Bring the Paine!

Screw fat old Ben Franklin and his 300th birthday. This city should be celebrating a real revolutionary, the man without whom there'd be no America.

By Steven Wells
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Feb. 8, 2006

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For starters, Common Sense scared the crap out of some of the founding fathers.

"Masters, bosses-they always fear that their slaves or workers are going to rebel. That's a given," points out the author Harvey J. Kaye. "And when you start throwing a word like 'revolution' into the mix, you're going to scare people."

John Adams was Paine's most savage critic among the conservative founding fathers. He was horrified by Common Sense, calling it "crapulous." Worse than that, said Adams, the bloody thing was stirring up the servants and slaves and-horror of horrors-had even turned his wife Abigail into a feminist.

The revolution was over, but Paine just wouldn't shut the fuck up. He attacked slavery (again). He proposed that landowners be taxed to compensate the poor. He defended the little guy against the big guy at every turn. And then-to top it all off-Paine brilliantly demolished the world's three leading monotheistic religions in The Age of Reason.

Lots of the other founding fathers were deists (they believed in an abstract God but thought religion was bollocks), but only Paine was stupid or brave enough to proclaim it. This totally fucked with the heads of American conservatives. And it's been fucking with their heads ever since.

When Paine died (besieged by godbotherers beseeching him to repent his "atheism"), religious bigots threw rocks at and kicked over his tombstone. And they've been spitting on his grave ever since.


Some Philadel-phians have been fighting for the city to recognize Paine for years. Retired schoolteacher Mark Stone has blitzed all and sundry with beautifully written letters. And troublemaker antidiscrimination activist, militant atheist and fervent Painite Margaret Downey-of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, the Anti-Discrimination Support Network, the atheist Scouting for All pressure group and the Thomas Paine Memorial Committee-has taken her Paine loving to the highest levels of state and city government.

She's met with limited success. She managed to persuade Philadelphia City Council to declare June 8 Thomas Paine Day, but her bid to have a statue of Paine erected in Thomas Paine Plaza was dismissed out of hand. After all, it's not as if we need even one bloody statue of the most important, influential and righteous Philadelphian who ever lived, is it now? Not when we've already got a statue of Rocky.

Alas, a lot of the most indefatigable Philadelphia Painites are now knocking on a bit, says Downey. And she herself tends to take a bit of a back seat these days. Especially when it comes to pushing Paine projects to the high and mighty.

"Because now I'm the woman who tried to get the Ten Commandments removed from the Chester County Courthouse and who sued the Boy Scouts. Those guys want to get over it."

Okay. One question. If this city can find the space for statues of a fictional boxer; a racist mayor; a delusional Frenchwoman; a bunch of ball players; a generic "signer" of the Declaration of Independence; a Frenchman, a Pole and a German (all of whom fought with the Americans in the revolution); a 26-ton facing-the-wrong-way Billy Penn; and a giant clothespin, why can't it find the space for a single statue of Tom Paine?

"For generations people said it was Paine's deism that caused his unpopularity," says Harvey J. Kaye. "But I think it's that for all these years Paine has stood as a testament to America's potential, to what America could be. And that's always been so much better than the America that has actually existed."

"We need Thomas Paine," says the Thomas Paine Society's Alaine Lowell. "We don't have enough real heroes."

It's time Philadelphia gave Thomas Paine his due.

Steven Wells (swells@philadelphiaweekly.com) writes the On the Radar column.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. dtamayo said... on Jul 3, 2008 at 01:27PM

“I agree that Thomas Paine's influence in America was great and important, and that his memory is fully under appreciated by us all today, but you could have made your point and help educate people without having to bash another great person of history. Yes, Ben Franklin, above all was a great marketer of his person and was quite famous even during his day, but that doesn't take away from all the good things he did. In fact, bashing Franklin distracts from the point you are trying to make on Thomas Paine. They were both very different people and the reason Ben Franklin probably gets more attention than Thomas is because Benjamin was born and raised in America while Thomas was not. Also Ben was a deist while Thomas Pain was, by all evidence, an atheist - we know how much America loves us atheists. Either way, I thank you for the article and for reminding us that Thomas Paine was a key player in the forming of our great nation.”

