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what am I to do? If I were to encourage his opinions we should
have a bloody revolution."

But how different was Paine's treatment by France. He was
made a French citizen by the National Assembly and was elected
a delegate to the French Convention by three different depart-
ments — Oise, Puy de Dome and Pas de Calais. He accepted
his election from the last named constituency and took his seat
in the Convention. He was promptly made a member of a com-
mittee of nine to frame a constitution for France — being second
only to Sieyes on the committee. No man did nobler work on
that committee than Paine. The result of the work might almost
be called Paine's constitution, so much of its substance was due
to him. This constitution was adopted by the Convention, but
its operation was suspended and it did not go into effect until
after the downfall of Robespierre and " The Mountain."

Paine's influence in the Convention was reduced to a vanishing
point during the rule of Robespierre and his associates. Paine
took strong ground against the execution of the King. His cry
was, " Kill the King but spare the man." Danton's answer to
Paine's appeal for the life of Louis was, " Revolutions are not
made of rosewater," It was his attitude in this matter that
aroused the relentless hostility of Robespierre. Perhaps this
hostility was increased by Paine's unswerving belief in God. A
careful examination of Paine's conduct during the French
Revolution fails to show any act or word which was not in full
accord with the true spirit of that great movement. Despite
this, when Robespierre secured control of the government, Paine
was thrown into prison and kept there for more than ten months



THOMAS PAINE 81

and until the overthrow of " The Mountain." It is a sad illus-
tration of the ingratitude of republics that the incarceration did
not call for a protest from our country until James Monroe
succeeded Gouverneur Morris as Minister to France, and then
Monroe on his own initiative took active and successful measures
to secure Paine's release.

The reason for American indifference may not be far to seek.
Paine's " Rights of Man " aroused almost as much antagonism
in government circles in this country as it did in England. We
are loath to believe that the great leaders of the Federalist
party were strongly in favor of a monarchical form of govern-
ment, and were hoping and working for its adoption in this
country — but such is the fact. Jefferson, late in life, wrote of
the time of his return from France to New York to become
Secretary of State in Washington's Cabinet : " but I cannot
describe the wonder and mortification with which the table con-
versation filled me. Politics was the chief topic, and a prefer-
ence of kingly over republican government was evidently the
favorite sentiment." Alexander Hamilton believed republican-
ism to be an " iridescent dream." He wrote, " It is a King
only, above corruption, who must always intend the true interest
and glory of the people." Parton says, " It was the great aim
of Hamilton's public life to make the Government of the United
States as little unlike that of Great Britain as the people would
bear it." His frequent expression was " men in general are
vicious," and he was disgusted with the " town meeting " gov-
ernment and anxiously awaited the time when our government
should essentially conform to the English model. John Adams
fully believed in the hereditary principle — the government by;
the " well born." He wrote, " to the landed and privileged
aristocracy of birth, Europe owes her superiority in war and
peace, in legislation and commerce, in agriculture, navigation,
arts, sciences and manufactures." Washington was a thorough
aristocrat, who brooked no familiarity from his associates.

A veritable volume of utterances of similar import could be
quoted from great Federalist leaders. Nor were they uncon-
scientious and self-seeking men who thus thought. As they
looked about in the world the only great governments were run



82 JAMES A. ROBERTS

on the hereditary monarchical plan and a conservative mind not
unnaturally asked if it were not safer to follow a long line of
precedents rather than to pursue a new and untried road. To
combat these views and tendencies was Jefferson's great work
from the time of his return from France until his death, and
how well he succeeded is a large part of the history of that same
period. Jefferson did much to save democracy to our country
and so to the world. Paine's book " The Rights of Man " did
powerful service in creating the public sentiment which followed
Jefferson to the end. Jefferson appreciated this influence and
he wrote to Paine shortly before the latter's return to this coun-
try — " I am in hopes you will find us returned generally to
sentiments worthy of former times. In these it will be your
glory to have steadily labored, and with as much effect as any
man living. That you may long live to continue your useful
labors and to reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations is
my sincere praxer."

But to the man of opposite belief who conscientiously favored
the hereditary monarchical form of government because he
thought it safest, or to the self-seeker who favored it because
he hoped to be Earl of Boston or Duke of New York, Paine's
" Rights of Man " with its unanswerable logic was inopportune —
it was vicious. Here began that unpopularity which followed
Paine to his death. He had alienated and made hostile a large
and influential body of men. To this as a basis of unpopularity,
Paine added a structure, which has ever since been the subject
of strong attacks, and which alienated a much larger body — the
orthodox churches. As I have said, Paine was born of Quaker
parents. His father at least was a deist, who did not believe in
any revelation nor in Christ's divinity, but held that our guidance
in life is the " inner light." These beliefs Paine imbibed. Both
father and son believed fully in the existence of God. Scarcely
any writer has stated more emphatically a belief in God or
argued more cogently in support of such belief than has Tom
Paine, the so-called atheist. May I quote a few illustrative
sentences from his works : " We are unavoidably led to a
serious and grateful sense of the manifold blessings which we
have undeservedly received from the hands of that Being, from



