Ian Ruskin Thomas Paine - POI

Playwright and Actor Ian Ruskin on Thomas Paine

January 09, 2020

POI Ruskin Underdown
L: Ian Ruskin M: Thomas Paine R: Jim Underdown

Ian Ruskin is a producer, writer, actor, and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He has starred in theatre, television, and film in both the UK and the US. He has written and performed in various one-man plays, From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks which details the life of Australian-born American union leader, Harry Bridges and To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine. To learn more about or contact Ian, visit: www.ianruskin.org. To learn more about Ruskin’s one-man show, visit: thelifeofthomaspaine.org

In this week’s interview, Jim Underdown and Ruskin discuss the life of Thomas Paine, his influence on politics, religion, and what Ian learned about Paine in his work preparing for The Life of Thomas Paine.


In 1775, a man who had lived 37 remarkably unremarkable years in England arrived in Philadelphia. He then proceeded to change the world. His pen ignited the American Revolution, defined the French Revolution and articulated the concept of Reason. For this he was nearly hanged in England, nearly guillotined in France and, by the end of his life, more hated than loved in America. He was one of the world’s greatest propagandists and worst politicians, a nearly fatal combination, and he is one of the most misunderstood men in American history. Yet his vision of true justice and equality for all human beings continues to inspire millions of people and his ideas, revolutionary in 1776, continue to be as revolutionary today.

What was that great music you heard?

“Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the Sunshine Patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of their country. But he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. The heart of the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. American Crisis one. Thomas Paine. And as to the Bible, whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debauchery is the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled. It would be more consistent if we called it the word of a demon than the word of God. Does a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind. And for my own part, I sincerely detested, as I detest everything that is cruel. Age of reason. Part one, Thomas Paine. 

OK, we’re here in the secular sacristy with Ian Ruskin, welcome in. Thank you. Nice to be here. Today, we’re going to be talking about Thomas Paine and his life and his influence on the world. 

You do a show about Thomas Paine. Yes, I do. 

You’re an actor. I’m an actor. I’ve always been an actor and starting. Nearly 20 years ago, I started writing. So I write the plays as well. 

I’m sure some of the brighter people out there are detecting an accent from you. Where are you from originally? 

London. Basically, I mean, like I lived a life where we traveled a lot. I partly grew up in America. 

Having been back now for 30 years, I try to keep my English accent well, as an actor, that could come in handy now. Including playing Thomas Paine. 

Yeah. How perfectly appropriate. Yeah. I guess, you know, a lot of people don’t realize that if you’re walking around in 1776, probably a pretty high percentage of people would have your accent or some sort of English accent. 

I think quite a few did. Yeah, so do I. The founding fathers, the rest of the founding fathers were all think at least first generation. And I think an American accent had been growing. So I think Paines accent, although it wasn’t unusual, it did set him apart from the others who are called the founding fathers, Washington, Jefferson, and mostly an American accent. 

As far as I understand, yes, you would think. Yes, but there’s still plenty of immigrants coming across dances all year. An English were still the primary numbers. How long have you been acting? 

All my life. Not professionally, but I was in school plays and I was in amateur productions things. And you studied acting. And I studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Which was a great experience. It’s it’s a bit like going to a trade school. I mean, we didn’t learn anything about the history of theater. Nothing academic. We learn how to swordfight, put on makeup, work with our voices, learn accents and act. But it was very much about coming out as a tradesman whose trade was acting pure, performance based. 

There was a few years ago it may have changed. Well, I’m sure the skills are still relevant to. Yes. 

The trade show and you’ve been in movies and I’ve been in movies. 

When I first came here, I did quite a bit of television. Not the golden age of television that I think is with us now. And what actually happened was I got after the initial excitement of making the money and having your own trailer and all that. Hey, I got a little discouraged and tired of I was doing cops and robbers shows, and they didn’t really mean anything. No, they. In the big scope of thing. Yes, they. I mean, when you’re in drama school. You do great plays. You do plays that were written to. Have an effect on the audience, either a great comedy. It wouldn’t have to be political, but they would. The hope was that the people would leave the theater feeling a little different. And that was not happening when I did McGyver. I was very happy to do McGyver at the time, but so that’s when I began to think about. Maybe even creating my own work, which I’ve never done. But finding work, that meant more to me. 

So how does that where does that start? What’s the first thing that popped? 

Well, the first one was a I was cast to play this. 

This man called Harry Bridges, an Australian. Came to California and was a very visionary union leader, a dock worker. Yes, yes, he came as a he arrived as a sailor and then, as often happened, became someone who unloaded ships, which was one of the most usof professions you could have. And I was cast to play him in a play which had a large cast and didn’t go anywhere because it was too expensive. So I decided I would. Well, I considered the idea of writing a one man play about Harry Bridges, which after years, it’s hard to write your first play partner, right? 

Period. It’s hard to write yes at all. 

But as someone once said to me, well, Shakespeare wrote his first play. So eventually I wrote this one man play about bridges pulled from Wharf Rats to Lords of the docks. And I’ve now performed that probably 300 times. Oh, wow. All over America. In England, packed for the English and Scottish parliaments was interesting in Australia. So that’s how it began for me. I was introduced to this man I’d never heard of. You know, once I started reading about him, I liked his philosophy. I liked his politics. Also. You write a play the person’s life. They have to have ups and downs. It’s no good if they are also all successful or unsuccessful. Right. Which is certainly I found that with Thomas Paine, but it was the same. It bridges. He had his ups and downs. And he took me to unions, but also universities. Citizens groups. All the great port cities of the world. It seemed, you know, I mean, it was wonderful. It’s been wonderful. 

