Associated with the formation of our Republic are four names that deserve and will obtain a more enduring fame than others: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin.
It was Paine who first proposed American Independence, and prepared the public mind for its acceptance. To Jefferson was assigned the task, and to him has been accorded the honor, of formulating the political document whose adoption by the Continental Congress proclaimed our Nation's birth. This was followed by a war of Revolution, and the central figure, the leader, in this momentous struggle, was Washington. Yet skillful and sagacious as this commander was, brave and patriotic as his soldiers were, the recognition and assistance of a foreign power was necessary to insure success.
This was secured; England's great rival France, came to the rescue, and the contest was decided in our favor. To the untiring labors of Franklin was this achievement due. Thus these men stand forth -- Paine the Author-Hero, Jefferson the Statesman-Hero, Washington the Soldier-Hero, and Franklin the Diplomatic-Hero of the Revolution.
Every event in the lives of these illustrious men, every element in their characters, has become a subject of surpassing interest. There is one theme connected with their history upon which I propose to dwell, and that is the question of their religious beliefs. Few questions are so little understood.
The world has been cursed with two great evils, kingcraft and priestcraft. Kingcraft, in this country, has been destroyed; priestcraft remains -- a parasitic army preying upon our body politic. Founded upon fraud, the clerical profession, with many honorable exceptions, depends upon fraud for its support. One of its methods I shall expose in this work. While pretending to ignore reason, and intellectually, and worldly greatness, its members yet realize the importance of having the intellectual Titans and the popular heroes of the world upon their side. "Great men may gain nothing from religion, but religion can gain much from great men," said the theological buzzard that daily perched himself beside the dying Grant. At the same time they realize the humiliating fact that it is for the most part the dwarfs, and not the giants of the world, that train with them. One of their number, more honest than his fellows, says: "The great and the wise and the mighty are not with us. These men, the master-minds and imperial leaders among men, are outside our most Christian church." As Saladin observes, "The church would give ten millions of her blockheads for the adherence and support of one man strong enough to hew his name imperishably upon the mountain of adamant into which are cut the names of the immortals." And thus, recognizing the magic influence that a great name carries with it, the clergy have inscribed in the Christian roster the names of hundreds who were total disbelievers in their dogmas. As the venders of quack nostrums attach the forged certificates of distinguished individuals to their worthless drugs, to make them sell, so these theological venders present the manufactured endorsements of the great to make their nostrums popular. Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin have all been denominated Christians, not because they were such, for they were not, but because of the influence that attaches to their names.
Paine's opposition to priestcraft was too pronounced and too well known to claim him as an adherent of their faith, and so they have sought to destroy his influence by destroying his good name. Not only this, knowing the prejudice that has prevailed against Atheism, they have misrepresented his theological opinions and declared him an Atheist.