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Title: An Oration On The Life And Services Of Thomas Paine
Author: Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899
Language: English
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AN ORATION ON THE LIFE AND SERVICES OF THOMAS PAINE

BY ROBERT G. INGERSOLL


Delivered By Robert G. Ingersoll, At Fairbury, Ill., On The Evening Of
January 80th, 1871, Peoria, Ill.

1871.



THOMAS PAINE


To speak the praises of the brave and thoughtful dead, is to me a labor
of gratitude and love.

Through all the centuries gone, the mind of man has been beleaguered by
the mailed hosts of superstition. Slowly and painfully has advanced the
army of deliverance. Hated by those they wished to rescue, despised
by those they were dying to save, these grand soldiers, these immortal
deliverers, have fought without thanks, labored without applause,
suffered without pity, and they have died execrated and abhorred. For
the good of mankind they accepted isolation, poverty, and calumny. They
gave up all, sacrificed all, lost all but truth and self-respect.

One of the bravest soldiers in this army was Thomas Paine; and for one,
I feel indebted to him for the liberty we are enjoying this day. Born
among the poor, where children are burdens; in a country where real
liberty was unknown; where the privileges of class were guarded with
infinite jealousy, and the rights of the individual trampled beneath the
feet of priests and nobles; where to advocate justice was treason; where
intellectual freedom was Infidelity, it is wonderful that the idea of
true liberty ever entered his brain.

Poverty was his mother--Necessity his master.

He had more brains than books; more sense than education; 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
the 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. There was
no avenue open for him. The people hugged their chains, and the whole
power of the government was ready to crush any man who endeavored to
strike a blow for the right.

At the age of thirty-seven, Thomas Paine left England for America with
the high hope of being instrumental in the establishment of a free
government. In his own country he could accomplish nothing. Those two
vultures--Church and State--were ready to tear in pieces and devour the
heart of any one who might deny their divine right to enslave the world.

Upon his arrival in this country, he found himself possessed of a letter
of introduction, signed by another Infidel, the illustrious Franklin.
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 the 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 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 roused our fathers like a
trumpet's blast.

He was the first to perceive the destiny of the New World.

No other pamphlet ever published accomplished such wonderful results. It
was filled with argument, reason, persuasion, 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 one 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 defence of
reason rebels against tyranny has a better title to 'Defender of the
Faith' than George the Third."

Some said it was not 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 a 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 that 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 prejudiced. 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 could have died surrounded by clergymen, warriors
and statesmen. 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 chose rather to benefit mankind.

At that time the seeds sown by the great Infidels were beginning to bear
fruit in France. The people were beginning to think.

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 containe'd in his "System of Nature." The Encyclopædists
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 began to be in the mouths of men, and they
began to wipe the dust from their 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 abuses 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, natural, 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 human 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. 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 philanthrophy was
boundless. He wished to destroy monarchy--not the monarch. He voted for
the destruction of tyranny, and against the death of the king. 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 nearly all were demanding the execution of the
king--where to differ from 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.

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 abhorrer 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; had asked 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. 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 the 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 he 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 from 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 his investigations 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 were 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 questions 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 a 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 ont of the
brain the idea that it had the right to think.

The splendid saying of Lord Bacon that "The inquiry of truth, which is
the love-making or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the
presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it,
are the sovereign good of human nature," has been, and ever will
be, rejected by religionists. Intellectual liberty, as a matter of
necessity, forever destroys the idea that belief is either praise
or blame-worthy, and is wholly inconsistent with every creed in
Christendom. Paine recognized this truth. He also saw that as long as
the Bible was considered inspired, this infamous doctrine of the virtue
of belief would be believed and preached. He examined the Scriptures for
himself, and found them filled with cruelty, absurdity, and immorality.

He again made up his mind to sacrifice himself for the good of his
fellow men.

He commenced with the assertion, "That any system of religion that has
anything in it that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system."
What a beautiful, what a tender sentiment! No wonder that the Church
began to hate him. He believed in one God, and no more. After this 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 second-hand, 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 has 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 had 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, false in its
history, and 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, to-day, 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 Samson's strength was in his hair, nor 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 that 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 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, 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 the 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 cannot possibly conceive of an argument
against liberty of thought. Neither can they show why any one 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 of 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 laws 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 noes 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 the 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 bondwoman of a senseless faith!