So it works as a piece of drama as well as a person of historical interest who, by the way, and I think quite a bit like Thomas Paine is fairly certainly heavily Harry Bridges is mostly unknown in this country. Yes. And I would say pain pretty much as to especially compared to Jefferson of Madison and the rest. 

I actually met someone last night lecture, and we were saying, you know, what do you do? And I mentioned pain. She was an English woman, lived here about 40 years. She didn’t know who Thomas Paine was at all while whorish a while. 

And she was a very bright woman. Yeah. We’re in the Commons, right. Educated people don’t know who he is. Yes. I mean, you’re right. The same with bridges, are you? 

How well is Paine known in Britain? Do you think? 

Well, it’s interesting. I’ve done a couple of little tours and. A bit like America in that he has a definite fan club. Also, I was performing in the towns that he lived in, grew up in. Which gives you an advantage. But the other twist with England, there are people who still consider him a traitor, really, because he wanted to bring down the monarchy. 


While he was fighting for United States independence. 

Yes. But also the idea of a democracy. He was against monarchy. All right. Well, that was traitorous. In fact, he was. 

But one of his works, the rights of man, part first. He was found guilty of sedition. And the sedition, they hang you. And he got out of England one morning just in time. And. Could never go back. 

All that’s painting the picture of his life a little bit. He’s grew up in Thetford. 

Born in Thetford, he was there, too. He was about fifteen. Father was primarily known as a corset maker. 

So he’s making the stay, stays in the corsets. 

Now, he did also, in fact, make sales for sailboat’s and there is evidence that that was his. Primary. Source of income, perhaps, or they were making sales was seasonal. We didn’t do very much at certain times of the year and certainly then he would make the stays and fit the corsets. And pain was an apprentice course, Imake. 

So he really is sort of as his first skills are, as a sort of a tailor and good at sewing. 

Yes. Yes. And in Montana, he wasn’t crazy about the work. 

Yeah, I can imagine not. Well, it probably wasn’t going to be around long historically anyway. Maybe he saw writing on the wall. 

OK. So pain grows up in this environment and is expected to go into his father’s business. 

I mean, he was literally apprenticed and he worked for some years as a corset maker. There were times when he went off to do something else and then ended up having to go back to making corsets just to make money. So he was also corset maker in the little little little driving time market town of disks, also in Norfolk, not far from Thetford. These are places I performed. It was very interesting to follow that. But what happened was the Seven Years War. Came along, which was really, in a way, almost the First World War in that it involves so many nations. And he ran off to London to become a private chair. No private is a bit like pirates. But do they? They fight the king’s enemies. But when they conquer a ship, they get all that’s on board. 

So they’re like totally license sort of outlaws. 

I guess mercenaries in a way, are against Stumm under the under the auspices of being at war. 

So, yeah. 

So in theory, they were doing it for the king, but they were really doing it for the money they make as if Rob successful. You made a lot of money out of these ships. 

Yeah. Do they pass up the poor look in ships? Probably. I wouldn’t surprise anything on this ship. And amazingly, the foot and this is true. 

When he went to London, his father followed him there and convinced him to wait another year before he signed on a ship with the ship he was going to sign onto was called the Terrible. And the captain was Captain William Death. 

Oh, wow. And the Terrible went out into the channel and sank. So painted well to wait does. Oh, okay. So he wasn’t all that. Oh that’s good. 

Okay, I was gonna say it’s a quick end too. I could’ve had. So I had such great PR possibility. Yes. But like I just see the guy, I mean, he’s a you know, he’s sitting in a shop somewhere in Norfolk and and probably hears about guys out on the ocean and stuff. 

And he’s like, oh, man, I gotta get out. Oh, absolutely. 

I mean, glory and plunder. 

Are right. It’s gotta be exciting. Well, how old is he at this? He was fifteen or sixteen. 

But I mean, I say in the plague, the glory and plunder, two things in very short supply was a maker. Of course it’s right. 

Right. Yeah. Well, yeah. And a 15 year olds all full of piss and vinegar and you know something dating. 

So how long is this period last as a privateer? 

Oh, just about a year. And then he he retires to London and he has thirty pounds, which is a lot of money then. And, and the London is the beginning of him discovering coffee houses and debating clubs and the idea of the Enlightenment, that concept. Also seeing incredible poverty and abuse and whippings and hangings and. It was said and I checked this source a number of times, ten thousand children a year died from Gine drinking. Why does everybody made their own gin? And it killed kids. 

Well, and as part of that, because the big water supplies are not trustworthy. 

Well, yes, you couldn’t you couldn’t drink the water on its own. That could kill you. 

So everybody’s pouring a little beer or jay or something. 

Brandy. Rum. But the gin was because it was cheap. Because people made it when they made themselves. That’s why it was particularly popular. You had to put something in the water. 

Propane really gets us first. But we social education is not particularly book educated by this at this point. 

Well, no, no, I. I actually performed his grammar school in Thetford is still a functioning school. Oh wow. 

That began in six thirty one, not 16 but six thirty one. Wow. Third oldest school in England. Some reason and. I didn’t I didn’t perform in the original arts room, which was like a church hall, but I went here. I was given a tour by the headmaster. His father did not allow him to learn Greek or Latin. His father was a Quaker and his father saw those languages as being and see dead languages. He wanted his son to learn English. The living language. So that restricted Paines range of education. On the other hand, English education at that time was. Heir to most of the rest of the world was very good, and he was in school till he was 14. 

