Tom Paine: Republican Pamphleteer

Vernon Louis Parrington

[Reprinted from Chapter II, Book 3, Main Currents in American Thought,
published by Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1927, pp. 327-341]


The French Group

THE change which came over political thought in America in consequence of the rise of French Jacobin philosophy is not inadequately revealed in the writings of two men, quite dissimilar in antecedents and training, but alike in fundamental purpose-Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Both were speculative thinkers, profoundly in sympathy with French revolutionary ideals: but the former was detached from local patriotisms and national interests, a delegate at large in the cause of human rights, concerned with spreading the gospel of freedom in all lands; the latter remained wholly American, and while a keenly interested spectator of the French upheaval, he was primarily concerned to discover principles that would apply to native conditions and further the cause of American democracy. Paine therefore became the popular disseminator of the philosophy of republicanism, and Jefferson, the practical statesman embodying it in political programs. Warm friends, their influence became closely interwoven during the years when agrarian democracy was gathering its strength to strike down the rule of Federalism.


Republican Pamphleteer

No more striking figure emerges from the times than the figure of the Thetford Quaker. English in birth and rearing, in middle life Paine came to embody the republican spirit of the American revolution; and that spirit he made it his after business to carry overseas and spread among the discontented of all lands. He was the first modern internationalist, at home wherever rights were to be won or wrongs corrected. "My country is the world," he asserted proudly, "to do good, my religion." Throughout his later life he was a fearless skirmisher on the outposts of democracy -- another "Free born John" Lilburne, seeking to complete the great work begun and thwarted in an earlier century; and his career remains a stirring record of a time when revolution threatened to sweep away the power and privilege of all kings and aristocracies. Naturally his zeal cost him dear in reputation. The passions of all who feared the loss of sinecures gathered about his head, and he became the victim of an odium theologicum et politicum, without parallel in our history. The Tories hunted him in packs, and their execration and vituperation outran all decency. In London clubs it became the fashion for gentlemen to wear TP nails in their hoot-heels to witness how they trampled on his base principles. He was proscribed and banished, and his books burnt by the hangman. He was regarded as worse than a common felon and outlaw, because more dangerous. In America gentlemen echoed the common detestation-to he a Paine-hater was a badge of respectability. "The filthy Tom Paine," John Adams called him, and the phrase stuck like a burr to his reputation. But "reason, like time," as Paine remarked "will make its own way," and the years are bringing a larger measure of justice to him.

Like Hamilton, Paine was an alien, but endowed with a heritage quite unlike that of the brilliant boy from the West Indies. When he landed in Philadelphia in the second week in December, 1774 [For the date of his arrival, see Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, Vol. XLIII, p. 246] he was in his thirty-seventh year, and had seemingly made shipwreck of his life. He had been schooled in misfortune and was marked as a social inefficient. A broken staymaker and tobacconist, he had twice been removed from the office of petty exciseman for what today would be called unionizing activity. He had separated from his wife, and his mean and petty environment seemed to offer no hope of a decent living. One stroke of good fortune had come to him, when as a delegate from his union on some business with Parliament, he made the acquaintance of Franklin, who was taken with "those wonderful eyes of his," and advised America as a likely place for getting on. So provided with little more than Franklin's letter of introduction, he set sail for new worlds, cherishing the unmilitant plan of setting up in Philadelphia a seminary of polite learning for young ladies. But the times proved unpropitious for such a venture. He found himself in a world hesitating fearfully on the brink of revolution, the electric atmosphere of which he found strangely congenial. He at once threw himself whole-heartedly into the colonial dispute, quickly seized the main points, mastered the arguments, and thirteen months after his arrival published Common Sense, a pamphlet that was to spread his name and fame throughout America.

The amazing influence of Common Sense on a public opinion long befogged by legal quibble flowed from its direct and skillful appeal to material interests. For the first time in a tedious, inconsequential debate, it was openly asserted that governmental policies rest on economic foundations; that the question of American independence was only a question of expediency, and must be determined in the light of economic advantage. Government is no more than a utility, and that policy which was most likely to secure freedom and security "with the least expense and greatest benefit," must be preferred. The point at issue before the American people, therefore, was whether a more useful arrangement would result from continuing the old connection with England, or from setting up for themselves; and it must be decided, not in the court room or council chambers, but in the countinghouse and market place, in the field and shop, wherever plain Americans were making a living. Let the common people consult their own needs, and determine the case without regard to legal or constitutional precedents. It was a simple matter to be judged in the light of common sense and their particular interests.

