Thomas Paine * * (1737-1809)

"But where, says some, is the King of America? I'll tell you. Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law OUGHT to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony, be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is." --Thomas Paine in Common Sense in 1776 (Hezekiah Niles in Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America * quotes a 26 April 1774 English House of Commons * * * debate as saying "Sir Richard Sutton read a copy of a letter... from a governor in America, to the board of trade... If you ask an American who is his master? he will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ..." I did not find any records that back up Niles's quote, but I did find some sources that say that "No king but King Jesus" and "We have no king but Jesus" * * were sometimes-used slogans during the American Revolution. )

"... Your presence may remind Congress of your past Services to this country, & if it is in my power to impress them, command me the arlest my best exertions with freedom, as they will be rendered chearfully by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your Works, & Who with much pleasure subscribes himself..." --George Washington in a letter to Thomas Paine on 10 September 1783 * *

"... Resolved, That the early, unsolicited, and continued labors of Mr. Thomas Paine in explaining and enforcing the principles of the late revolution by ingenious and timely publications upon the nature of liberty and civil government have been well received by the people and citizens of these states, and merit the approbation of Congress; and that in consideration of these services, and the benefits produced thereby, Mr. Paine is entitled to a liberal gratification from the United States." --Continental Congress on 26 August 1785 * *

"Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a country, the machinery of government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself; and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it." --Thomas Paine in The Rights of Man (1791-2)

Excerpts from The Age of Reason * * * (1793-5) by Thomas Paine

... I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and, in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this?

Soon after I had published the pamphlet COMMON SENSE, in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection of church and state, wherever it had taken place, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, had so effectually prohibited, by pains and penalties, every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priest-craft would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed, and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more...

EVERY national church or religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals. The Jews have their Moses; the Christians their Jesus Christ, their apostles and saints; and the Turks their Mahomet; as if the way to God was not open to every man alike.

Each of those churches shows certain books, which they call revelation, or the Word of God. The Jews say that their Word of God was given by God to Moses face to face; the Christians say, that their Word of God came by divine inspiration; and the Turks say, that their Word of God (the Koran) was brought by an angel from heaven. Each of those churches accuses the other of unbelief; and, for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some observations on the word 'revelation.' Revelation when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the commandments from the hand of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some historian telling me so, the commandments carrying no internal evidence of divinity with them. They contain some good moral precepts such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver or a legislator could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention...

When I am told that the Koran was written in Heaven, and brought to Mahomet by an angel, the account comes to near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second hand authority as the former. I did not see the angel myself, and therefore I have a right not to believe it.

When also I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chose to rest my belief upon such evidence.

It is, however, not difficult to account for the credit that was given to the story of Jesus Christ being the Son of God. He was born when the heathen mythology had still some fashion and repute in the world, and that mythology had prepared the people for the belief of such a story. Almost all the extraordinary men that lived under the heathen mythology were reputed to be the sons of some of their gods. It was not a new thing at that time to believe a man to have been celestially begotten; the intercourse of gods with women was then a matter of familiar opinion. Their Jupiter, according to their accounts, had cohabited with hundreds; the story therefore had nothing in it either new, wonderful, or obscene; it was conformable to the opinions that then prevailed among the people called Gentiles, or mythologists, and it was those people only that believed it. The Jews, who had kept strictly to the belief of one God, and no more, and who had always rejected the heathen mythology, never credited the story...

... when I see throughout the greatest part of this book scarcely anything but a history of the grossest vices, and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales, I cannot dishonour my Creator by calling it by his name.

[This is frequently MISquoted as "I would not dishonor my Creator's name by attaching it to this filthy book."]