And you get a good education. 

OK, so, yeah. 

But he was not versed in classical bought, but for a person of his station, he was pretty well educated. 

Yes, yes. He goes to London. 

I could see him as being a bit wide eyed and now you’re rubbing elbows with people with political opinions, is truly educated people of racism here in there. 

And is this where he discovers his political side and has debate? 

I think this is where it began. He then fast forward a few years where he’s done various things, including making corsets again, becoming a tax or excise inspector. And he was then posted to Lewis, which is near Brighton, about 40 miles south of London. It’s on a river where a lot of smuggling will take place. And I again, I went to Lewes where they gave me all the tours, all the places he lived or everything’s amazing. Lewis was a very radical town. Why, I don’t know particularly, but historically, it was one of the first places to elect their own counsel. Basically, that would control the issues of everyday living rather than having the local Barran board run everything. It was a place that a lot of religious dissenters went to. There were a lot of chapels and denominations outside of the Church of England. So he learned a lot there, particularly. There was a club, the headstrong club, where he debated. Regularly. And he made a lot of fairly what I guess we call radical friends in Lewis. At the same time as being an exercise inspector. 

Which was working for the government, working for the government and an unpopular job, working for the very unpopular because they stopped everyone’s favorite things, right? Mostly booze, real cheek, as I say in the play. Tea. Coffee. Chocolate. Sugar. Tobacco. Alcohol and soap. Oh, wow. Soap. 

I think they say to wash away the sins brought on by the other. He actually wrote a petition on behalf of 3000 excise inspectors all over England. The pay was so bad that a lot of them would take bribes and his petition to parliament said, if you pay us more and you give us better working conditions, we will be honest. It was really, you could say, the first attempt to organize a union in our modern times because he this had the backing of 3000 of his fellow workers, and it was very much about the working conditions of excise inspectors. And for that, he was fired, boss. 

Yeah. Despite the fact that such an idea would probably raise the overall revenues. 

It would have done. Yes. I mean, they were paid 50 pounds a year and they had to pay 18 pounds a year for their horse. Not did not leave enough money to live on. 

So, of course, you took bribes from smugglers who are now smuggling way more and not paying tax on any of that. Yes. 

So it goes short sighted. 

Well, it sounds like an up and environment that was perfect for continuing to shape him, if only to see that there are other people with these mindsets in the world running around and maybe talking about them. 

Yes. Right. He’s not everywhere in the world. I mean, there’s always dissidents everywhere and, you know, revolutionaries everywhere. 

But most of them keep their mouths shut and keep to themselves. And you never find out that anyone else may think like you do if you’re in the wrong place. 

Right. I mean, he was lucky that, in fact, there’s a man, Paul Myles in Lewis, who’s written a book called The Case of the Excise Inspector. And this whole it’s a short book is about Heyns education in Lewis. And there was a local paper theme. And it’s the Mid Sussex Gazette that was famous for people writing articles. And it did a lot of it was like a whistleblower paper exposing corruption in the upper echelons of the English government. Oh, I’m Paine wrote in that paper and read it. And that also really started to focus him on. The coaching, the corruption. He gradually big eruption, not necessarily of the king, but of the whole system. 

Saying that what the powerful and. Their influence over the rest of the working. 

OK, so he signs science’s position. This petition and the government’s has. 

But you you no longer have a job. And what happens next? 

He moves. Well, he then he literally will. He and his second wife separated. He gave her the house, which is very unusual. Usually when a couple separates. The woman gets nothing and becomes a prostitute. The usual path, he gave her the house. He got a sum of money. They agreed. He got a sum of money which would help pay for his passage to the colonies, because what happened was he went back to London and that’s when he met Ben Franklin. And Franklin wrote these letters of recommendation because he was struck by pain and pains, ideas and intellect and passion. But something you said earlier where we can come back to pain did not know how to keep his mouth shut. Yeah. All through his life. So he had these letters and he had the money for the fare. And so he went to the colonies. And one of the things that’s fascinating about pain to me is that he was 37 when he sailed to Philadelphia. He had failed in almost everything he’d done, every job he for his first wife had died in childbirth. He’s in his second wife separated. He had no money. And he comes to America. And he suddenly starts to change the world with his pen. Now, it’s important, I think, to say that this whole idea that. Came out of nowhere. Is not true, a lot of it came out of Lewis and his time in Lewis. But. He had not written very much. She debated, but he gets to Philadelphia and. 

Changes the world and that he he lands there at the age of 37. In. Seventeen seventy five. Yes. So, I mean, obviously, he doesn’t know that the revolutions about the start, but it’s heady times there because people are unhappy. These taxes have been levied against the colonists. And there’s a lot of grumbling. 

Well, yes, although not many people were actually talking about war. People talked about petitioning the king. But better conditions, including taxation. People still most people saw the king as their king and did not. Lay the blame at his feet, but at the feet of the House of Lords and so on. Which is why common sense was such a revolutionary document, because it was. 

I think it was really the first. 

Piece of writing that said, clearly, we should be independent, we should. It’s not a question of getting a better deal from the king. It’s a question of us being independent from the king. And he said in in common sense, we can win the war. 

So he’s he’s among the first people. And. 