If a man should tell you that 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 pitiable daub. Should he tell you that he was a most
excellent performer on the violin, and yet refuse 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 his
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. 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. 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 in him to investigate the
Scriptures.

Is it necessary to understand Hebrew in order to know that cruelty is
not a virtue, and 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 genuineness of a pretended revelation
from God? Common sense belongs exclusively to no tongue. Logic is not
confined 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. One hundred and fifty
years ago the foremost preachers of our time would have perished at
the stake, A Universalist would have been torn in 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 Proprie-
      "tor, 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,
      "wittingly, maliciously, and advisedly, by writing or speaking,
      "blaspheme or curse God, or deny our Saviour, Jesus Christ to
      "be the son of God, or shall deny the Holy Trinity, the Father,
      "Son, and Holy Ghost, or the God-head of any of the three
      "persons, or the unity of the God-head, or shall utter any pro-
      "fane words concerning the Holy Trinity, or any of the persons
      "thereof, and shall thereof be convict by verdict, shall, for the
      "first offence be bored through the tongue, and fined twenty
      "pounds to be levied of his body. And for the second offence,
      "the offender shall be stigmatized by burning in the forehead
      "with the letter B, and fined forty pounds. And that for the
      "third offence, the offender shall suffer death without the
      "benefit of clergy.

The strange thing about this law is, that it has never been repealed,
and is still in force in the District of Columbia. 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 to hundreds of
offences. It has been the same in all Christian countries. To-day, 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 humbugs of the world!

In the day 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 religious 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 to write them a word. It would not allow
ship-wrecked sailors to be rescued from drowning on Sunday. 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 cannot be a true system."

At that time nothing so delighted the Church as the beauties of endless
torment, and listening to the weak wailings 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.

Prosecutions and executions like this were common in every Christian
country, and all of them were 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. All
religious conceptions were of the grossest nature. 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 battlefield, 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
account would be opened. Every man would hear the charges against him
read. God was supposed to sit on 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 forever.

The nation was profoundly ignorant, and consequently extremely
religious, so far as belief was concerned.

In Europe, Liberty was lying chained 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
sceptres, honors and gold, the keys of heaven and hell, trampling
beneath her feet the liberties of nations, in the proud moment of almost
universal dominion, felt within her heartless breast the deadly dagger
of Voltaire. From that blow the Church never can 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 struck the first grand 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 straight forward, 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
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 cannot 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 has 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. No effort has been in
any age of the world spared to crush out opposition. 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. 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
groined 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, amice 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 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 as 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.

The doubter, the investigator, the Infidel, have been the saviors of
liberty. This truth is beginning to be realized, and the intellectual
are beginning to honor the brave thinkers of the past.

But the Church is as unforgiving as ever, and still wonders why any
Infidel should be wicked enough to endeavor to destroy her power.

I will tell the Church why.

You have imprisoned the human mind; you have been the enemy of liberty;
you have burned us at the stake--wasted us upon slow fires--torn
our flesh with iron; 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 torment us forever.

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 grandly 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?

We 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.
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 despair.

Virtue is a subordination of the passions to 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 religion 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 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, where the souls of men are chained to the
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--Freedom?

Is it a small thing to quench the flames of hell with the holy tears of
pity--to unbind the martyr from the stake--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 Science?

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 Christian 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, 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, 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
themselves 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 warfare. 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.

The people perish for the lack of knowledge.

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 with the Infidels of to-day.

Science, the great Iconoclast, has been 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 Cæsars, 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 used them. The gloomy caverns of
superstition have been transformed into temples of thought, and the
demons of the past are the angels of to-day.

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, 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.
As long as free government exists he will be remembered, admired and
honored.

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 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 he 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 seventy-three, death touched his tired heart. He died
in the land his genius defended--under the flag he gave to the skies.
Slander cannot touch him now--hatred cannot 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 cannot be a true
system."

"The world is my Country, and to do good my Religion."





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