To further clear thinking on this fundamental matter Paine commented on the economic consequences to America of the English connection. Throughout colonial history, he asserted with some disregard to fact, dependence had resulted in disadvantage to America; England had systematically exploited the colonies and hampered development. Whatever prosperity had been won heretofore, had been won in spite of English hostility and interference; the peculiar economic position of the colonies had proved their best reliance in the past, and would prove still more advantageous in the future, if America were free from jealous, paternal restrictions. What reason was there to expect generous treatment from a power that had never shown generosity in past dealings? How skillful was the appeal to colonial self-interest is revealed in such passages as these:

We are already greater than the King wishes us to be, and will he not hereafter endeavour to make us less? To bring the matter to one point, Is the power who is jealous of our prosperity, a proper power to govern us? Whoever says No, to this question, is an Independent, for independency means no more than this, whether we shall make our own laws, or, whether the King, the greatest enemy this continent hath, or can have, shall tell us there shall he no laws but such as I like.

America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power taken any notice of her. The commerce by which she hath enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe. As Europe is our market for trade we ought to form no partial connection with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she never can do while by her dependence on Britain she is made the make-weight in the scale of British politics.

Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for buy them where we will. …'Tis as great folly to pay a Bunker-hill price for law as for land.

But Paine well knew that self-interest may be so clouded by prejudice as not to see the way its nose is pointing. Though the colonial talked of his grievances, he remained colonial in psychology, held in unconscious subjection to English traditions. He was in the clutch of outworn loyalties -- loyalty to the crown and loyalty to the British constitution; and to this difficult problem Paine addressed himself with great skill. To a republican, as Paine seems to have been from his landing in America, the odium which George III had incurred was a heaven-sent opportunity. In order to strike at the monarchical principle, it was only necessary to point out that the folly of the King was the best commentary upon the foolishness of hereditary monarchy. The boldness and audacity of Paine's attack on the king-principle must have added greatly to the popularity of Common Sense along the frontier. It was the first clear, far-carrying appeal for republicanism addressed to American ears. How successful it was, how ruthlessly it stripped away the divinity that doth hedge a king, laying bare the stupidity of the king-cult, is suggested by the remarkable change in the American attitude towards monarchy that a few months brought about. After the appearance of Common Sense, middle and lower class Americans shed their colonial loyalties like a last year's garment, and thenceforth they regarded the pretentions of kings as little better than flummery. King George's disgraced exciseman had his revenge; he had thrust his royal master out of the colonial affection and destroyed the monarchical principle in America.

A more difficult task remained, that of instituting "an inquiry into the constitutional errors of the English form of government," in order to prove what gains would result if America took herself out of the English system. Here Paine faced, single-handed, a solid phalanx of lawyers. He was the first pamphleteer to question the excellence of a constitution that was proclaimed by American Tories as the wonder of the world and the envy of other nations. In the acrimonious disputes between 1765 and 1775, this was the single point on which all professed to agree. A vast deal of laudation had been uttered; innumerable legal pamphlets had been written; and no colonial had had the temerity to question the adequacy of the British constitution to colonial needs. And now came this republican, with penetrating comment on its origin and working, to disturb the common complacency by pointing out how ill fitted it was to answer the needs of America. It was a telling attack, made with skill and shrewd insight; and it had a great part in arousing a bitter antagonism to the English system in the minds of the American yeomanry.

Paine was not a constitutional historian, but he had a keen eye for realities. The fundamental fallacy of the English system, he asserted, lay in the so-called "mixt aristocracy," which was presumed to gather the wisdom of the realm in conncil with the king, hut which was no more than a convenient arrangement for dividing the spoils. The House of Commons had grown out of the struggles of feudal barons against the king. It presumed to speak for the common people, but the rights of the people were thus recognized only to be thwarted by the old tyrannies. The "Republican materials, in the persons of the Commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England," were held in check by the "remains of aristocratical tyranny in the person of the Peers," and further restrained by the "remains of Monarchical tyranny in the person of the King." From the play of these elements arose the system of checks and balances which placed control in the hands of landed property. It was based on the assumption that "the King is not to be trusted without being looked after," and that "the Commons, by being appointed for that purpose, are either wiser or more worthy of confidence than the Crown." But in spite of the supposed balance "the provision is unequal to the task," for the Crown, as the dispenser of places and pensions, is more than a match for Commons in the game of politics.

