Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just a note to let you all know that I've returned after something of a hiatus. Those who know the blogger personally will know that he's been defending a dissertation and putting the final touches on a doctorate in American history ... area of specialization Thomas Paine, his followers and the history of transatlantic democratic reform. Goal accomplished -- deal done. Hope to spend a bit more regular time here with you. And have a timely and topical post that will follow this note shortly.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thomas Paine on men who believe they are born to reign.

"Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent. Selected from the rest of mankind, their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed in the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions."  Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thomas Paine looks at America today: Letter to George Washington (1796)

"A thousand years hence (for I must indulge a few thoughts), perhaps in less, America may be what Europe now is. The innocence of her character, that won the hearts of all nations in her favor, may sound like a romance and her inimitable virtue as if it had never been. The ruin of that liberty which thousands bled for or struggled to obtain may just furnish materials for a village tale or extort a sigh from rustic sensibility, whilst the fashionable of that day, enveloped in dissipation, shall deride the principle and deny the fact.

When we contemplate the fall of empires and the extinction of the nations of the Ancient World, we see but little to excite our regret than the mouldering ruins of pompous palaces, magnificent museums, lofty pyramids and walls and towers of the most costly workmanship; but when the empire of America shall fall, the subject for contemplative sorrow will be infinitely greater than crumbling brass and marble can inspire. It will not then be said, here stood a temple of vast antiquity; here rose a babel of invisible height; or there a palace of sumptuous extravagance; but here, Ah, painful thought! the noblest work of human wisdom, the grandest scene of human glory, the fair cause of Freedom rose and fell." Thomas Paine, Letter to George Washington (1796)

The entire letter can be found here:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thomas Paine on Time and Space.

"It is difficult beyond description to conceive that space can have no end; but it is more difficult to conceive an end. It is difficult beyond the power of man to conceive an eternal duration of what we call time; but it is more impossible to conceive a time when there shall be no time." Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, Part First, Section 7.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thomas Paine - a noble of nature

In research into nineteenth century literature on Thomas Paine, one frequently sees him referred to as "that noble of nature." A widely published collection of his poetry was so titled. This appears to be the source of the phrase:

“Whoe'er amidst the sons Of reason, valor, liberty and virtue,
Displays distinguished merit, is a noble Of Nature's own creating.”
James Thomson
Coriolanus (act III, sc. 3)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Too late to apologize: a declaration

 Wonderful contemporary take on the founding revolutionary era and .....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thomas Paine -- An army of principles ...

"An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot -- It will succeed where diplomatic manadgement would fail -- It is neither Rhine, the Channel, nor the Ocean, that can arrest its progress -- It will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer."
Thomas Paine, Agrarian Justice, 1797.

Dane Rudyar reads Thomas Paine's astrological chart

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thomas Paine: equality under the law.

"The law should be equal for all, whether it rewards or punishes, whether it protects or restrains." Thomas Paine, Plan of a Declaration of Rights, 1792.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Was Thomas Paine depressed, drunk and diseased?

A 2011 article on a BBC website claims that

"Paine ... died in miserable circumstances in New York in 1809, having spent his last years in America often depressed, drunk and diseased."

The author of the BBC article is not the first historian to accept the common nineteenth-century account of Paine's circumstances and passing at the end of his life. Most of Paine's chief biographers -- including Conway, Keane and others -- have repeated it with little amelioration or critical analysis.

My reading of the historical data is that history and historians have fallen for what amounts to anti-Paine propaganda popularized in the Federalist and conservative press before, during and subsequent to Paine's death.

The fact is that Paine died a wealthy man. Paine's biographers have documented his financial worth at between $11,500.00 and $15,000.00 US at the time of his death ... a substantial amount at that time. Land accounted for about $10,000.00 of it, as I recall, but he was far from poor.

Nor was he any more or less alone than any of us are at the time of death.

Many of Paine's closest friends and associates were guillotined in the French Revolution and others died of old age and illness before him. He lived to a ripe old age in spite of serious infirmity brought
about by the ruination of his health during imprisonment. There is no reason to believe that he was  more "depressed" than any other elderly, dying person. In fact, those who actually knew him during the period spoke of his clarity, kindness, resignation and firmness of mind.

Nobody who actually knew him says he was drunken.