Later times have laid all the blame upon the Goths and Vandals, but, however unwilling the partizans of the Christian system may be to believe or to acknowledge it, it is nevertheless true, that the age of ignorance commenced with the Christian system. There was more knowledge in the world before that period, than for many centuries afterwards...
the Bible... is such a book of lies and contradictions there is no knowing which part to believe, or whether any.
... the opinions I have advanced in that work are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction, -- that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world; -- that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonourable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; -- that the only true religion is deism, by which I then meant and now mean the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues; -- and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now -- and so help me God.
... it is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon, against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene...
I am not one of those who are fond of believing there is much of that which is called wilful lying, or lying originally, except in the case of men setting up to be prophets, as in the Old Testament; for prophesying is lying professionally. In almost all other cases it is not difficult to discover the progress by which even simple supposition, with the aid of credulity, will in time grow into a lie, and at last be told as a fact; and whenever we can find a charitable reason for a thing of this kind, we ought not to indulge a severe one.
All this [Corinthians] is nothing better than the jargon of a conjuror, who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told. Priests and conjurors are of the same trade.
The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries, that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonourable belief against the character of the divinity, the most destructive to morality, and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist. It is better, far better, that we admitted, if it were possible, a thousand devils to roam at large, and to preach publicly the doctrine of devils, if there were any such, than that we permitted one such impostor and monster as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the Bible prophets, to come with the pretended word of God in his mouth, and have credit among us.
It is incumbent on every man who reverences the character of the Creator, and who wishes to lessen the catalogue of artificial miseries, and remove the cause that has sown persecutions thick among mankind, to expel all ideas of a revealed religion as a dangerous heresy, and an impious fraud. What is it that we have learned from this pretended thing called revealed religion? Nothing that is useful to man, and every thing that is dishonourable to his Maker. What is it the Bible teaches us? -- repine, cruelty, and murder. What is it the Testament teaches us? -- to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.
Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics.

"...The crime of ingratitude has not yet stained, and I hope never will stain, our national character. You are considered by them as not only having rendered important service in our own Revolution, but as being, on a more extensive scale, the friend of human rights, and a distinguished and able advocate in favor of public liberty. To the welfare of Thomas Paine the Americans are not, nor can they be indifferent." --US Minister to France James Monroe in a letter to Thomas Paine on 18 September 1794

"... No man ought to make a living by religion. It is dishonest to do so..." --Thomas Paine in a letter to Camille Jordan in 1797

"... it is an affront to truth to treat falsehood with complaisance..." --Thomas Paine in Old Testament "Prophesies" Of Jesus Proven False * * in ~1800?

"... it will be your glory to have steadily laboured & with as much effect as any man living. that you may long live to continue your useful labours & to reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations is my sincere prayer. accept assurance of my high esteem and affectionate attachment." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Thomas Paine on 18 March 1801 *

"... The christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense. Why is man afraid to think? ..." --Thomas Paine in Remarks On Robert Hall's Sermon in Elihu Palmer's * * magazine The Prospect * in 1804?

"... I consider the scene I have passed through as an experiment on dying, and I find that death has no terrors for me. As to the people called Christians, they have no evidence that their religion is true. There is no more proof that the Bible is the Word of God, than that the Koran of Mahomet is the Word of God... As to the book called the Bible, it is blasphemy to call it the Word of God. It is a book of lies and contradictions, and a history of bad times and bad men. There are but a few good characters in the whole book..." --Thomas Paine in a letter to Andrew Dean on August 15, 1806 *

"... It has been a general Opinion, that this Pamphlet [Common Sense] was of great Importance in the Revolution. I doubted it at the time and have doubted it to this day..." --John Adams in his autobiography on 30 November 1804 * (includes several pages criticizing Paine * * *)

"... that impudent insolent Blasphemer of things Sacred and transcendent Libeller of all that is good Tom Paine has more than once asserted in Print, the scandalous Lye, that I was one of a Faction in the fall of the Year 1777, against General Washington. It is indeed a disgrace to the moral Character and the Understanding of this Age, that this worthless fellow should be believed in any thing. But Impudence and Malice will always find Admirers..." --John Adams in his autobiography on 1 December 1806 *

"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... 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." --Thomas Paine in his will in 1809?