The will of the king is as much the law of the land in Britain as in France, with this difference, that instead of proceeding directly from his mouth, it is handed to the people under the formidable shape of an act of parliament. For the fate of Charles the First hath only made kings more subtle-not more just.

This was but the beginning of a long assault on the British constitution which was to engage him much in after life. Common Sense was a pronouncement of the new philosophy of republicanism that was taking firm hold of the American mind, and which the French Revolution was to spread so widely. It was a notable contribution, of which Paine to the end of his life was justly proud.

As he came to America almost casually, with no conscious revolutionary intent, so in the critical year 1787 he returned to Europe with the peaceful intention of perfecting an iron bridge on which he was engaged. True to his Quaker breeding he was more interested in the arts of peace than of war, but again circumstance was too much for him. Before he had completed his bridge, delegates from France came to invite him to a seat in the National Assembly. A new day was rising there; the constitution of a freer order was being constructed, and so competent a workman could not be spared. In the thick of that eager world of constitution-making, Paine finally clarified his political philosophy and gave it wide currency. He became the pamphleteer of revolution to the English-speaking world, to Philadelphia and New York equally with London. Yet he was never an extremist; he was a Girondist rather than a Jacobin, and when the Girondists were overthrown and a dictatorship set up, he remained a constitutionalist. By the Jacobin radicals he came to be regarded as a reactionary from his willingness to retain monarchy in France; but Paine was a practical Englishman with a shrewd judgment of what was politically possible, and he refused to outrun reasonable expectations of accomplishment.

It was the simplicity and clarity of his political philosophy that made its appeal so widely effective. His thinking turned on the two fundamental questions, the source of government and the purpose for which it is instituted among men; and the major premise on which he reared his logic was the thesis that sovereignty inheres in the majority will. At the basis of his philosophy was the natural-rights theory, but given a fresh significance and vitality by the assertion of the doctrine of continuous reaffirmation of the social compact. Instead of deriving the sovereign state from a fictitious compact, presumably entered into in a remote past, he derived it-as Roger Williams had done a century and half before -- from a continuous compact reaffirmed by each generation. With the birth of each individual appear fresh rights which no pre-contract can justly circumscribe or nullify; ancestral arrangements are valid only to the extent that they are acceptable to the living. Hence it follows, first, that the general body of the people may at any time remake the fundamental law, and bring it into accord with present desire; and second, that there can be no law superior to this popular will expressed through the majority. His most celebrated dictum -- "That which a nation chuses to do it has a right to do" -- a dictum that aroused a bitterer hostility than any other of his pronouncements -- was the logical expression of his republicanism that differentiated between the sovereign people and their agency, the government; and this in turn he justified by a celebrated saying out of Swift, "Government is a plain thing, and fitted to the capacity of many heads." Like Jefferson, he would not have government kept from the people, the agent domineer over the principal.

The purpose of government Paine discovered in the Benthamite principle of expediency. If a diffused well-being results from the policies of government, such government is justified; but if the tax-levies are wasted in unsocial ways, if unjust impositions are levied, if exploitation or tyranny results, such government is not justified. The agent has cheated the principal, and must be called to account. The final test of every government Paine found in its concern for the res publica, the public affairs, or the public good"; any government that "does not make the res publica its whole and sole object, is not a good government." In its most obvious phase, concern for the res publica means concern for the national economy, and this in turn conditions the taxes that shall he levied and the ends for which they shall be spent -- whether upon the arts of peace or war. A beneficent government has no need of standing armies and navies, or an inquisitorial police; it is established in the hearts of the people and rests securely on the common gdod will. It is the injustice of government that creates armies to defend the earnings of injustice. But every wise government will respect its limitations. As a child of the eighteenth century, Paine hated the leviathan state as a monster created by a minority to serve the ends of tyranny. The political state he accepted as a present necessity, but he would not have its prestige magnified and the temptation to tyranny increased by the cult of nationalism. "Government is no farther necessary," he believed, "than to supply the few cases to which society and civilization are not conveniently competent." At best it is an artificial thing.