THOMAS PAINE 83

whom every good and perfect gift cometh." " 1 believe in one
God and no more; and 1 hope for happiness after this life."
" It is only in the Creation that all our ideas and conceptions
of a word of God can unite . . . Do we want to contemplate
his power? We see it in the immensity of the creation.
Do we want to contemplate his wisdom? We see it in
the unchangeable order by which the Whole is governed.
Do we want to contemplate his munificence? We see
it in the abundance with which he fills the earth. Do
we want to contemplate his mercy? We see it in his not with-
holding that abundance even from the unthankful. In fine,
do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called
the scripture, which any human hand might make, but the scrip-
ture called the creation." " When we contemplate the immensity
of that Being who directs and governs the incomprehensible
WHOLE of which the utmost ken of human sight can discover but
a part, we ought to feel shame to call such paltry stories the word
of God." These quotations seem to me to give a complete idea
of Paine's religious belief. You might almost express it in
Kant's familiar statement, " Two things fill the soul with wonder
and reverence, increasing evermore as I meditate more closely
upon them : The starry heavens above me and the moral law
within me." These are in reality Paine's " works of creation "
and " inner light."

The French Revolution was not only a dynastic upheaval
but a religious upheaval ; it sought not alone relief from the
feudal and hereditary systems, but sought also relief from the
tyranny of the church. The pendulum swung beyond limit in
both cases. Robespierre, with a large and increasing following,
was an avowed atheist, whose only acknowledged god was
reason. Danton, on the contrary, claimed to be religious, and he
searched the scriptures diligently for precedents for his cruel
and nefarious acts, and his search was too often successful.
And these were the men who seemed for the time to be shaping
the destinies of a great nation. It was in this unsettled state of
thought that Paine wrote, had translated into French, and pub-
lished his " Age of Reason." I hardly think it can be doubted
that Paine believed this work was as necessary to the accomplish-



84 JAMES A. ROBERTS

ment of a great purpose, namely, that of staying the growing
tide of atheism and stopping the misuse of the Bible, as was the
publication of " Common Sense " or the " Rights of Man." All
were a necessity of their time, necessary to great ends.

I confess that theological distinctions are often beyond my
limited comprehension. Paine fully believed in God, in a future
life, in the guidance of the " inner light," but he did not believe
in the Trinity nor in revelation. Have there not been many,
prominent in the social, political and literary life of our country
whose belief was essentially that of Paine? To distinguish his
belief from that of the others, it has been said that he was a
rationalist. Theologically the rationalist " believes as probable
the existence of a God and the immortality of the soul, and as
indisputable facts the great principles of the moral law," whether
contained in the Scriptures or in the works of philosophers.
This was Paine's belief, if you eliminate the words " as prob-
able " and insert " as undoubted." Exactly where this doctrine
leaves off and liberal Unitarianism, liberal Universalism or
Hicksite Quakerism begins, I am unable to determine. Is there
so essential a difiference between Paine's doctrines and those of
many highly honored of our citizens to account for the vast
difference in treatment?

On any rule of right or fair dealing, it cannot be explained.
The treatment of Paine and of his memory cannot be accounted
for by his manner of life. There was a short time in Paris, when
his intimate associates among the Girondists were being led
daily to the guillotine, that he drank to excess, but at other
times, in all his public life, he lived temperately, and the attempt
to show that he led a licentious life has signally failed. Joel
Barlow, who knew Paine intimately, bore testimony to his high
character and said : " He was always charitable to the poor
beyond his means, a sure friend and protector to all Americans."

There may be some explanation, though no excuse, for the
treatment accorded Paine by his countrymen in the last years
of his life and to his memory since his death. Whatever Paine
had to say, he said clearly, tersely and emphatically, and with
small regard to the opinions and feelings of opponents, so that
his statements concerning the Bible in his " Age of Reason "



THOMAS PAINE 85

were to the Trinitarians not only false but dangerous and brutal.
In his critical analysis of the Bible and in his criticism of the
authenticity and authorship of its various books, he was a
pioneer, and forgiveness does not come readily to a man who
starts a revolt against a long established system. Conway, in
his introduction to a recent edition of " The Age of Reason "
says of Paine : " He plagiarized by anticipation many things
from the rationalistic leaders of our time, from Strauss and
Baur, being the first to expatiate on ' Christian Mythology,'
from Renan, and notably from Huxley, who has repeated many
of Paine's arguments." But the battle for freedom of thought
in religion had to be fought, not only in France but in England
and America, and Paine's " Age of Reason " has been the leader
in that contest. A hundred years ago this book was publicly
burned in England and many a man was prosecuted for print-
ing and circulating it, but to-day, it is free and many of its
teachings are generally accepted. Canon Bonney, of Manchester,
in 1895, the centennial of the publication of the complete edition
of the " Age of Reason," said : " I cannot deny that increase
of scientific knowledge has deprived parts of the earlier books
of the Bible of the historical value that was generally attributed
to them by our forefathers. The story of creation in the Book
of Genesis, unless we play fast and loose with words or with
science, cannot be brought into harmony with what we have
learned from geology. Its ethnological statements are imperfect,
if not sometimes inaccurate. The stories of the Fall, of the
Flood and of the Tower of Babylon are incredible." Does this
not represent intelligent evangelical belief to-day? If so, what
a change a century has wrought ! A man who bore any part
in effecting such a change must have been a force.