Well, let’s talk about common sense for a second, because this is it’s called a pamphlet, but it’s what is it like 40 Fortgang pages, pages. And in it, Paine does just what you said. He he outlines this argument for why we should split from England. 

And he does it in a way that talks to the regular person on the street. 

It’s not all as highfalutin language. The Jeffersons and the Madisons who are well-educated people. Who’s a barfly. 

And, you know, a guy who’s used to coffeehouses and bars and right in such a way that people, the average person or the average landowner anyway, could say yeye. 

He makes a good point here. 

Yes. That’s what made him dangerous. That’s why. Because most of the what we call the founding fathers at that point were still thinking in terms of getting a better deal from England. And still would still consider themselves British subject. 

And what. And or Ben Franklin was in London doing just that was it. He was an A.. 

Yes, he was the British colonial British American colonial agent. So he was still like the ambassador. 

Equivalent to the ambassador. 

And you’re right. 

I mean, I have done comparisons of other writers of the Enlightenment where the sentence he takes a page. And by the time you get to the end, you can’t remember the beginning. It’s beautiful writing about flowers and sunrises and things like that and pain. You know, pain wrote things such as in America. The law is king with despots. The king is law. People got that. Oh, yeah, right. 

Well, and probably. I mean, you think about the type of people who come to America. These are people who are looking for a better way of life. They are looking for a change. They’re probably a little predisposed and still are. I would argue toward being anti I some sort of authority. So pain comes up and and and writes this thing, which, incidentally, is wildly popular. Right. It’s. 

Oh, it it. Well, it’s hard to to know, but it it’s sold something like the equivalent of 70 million copies today would be seven. Yeah. And it said that everyone either read it or had it read to them if they didn’t know how to read it, read it literally changed the opinion of the public. From dependance to independence. 

Wow. Yes. Yeah. Percentage wise, the highest selling. Piece of right, ever a ring? 

Yes. And it also it covered other subjects, too, also covered the subject of freedom of religious choice. Which he would go back to later in his life. But it it says, above all, freedom of conscience, which would also appeal to Americans who are many of them there for that area, is because already America was becoming a Calvinist country. And the two religious groups that were the most persecuted were the Jews and the Catholics. Not to mention anything like the idea of being an atheist. Right, was off the scale and pain, basically. We very clearly said everyone has the right to their own religious belief, which is unbelieve, which is also a revolutionary idea. 


And again, appealed to a lot of the what we would call the working class of the colonies who were not necessarily, you know, from the pilgrims and all of that, that already there was a whole status created. Of one, if you if your ancestors were on the Mayflower. 

Yeah. Right, right. Right. There are two reasons to look down on you. Oh, yes. So, I mean, I’ve I’ve argued for four years that you could make the argument that the American Revolution really doesn’t happen without this massive groundswell caused by pain. 

I think so. I mean. Well, I think it. At the least, it would have been delayed by quite a few years. It’s interesting. No, there are there is an argument, of course. Canada never had revolution and ended up basically with its own freedom. So some people say, well, America should have just waited, but that somehow wasn’t the feeling in the colonies. It would have. It may not have happened, but it would have taken a lot longer. Because the powers in America were so entrenched in the idea of, for instance, trade was completely through England. The other thing is the east in East India Company was anything more powerful than the British government. They ran the enemy of the world or the Western world. So there were issues like that that people didn’t want to upset. They never minded upsetting anything was off setting. 

Well, and you had that’s it’s on the verge. The Industrial Revolution hadn’t happened yet, but probably people in America at the time and Britain, Britain and the time could see the potential of this vast new continent or growing things. And who knows what we’re underneath. 

Yes, it was a potentially a source or maybe some very important part of the British Empire. 

So common sense puts Payne on the map and he starts meeting powerful people. 

Yes. He gets to know Washington and Franklin, obviously, or Jefferson a little later. Adams and Adams were not. Did not see eye to eye, sir. But he he knew all those people. There is no question that. His writing. At the very least, influenced the Declaration of Independence. There is a whole theory that he wrote it, which we do not have to go into today. But he certainly influenced it. And yet he was not part of it. He was not part of the Continental Congress. He was always on the outside, but his influence was enormous. I mean, also, he he wrote for the Pennsylvania legislature. That was one of the first document, legal documents against slavery, though he wrote against slavery often. He just pushed people’s buttons, right, against slavery, you’re writing against the bases of the economic system of the colonies. 


And there was there was a. a slavery sentiment among many of their religious sects and some of the northerners, obviously, especially. But to Yatta, start trying to incorporate that and to what would become law. 

And maybe the Constitution eventually ruffles a lot of feathers. 

Right. Especially because he raised it as a moral issue. And he was. I mean, I consider him a founding father. He was the only founding father who did not slaves. I think Adams didn’t have slaves that Frank Franklin had slaves. Yes, a few. Not many. Washington had many slaves. Jefferson, of course, had slave. They all had slaves. I think Adams didn’t. Adams was a northern farmer. He came from a different place. But. No one was outspoken the way Paine was. He called it this horrid trade of human flesh. He’s passionately against it. 


And ahead of his time with a lot of his views on his views about women and. 

Voting and all sorts of things, capital punishment. 

He was against capital punishment and wasn’t he? 

I seem to remember in some writings that he lived down the street from a hangman’s platform when he was young. 