Formal government makes but a small part of civilized life; and when even the best that human wisdom can devise is established, it is a thing more in name and idea than in fact. …The more perfect civilization is, the less occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its own affairs, and govern itself. …All the great laws of society are laws of nature. [Rights of Man, Part II, pp. 407-408]

The maturest elaboration of Paine's political philosophy is found in The Rights of Man. This extraordinary work, the most influential English contribution to the revolutionary movement, was an examination of the English constitution in the light of what Paine held were the true source and ends of government. It is a brilliant reply to Burke, who rested his interpretation of the English constitution on the legal ground of the common law of contract. Following the Revolution of 1688, Burke had argued, the English people through their legal representatives, entered into a solemn contract, binding "themselves, their heirs, and posterities forever," to certain express terms; and neither in law nor in equity were they, of whatever generation, free to change those terms except by the consent of both parties to the contract. This was an elaboration of the theory of government tacitly held by the Old Whigs, which derived government from a perpetual civil contract as opposed to the radical doctrine of a revocable social contract; and in attacking it Paine allied himself with such thinkers as Price, Priestley, Franklin and Rousseau. [For an excellent discussion of this, see C.M. Walsh, The Political Science of John Adams, pp. 203-226] He pointed out the absurdity of carrying over the law of private property into the high realm of political principle -- to seek to impose the dead past upon the living sovereignty. If sovereignty inhered in the English people in 1688, it must inhere in the English people in 1793, unless it had been violently wrested from them; no parchment terms of another age can bind that sovereignty other than voluntarily. Over against Burke's theory of a single, static contract, Paine set the doctrine of the reaffirmation of natural rights. Any generation -- as the generation of 1688 -- is competent to deal with its affairs as it sees fit, but it cannot barter away the rights of those unborn; such a contract on the face of it is null and void.

Every age and generation must be free to act for itself in all cases as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. …Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to he accommodated. [The Rights of Man, Part I, p. 278]

Burke's defense fares even worse when the argument is examined in the light of expediency. Illogical as the English system must appear to the political philosopher, can it plead the justification that it works; that it does well the things it is paid to do; that it makes the res publica its main concern? The reply to such questions, Paine believed, should be sought in the condition of the national economy; more particularly by an examination of the account-books of the exchequer. The English people paid annually seventeen millions sterling for the maintenance of government, and what did they get in return? Nine millions of the total went to pay interest on old wars, which in the budget was known as the funded debt; of the remaining eight millions the larger part was spent in new wars and sinecure pensions; whereas the real needs of England-the true res pablica were shamelessly neglected. The English people got little for their money except new debts to justify new taxes. The poor were even taxed for the benefit of the great. Thus my Lord Onslow, who was particularly zealous in the business of proscribing Paine as "the common enemy of us all," drew four thousand pounds from the royal chest in sinecures, which made him "the principal pauper of the neighbourhood, and occasioning a greater expense than the poor, the aged, and the infirm, for ten miles around." ["Letter to Lord Onslow," in Works, Vol.III, p.36] Government on the hereditary principle of Burke did not appear to advantage in the light of such facts.

The injustice of aristocratic government, Paine believed, was fast bringing it to its "rotting time" in England. "The opinions of men with respect to government are changing fast in all countries; the enormous expense of governments has provoked the people to think, by making them feel." Englishmen must soon throw aside the outworn monarchical system and set up a republic. Economics was on the side of revolution. The great work of revising fundamental laws was the pressing business of the time. If this could be done peacefully, by means of a national convention, it were well; if not, it would come by means 6f an uprising of the people. It was no lawyer's business to be determined by the law of private property, but a practical matter of determining the real will of the nation and putting it into execution. The judgment of the people must be recorded, and the judgment of the people could be had only through an adequate system of representation based on free publicity. "I do not believe that the people of England have ever been fairly and candidly dealt by," Paine declared. Henceforth they must be taken into full confidence. There must be no more arcana imperii -- -"Nations can have no secrets; and the secrets of courts, like those of individuals, are always their defects." [Rights of Man, Part II, p.428]

One of the great advantages of the American Revolution has been, that it has led to a discovery of the principles, and laid open the imposition of governments. All the revolutions till then had worked within the atmosphere of a court, and never on the grand floor of a nation. The parties were always of the class of courtiers. …In all cases they took care to represent government as a thing made up of mysteries, which only themselves understood; and they hid from the understanding of the nation the only thing that was beneficial to know, namely, That government is nothing more than a national association acting on the principles of a society. [Ibid., pp. 410-411]

For the follies of government the people pay the bill -- it was this elementary lesson in public economics that Paine sought to impress upon the popular mind; and they would still be cheated and plundered by gentlemen who prospered in cozening, until they took matters into their own hands. He had no fear of popular government. He believed in the essential fairness of men and their capacity to deal wisely with the problems of society if the necessary information were set before them. "As far as my experience in public life extends, I have ever observed that the great mass of people are always just, both in their intentions and their object; but the true method of attaining such purpose does not always appear at once," [Conway, Life of Paine, Vol.II, p. 428] he argued before the French Assembly; and the words express his settled conviction. Those who fear the people usually have very good reasons. Heretofore politics had been jealously guarded from free discussion; but now that the common people were coming to understand that government is justified only by its measure of service, the beginning of a new age was at hand.

