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It is my intention
to return to America in the course of the present year. I shall then
[do] it by subscription, with historical notes. As this work will employ
many persons in different parts of the Union, I will confer with you
upon the subject, and such part of it as will suit you to
undertake, will be at your choice. I have sustained so much loss, by
disinterestedness and inattention to money matters, and by accidents,
that I am obliged to look closer to my affairs than I have done. The
printer (an Englishman) whom I employed here to print the second part
of 'the Age of Reason' made a manuscript copy of the work while he was
printing it, which he sent to London and sold. It was by this means that
an edition of it came out in London.

"We are waiting here for news from America of the state of the federal
elections. You will have heard long before this reaches you that the
French government has refused to receive Mr. Pinckney as minister. While
Mr. Monroe was minister he had the opportunity of softening matters with
this government, for he was in good credit with them tho' they were in
high indignation at the infidelity of the Washington Administration.
It is time that Mr. Washington retire, for he has played off so much
prudent hypocrisy between France and England that neither government
believes anything he says.

"Your friend, etc.,

"THOMAS PAINE."

It would appear that Symonds' stolen edition must have got ahead of that
sent by Paine to Franklin Bache, for some of its errors continue in
all modern American editions to the present day, as well as in those of
England. For in England it was only the shilling edition--that
revised by Paine--which was suppressed. Symonds, who ministered to the
half-crown folk, and who was also publisher of replies to Paine, was
left undisturbed about his pirated edition, and the new Society for the
suppression of Vice and Immorality fastened on one Thomas Williams, who
sold pious tracts but was also convicted (June 24, 1797) of having sold
one copy of the "Age of Reason." Erskine, who had defended Paine at his
trial for the "Rights of Man," conducted the prosecution of Williams.
He gained the victory from a packed jury, but was not much elated by
it, especially after a certain adventure on his way to Lincoln's Inn. He
felt his coat clutched and beheld at his feet a woman bathed in tears.
She led him into the small book-shop of Thomas Williams, not yet called
up for judgment, and there he beheld his victim stitching tracts in a
wretched little room, where there were three children, two suffering
with Smallpox. He saw that it would be ruin and even a sort of murder to
take away to prison the husband, who was not a freethinker, and lamented
his publication of the book, and a meeting of the Society which had
retained him was summoned. There was a full meeting, the Bishop of
London (Porteus) in the chair. Erskine reminded them that Williams was
yet to be brought up for sentence, described the scene he had witnessed,
and Williams' penitence, and, as the book was now suppressed, asked
permission to move for a nominal sentence. Mercy, he urged, was a part
of the Christianity they were defending. Not one of the Society took his
side,--not even "philanthropic" Wilberforce--and Erskine threw up his
brief. This action of Erskine led the Judge to give Williams only a year
in prison instead of the three he said had been intended.

While Williams was in prison the orthodox colporteurs were circulating
Erskine's speech on Christianity, but also an anonymous sermon "On the
Existence and Attributes of the Deity," all of which was from Paine's
"Age of Reason," except a brief "Address to the Deity" appended.
This picturesque anomaly was repeated in the circulation of Paine's
"Discourse to the Theophilanthropists" (their and the author's names
removed) under the title of "Atheism Refuted." Both of these pamphlets
are now before me, and beside them a London tract of one page just sent
for my spiritual benefit. This is headed "A Word of Caution." It begins
by mentioning the "pernicious doctrines of Paine," the first being "that
there is No GOD" (sic,) then proceeds to adduce evidences of divine
existence taken from Paine's works. It should be added that this one
dingy page is the only "survival" of the ancient Paine effigy in the
tract form which I have been able to find in recent years, and to this
no Society or Publisher's name is attached.

The imprisonment of Williams was the beginning of a thirty years' war
for religious liberty in England, in the course of which occurred many
notable events, such as Eaton receiving homage in his pillory at Choring
Cross, and the whole Carlile family imprisoned,--its head imprisoned
more than nine years for publishing the "Age of Reason." This last
victory of persecution was suicidal. Gentlemen of wealth, not adherents
of Paine, helped in setting Carlile up in business in Fleet Street,
where free-thinking publications have since been sold without
interruption. But though Liberty triumphed in one sense, the "Age of
Reason." remained to some extent suppressed among those whose attention
it especially merited. Its original prosecution by a Society for the
Suppression of Vice (a device to, relieve the Crown) amounted to a libel
upon a morally clean book, restricting its perusal in families; and the
fact that the shilling book sold by and among humble people was alone
prosecuted, diffused among the educated an equally false notion that the
"Age of Reason" was vulgar and illiterate. The theologians, as we
have seen, estimated more justly the ability of their antagonist,
the collaborator of Franklin, Rittenhouse, and Clymer, on whom the
University of Pennsylvania had conferred the degree of Master of
Arts,--but the gentry confused Paine with the class described by Burke
as "the swinish multitude." Skepticism, or its free utterance, was
temporarily driven out of polite circles by its complication with the
out-lawed vindicator of the "Rights of Man." But that long combat has
now passed away. Time has reduced the "Age of Reason" from a flag of
popular radicalism to a comparatively conservative treatise, so far as
its negations are concerned. An old friend tells me that in his youth
he heard a sermon in which the preacher declared that "Tom Paine was
so wicked that he could not be buried; his bones were thrown into a box
which was bandied about the world till it came to a button-manufacturer;
and now Paine is travelling round the world in the form of buttons!"
This variant of the Wandering Jew myth may now be regarded as
unconscious homage to the author whose metaphorical bones may be
recognized in buttons now fashionable, and some even found useful in
holding clerical vestments together.

But the careful reader will find in Paine's "Age of Reason" something
beyond negations, and in conclusion I will especially call attention to
the new departure in Theism indicated in a passage corresponding to a
famous aphorism of Kant, indicated by a note in Part II. The discovery
already mentioned, that Part I. was written at least fourteen years
before Part II., led me to compare the two; and it is plain that while
the earlier work is an amplification of Newtonian Deism, based on the
phenomena of planetary motion, the work of 1795 bases belief in God on
"the universal display of himself in the works of the creation and by
that repugnance we feel in ourselves to bad actions, and disposition
to do good ones." This exaltation of the moral nature of man to be the
foundation of theistic religion, though now familiar, was a hundred
years ago a new affirmation; it has led on a conception of deity
subversive of last-century deism, it has steadily humanized religion,
and its ultimate philosophical and ethical results have not yet been
reached.



CHAPTER I - THE AUTHOR'S PROFESSION OF FAITH.

IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts
upon religion; I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the
subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced
period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to
my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of
the motive that induced me to it could not admit of a question, even by
those who might disapprove the work.

The circumstance that has now taken place in France, of the total
abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything
appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles
of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work
of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest, in the general wreck of
superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we
lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.

As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France,
have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual
profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that
sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with
itself.

I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this
life.

I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties
consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our
fellow-creatures happy.

But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in
addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the
things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by
the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the
Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my
own church.

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or
Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify
and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe
otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to
mine.



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