Well, yes, the. And Thetford will incept now what I. I have actually heard that what I do know is that the Quaker meeting house. Was near the town stocks. And was on the way to the hanging’s and he said he said in. He wrote later that they would sit in their time of meditation and silence in their meeting. And hear the screams of people from the stocks now. And. Ah, and they would hear people with sessions taking the people to be hung. And people were hung for stealing a pound of tea. Right. I mean, you have to do very much to be hung. 

Yeah. It could look horribly and just I mean, it should look at just the anybody. But to a young boy sitting in church. Yes. Doesn’t sound right. 

Yeah. I know where Quakers obviously encourage contemplation. Of your own thoughts? And then to hear people screaming, to make you think it’s got. 

That’s a little too straight. OK, so the war begins. And it’s a law. 

It’s a fairly long war. The American Revolution lasted six years. It’s hard to keep people motivated for a long time. When it comes to war. So pain finds another point, too. He’s called upon. Or does he volunteer to rally the troops? Well, I think what happened. 

He he’s made. 

Well, let us say he’s made a major it’s such a good joke and the play was a major pain. But he was all he was made an adjutant for the commander or something. But then. He literally was was told. You are more valuable to us. We are writing. But you’re not going to fight on the frontlines, you’re going to right where we need it. And it very quickly became very apparent the Continental Army was in full retreat. The English had marched down Broadway, they take a New York. They were taking town after town. They were heading towards Philadelphia. Thousands of men were deserting because they were losing. Winter was approaching. They were. There was no money to pay them, basically. And they were mostly farmers and their crops were going to ruin. And that’s when Paine wrote American Crisis one. With the famous opening line of these are the times that try men’s soul. And it. And I think this is literally true that. The night before Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve to root out scenes with HBO’s Real Victory. He had his offices read American crises, one to all their groups of men all over the camp. And it was reported that the next day when they were routing the Hessians, the men were screaming. These are the times that try men’s souls. But it really did have it. It saved the war, really. I mean, things were absolutely desperate. Suddenly, men stopped deserting. They started fighting. They they had a few victories to keep going. And he wrote you know, he wrote 13 these crises in all said one for each colony. But they were all either to rally the Americans or to challenge the British. He wrote to the British generals to say, you are such fools. You really think that we’re going to quit. Yes. And that and that your army cares and wants to die for this cause. Because we do. 

It’s their Vietnam. Yes. Absolute. Yes, precisely. 

They’re like she’s 3000 miles from home. I’m freezing my ass off. And for a while. Yes. To be here with these people. 

Absolutely. And it’s interesting because I I as a child, I lived in Philadelphia till I was 13, where every year we started the American Revolution. And every year we went to Valley Forge. I go back to England. We spent three days on the war of independence. That was it. And I kept SA said, no, that’s not sir. Excuse me, sir. That’s wrong, sir. Because it was a different war that was taught. What was taught. Which I think was true. I think it was Cornwall that had ten thousand crack troops somewhere in Canada before this really began as it was beginning. And what we were taught in England is if he had chosen to march through the colonies, he could have wiped out the whole idea then. But he didn’t take it seriously until the crash has happened. You could say in Vietnam, right? In a different way. It snuck up on him. Yeah. So, um, but it was very interesting to be taught about this war from the two sides have fought it. 

OK. So he rallies the troops. We end up. He gets a job with the Continental Congress eventually. And it wasn’t your soldier. 

Yes. Well, pain. Pain never really had money because he gave away. 

Almost all the rights, everything he ever wrote, write it in May, even though common sense was so hugely popular. Yeah, he didn’t make him rich. 

No, but because the first thousand copies of the first six thousand, the profits he gave to Washington. To buy mittens for the men. After that, he announced anyone could publish it for free. So he made no money on it. And that was consistent through his life. But so what he did was he would go to Congress and complain, I’ve done all this for you and I have no money. And so finally, he was appointed secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs. Which was basically he took the notes of these meetings. I mean, it wasn’t really a grand job, but it shut him up for a while and got some money. And then, I mean, without going into too much detail, there was what’s known as the Silus Dean affair, where he he was really the first whistleblower in America. He exposed this corruption, the expose, the fact that this man, Dean, was also working for a capitalist. All a man of armed armies, and they did things like they got they bought gunpowder in France and marked it up by 500 percent to sell to our Congress. 

Sell to Congress. 

Robert Morris, who was this financier. His company were given the contract to supply the entire Continental Army without any bids. And there was when I was writing a first draft of the play, I made more direct references. So there it was Halliburton. But I took them out because I felt I didn’t need to put that in. People got it. But yes, so he was for a short time, but then once this this affair, the Silas Deane affair happened. He was fired. Palin was fired by pain, was fired because he had leaked diplomatic information. He also had talked about how France had supplied us before the treaties were signed. And that was the end of his political career. He never held another political post, though. 

He stepped on some tussles in Congress at that point. And I mean, I it was always interesting for me to see that some of his ideas and I mean, I think. You said the phrase push people’s buttons. 

You could see pain as being even if you agreed with a lot of what he was saying. For anyone, he had the potential of being a political liability. 

Oh, too. Unless I always had to have this image, it’s not based on anything accurate. 

Payne and Franklin, because Franklin was the next most radical, I believe people, Payne and Franklin are sitting down in a in a tavern. And Payne is telling Ben. And this is what I’m going to say, because this, this and this. And Franklin is saying, let’s back it off. 

And of course, the next day, Thomas goes out and proclaims it because that’s what he did. Now. 

Yeah, he’s the he’s the niggling little conscience. 

