The Thomas Paine Society. (Frontline)

By Morrell, Robert | History Today, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Thomas Paine Society. (Frontline)


Morrell, Robert, History Today


THOMAS PAINE, the great radical, democrat and secularist, died in Greenwich Village, New York, on June 8th, 1809, and each year, on the nearest Saturday to June 8th, members of the Thomas Paine Society (TPS) gather at noon at the statue of Paine in his birthplace (in 1737) at Thetford, Norfolk, for a short ceremony, followed either by a conducted tour of the town or by a public meeting. In 2002, for the year of the Royal Jubilee, this took the form of a debate between a republican and a monarchist. Thomas Paine was an outspoken republican and his arguments in support of republicanism are often still beard.

Every November the Society holds its AGM in London at Conway Hall, itself named after Paine's most celebrated biographer, Dr Moncure D. Conway. This is followed by a meeting: in 2002, Bruce Kent of the No War Movement spoke on Paine and war.

Following the sudden death of the Society's secretary, Eric Paine (no relation to Thomas), the society established a new annual lecture, The first of which was given in 2002, when Tony Benn spoke on `Thomas Paine Today'. This year's lecture will be at 2.30 pm on Saturday, March 8th, at Conway Hail, London, when Professor Edward Royle of the University of York, will lecture on `Thomas Paine and 19th-Century Freethought'.

The Society cooperates with and supports a number of other organisations such as the United Nations Association. In addition it has a stand at the Levellers Day gathering in May at Burford, Oxford, and on September 1st, 2002, it was represented for the first time at the Burston School Strike Rally. Plans are also in hand to revive the nineteenth-century radical and Chartist practice of holding a dinner each January to celebrate Paine's birth. In the United States the date of Paine's birth, January 29th, has been recognised in many states as Thomas Paine Day, but in Britain we tend to look on June 8th as Thomas Paine Day. Biannually in November the University of East Anglia holds a Thomas Paine lecture, the funding for which was provided by the late committee members of the society, Mr and Mrs Jessie Collins. At the last of these in November 2001, Germaine Greer talked on `Thomas Paine and Women'. She repeated the lecture during the Paine celebrations in Lewes, Sussex, which take place each July. The next Thomas Paine Lecture at UEA will be held in November 2003. …

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