Monday, June 08, 2009

These Are The Times That Try Men's Souls 

Thomas Paine was an early and passionate advocate for the American Revolution, expressing in his pamphlet Common Sense the painfully optimistic hope that "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." Unfortunately for his political career, the American victory did not put an end to his principled stand against slavery, monarchy, economic exploitation, war, and religion, and by the end of his life he was reviled by his former compatriots in America.

Robert Ingersoll described his funeral thus:

One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts.

On the 8th of June, 1809, death came – Death, almost his only friend.

At his funeral no pomp, no pageantry, no civic procession, no military display. In a carriage, a woman and her son who had lived on the bounty of the dead – on horseback, a Quaker, the humanity of whose heart dominated the creed of his head – and, following on foot, two negroes filled with gratitude – constituted the funeral cortege of Thomas Paine.

He who had received the gratitude of many millions, the thanks of generals and statesmen - he who had been the friend and companion of the wisest and best - he who had taught a people to be free, and whose words had inspired armies and enlightened nations, was thus given back to Nature, the mother of us all.

200 years later to the day, as the United States suppresses evidence of the horrific crimes ordered by its President and carried out by its soldiers and mercenaries in the torture chambers it operates in the foreign countries it has brutally conquered, it is worth reflecting on the pathetic fate of those who take seriously the moral imperative to secure liberty for all human beings, and who are unwilling to compromise with those to whom "freedom" is nothing more than a battle cry in a clash between warring tribes.

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