Yeah, and somebodies shoulder thing. Oh, God, don’t say that much. But he says it. Yeah. Politically incorrect. Before it was a concept. Politically non expedient. Yes. So. So we keep Bern’s a few bridges. It designs a bridge, gate bridges and area bridges. 

Yes. So it’s I mean, it’s it’s easy. There’s this intellect, this this working mind that won’t stop. And at some point he says, I’m going to go overseas again. 

Well, yes. What happened? The war has ended, America won with huge support from France, is still kind of underplayed in America. America would never have won without France, right? France was in it for their own reasons as well. 

But we still need their guns and money. 

Yes, we still needed their French fries. Thank you very much. So the war’s over. Pain. And he was not alone in seeing that the war had. Not achieved all its aims, it had created two classes of people, the people who made the money out of the war and the people who didn’t. And he did not like that. And there were a number of people who talked about we need a second revolution. None of this was going down well at all. He then designed this bridge. And Franklin said you should take. And he couldn’t get anyone to build it in America, in the colonies. Franklin said take it to Paris. French Academy of Science. They might be interested. And that is specifically why Payne left it. He went with his bridge design. Has the Constitution was being created? 


Had many problems with the Constitution, he said it preserved the power of the powerful and preserved the shame of slavery. And until that change. So he left America. He was disappointed. With what had happened with the revolution. Gets to France, where they also have no money to build his bridge. But within a short time, the French Revolution’s beginning. Goes to Paris and goes to Paris as a hero, mainly because of common sense. And CS initially a revolution that he thinks will achieve what the American Revolution never did. 

Namgyal arms upswelling from the lower classes against the monarchy, a lot of similar themes. 

Yes, and true fraternity and equality and the idea of a what we would call a parliament, a real parliament elected by the people, I mean it. And getting rid of the monarchy without assassinating or beheading him. Paine’s idea. But yes, it seemed to have all the possibilities that had been somehow lost. I mean, it’s not he didn’t think the American Revolution was a waste of time at all. But he was disappointed in so much its potential. Yes. Yes. 

And he so he saw that potential in France and goes over there and find themself just deep in it after not too long. 

Very quickly. He’s a elected delegate to the French assembly, though he couldn’t speak French, really have a translator. He’s becomes quite outspoken against Robespierre. He’s against the idea of massive bloodletting as a way of revolution. Because here we know in France, you’re not fighting an outside army, you’re fighting with within yourself. He also was very, as I said, against the beheading of the king. And there was a lot of beheading going, oh, by now we’re in the reign of terror and. He had been appointed one of seven to write the new constitution. But the machine, as the Gore team was known. So efficient was was everywhere. And when he came out strongly against executing the king. 

That kind of sealed his fate. 

So he’s criticizing the new power. 

Right. He went to Granz, Rob Speir, who was basically running the reign of terror. And he was against. He said, hey, it’s morally wrong. Kill someone. Be if we kill him, he’ll become a martyr to all the other monarchs and make them more likely to invade. And number three, exiled him to America. They love him over there. Yeah. Let him never, never set foot on French soil again. You don’t have to be him. But he was beheaded. And then tamers arrested. Technically, because he was English and France was at war with England. But he was he was arrested because of his positions and he was in prison for months and months and nine days, a fairly comfortable prison. And was nearly beheaded himself. 

Yeah. Tell that story. That’s giving away all the best moments of my play here. Well, that’s okay. 

Now, this story and I when I first read this, I mean, I talked to a number of Scott. I had five scholars who were working or keeping an eye on me. They also, as far as they know, this is true, that what would happen if you were gonna go to trial was they called it they would put an X on your cell door in the morning and then by midnight, you were rounded up and taken your trial and usually beheaded. So he was in a cell with three Belgians by this point and he had typhus. So they kept the door of his cell open all day to try and let more air come in and of soothe the fevers. Well, their time had come to go to trial and a fall was marked on the door, but the door was open. The morning of the door was open and by about seven o’clock, as it was getting cooler, the door was closed and the mark was on the inside. And they passed over his cell that he had been chosen. Yes. And there were 268 went to trial that night and eight lived. Now I know one and I think this actually happened. Now, whether it happened by luck or was it a person in power wore a bribe? No one knows. But he was not beheaded. And then relatively soon after that, he finally was freed from prison. But he came. Having been found guilty of sedition in England. That’s why he had returned to France. So Engel was trying to hang him. France and they beheaded him. 

So, yeah. Even before he got to France, he just got out of England by the skin of his teeth. Was he tipped off that they were? 

Yes. He was found guilty in a very famous trial of sedition and the penalty for sedition was hanging in absentia. Well, he was he was in England at the time. No, no. So you’re right. He was the trial was going on. The story as he was having dinner with William Blake. He definitely knew Blake and that Blake. Who was the kind of visionary man? Turn to pain and said, don’t go home tonight. Will be a dead man. And that pain that that morning left Ford Dover and got on a ship and he only managed to get on. There were these. But government officials who tried to stop him, but the trial had not yet. So he was able to sail. He was then found guilty, although his lawyer was carried through the streets of London on people’s shoulders as a hero. Oh, but we went Lollywood into a time where booksellers, their their their shops were burned to the ground. If they sold rights of man, they were imprisoned. I mean, there were effigies of pain hung from town and squares. But he never went back to England. He because he was frightened of being home, he never it he delayed sails sailing back to the colonies for five years because the British Navy was still looking for hang him. 

So he lived in France that long? 

Yes. With his French publisher before years. 