That accusation comes solely from his political enemies, chiefly James Cheetham whose notorious attack biography of Paine was an early milestone in yellow journalism. In the early 1800s, the story of Paine's drunkenness was so nearly universal that his early biographer Gilbert Vale accepted it when he first set out to write a biography. But in the course of research for his Life of Thomas Paine, Vale met many persons who actually knew Paine (John Fellows, Aaron Burr, the artist John Wesley Jarvis among them) and universally denied the allegation that Paine was drunken, filthy or particularly diseased. If you've not read Vale's account, it is a fascinating read.

Paine drank far less than either Washington or Jefferson. And yet we find no accounts of "Washington's filthy drunkenness" anywhere. Jarvis, with whom Paine lived in his old age, said that he himself drank FAR more than Paine and the New Rochelle store clerk who drove Paine's carriage and actually sold him his liquor and assisted him when he was ill says he never once saw Paine drunk ... ever. This at a time when Federalist sources say he was soused. Don't forget that for the temperance advocates of Paine's and later ages, just one drink was debauchery itself. Paine was known at that time to purchase about a quart of BRANDY per week for himself and friends and to take a glass of brandy and water after what we now call lunch and one again after supper. The fact
is that prudish, evangelical, pro-temperance and most of all FEDERALIST writers attacked Paine's personal character in order to blunt his political influence .... just as they do today.

This is not to say (begging your pardon) that Paine farted roses and butterflies. He was a human being ... which is to say, a complex being. Gilbert Vale had it about right:

"We are not, however, about to write a eulogy; to enhance his virtues, or to suppress his faults, or vices. Paine was a part of human nature, and partook of its imperfections; and our purpose is to fairly represent him as he was; but the greater part of Paine's life was public and as such we know of no man who had greater virtues or less vices."

What Vale found and documented in his own research on Paine -- and no biographer has added substantially or significantly to Vale's account -- was that virtually all of the received accounts of Paine's drunkenness traced back to James Cheetham's smear. Cheetham was a convicted libeler. Paine threatened to sue him when alive. Cheetham waited to write his defamatory historical novel until after Paine's death ... in fact, immediatelyafter Paine's death in order to maximize his sales.

Janet Mirsky and Allan Nevins, in their distinguished biography of Eli Whitney noted Whitney's disgust with Paine's shaking hand and drooping lip as he raised a glass of wine. Mirsky and Nevins, however, suggested that Whitney the Federalist and temperance advocate .. ignorant of medicine ...
mistook Paine's palsy. He had recently hurt himself in a fall down a flight of stairs after what he described as a "fit of apoplexy" that left him without the ability to speak or use his hands for some days. This was almost certainly a stroke. Mirsky, Nevins and other credible medical observers believe that he may have had Parkinson's and the conservative Whitney's disgust was prejudicial and medically oblivious.

A question: wouldn't it be more balanced, judicious and historically reasoned to say with Gilbert Vale that

"... he died in peace, in a good old age, the firm and consistent friend
of liberty."

and that to write otherwise is to perpetuate what was originally a politically motivated slander?

© Kenneth W. Burchell 2012, All Rights Reserved.

[note: the blogger has written the author of the BBC article and awaits reply. Interested persons can find another elaboration of this argument in the introduction to my six-volume, fully edited collection of contemporary American replies to Thomas Paine: and my critique of a more recent shibboleth on Paine's supposed depression is here ]

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New Dance, Theater, Learning Experience "To Begin the World Over Again."

"To Begin the World Over Again" by Edisa Weeks [Delirious Dances] and Joseph C. Phillips [Numinous].

Sept 27 to Oct 6, 2012
At the Irondale Center, Brooklyn, NY

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Glenn Beck and Thomas Paine -- more ignorant claptrap

Tipped off by alert Paine reader and advocate HJK, I decided to post this video of Glenn Beck in action spouting lies and nonsense about Thomas Paine. Can you count how many misrepresentations? 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Thomas Paine on honesty.

"He who dares not offend cannot be honest." Thomas Paine, The Forrester Letters, 1776.

Thomas Paine on Lying and Liars.

"When anything is attempted to be supported by lying, it is presumptive evidence that the thing supported is a lie also. The stock on which a lie can be engrafted must be of the same species as the graft." Thomas Paine -- To the Citizens of the United States, 1802.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Thomas Paine on right government

"Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others."

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Pt. 1: Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thomas Paine, Catholics, The American Right Wing, and Religious Establishment

"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly-marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity. In America, a catholic priest is a good citizen, a good character, and a good neighbour; an episcopalian minister is of the same description: and this proceeds independently of the men, from there being no law-establishment in America."

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, part I.

