Chamblee54

Tom Paine

Posted in History, Library of Congress, Quotes by chamblee54 on October 9, 2021

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There is a meme floating through the innertubes. “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” Thomas Paine English-American political activist, writer and revolutionary. A drawing of Mr. Paine lurks to the left of the text.

The quote is from the first paragraph of a pamphlet written by Mr. Paine, The American Crisis: LANCASTER, March 21, 1778, TO GENERAL SIR WILLIAM HOWE. It was part five of a series, The American Crisis. The tract was intended to inspire the war effort against the British. The full sentence: “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

Four Principles of Quotation was written in 2002, before the rise of meme culture. The salient principle for today is number four, “Only quote from works that you have read.” The tract by Mr. Paine is 6956 words of revolutionary era purple prose. Today’s facebook expressionist does not want to go to that much trouble.

The American Crisis V has some interesting passages. It would be considered politically incorrect today. The British labelled is “the encourager of Indian cruelties,” and accused of “the unchangeable name of meanness.”… “The particular act of meanness which I allude to in this description, is forgery. You, sir, have abetted and patronized the forging and uttering counterfeit continental bills. … shows an inbred wretchedness of heart made up between the venomous malignity of a serpent and the spiteful imbecility of an inferior reptile.”

The text is directed at General William Howe. The war was not going well for the British… “They resemble the labors of a puppy pursuing his tail; the end is still at the same distance, and all the turnings round must be done over again.” General Howe resigned April 4, 1778, fifteen days after The American Crisis V was written. The purple prose might have been a factor.

“Your master’s speech at the opening of Parliament, is like … daily decaying into the grave with constitutional rottenness. … If there is a sin superior to every other, it is that of wilful and offensive war. … We leave it to England and Indians to boast of these honors; …”

Mr. Paine has a good reputation today. This was not universal during the revolution. “In 1777, Congress named Paine secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs. The following year, however, Paine accused a member of the Continental Congress of trying to profit personally from French aid given to the United States. In revealing the scandal, Paine quoted from secret documents that he had accessed through his position at Foreign Affairs. Also around this time, in his pamphlets, Paine alluded to secret negotiations with France that were not fit for public consumption. These missteps eventually led to Paine’s expulsion from the committee in 1779.”

After the war, Mr. Paine went back to England. He soon got involved in the French Revolution, and was imprisoned. He continued to write, and get in trouble. Mr. Paine was invited back to the United States by Thomas Jefferson. He “died in June 1809, and to drive home the point of his tarnished image, the New York Citizen printed the following line in Paine’s obituary: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm.” Pictures are from The Library of Congress. This is a repost.

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