The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine
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Paul Collins travels the globe piecing together the missing body and soul of one of our most enigmatic founding fathers: Thomas Paine.
A typical book about an American founding father doesn't start at a gay piano bar and end in a sewage ditch. But then, Tom Paine isn't your typical founding father. A firebrand rebel and a radical on the run, Paine alone claims a key role in the development of three modern democracies. In death, his story turns truly bizarre. Shunned as an infidel by every church, he had to be interred in an open field on a New York farm. Ten years later, a former enemy converting to Paine's cause dug up the bones and carried them back to Britain, where he planned to build a mausoleum in Paine's honor. But he never got around to it. So what happened to the body of this founding father?
Well, it got lost. Paine's missing bones, like saint's relics, have been scattered for two centuries, and their travels are the trail of radical democracy itself. Paul Collins combines wry, present-day travelogue with an odyssey down the forgotten paths of history as he searches for the remains of Tom Paine and finds them hidden in, among other places, a Paris hotel, underneath a London tailor's stool, and inside a roadside statue in New York. Along the way he crosses paths with everyone from Walt Whitman and Charles Darwin to sex reformers and hellfire ministers―not to mention a suicidal gunman, a Ferrari dealer, and berserk feral monkeys.
In the end, Collins's search for Paine's body instead finds the soul of democracy―for it is the story of how Paine's struggles have lived on through his eccentric and idealistic followers.
cuttings? Well, that was to be expected, as the fellow was also a noted author on horticultural matters. But then the officers arrived at a wooden box. The passenger watched gravely and closely as the excisemen pried it open and reached inside. And then, from within its depths, the crowd saw an object emerge into the cold winter light. A human skull. Cobbett gazed upon it, and then upon his inquisitors. "There, gentlemen," he announced, "are the mortal remains of the immortal Thomas Paine."
recalled from his jail cell. The date of his visit to the paper's publisher still stood clear in his mind. "The Dwarf was then at an almost unprofitable [circulation] number, and it was a question about giving it up. However, I traversed the metropolis in every direction to find new shops to sell them . . . I persevered, and many a day traversed thirty miles for a profit of eighteen-pence." Carlile stopped showing up at work much, which was easy for his boss to overlook; the economy was so
"true self." It struck unaccountably but inexorably at his heart. He suddenly looked up at the sky, and then at the ground, the innocent haunt of the young black children. Then he looked at himself with his gun, bewildered. "What was I doing out there with a gun hying to kill the happy little creatures of earth and sky?"' he muttered, appalled. 'Was it for this that I was born?" Shaken, he went home and set down his gun, never to pick it up again. He was still secretary of the Southern Rights
Sound. It had been carrying a cargo of 150 tons of Italian statuary marble; when the vessel struck a sandbar, the blocks shifted and tore out the bottom of the boat. Fuller sang to her baby as water flooded into the holds and over the tombstone marble—they sank with their own fatal monument—and her husband led the other doomed passengers in a final prayer. Thoreau rushed to New York to seek her among the few survivors, and was left an utterly stricken man; he went searching again and again,
somewhat in the position of an old darkey down in Virginia . . ." Photographs of the preserved cottage, as well as a timeline of the Paine monument, can be found in the Souvenir Program: Thomas Paine Centennial Celebration (1909) and the Memorial Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of the Death of Thomas Paine (1909); both were published by E. B. Foote Jr. and the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, and can be found at the New York Public Library. Accounts of the cottage's