And actually, the Americans, I seem to recall, they were sort of dragging their feet and getting him out of jail. They were in no hurry or the. 

Yes, neller those. 

No one stepped forward to petition on his behalf. Paine wrote, Little are a year later wrote a very angry letter to Washington saying, You deserted me. Now! It’s there’s debate as to whether it was Washington was trying to negotiate with England and didn’t want complicated politics. Washington either decided to leave Payne there in prison or Washington didn’t know. It could have been that the word did not get back to Washington. But certainly the American sort of ambassador did nothing to help pain. Plus, writing a letter to Washington accusing him of all kinds of things, mom was not the thing to do. Washington was almost a God by that point. But but, yes, no one helped him until finally. James Monroe became the new ambassador. And he’s sort of stepped in. And got him released, but he was either was near that side before or after he was released. Robespierre was beheaded. The terror came to an end. 

And while he’s in prison and France and in France, he does some more writing. 

Yes. Yes, he’s writing. He’s already written Rights of Man, which includes some which includes what we call the New Deal Roosevelt that an agrarian justice, which is later. But while he was before and while he was in prison, he was writing Age of Reason. It’s interesting that he he wrote it with many, many quotes from the Bible and did not have a Bible to refer to. He obviously had a kind of photographic memory, I guess. But these were the or the their combined single work, his great attack on organized religion. And his very clear declaration that he was a deus. 

Which steps on a whole new set of toes? Oh, yes, on both sides of the ocean. 

Well, despite the fact that almost every founding father. Was a DST, even though they mostly kept it quiet. They were not Christians. They were theists. Right. But again, pain was the one who shouted it from the mountaintops and pressed the issue. Oh. I mean, he goes through the Bible almost page by page and trashes it. But he does say. You have the right to your religion, same way as I have the right to. He’s not trying to stop people be whatever they want. 

He’s just giving his opinion of the Bible and other churches, which is just enough to turn certain while some powerful individuals against him, but also take a little bit of the shine off is is earlier status and absolutely. 

Colonies. Yes. 

I mean, he was already. 

Being the Federalists. Who became the Republican Party of today? When over 200 years. Were already. Attacking him for supporting the French Revolution. They talked about democracy’s and the ism of France as two despicable things. I mean, democracy was never. 

Adams. Hamilton. 

Those men were never in support of democracy. Democracy and the idea of one man, one vote. 

And all. 

Hamilton said to the rich. This is a quote, The rich and well-born should have a distinct permanent place in government to check the imprudence of democracy. Strong. 

Yeah. And it’s it’s almost I mean, it’s it’s they’re arguing for. 

Almost a feudal system. Only without a monarchy attached. 

Well, yes, I mean, there was great discussion about, well, who will have the vote? How can we give the vote to illiterate farmers and indentured servants? Payne said yes. Payne said give the vote. War men, all men. 

Anyone who’s living in the society should be able to vote yes. 

That you otherwise you do not have a democracy. And again, one of the things with the French Revolution which attracted him was this idea that everyone would vote. It was it was the reign of terror that really broke his heart. Sort of French. 

So he ends up back in the states barely. Yeah. 

And does not have a great life to end the latter years of his life, though. 

I mean, when he arrived, the first three tavern’s he went to for a beer refused to serve because he was still very well known. And he you know, he was given a farmhouse in New Rochelle, New York, by the state of New York and complained that he wanted to live in the city. He didn’t really like his farm. He had very little money. He said. I mean, what he wrote in Agrarian Justice, which, again, was the sort of second half of the New Deal. Extraordinary what he wrote. He said, I would have given me great comfort by it had those benefits are he still had admirers, including the early American labor, moved these working men’s associations. He was a hero. And they would when they had their dinners, they would have him as the guest of honor. They would always have him on his birthday. He actually died in New York at the home of an admirer. So there were people who admired him. Jefferson. Jefferson always stood by him. Jefferson would have him to supper. But he would never publicly know. He never took him into Washington. He never brought him into the government. That would have been suicidal. But he would be. Jefferson was the man who offered Chip to bring him home, to which the Federalists tore him to pieces. But apart from Jefferson, he lost most of his friends because of age of reason, including its right. Very moving to me in the play. I’m Samuel Adams. Wrote him a letter saying, basically, I have heard written this piece and you are no longer my friend, and I think he broke paints. 

And so do you think that it’s mostly the religious aspects of that that forced him to say that or that cut the sum total? I think it. 

I suspect with Adams, it was particularly the religious aspect. I think in general they rule his religious writings were used to also dismiss his political ideas that were against. System as it stood, which benefited the rich and powerful, the rich and powerful, benefited the Calvinistic church, particularly benefited the Federalists politicians. There was his great coming together of federalism, the. And this whole idea came that you were either a Christian or you were an infidel. That was how she reached all pits an. This is, as I say in the play. One can but throw one’s ideas to the wind where they are blown is beyond. But a lot of that came because of age or was age of reason was used as a reason to define. You’re either with us or you’re against us. 

Yeah, this yeah, that poller mentality. 

Re being relived today that there’s no gray area. Yes. Yes, very much so. And there were smear campaigns against pain. Somebody wrote a book about em are dead. 

