Thomas Paine: Another Bent Tool


by Not Sure

19 May 2024


“Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

                        -- Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man


The Rights of Man was Paine’s book, including many articles he had written about government and natural law, written as a defense against Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution. 

Utopia is a Latin word that literally means “nowhere”.  Its current usage was coined by Thomas More, for his work of satire about an imaginary island enjoying perfection in its legal, social, and political systems.  Get it? Nowhere is Utopia possible.  Thomas More should know.  This theologian and statesmen refused to support Henry VIII’s annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  He didn’t attend Henry’s wedding to Anne Boleyn, and his enemies deemed this snub an act of treason.  Off with his head!

Whatever good can be said to have come from the French Revolution, its bloodthirsty excesses have been thoroughly documented.  Thomas Paine, high on his successes with the American Revolution, went to France to hang out with other revolutionaries.  He was granted (like Benjamin Franklin) an honorary French citizenship, but even his glowing endorsement of the Revolution didn’t save him from getting crossways with a faction who had him imprisoned and called for his execution.  “Off with his head!”  Only the fall of the one-time president of the Jacobins, Maximillian Robespierre, and his execution by the guillotine, bought Paine a few days to save his own head.

Paine’s closest American friend in Paris was Joel Barlow, who was obsessed with the “natural” sexual origins of revolutionary symbols.  An even closer friend, evidently, was Nicholas Bonneville.  Paine lived in a menage-a-trois for several years with Bonneville and his wife, Margaret.  They looked to the occult, the Illuminists, and the Freemasons for the organization of the revolutionary “faith”; circles, inner, outer, and magical were of great importance, and the triangle was an important symbol.   Paine kept his head, but his ending was far from his glory days – he died impoverished, but still cared for by Bonneville’s wife.  Six people attended his funeral.

His-story is always murky going and we’re left to fill in many blanks.  Paine was born in England to an Anglican mother and a Quaker father who was a stay-maker (the early term for corset-maker).  In other words, his father was in the margins of English society, a pacifist who made women’s underwear.  Paine did not want to follow in his father’s business, so he ran off to be a privateer, which is a word for a state-sanctioned pirate.  Then he returned home and became a master stay-maker.  He married, and his wife, along with their infant, died in childbirth.

Paine then became an Excise Officer for the Crown.  This is someone who inspected goods coming in by boat and collected customs taxes and excise duties on the cargo.  A state-sanctioned pirate?

He lost his job for claiming to inspect goods he did not inspect and then he became a schoolteacher, got involved in civic affairs, was against the monarchy, and had sentiments in favor of republicanism.  He married again.  During this period, he got involved in the parish vestry, “an influential local Anglican church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor.”  Church-sanctioned piracy?

His second wife was the daughter of a tobacconist and grocer, so Paine entered that business.  This is where his-story goes off the rails for me.  Paine’s tobacco business failed and to avoid debtor’s prison, he sold off his household goods, separated from his wife in June of 1774 and moved to London.  There, at the age of 37, having failed to make a go of much of anything, George Lewis Scott, a mathematician and Fellow of the Royal Society, and Commissioner of the Excise introduced him to Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin told Paine to emigrate to America, and work for his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette.  Paine arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774.  He had become quite ill on the trip, and Franklin’s physician personally cared for him for six weeks until he was restored to health. 

What?  What?  Something quite big is missing here, I’m afraid.  I’ll just fill in some blanks for my own satisfaction.  We know that in the early 1770s, he had joined with other excise officers to petition Parliament for better wages and working conditions.  Paine’s story is a “foundation myth” like so many we’re given about the leaders and heroes of our different nations.  Vive la nation!  Vive la république!  Vive la liberté!  In my version (her-story?), Paine has spent his entire life on the fringes, soaking up discontent, participating in some endeavors that might be sanctioned, but were moral grey areas. 

I suspect it was Paine’s comfort in the grey zone that was most appealing to Franklin.  How Americans have been taught to revere this “founding father”!  He’s on the $100 bill for goodness’ sake!  (In this Redux, Alan Watt declares that “Money is the root of all evil”.) Benjamin Franklin was a “venerable master” of La Loge des Neuf Sœurs (The Nine Sisters Lodge), the Masonic lodge of the Grand Orient de France that organized French support for the American Revolution.  He was a womanizer.  In his reference book, The American Instructor, he published a clear and easy-to-follow guide for an at-home abortion drawn from a medical pamphlet written by a doctor in Virginia.

This Redux is a “take no prisoners” interview with Alan Watt on American Awakening from June 22, 2007.  He was not in a particularly agreeable mood.  He stood his ground on quite a few points and took some ground on other points.  Don’t deify people or paper.  Liberty, freedom, is an inside job.  This is where it begins and ends.  If not, then you are liable to be taken in by high-sounding slogans written by men who you might think were scummy, even psychopathic, had you the opportunity to know them.


© Not Sure