Copyright 2007 New Jersey Newspaper Foundation.
All Rights Reserved.
for a PDF version of Chapter 8
Chapter 8 - Good Ideas
in Print Shaped a Nation
The United States
Those words, first put
together by Thomas Paine, showed his concern not
only for the individual and for the state, but
for a nation of many states holding many
As these thoughts came
from many of his earlier writings, they entered
the debates and dialogues of the delegates to the
Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia
from May to September 1787.
However, Thomas Paine
wasn't there or even outside the State House. He
was in Paris promoting his iron bridge invention.
The war had ended, and
Thomas Jefferson, also in Paris, was America's
consul to France and John Adams was in London as
America's consul to England.
However far away the
three men were, their ideas about America and its
first Constitution could quickly be put on paper
But in truth, their ideas
were already so well known that the delegates to
the Constitutional Convention knew to present, to
debate and to defend them.
With elder Dr. Benjamin
Franklin as their eyes and ears at the
Convention, he never let the ideas of Paine,
Jefferson and Adams stray far from what the
Constitution was completed, the delegates had
added 10 amendments, tagged the Bill of Rights.
They aptly placed as the
First Amendment these words:
shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or
of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a redress of grievances."
Thomas Paine's ideas
reflected through his writing of Common Sense
and his The American Crisis articles
during the American Revolution are clearly
evident in this great document: the Constitution
of the United States of America.
* * *
Thomas Paine's work as advocate of
the common man was far from over, however. He
went to England from 1787 to 1792, where he wrote
another important document, The Rights of Man.
He escaped arrest in
England because of what he wrote and fled to
France, where he was welcomed as a hero.
While in France he wrote Age
of Reason and helped write a new French
During the French
Revolution and its Reign of Terror, Paine was
arrested in Paris in1793 and sentenced to death
for his views. He was sent to the deadly
Luxembourg prison, where, like Paine, thousands
of prisoners remained without a trial.
On June 24, 1794, the
Reign tightened its terror, and for the next 47
days citizens went to the guillotine at the rate
of 30 a day.
Suffering from strain,
Paine collapsed into a coma and appeared close to
death. He couldn't eat, speak or even cry.
Authorities moved him for special care and
allowed doctors to help him.
While death hovered over
him, the sentence of the guillotine was
pronounced. His name was next on the list of
those to be executed.
But then something
The prison procedure
called for marking with chalk the cell door of
those scheduled to die that day.
But to allow ventilation
into Paine's cell, someone left his cell door
open enough to hide the deadly chalk mark.
The death squad never saw
It wasn't long after that
that the times changed.
In August, Paine's friend
James Monroe became the American Consul in Paris.
Consul and Mrs. Monroe
rescued Paine from Luxembourg and took him to
their residence on November 6, 1794.
At the Paris residence of
Consul and Mrs. Monroe, Thomas Paine began to
write Part 2 of Age of Reason.
* * *
One day, a knock at the
Monroe residence in Paris produced a big surprise
for Thomas Paine.
Standing in the hallway
were three people-- a very tall young man holding
the hand of a little girl and a young woman.
It was Frederich from
"Oh, Mr. Paine, we
heard you were in prison," Frederich said.
"We asked to see you but they would not let
Paine, overcome by
surprise, had to sit down.
"I cannot believe my
eyes," he said. "Why are you here? And,
Frederich, who is this child?"
"Mr. Paine, this is my daughter, little Anna
Marie. Anna Marie, say hello to Mr. Paine."
Anna Marie stood before
Paine and gave a curtsy. "How do you do, Mr.
Paine," she said.
"Well, most of the
time I am not speechless, but today I am,"
Paine replied. "How old are you little
"I am eight years
old, almost nine. How old are you?" Anna
"I am 56 years old,
but today I feel almost nine," Paine said
with a warm smile. "But why are all of you
"Our family is here
on business," Anna Marie responded. "We
have learned French from the deBonnevilles. Do
you know them? We must all meet."
Later that week Paine,
Frederich and his family dined at the home of
Nicholas deBonneville, who owned a publishing
company in Paris. A great and lasting friendship
began at dinner that night.
Nicholas and his wife,
Marguerite, invited Paine to stay with them. That
visit lasted five years.
However, Paine and the
deBonnevilles could not stay longer in
France because their views and his writing were
too liberal for the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Paine left Paris and came back to America, along
with Marguerite and her three sons, leaving
Nicholas behind in Paris. She dropped the
de from the family name to better fit
in as new immigrants to America.
For a time, Paine lived
at his property in New Rochelle, New York, which
had been donated to him by the New York State
legislature for his role in the American
Revolution. However, his worsening health forced
him to live with the Bonnevilles in New
York City, where he died on June 8, 1809.
Paine was buried on the
grounds of his New Rochelle property.
But one night in October
1809, William Corbett, an enthusiastic admirer of
Paine, dug up his coffin and arranged to ship it
to England where he hoped to erect a monument in
failed, the coffin disappeared, and Thomas
Paines remains have never been recovered.
* * *
There is no grave for the
man whose words helped to fuel the American
Revolution ... no grave for the man who spent a
large portion of his life in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey, whose only purchased home was in
Bordentown, N.J., and who was lifelong friends
with Frederich and Anna of Philadelphia.
Return to the Table of Contents