Oh, well, I mean, I what I did. Well, I was gonna write the play. I wrote. I read one current biography. But then I went back and I read the biographies as best I could chronologically. And the first two or three I read. Chuck, I can’t even remember the names of the writers. This would have been in the early eighteen hundreds were very anti pain, but he was a disgusting, smelly, atheist, drunkard, bipolar, vicious man. Conway was the first man to write. More accurate and more sympathetic biography. But there were there there were many smear campaigns, some. There was a. When he died. I mean, there were all these things written about how he recanted. And how he begged God’s forgiveness on his deathbed. 

And. Everything I’ve read. 

He was in great pain as he was dying and he was heard to shout out things like, Oh, God. But he never said. That he didn’t believe in a do reversal power. That was not his point. But there is no way. I don’t think that he ever many people came to him and said, do you wish to to accept Jesus Christ as your savior? And he always said, no. I do not you. So there were campaigns to smear his diesem as well. And I mean, as is generally known, that six people went to his funeral. Six three were freed slaves. One was the wife of his French publisher. And two other people were members of the public. 

That was it from this meteoric rise and key part to the American Revolution to six people at his funeral. Yes. 

And there’s some question about where his bones are there. 

Well, his. Yes, some his bones were dug up and taken to England with the idea of raising money to build a statue, and then the bones then disappeared. And really, no one knows whether where they are. There are stories, there are stories of English lords getting some of his bones and grinding them up and putting them into the soles of their boots so they could walk on him. There’s a woman in Australia claims to have his jawbone. I mean, but no one knows. It’s kind of he always said he was a citizen of the world. So in a way, it’s appropriate. He’s spread. 

Yeah. Right, that he’d maybe he is somewhere among those on some, you know, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, stardust, whatever. 

But he certainly. It was the Quakers refused. He wanted to be buried in a Quaker ground. They refused because he had attacked the Quakers with with letters about their pacifism during the Revolutionary War. So he was buried in the ground, so his cottage and then these bones were dug up and. But maybe it’s some. It was when I was writing the play was. Was hard to know how to finish it, but you don’t want to finish a play. Leaving people just. Snack? No, it’s a sad ending. But from from scholars I talk to, people said pain was always an optimist. You never gave up. So I think and then I found a. A nursery rhyme that was sung about. Him in London, not a not very kind nursery rhyme. And I actually end the play singing that and then I say, ask, not everyone has a nursery rhyme. And so they bite the hope. The play ends with it with a sort of positive. He really did believe that we could begin the world over again. 

On his legacy is has influenced other revolutionary thinking and subsequent century. It’s extraordinary. 

Yes. I mean, doesn’t Mandela with him and others all the way up to Nancy Pelosi quoting him? 

Yeah. Right. I mean, it’s Ronald Reagan quoted in. Have all these. It’s extraordinary how. He also is. He’s seen as a hero now in America of all political persuasions, of the left and the right of. Marxists and evangelicals, I mean, it’s extraordinary range of people who admire him for at least some particular part of his writings. Right. 

Which speaks highly about his appeal to universal human ideas that most people could. 

It would resonate. Yes. Also, he loved debating. He would say to people, if you disagree with me, tell me or debate it among yourselves. 

Talk about and not have it be. And in penetrable wall, that would forever stand between us. It’s just an idea that can be discussed. 


So nicely, while you’ve been a great source of enlightenment. I wish you great luck with continuing on with the Thomas Paine Way and the Harry Bridges play as well. 

Thank you. Where can people learn more about your work? 

Well, I’m very excited. I think the best way we’ve just put up we sell DVD. We’ve made a film. Both both my plays and their DVD for sale on the Web sites and on Amazon. But I’m particularly excited about is how I’ve created two streaming versions of each film, which are designed for members of unions, of social justice groups, for students. So they have Spanish optional Spanish subtitles. They have those caption English subtitles. They have a new beginning. The pain come can come if you want. There’s a 27 page screening kit you can download. And we’re selling them on Vimeo for three dollars each. Because. I really believe the words of both these men are particularly important with the election next year. Both men would say what ever you do? Vote and find out while you can before you vote. So if I may, I’ll just read you. There are two addresses and Dimmy, I chose Vimeo because Vimeo suppose Amazon is they are good to their workers, they’re good to their artists and they’re not trying to take over the world. So if you go to Vimeo dot com. Slash OnDemand. Slash Thomas Paine will slash Harry Bridges. And they are three dollars. And with, say, with pain, you can if you want, download this screening kit that talks about pain and the enlightenment and war and voting rights. And has colonial recipes. Really want to have some meat and cream. But, yes, I really I really hope people will will download these. You know, we’ve made them cheap. Are they easy to download? And they are there to keep and then, you know, share show to your friends and neighbors and families and colleagues are. Because I think I think the American people need. Inspiration in this next year. It’s been tough times for everyone on both sides. And. To read these words of men from either. 1930s or the 70s, 90s about what America? Really is about the dreams that he grew out of. I think is inspiring. 

Ian Ruskin, thank you so much for being here. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you. It’s been fun. 

Thank you for listening. Point of Inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry. CFI is a five or Wannsee three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition, pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. Do you care about science and skepticism? Then please do share this episode to help spread the word about Puli and the topics we discussed today. You can visit us at point of inquiry at OAG. There you can listen to all of these past Pouye episodes dating back to 2005 and support the show and to IFIs nonprofit advocacy work by clicking on the support button on the site. Please also remember to subscribe were available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and your favorite podcast app of choice. While there, please be sure to leave us a review as every review we receive means a ton. Thanks for listening and talk to you again in two weeks. 

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown is executive director of Center for Inquiry–Los Angeles, and the founder of the Independent Investigations Group.