Such, in brief, was the eventful and stormy life of Thomas
Paine during his public career. He returned to this country
and shortly retired to a farm near Mount Vernon, New York,
which had been given to him by the State of New York in
recognition of his aid to our cause in the Revolutionary War.
There he lived, practically neglected by his former friends and
ostracized by general society. There he died and was buried.
But Fate seemed to have denied peace to his body either in life



86 JAMES A. ROBERTS

or in death. His body was removed from the grave a few
years after burial by William Cobbett, that stormy petrel of
journalism, who was a great admirer of Paine. He removed
the body with the intent of taking it to England for interment.
Where his body at last found rest, no one knows. I believe,
however, that some angel of God upturned a sod and laid the
patriot there.

James A. Roberts.



THE LOST ISLAND OF LUISA

If the IHorentine Navigator, Giovanni da Verrazano, when he
wrote his now famous letter of July 8, 1524, to the French
King Francis I, announcing his explorations of the North
American coast, could have foreseen the critical discussions it
would call forth some three centuries later — discussions not
only involving his accuracy and good faith, but his very exist-
ence — he would doubtless have been at least as much interested
in them as he was in his discoveries themselves. It is possible
that full justice has not been rendered to him. Before dis-
cussing this, let us briefly review the state of the case.

Of course much of the suspicion which some of the critics
entertained towards Verrazano's letter came from the fact
that no trace of the original letter or of any reliable reference
to it has ever been found in the French archives. We cannot
even tell whether it was written in French or Italian; and
the different versions of it which w^e now know to exist, while
practically the same in effect, differ in a most remarkable
degree in small particulars of language, of grammar, and of
orthography.

The letter as first known in America was the version in
Italian incorporated in his Collection of Voyages in different
parts of the world, by the Italian Cosmographer Ramusio.
in 1556. (1) A rather crude and harsh translation of this
into the crabbed English of his day was made by Hakluyt for
his "Divers Voyages," which appeared in 1582, and this was
reproduced in the first volume of the " Collections of the New^
York Historical Society," published in 1811.

At this latter date the narrative of Verrazano does not
appear to have evoked much critical discussion ; but some-
what later great interest was excited by the discovery of a
manuscript version of the letter in the Strozzi Library (the
historical documents in which were afterw-ards transferred
to the Magliabechian. now merged in the National Library)
at Florence. This Strozzi version, so-called, contained con-
siderable matter not found in Ramusio. notablv a cosmo-



88 J. H. INNES

graphical appendix or list of places along the American coast,
explanatory to some extent of the letter itself. With this was
found another letter, written by one Bernando Carli from
Lyons on August 4, 1524, to his father in Florence, account-
ing for sending Verrazano's letter, which Carli thought
would interest his countrymen.

The Strozzi version was translated by Dr. Joseph G. Cogs-
well about 1860, and his translation, faulty as it was (see
post), was adopted by most of the writers who engaged in
the controversy which raged for a number of years between
the supporters of the Verrazano " Relatione," and sceptical
critics like Dr. H. C. Murphy, who assailed it as a forgery.
(See Brevoort's "Verrazano the Navigator," 1874; Murphy,
" Voyage of Verrazano," 1875 ; Da Costa, " Verrazano the
Explorer," etc.)

Much of the doubt attaching to the " Relation " of Ver-
razano arose from his account of what he saw after leaving
his " Bay of Santa Margherita," which is now generally
admitted to have been New York Bay, and before reaching
his " Golfo del Refugio," which is as generally believed to
have been Newport Harbor. We shall first take up Cogs-
well's translation, so far as it afifects that portion of the
" Relation," which is all that is necessary for our present
purpose. He says:

" Weighing anchor, we sailed eighty leagues towards the
East, as the coast stretched in that direction, and always in
sight of it : at length we discovered an island of a triangular
form about ten leagues from the mainland, in size about equal
to the island of Rhodes, having many hills covered with trees
and well peopled, judging from the great number of fires
which we saw all around its shores ; we gave it the name of
your Majesty's Mother. We did not land there, as the
weather was unfavorable, but proceeded to another place fif-
teen leagues distant from the island, where we found a very
excellent harbour," etc.

In the above quotation the words " at length " are
italicized because they are utterly unwarranted, and are
apparently inserted by the translator as a sort of gloss to set
forth his own views. This, we shall show later through a



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Online LibraryNew York State Historical AssociationThe Quarterly journal of the New York State Historical Association (Volume 9) → online text (page 15 of 35)