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

 "He that lies down with Dogs, shall rise up with fleas." Poor Richard's Almanack (1733)

Knowing my past involvement with New Rochelle and the now defunct Thomas Paine Museum, a number of colleagues and friends of Thomas Paine studies have inquired on my thoughts respecting participation in the above-named conference. Not surprisingly, most were under the impression that the event is sponsored in whole by Iona College and were surprised when informed otherwise. Please note the following reasons why I believe that involvement with a somewhat hidden sponsor is premature and unwise both for Iona College and for potential participants.

1. An invitation to "The International Conference of Thomas Paine Studies 2012" at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York circulated on H-NET, H-FRANCE, and other internet locations is, in my view, deceptive in that it conceals -- intentionally or otherwise -- one of the sponsors and organizers of the event. The hidden sponsor is the Thomas Paine National Historical Association (TPNHA). No mention is made of TPNHA participation or co-sponsorship of the event in the invitations that issued from the office of Prof. Daniel Thiery, Department of History, Iona College.

2.  A separate invitation circulated to a private list under Gary Berton's name proclaims that the event is sponsored by the so-called "Institute for Thomas Paine Studies, an academic collaboration between the Thomas Paine National Historical Association and Iona College."

3. The once-upon-a-time modestly respectable TPNHA has for over 10 years been the subject of scandal, controversy and legal dispute. There have been repeated allegations of malfeasance and financial misconduct as well as a questionable sell-off of the most important holdings of the museum -- irreplaceable Paine manuscripts and printings that have subsequently disappeared from the public domain into private hands -- all leading to an inquiry by the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York's Charities Division and with the result that the association surrendered control of the remainder of the museum's holdings. It is the author's understanding -- based on conversations with the Office of the Attorney General -- that the museum's holdings are now in the temporary possession of the Iona College Library pending final disposition of a 510/511 hearing before the Supreme Court of the State of New York. It seems likely that the court will award the surviving collection to the more permanent protection of the Iona College Library.

4. The blogger also sent a friendly letter of inquiry to Prof. Daniel Thiery whose equally cordial response confirmed that the TPNHA and Iona College are "working together." Dr. Thiery also warmly welcomed my participation. It seems clear to the writer that the professor means well, but probably has little idea of the full background to this story. 

Full disclosure: the blogger is a former officer and trustee who, with other officers of the board, resigned from the TPNHA in 2001 rather than participate in what they believed were unethical and possibly illegal acts forced on the board through adverse control of the association by the individuals who subsequently (about four years later) sold off the core of the museum's holdings. Copies of the letter of resignation -- with details of the alleged malfeasance -- were filed with the Attorney General of the State of New York. It appears that these are the same persons are still in control and posing as the TPNHA today -- I stipulate "pose" because the association is, again in my experience, neither national nor historical in any professional sense. In my view, the TPNHA has taken on the character of a personal fiefdom designed to inject vast amounts of hot air into the three or four persons who have controlled it unimpeded for a dozen years. The fruit of the administration by that solitary and self-perpetuating clique has been little short of disgrace and ruin for both the museum and association.

Iona and Dr. Thiery will be fortunate to come through without a dose of fleas. We honestly wish them well, but believe involvement with the TPNHA at this time is -- at minimum -- premature and unwise.


  1. Wow this explains the apparent misrepresentation of the man Thomas Paine on Facebook.
    I move that you Mr. Kenneth W. Burchell author a new and honest page of Mr. Paine as his rich legacy is currently being plundered & acquiring minions from this subverted view of the great Mr. Paine!

    Here is the facebook page currently posing as Thomas Paine :(

    1. Thanks for the kind words. The link for the page you speak of as posing as Thomas Paine was not attached for some reason. There are several pages using his name.


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