June 8, 2010
He had lived long, did some good and much harm.
- New York Citizen, obituary of Thomas Paine
It is without a doubt that I can say that Thomas Paine (through The Age of Reason) was the first real literary and philosophical influence to put me on the path to where I find myself now — i.e. an anarchist, though Paine was not but, at best, an early fellow traveler. That said, I have no great nostalgia for the American revolutionary period and there is much in Paine’s works to question and reject. But credit where credit is due.
He died on this day, 1809, without fanfare.
Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts. On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend. At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.
No one even knows what became of his remains. He was the Rodney Dangerfield of revolutionary politics. Me? Filled with gratitude.