Were the American people asked to name the five great historic figures of the first century of our national existence -- the illustrious men who contributed most to build and glorify the United States of America -- the answer would be, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.
To this list of immortals posterity will add another -- Thomas Paine. For nearly a century this noble man -- the real founder of our Republic -- has been buried beneath the stones of obloquy. But slowly the angels of Justice are rolling back these stones from his sepulchre, and the resurrection of Thomas Paine is at hand.
While the orthodox clergy, to their everlasting shame, are responsible for the cruel treatment accorded this patriot, the liberal Christian ministers, to their eternal honor, have been candid and courageous enough to do him justice. These are but a few of their many tributes to him:
Rev. John Snyder: -- "Paine did more than any other single man to create this nation. I simply speak what will some day be the sober judgment of history."
Rev. Solomon Southwick: -- "Had Thomas Paine been a Grecian or Roman patriot in olden times, and performed the same services as he did for this country, he would have had the honor of an apotheosis. The Pantheon would have been opened to him, and we should at this day regard his memory with the same veneration that we do that of Socrates and Cicero."
Rev. Minot J. Savage, D.D.: -- "No man rendered grander service to this country; no man ought to be more cherished or remembered."
Dr. Moncure D. Conway: -- "Above all, Paine was a profoundly religious man -- one of the few in our Revolutionary era of whom it can be said that his delight was in the law of his Lord, and in that law did he meditate day and night. Consequently, he could not escape the immemorial fate of the great believers, to be persecuted for unbelief -- by unbelievers."
Rev. Theodore Parker: -- "He did more to promote piety and morality among men than a hundred ministers of that age in America."
Rev. Dr. David Swing: -- "Paine was one of the best and grandest men that ever trod the planet."
Rev. O.B. Frothingham: -- "No private character has been more foully calumniated in the name of God than that of Thomas Paine."
Rev. James Kay Applebee: -- "I see Thomas Paine as he looms up in history -- a great, grand figure. The reputation bigots have created for him fades away, even as the creeds for which they raved and lied, fade away; but distinct and luminous, there remains the noble character of Paine created by himself."
Dr. John E. Roberts: -- "So long as human rights are sacred and their defenders held in grateful remembrance; so long as liberty has a flag flung to the skies, a sanctuary in the hearts of men, so long, upon the eternal granite of history, luminous as light and imperishable as the stars, will be engraven the name of Thomas Paine."
The Church claims all great men. But the truth is the great men of all nations have, for the most part, rejected Christianity. Of these six historic Americans -- the six greatest men that have lived on this Continent -- not one was a Christian. All were unbelievers -- all Infidels -- all Freethinkers.
It is popularly supposed that Paine was a very irreligious man, while Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant were very religious. The reverse of this is more nearly true. Paine, although not a Christian, was a deeply religious man; while the others, though practicing the loftiest morals, cared little for religion. Paine was a firm believer in the religion of Deism, and a zealous advocate of it; the others, while nominally Deists, and using the conventional language of Deism, were probably more nearly Agnostics in belief.
Washington and Grant, while unbelievers, attended church and retained the good will of the clergy. Franklin avowed his disbelief, but in a friendly spirit which provoked few censures. Jefferson and Lincoln both talked and wrote against Christianity, but Lincoln's criticisms were never published, while Jefferson's, scattered through several volumes, are little read. The rejection of Christianity by these men has been, to a great extent, forgotten or forgiven.
Paine not only opposed Christianity, but he opposed it in a book which was read by thousands, and which the defenders of Christianity could not answer. For this he was persecuted while living and calumniated when dead.
In this volume is presented the evidence of the disbelief of these great men. The first part entitled "The Fathers of Our Republic," deals with the religious views of Paine, Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin. The basis of it is an address delivered before the tenth annual Congress of the American Secular Union, in Chickering Hall, New York, November 13, 1886, at which Colonel Ingersoll presided. The second part, entitled, "The Saviors of Our Republic," deals with the religious opinions of Lincoln and Grant. The matter pertaining to Lincoln was published in 1893. It constitutes the larger portion of the work. For a quarter of a century following Lincoln's death there was a fierce controversy respecting his belief, and the testimony called out by this controversy was quite voluminous. Grant, in regard to his religious opinions, maintained that silence so characteristic of him and little was known or said respecting them,