THE FUNERAL OF TOM PAINE 200 YEARS AGO

by Felix Quigley

October 1, 2009

 

It is becoming clear that not only has one to understand Tom Paine but one also has to deal with those who write about him but use him for their own reactionary purposes. This is only a beginning stab at this. Paine has been claimed by just a few too many people for his own good.

 

This is an extract from a red pepper publication

 

[Begin Red Pepper extract here]

Tom Paine, restless democrat

This June marks the bicentenary of the death of a man who was buried in obscurity but whose ideas are today claimed by everyone from anarchists to neoliberals. Mike Marqusee celebrates the life, work and ideas of the great revolutionary who declared that ‘my country is the world and my religion is to do good’

‘This interment was a scene to affect and to wound any sensible heart. Contemplating who it was, what man it was, that we were committing to an obscure grave on an open and disregarded bit of land, I could not help but feel most acutely.’

The occasion for this lament was the sparsely attended funeral of Thomas Paine, who died 200 years ago, in June 1809, at the age of 72, and was buried in the small farm he owned in what was then the rural hamlet of New Rochelle, 20 miles north of New York City.

Not long before, New Rochelle’s bigwigs had barred Paine from voting, claiming he was not a US citizen. Paine, who had virtually invented the idea of US citizenship, was furious. But this was not the end of his indignities. When he sought a place to be buried, even the Quakers would not oblige him. Hence the muted funeral of the man who had inspired and guided revolutions in north America and France, and equally important, the revolution that did not happen in Britain.

 

The following is a further extract from this article (details below)

 

It is interesting in that it throws into the Mix the talkative but reactionary Christopher Hitchens who supported the Imperialist War against Yugoslavia and whjo is also an enemy of Israel.

 

And it contains a useful paragraph which refers to the fact that while Payne was a deist this was a very revolutionary concept for his period

 

When Paine returned to the US in 1802, he received a cool welcome. He was now the infamous author of The Age of Reason, an infidel with whom even old allies like his friend in the White House, Thomas Jefferson, were reluctant to associate. Meddlesome Christians urged the sick and dying man to embrace their faith, but were brusquely dismissed. One of his friends facetiously suggested that Paine could resolve his financial worries by publishing a ‘recantation’. The author of The Age of Reason replied, ‘Tom Paine never told a lie’.

In the two centuries since his obscure burial, Paine has been claimed by as many as once disclaimed him. Liberals, Marxists, anarchists, right wing libertarians, American exceptionalists, neoliberals (a passage in Rights of Man reads like a hymn to globalisation). Even New Rochelle finally got around to awarding Paine posthumous citizenship – in 1945.

Recently ‘New Atheists’ such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have staked a claim. Dawkins simply omits the fact that Paine was not an atheist but a deist. Hitchens takes a different route, dismissing Paine’s deism as a halfway house to atheism. What both miss is that Paine’s deism was part and parcel of a sustained challenge to the hierarchies and powers of his day – which cannot be said of their atheism.

 

The writer of the above was Mike marqusee

Also more columns by Mike Marqusee at www.mikemarqusee.com

8 June 2009

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