Thomas Paine replies to Bob Basso

 Actor Ian Ruskin does a magnificent job of replying to the gas-bag Basso who hasn't the foggiest notion of Thomas Paine or his ideas. Don't miss this and share it with your friends. The Thomas Paine Review heartily endorses Mr. Ruskin's work:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thomas Paine Monument in New Rochelle, New York.

Here's a nice older image of the monument taken not long after the bust of Paine by American sculptor Wilson McDonald was added. All in all, the author of this blog believes the addition an enormous mistake. The bust is fine on its own and deserves a good exhibition location ... but the monument should have been left as Paine's followers intended ... a simple, classic marble column ... to commemorate the original resting place of America's greatest revolutionary.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thomas Paine on extrajudicial killings:

‎"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, Dissertation on First Principles of Government (July 7, 1795)

Thomas Paine on extra-judicial killing. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thomas Paine not forgotten -- Harvey J. Kaye

 Fine article in review of the speech by Thomas Paine friend and friend of this blog, Prof. Harvey J. Kaye. Pleased to see that Kaye agrees -- Paine's reputation waxes strong and undimmed:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why I will not attend The International Conference of Thomas Paine Studies 2012 at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York

Review: Daniele Bolelli, Disinformation blog and "The Filthy Little Atheist Founding Father."

A short essay on Thomas Paine  recently appeared under the signature of Daniele Bolelli on the blog of the small independent publishers, the Disinformation Company. Though nicely written,  the author repeats some of the most common canards -- some serious, some mere quibbles -- with respect to the scholarship around Thomas Paine. My comments and corrections are below the link to the article here:

Ms. Bolelli repeats the false claim that John Adams wrote the line (her paraphrase) that "without his pen, Washington’s military victories would have been in vain." The passage appears nowhere in the writings or recorded words of John Adams. It was written by the American poet and diplomat Joel Barlow and appears in a 1792 London edition of Paine's Common Sense with introduction by Barlow.

The author repeats the usual though short-sighted pro-forma "Paine participated in two revolutions."
The statement refers, of course, to the American and French Revolutions and is technically true as far as it goes. But Paine's Rights of Man and Age of Reason were the two works around which the British struggle for freedom of the press raged. Most of the historic legal controversy centered around his writings. So Paine was at the center of at least three revolutions.

Bolelli writes that after Paine published Age of Reason, "the masses hated him." Not really. Certain prominent Federalists used the Age of Reason in order to attack Paine's political ideas and Protestant ministers were expected to condemn him from pulpit and in pamphlet. But Paine's many Antifederalist allies and admirers were not fooled by any of this and the ministers themselves voiced "ALARM" that his Age of Reason was so widely read and influential, especially in schools and colleges. Well, if it was widely read and influential, then the masses couldn't very well have hated him, could they.

The author writes that Paine's works were "among the best-sellers of the 18th century." This is an understatement. No other author of the period comes even close to Paine in number of printings and sales of his works.

Bolelli repeats the perennial lament that had Paine just had the decency to die before Age of Reason, "his place among the pantheon of beloved founding fathers would have been assured." First of all, in American History the "founding fathers" are confined to members of the convention that drew up the US Constitution in 1787, the founders of the country. Paine had already left the continent in order to agitate for liberty in Britain and France. He took no part in the convention and would not be considered a "founding father" even if he died in 1792. Second, Paine's legacy is intact and as permanent as any in existence. His detractors failed.

Daniele Bolelli's essay or blog is an excerpt of a new book entitled 50 Things You're Not Supposed To Know: Religion (The Disinformation Company: 2011), evidently a self-published work? In any case, we wish the author well.

According to the company information page:

"The Disinformation Company is a dynamic, independent media company based in New York City. We are active in book publishing, film production and home video distribution, with well over 150 books and films in our catalog. We are known for working with filmmakers and authors to promote important political, social or cultural issues that are ignored by the mainstream media."

© Kenneth W. Burchell 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Frances A. Chiu on Thomas Paine and the Occupy Wallstreet Movement

Literary and Thomas Paine scholar -- and valued friend of this blog --
Frances A. Chiu has written a fine essay on Paine for the journal of the
Occupy movement entitled The Occupy Wallstreet Journal. Don't miss

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Graham Moore, The Shee, Dick Gaughan, and "Tom Paine's Bones."

