hospitality of every American. In 1802 Mr. Paine was honored with a public dinner in the City of New York. He was called upon and treated with kindness and respect by such men as De Witt Clinton. In 1806 Mr. Paine wrote a letter to Andrew A. Dean upon the subject of religion. Read that letter and then say that the writer of it was an old remnant of mortality, drunk, bloated, and half asleep. Search the files of Christian papers, from the first issue to the last, and you will find nothing superior to this letter. In 1803 Mr. Paine wrote a letter of considerable length, and of great force to his friend Samuel Adams. Such letters are not written by drunken beasts, nor by remnants of old mortality, nor by drunkards. It was about the same time that he wrote his "Remarks on Robert Hall's Sermons." These "Remarks" were not written by a drunken beast, but by a clear-headed and thoughtful man.
In 1804 he published an essay on the invasion of England and a treatise on gun-boats, full of valuable maritime information; in 1805 a treatise on yellow fever, suggesting modes of prevention. In short, he was an industrious and thoughtful man. He sympathized with the poor and oppressed of all lands. He looked upon monarchy as a species of physical slavery. He had the goodness to attack that form of government. He regarded the religion of his day as a kind of mental slavery. He had the courage to give his reasons for his opinion. His reasons filled the churches with hatred. Instead of answering his arguments they attacked him. Men who were not fit to blacken his shoes blackened his character. There is too much religious cant in the statement of Mr. Thorburn. He exhibits too much anxiety to tell what Grant Thorburn said to Thomas Paine. He names Thomas Jefferson as one of the disreputable men who welcomed Paine with open arms. The testimony of a man who regarded Thomas Jefferson as a disreputable person, as to the character of anybody, is utterly without value.
Now, Grant Thorburn—this gentleman who was "four feet and a half high, and who weighed ninety-eight pounds three and one-half ounces"—says that he used to sit nights at Carver's, in New York, with Thomas Paine. Mrs. Ferguson, the daughter of William Carver, says that she knew Thorburn when she saw him, but that she never saw him in her father's house. The denial of Mrs. Ferguson enraged Thorburn, and he at once wrote a few falsehoods about her. Thereupon a suit was commenced by Mrs. Ferguson and her husband against Thorburn, the writer, and Fanshaw, the publisher, of the libel. Thorburn ran away to Connecticut. Fanshaw wrote him for evidence of what he had written. Thorburn replied that what he had written about Mrs. Ferguson could not be proved. Fanshaw then settled with the Fergusons, paying them the amount demanded.
In 1859 the Fergusons lived at 148 Duane Street, New York. In The Commercial Advertiser of New York, in 1830, appeared the written acknowledgement of this same little Grant Thorburn that he did, on the 22d of August, 1830, at half-past 6 in the morning, take four bottles of cider from the cellar of Mr. Comstock.
Mr. Comstock says that Thorburn was arrested, and that when brought before him he pleaded guilty and threw himself upon his (Comstock's) mercy.
The Philadelphia Tract Society gave Thorburn $100 to write his recollections of Thomas Paine.
Let us dispose of this four feet and a half of wretch. In October, 1877, I received the following letter from James Parton:
"Newburyport, Mass., Oct 27, 1877.—My dear Sir: Touching Grant Thorburn, I personally knew him to have been a liar. At the age of 92 he copied with trembling hand a piece from a newspaper and brought it to the office of The Rome Journal as his own. It was I who received it and detected the deliberate forgery..... James Parton"
So much for Grant Thorburn. In my judgment, the testimony of Mr. Thorburn should be thrown aside as utterly unworthy of belief.
The next witness is the Rev. J.D. Wickham, D.D., who tells what an elder in his church said. This elder said that Paine passed his last days on his farm at New Rochelle, with a solitary female attendant. This is not true. He did not pass his last days at New Rochelle, consequently, this pious elder did not see him during his last days at that place. Upon this elder we prove an alibi. Mr. Paine passed his last days in the City of New York, in a house upon Columbia Street. The story of the Rev. J.D. Wickham, D.D., is simply false.
The next competent false witness was the Rev. Charles Hawley, D.D., who proceeds to state that the story of the Rev. J.D. Wickham, D. D., is corroborated by older citizens of New Rochelle. The names of these ancient residents are withheld. According to these unknown witnesses, the account given by the deceased elder was entirely correct. But as the particulars of Mr. Paine's conduct "were too loathsome to be described in print," we are left entirely in the dark as to what he really did.
While at New Rochelle, Mr. Paine lived with Mr. Purdy, Mr. Dean, with Capt. Pelton, and with Mr. Staple. It is worthy of note that all of these gentlemen give the lie direct to the statements of "older residents" and ancient citizens spoken of by the Rev. Charles Hawley, D.D., and leave him with the "loathsome particulars" existing only in his own mind.
The next gentleman brought upon the stand is W.H. Ladd, who quotes from the memoirs of Stephen Grellett. This gentleman also has the misfortune to be dead. According to his account, Mr. Paige made his recantation to a servant girl of his by the name of Mary Roscoe. Mr. Paine uttered the wish that all who read his book had burned it. I believe there is a mistake in the name of this girl. Her name was probably Mary Hinsdale, as it was once claimed that Paine made the same remark to her.