"[Thomas Paine's] political writings, I am singular enough to believe, have done more harm than his irreligious ones. He understood neither government nor religion. From a malignant heart he wrote virulent declamations, which the enthusiastic fury of the times intimidated all men, even Mr. Burke, from answering as he ought. His deism, as it appears to me, has promoted rather than retarded the cause of revolution in America, and indeed in Europe. His billingsgate, stolen from Blount's Oracles of Reason, from Bolingbroke., Voltaire, Berenger, &c., will never discredit Christianity, which will hold its ground in some degree as long as human nature shall have any thing moral or intellectual left in it. The Christian religion, as I understand it, is the brightness of the glory and the express portrait of the character of the eternal, self-existent, independent, benevolent, all powerful and all merciful creator, preserver, and father of the universe, the first good, first perfect, and first fair. It will last as long as the world. Neither savage nor civilized man, without a revelation, could ever have discovered or invented it. Ask me not, then, whether I am a Catholic or Protestant, Calvinist or Arminian. As far as they are Christians, I wish to be a fellow-disciple with them all." --John Adams in a letter to Benjamin Rush on 21 January 1810

"You ask my opinion of Ld. Bolingbroke and Thomas Paine. they were alike in making bitter enemies of the priests and pharisees of their day. both were honest men; both advocates for human liberty. Paine wrote for a country which permitted him to push his reasoning to whatever length it would go... no writer has exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming language. in this he may be compared with Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin: and indeed his Common Sense was, for awhile, believed to have been written by Dr. Franklin, and published under the borrowed name of Paine, who had come over with him from England..." --Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Francis Eppes on 19 January 1821 * * *

"... We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen... I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings, and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it. Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring..." --Thomas Edison in The Philosophy of Paine on 7 June 1925

Questionable 'Quotes'

"The great American cause owes as much to the pen of Paine as to the sword of Washington." --attributed to Joel Barlow (no nonpartisan sources found)

"Without the pen of Paine the sword of Washington would have been wielded in vain." --attributed to John Adams in 1814 (no citations found)

"America is indebted to few characters more than to you." --attributed to General Nathanael Greene (This quote is on a statue in Morristown New Jersey, but I did not find any other confirmation that the quote is genuine.)

"A free America without her Thomas Paine is unthinkable." --attributed to General Marquis de Lafayette (This quote is on a statue in Morristown New Jersey, but I did not find any other confirmation that the quote is genuine.)

"Thomas Paine needs no monument made by hands. He has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty." --attributed to "Andrew Jackson to Judge [Thomas?] Hertell" (no solid citations found)

"Others can rule, many can fight, but only Thomas Paine can write for us in the English tongue." --attributed to Benjamin Franklin (no nonpartisan sources found)

"[Paine is] the one to whom this nation is indebted for its independence more than to any living being." --apparently attributed to Matthew Lyon by Judah Freed in Global Sense (no other sources found)

"It has been very generally propagated through the continent that I wrote the pamphlet 'Common Sense.' I could not have written anything in so manly and striking a style." --attributed to (John Adams in a letter to Thomas Paine) (no solid citations found)

"Science is the true theology." --apparently attributed to Thomas Paine by Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted by Robert Richardson in The Mind on Fire * (I did not find any other sources.)

"It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry." --attributed to Thomas Paine (no citations found)

"He who dares not offend cannot be honest." --attributed to Thomas Paine (no citations found)

"I would give worlds, if I had them, if 'The Age of Reason' had never been published. O Lord, help! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone." --attributed to Thomas Paine by Benjamin Hart in Faith & Freedom (1988) (I did not find any source other than Hart, and Hart did not cite anything to substantiate this 'quote'.)

"I have read your manuscript [Age of Reason] with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For, without the belief of a Providence that takes cognisance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasons are subtle, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face.
  But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.
  I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?" --sometimes attributed * to Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Thomas Paine (but Franklin died in 1790 and Paine did not start writing Age of Reason until "the latter end of the year 1793" * *)

"History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine." --attributed to John Adams (1776) (I did not find any citations for this quote. However, Adams later said many negative things about Paine, including referring sarcastically to "the Age of Paine".)

"I never tire of reading Paine." --attributed to Abraham Lincoln by James Tuttle in an interview with John Remsburg on 26 February 1887 (I did not find any source other than Remsburg, and Remsburg is highly partisan.)

"filthy little atheist" --attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, referring to Thomas Paine (no citations found)