 There's a new cover of composer/singer Graham Moore's wonderful "Tom Paine's Bones" here:

The Shee do a nice job on it. Dick Gaughan's is probably the best known cover of this piece, but I still much prefer the composer's original. I haven't been able to locate Graham's old website, so if anyone has it, please send it along. His DVD entitled "Tom Paine's Bones" is full of the best music you'll ever listen to ... some of it traditional English radical and/or folk pieces ... some of it, like the subject of this blog, music of his own composition. The entire album with samples is available here and it comes highly recommended by yours truly. Best wishes, Graham, wherever you are:

[and thanks for another good link are due again to blog-friend and Paine scholar Harvey J. Kaye]

Did Paine ever say or write: "Lead, follow or get out of the way."

Followers of this blog will already know the answer to this question. It's been treated here before. But a recent article by essayist and commentator John Nichols of The Nation magazine treats Mitt-the-Mormon's miserable misquote of a few days ago. See:

The quote has already been roundly debunked here on this blog:

but you're excused if you missed it and in case you did, a generous reader contributed what is probably the actual citation:

"We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way." George S. Patton, as quoted in Pocket Patriot : Quotes from American Heroes (2005) edited by Kelly Nickell, p. 157

[and thanks to Harvey J. Kaye for the tip-off on the Nichols piece]

Monday, January 23, 2012

Viral email: Thomas Jefferson quotations

 Another of these viral emails was forwarded to me today supposed chock full of juicy Thomas Jefferson quotations that show he was a pistol-packing, government hating, social security despising Tea-bagger. My beloved Uncle Bud and Aunt Marjie were the instigators and I'm CERTAIN that they fully expected me to debunk the whole thing. I did. And decided to post it here for posterity. The email begins with a Jefferson timeline and then a collection of quotes. From the collection:


"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

-- Thomas Jefferson

This quotation first appeared in Dreams Come Due: Government and Economics as if Freedom Mattered (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 312, written under the pseudonym of John Galt. It is there attributed to Jefferson, but is not found anywhere in his works.


"It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world."

-- Thomas Jefferson

I cannot locate this quotation anywhere in Jefferson's works nor can I locate a single quotation where he uses the word "incumbent." Doubtful to say the least.


"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them." -- Thomas Jefferson

Baloney. This is misquote: "If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy." Letter to Thomas Cooper (29 November 1802)


"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government." -- Thomas Jefferson

More baloney.
Motto of United States Magazine and Democratic Review. First used in introductory essay by editor John L. O'Sullivan in the premier issue (October, 1837, p. 6). Attributed to Jefferson by Henry David Thoreau, this statement is cited in his essay on civil disobedience, but the quote has not been found in Jefferson's own writings. It is also commonly attributed to Thomas Paine, perhaps because of its similarity in theme to many of his well-documented expressions such as "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one."
    Variant: That government is best which governs least.


"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." -- Thomas Jefferson

Seriously inaccurate. The actual quotation with citation is:
"No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands]."
DRAFT Constitution for Virginia (June 1776) This quote almost always appears with the parenthetical omitted and with the SPURIOUS extension, "The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government".


"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." -- Thomas Jefferson

Spurious. See notation to previous quote.


"To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." -- Thomas Jefferson

Just the kind of sloppy misquote that one expects from this kind of smarmy pseudo-patriotic claptrap. The actual quotation with its context here:

"Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet choose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislature and ruler, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical." A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, Chapter 82 (1779). Published in The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, Federal Edition, Paul Leicester Ford, ed., New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904, Vol. 1, pp. 438–441


Thomas Jefferson (supposedly) said in 1802:

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."

With respect to the first half of this mangled mess:

The earliest known appearance of this quote is from 1895 (Joshua Douglass, "Bimetallism and Currency", American Magazine of Civics, 7:256). It is apparently a combination of paraphrases or approximate quotations from three separate letters of Jefferson (longer excerpts in sourced section):
    I sincerely believe, with you, that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies...
        Letter to John Taylor, 1816
    The bank raising up a moneyed aristocracy in our country which has already set the government at defiance...
        Letter to Josephus B. Stuart, 1817
    Bank paper must be suppressed, and the circulating medium must be restored to the nation to whom it belongs.
        Letter to John W. Eppes, 1813

With respect to the second half which reads:

If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and the corporations which grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.

Respectfully Quoted says this is "obviously spurious", noting that the OED's earliest citation for the word "deflation" is from 1920. The earliest known appearance of this quote is from 1935 (Testimony of Charles C. Mayer, Hearings Before the Committee on Banking and Currency, House of Representatives, Seventy-fourth Congress, First Session, on H.R. 5357, p. 799). It appears nowhere in Jefferson's works.

[Credit to for the greatest portion of this information]

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Paine on freedom of opinion in religion and government

"When opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail." Thomas Paine, Age of Reason, pt. II.