The ripest product of Paine's speculations on the relation of government to the individual, is Agrarian Justice, a work too little known to modern readers. It is a slender tract, written in the winter of 1795-96, although not published till a year later; and it was an answer to a sermon by Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, [Author of An Apology for the Bible (a reply to Paine's Age of Reason), which was distributed among Harvard undergraduates.] entitled The Wisdom and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor. In this remarkable essay, Paine advanced from political to social theory, pushing his thought into the unexplored realm of economic justice. The prime impulse of his speculation is found in the contrast between the augmenting poverty of Europe and the ideal of equality; a contrast which in France had lately produced a proletarian revolt under Babeuf, and which in England was harshly aggravated by the brutal inclosure movement of the last forty years of the eighteenth century. The question which he considers lies at the heart of our social problem, namely, whether civilization is competent to cure the disease of poverty which everywhere it disseminates?

The question emerged naturally from the development of Paine's thinking. It was implied in his major principle of the res publica, and the solution must lie in the problem of the relation of government to social well-being. But in prescribing means to end, he parted company from Babeuf. [For the program of Babeuf, see R.W. Ppostgate, Revolution from 1789 to 1906, pp. 24, 54-60] The latter was a Communist who approached the problem from the point of view of the proletarian who had been disappointed of the promised equality; whereas Paine, like Jefferson, was essentially a Physiocratic agrarian. His long residence in America had confirmed him in the belief that land monopoly was the root of economic inequality; and his observations of the evictions then going on in England, uprooting the peasants and sending them to industrial centers to become wage-workers, strengthened his conviction. The land problem must be solved if civilization were to be worth its cost, and the technique of the solution, he believed, must be worked out by the state. With his usual directness Paine went to the heart of the problem:

The first principle of civilization ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the condition of every person born into the world, after a state of civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been born before that period. But the fact is, that the condition of millions, in every country in Europe, is far worse than if they had been born before civilization began, or had been born among the Indians of North-America at the present day. [Works, Vol.III, p. 329]

It is not charity hut a right, not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for. The present state of civilization is as odious as it is unjust. It is absolutely the opposite of what it should be.[This and the peceding sentence were expunged from all early editions by the censor.] …The contrast of affluence and wretchedness … is like dead and living bodies chained togerher. [Ibid., p.337]

It is the practice of what has unjustly obtained the name of civilization … to make some provision for persons becoming poor and wretched only at the time they become so. Would it not, even as a matter of economy, be far better to adopt means to prevent their becoming poor? [Ibid., p.338]

The crux of the problem, Paine proceeds to point out, lies in the principle of private property; whether property rights are sacredly individual -- as Locke had asserted -- or are limited by social needs. In reply to this searching question Paine laid down the principle of social values, a theory curiously modern and profoundly suggestive, which makes Agrarian Justice read like a chapter out of Progress and Poverty. The principle is so broad, as Paine states it, that it applies equally to a capitalistic and an agrarian order.

Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally. …All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came … if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; and the consequence of which is, that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence. It is, perhaps, impossible to proportion exactly the price of labor to the profits it produces; and it will also be said, as an apology for the injustice, that were a workman to receive an increase of wages daily he would not save it against old age, nor be much better for it in the interim. Make, then, society the treasurer to guard it for him in a common fund; for it is no reason, that because he might not make a good use of it for himself, another should take it. [Ibid., p.340]

It is the value of the improvement only, and not of the earth itself, that is individual property. Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated land, owes to the community a ground-rent …for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund proposed in this plan is to issue. [Ibid., p.329]

Having thus pointed out an equitable source of social income the returning to society what society has created -- Paine proposed to deal with the problem of poverty by means of a ten per cent inheritance tax to provide a fund for the endowment of the young and the pensioning of the old. It was an early form of the state insurance idea. In his own thinking Paine doubtless went much farther than this, but the practical difficulty of separating the social moiety from the private right inclined him to favor an inheritance tax as the simplest and best plan; that it would lead to greater things as the social intelligence quickened, he very likely believed. To bring men to realize that society is responsible for poverty, and that its total eradication must be regarded as the first object of civilization, was his prime purpose. He was seeking to awaken the social conscience of his generation -- a generation sorely in need of idealism to offset its love of profits. Agrarian Justice was a contribution to the slowly developing humanitarian sentiment, and it made appeal to minds already aroused by the revolutionary movement. The republican clubs that were springing up in England and America reflected the new social thought, and the most radical became the most humanitarian. As early as 1791, in an address signed by Horn Tooke, one of Paine's English lieutenants, it was declared:

We are oppressed with a heavy national debt, a burthen of taxes, an expensive administration of government, beyond those of any people in the world. We have also a very numerous poor; and we hold that the moral obligation of providing for old age, helpless infancy, and poverty, is far superior to that of supplying the invented wants of courtly extravagance, ambition, and intrigue. [Address and Declaration of the Friends of Universal Peace and Liberty, quoted in Conway, Life of Paine, Vol.I, p. 316]

The more critically one follows the thought of Paine the more evident it becomes that the master passion of his later years was concern for a new social economy. The well-being of society became an engrossing interest with him; and his zeal for political revolution was predicated on the belief that popular control of the political state was a necessary preliminary to a juster social economy. Nothing was to be expected from the old aristocratic order. His main attack, therefore, was directed against the monarchical system, but now and then he paused to level a thrust at the rising system of capitalism. If he hated King George and the Tories, he hated the younger Pitt and the imperialists even more. Over against Agrarian Justice should be set his pamphlet entitled The Decline and Fall of the English System of Finance, written in 1796, a skillful attack upon the new funding system. Paine could not foresee, of course, the enormous expansion of credit that was to accompany the industrial revolution, but in his commentary on the quantitative theory of money, and the social consequences of inflation, he unconsciously foretold later conditions. War he regarded as the great waster, the fruitful mother of social misery. With his Quaker training he was dedicated to pacifism, and he spent his life warring against war, and disease, and poverty, and injustice, and ignorance, and unreason; but no other war would he sanction. For those futile wars bred of the ambitions of courts and monarchs, and which for all their cost in blood and money served no social purpose, he would substitute arbitration. "War is the Pharo-table of governments, and nations the dupes of the game," he declared [Rights of Man, Part II, p. 413] -- whereas arbitration is an appeal to reason which alone should adjudicate and determine between nations.

It would be idle to attempt to trace to their sources the major ideas of his philosophy. Probably Paine did not know where he got them. He was not a student like John Adams, familiar with all the political philosophers; rather he was an epitome of a world in revolution. He absorbed ideas like a sponge. He was so wholly a child of his age that the intellectual processes of the age were no other than his own. But he was very much more than an echo; he possessed that rarest of gifts, an original mind. He looked at the world through no eyes than his own. There is a curious remark in an early pamphlet which admirably expresses his method:

"When precedents fail to assist us, we must return to the first principles of things for information, and think, as if we were the first men that thought." [Works, Vol.I, p. 155] It was his remarkable ability to think from first principles that gave such freshness and vigor to his pen. He drew largely from French thought, but at bottom he remained English. If he was Gallic in his psychology of human nature and his passionate humanitarianism, he was English in his practical political sense and insistence on the economic sources of political action. In his political theory he was curiously like Roger Williams. A thoroughgoing idealist in aim, generous and unsparing in service to humanity, he was a confirmed realist in the handling of facts. He refused to be duped by imposing appearances or great reputations, but spoke out unpleasant truths which gentlemen wished to keep hidden. Clear and direct in expression, he seasoned his writings with homely figures and a frequent audacity of phrase that made wide appeal. He was probably the greatest pamphleteer that the English race has produced. and one of its great idealists.

During his residence abroad Paine habitually thought and spoke of himself as an American. He conceived it to be his mission to disseminate throughout Europe the beneficent principles of the American Revolution; yet nowhere was he hated more virulently than in America. To the animosity which his political principles excited among Federalists was added the detestation of the orthodox for the deism of the Age of Reason. The ministers outdid the politicians in virulent attack upon his reputation, until the generous Quaker, the friend of humanity and citizen of the world, was shrunk and distorted into "the infidel Tom Paine." It was a strange reward for a life spent in the service of mankind. Like all idealists he made the mistake of underestimating the defensive strength of vested interests, and their skill in arousing the mob prejudice. His thousands of followers among the disfranchised poor could not protect his reputation against the attacks of the rich and powerful. Although reason may "make its own way, it makes its way with wearisome slowness and at unreasonable cost. How tremendous were the obstacles that liberalism confronted in post-revolutionary America is revealed with sufficient clearness in the odium visited upon our great republican pamphleteer.