Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

(

when at twenty he studied French, evenings, and dived deep into history.

The humble origin of Paine and his Quaker ancestry were most helpful factors in his career. Only a working man who had tasted hardship could sympathize with the over-taxed and oppressed. And Quakerdom made him a rebel by pre-natal tendency. Paine's schooling was slight but his parents, though poor, were thinking people, for nothing sharpens the wits of men, preventing fatty degeneration of the cerebrum, like persecution In this respect the Jews and Quakers have been greatly blessed and benefited-let us congratulate them. Very early in life Paine acquired the study habit And for the youth who has the study habit no pedagogic tears need be shed. There were debating clubs at coffee-houses where great themes were discussed; and our young weaver began his career by defending the Quakers. He acquired considerable local reputation as a weaver of thoughts upon the warp and woof of words. Occasionally he occupied the pulpit in dissenting chapels.

These were great times in England-the air was all a-throb with thought and feeling. A great tidal wave of unrest swept the land. It was an epoch of growth, second only in history to the Italian Renaissance. The two Wesleys were attacking the church and calling upon men to methodize their lives and eliminate folly; Gibbon was writing his "Decline and Fall;" Burke,

in the House of Commons, was polishing his brogue; Boswell was busy blithering about a book concerning a man; Captain Cook was sailing the seas finding continents; the two Pitts and Charles Fox were giving the king unpalatable advice; Horace Walpole was setting up his private press at Strawberry Hill; the Herschels-brother and sister-were sweeping the heavens for comets; Reynolds, West, Lawrence, Romney and Gainsborough were founding the first school of British Art; and Hume, the Scotchman, was putting forth arguments irrefutable. And into this seething discontent came Thomas Paine, the weaver, reading, studying, thinking, talking, with nothing to lose but his reputation. He was twenty-seven years of age when he met Ben Franklin, at a coffee-house in London. Paine got his first real mental impetus from Franklin. Both were working men. Paine sat and watched and listened to Franklin one whole evening, and then said, “What he is I can at least in part become" ✰ Paine thought Franklin quite the greatest man of his time, an opinion he never relinquished, and which also, among various others held by Paine, the world has now finally accepted.

WNIK QND SOLD SOLNA

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

AINE at twenty-four, from a simple weaver,had been called into the office of his employer to help straighten out the accounts. He tried store-keeping but with indifferent success. Then it seems he was employed by the Board of Excise on a similar task. Finally he was given a position in the Excise. This position he might have held indefinitely, and

been promoted in the work, for he had clerical talents which made his services valuable But there was another theme that interested him quite as much as collecting taxes for the government, and that was the philosophy of taxation & This was very foolish in Thomas Paine-a tax collector should collect taxes, and not concern himself with the righteousness of the business, nor about what becomes of the money. Paine had made note of the fact that England collected taxes from Jews but that Jews were not allowed to vote, because they were not "Christians," it being assumed that Jews were neither as fit intellectually or morally to pass on questions of state as members of the "Church" In 1771 in a letter to a local paper he used the phrase, "The iniquity of taxation without representation," referring to England's treatment of

the Quakers. About the same time he called attention to the fact that the Christian religion was built on the Judaic, and that the reputed founder of the established religion was a Jew and his mother a Jewess, and to deprive Jews of the right of full citizenship, simply because they did not take the same view of Jesus that others did was a perversion of the natural rights of man. This expression, "The natural rights of man" gave offense to a certain clergyman of Thetford who replied that man had no natural rights, only privileges, all the rights he had were those granted by the crown. Then followed a debate at the coffee-house followed by a rebuke from Paine's superior officer in the Excise, ordering him to cease all political and religious controversy on penalty.

Paine felt the smart of the rebuke; he thought it was unjustified, in view of the fact that the excellence of his work for the government had never been questioned So he made a speech in a dissenting chapel explaining the situation. But explanations never explain, and his assertion that the honesty of his service had never been questioned was put out of commission the following week by the charge of smuggling His name was dropped from the official pay-roll until his case could be tried, and a little later he was peremptorily discharged The charge against him was not pressed-he was simply not wanted, and the statement by the head exciseman that a man working for

the government should not criticise the government was pretty good logic, anyway. Paine, however, contended that all governments exist for the governed, and with the consent of the governed, and it is the duty of all good citizens to take an interest in their government and if possible show where it can be strengthened and bettered.

It will thus be seen that Paine was forging reasonshis active brain was at work, and his sensitive spirit was writhing under a sense of personal injustice ♣ One of his critics—a clergyman—said that if Thomas Paine wished to preach sedition there was plenty of room to do it outside of England. Paine followed the suggestion, and straightway sought out Franklin to ask him about going to America.

Every idea that Paine had expressed was held by Franklin and had been thought out at length. Franklin was thirty-one years older than Paine, and time had tempered his zeal, and beside that, his tongue was always well under control and when he expressed heresy he seasoned it with a smile and a dash of wit that took the bitterness out of it Not so Paine-he was an earnest soul, a little lacking in humor, without the adipose which is required for a diplomat.

Franklin's letters of introduction show how he admired the man-what faith he had in him—and it is now believed that Franklin advanced him money, that he might come to America.

« AnteriorContinuar »