Thomas Paine, Prophet and Martyr of Democracy

Thomas Paine, Prophet and Martyr of Democracy

Thomas Paine, Prophet and Martyr of Democracy

Thomas Paine, Prophet and Martyr of Democracy

Excerpt

Snatching laurels from brows that long have worn them has become a fad, like antique collecting. It is a diverting change to place a wreath on a head that for more than a century has been crowned with infamy. The centennial of Thomas Paine's death was fittingly observed in London, the city in which he was tried for treason and convicted. Thetford, his birthplace, where he was prohibited from holding meetings, celebrated the event with a banquet at which the mayor presided and made the sort of speech which mayors make on such occasions: our distinguished townsman, who shed luster, and so on. When men have been reviled by their own generation and honored by those following, it is customary to make the witless comment that they lived before their time. On the contrary, it is these robust personalities who launched new freedoms on the stream of time.

A life of Thomas Paine is a history of his age; he was an actor in the great dramas of his time. His "affectionate friend," Thomas Jefferson, declared that he deserved the thankfulness of nations. None has been so backward in contributing its meed of thankfulness as the nation which he helped to make, to which he gave the fullest measure of his devotion, and was the first to name The United States of America. While Colonial leaders floundered about in futilities, the unknown Englishman grasped the economic, social, and political significance of the American revolt, and like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, hurled his prophecy of America's destiny.

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