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2. Pierre JC said... on Jul 4, 2008 at 12:23PM

“Hear, hear! Tom Paine is an American hero and a Founding Father. Anyone who fails to honor him is an anti-American piece of trash.”

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3. Edward J. Dodson said... on Jan 23, 2009 at 08:59AM

“As a member of the board of Thomas Paine Friends, I invite Mr. Wells and other Philadelphians to become a member of our organization. We are dedicated to restoring Thomas Paine to his rightful place in the history of the founding of the United States and his contributions to the advance of the democratic spirit worldwide.”

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4. Tina Lee said... on Oct 7, 2009 at 12:52PM

“Wonderful to see a story like this. I am from the Town where Tom Paine grew up and we have been celebrating his life and work all summer. I am participating in a play in honour of him on october 31st!! Great work paine!”

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5. jack said... on Jul 12, 2010 at 12:10AM

“dtamayo, that is so insulting to call thomas paine an atheist.. it's an absolute disgrace.

and you have the nerve to say 'by all evidence'.. what the hell are you talking about. have you ever heard of 'The Age of Reason'? Probably the greatest book ever written.. and it's all about deism, and attacking organized religion as well as atheism.

Franklin actually tried to persuade Paine not to publish it... there's been no greater advocate for deism than thomas paine, and no one can describe so perfectly what natural religion is all about besides paine.”

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6. Alexander James Bennett said... on Sep 26, 2010 at 11:18AM

“i'm from the 'Beatle' city of Liverpool, UK. Right now I reside in the village of Rainhill which lies just outside 'Big L' and is in fact the birthplace of the worlds first passenger railway system: a train pulled by a steam engine called 'The Rocket' and, of course, the means by which the USA was eventually opened up, not to mention the entire world.

If that doesn't beat all, what about that guy Rober Morris (1734-1806) a Signatory of the Declaration of Independance who also hailed from this city and the real founder of of the USA never mind the lesser turncoat Tommy Paine. He was dubbed 'The Financier of the American Revolution and kept the home fires burning when all seemed lost. If it hadn't been for him there'd be no Stateside! He also founded in 1782 The Bank of North America.

And, as for Paine being an Amercan hero, he was in fact, a 'limey' just like Bobby Morris. Heavens to murgatroyd!”

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7. christopher H. holte said... on May 27, 2012 at 06:12PM

“Ben wasn't so bad, it's just he was old and worn out by the time the Revolution started and treated his trips to Paris like a long overdue retirement. Paine owed him for helping him get started in Philadelphia. Also he and Ben Franklin both had humble origins, so they had much in common. From what i understand Paine was good at accidentally getting on the wrong side of people. There is so much more to Paine than even this account recounts! He was one of our first citizens to run afoul of our Security state. He found evidence of payoffs and bribes in respect to money the French were lending us/giving us, and he published the information leading to an investigation -- which was run by the crooks -- who then tried to charge him with treason for telling on them. Paine was a regular Wikileaks! These same folks then packed him off to France aboard a privateer to get him out of the way; That same Gouverneur Morris and his boss/uncle Robert Morris.”

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8. Jeanette Catala said... on Aug 2, 2013 at 10:53PM

“Mr. Thomas Paine, in my humble opinion, is the greatest import from England, turned American, this newly-forming nation ever had the honor to welcome to its shores. Yes, he was a deist. Yes, he believed in God. Yes, he was tired of the bureaucracy and self-serving nature of the churches and its leaders in his day. Yes, he believed in the after-life. Here he is gone, and two hundred years later, most Americans have no clue as to what he did for us. He advocated INDEPENDENCE. He advocated for JUSTICE for all. He advocated for a system of government that the PEOPLE would have a hand in. He was influential in ALL nations that declare themselves independent, because that is the model he gave America. LIBERTY was a price many paid highly for, including Paine. He was not afraid of what the "masses" who say or think about his views. He was a PREACHER, in his own sense. The masses LISTENED, because he spoke in a plain language ALL could understand. He is my hero, advocate of the FREE.”

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