As Thomas Paine society comes to Morristown, Bill Moyers reflects on ‘Common Sense’

Bill Moyers at the Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bill Moyers at the Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Speaking truth to power is a lonely business. Whenever PBS commentator Bill Moyers feels his spirits flagging, he returns to the master, Thomas Paine, for renewed inspiration.

Moyers told authors at last month’s inaugural Morristown Festival of Books that he often re-reads his dog-earred copy of Common Sense at the foot of the Paine statue in Morristown’s Burnham Park.

“He showed us that it was not only the arms of the soldiers, and the strategies of the generals that produced the successful American Revolution. It was the power of ideas, it was the force of language, it was the conviction of a writer, who wanted to say something to move people to sacrifice for the cause. And he did,” said Moyers, an author and former member of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, over lunch at the new Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen.

Thomas Paine statue in Burnham Park. Photo courtesy of the Morris County Tourism Bureau.
Thomas Paine statue in Burnham Park. Photo courtesy of the Morris County Tourism Bureau.

Now seems like an ideal time to share video of his remarks: Members of  Thomas Paine Friends Inc. will visit Morristown on Oct. 7-8, 2014, to see the Paine statue for themselves.

Based in Amherst, Mass., the nonprofit has adopted Paine’s motto: “My country is the world and my religion is to do good.”

The organization’s mission is  “to encourage people to learn about and from Thomas Paine, his times and philosophy so that they may be inspired to participate in public affairs reflective of the spirit of Paine’s life, thought and ideals,” according to Martha Spiegelman, a member.

Bill Moyers at the Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bill Moyers at the Morristown Festival of Books. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Friends are lobbying for a national Thomas Paine Day on his birthday, Jan. 29.

Thirteen states are on board so far.  As proof that a prophet is never recognized at home, the states where Paine actually lived–New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania–are not in the plus column yet.

 

That’s unfortunate, in Spiegelman’s view. She considers Paine’s writings–Common Sense (1776), The American Crisis (1776-1783), Rights of Man (1791-2),The Age of Reason (1795) and Agrarian Justice (1797)–as vital reading for 21st century audiences.

Could it be... Tom Paine and Marty Epstein in the same room? Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Tom Paine, a.k.a. Bob Gleason, speaks at the Morristown & Township Library in October 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“He was a compelling advocate for equality, justice, human rights, and ‘a government of our own,’ and he was an early writer against slavery,” Spiegelman said via email.

“He was a fervent humanitarian, often assisting others in need, with letters and speeches of support and with his meager funds.

“His formulas for social and economic reforms are the foundations for much of what we today call the social safety net. He is as modern as today.”

Paine’s messages continue to be reinterpreted by a new generation of scholars and analysts, Spiegelman said.

In a piece titled Thomas Paine, Our Contemporary, Chris Hedges, a journalist and political activist, linked Paine with today’s anti-corporatist movements.

Bob Gleason at Thomas Paine, at the Morristown & Township Library in 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bob Gleason at Thomas Paine, at the Morristown & Township Library in 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“The resurgent interest in Paine is because the thinking of the world has finally moved in his direction,” James Tepfer, a professor of religion and philosophy, wrote in a 2009 paper, Thomas Paine: Forerunner of the 21st Century World Citizen.

“To honor him is to salute the best in ourselves and all men and women who dedicate their lives and their fortunes to the civilizations of tomorrow,”  Tepfer said.

If you wish to salute the Thomas Paine Friends, here is their itinerary.

Tuesday, Oct. 7: 

3 pm: They will view Thomas Paine letters and documents at the North Jersey Historical and Genealogy Center, in the Morristown & Morris Township Library, One Miller Miller Road, Morristown.

5 pm:  They plan to visit the Thomas Paine statue in Morristown’s Burnham Park.  Parking is on Burnham Parkway, off Washington Street.

Wednesday, Oct. 8:

10 am: Historic walking tour, starting at the Morristown Green, at South Street and South Park Place.

11:30 am: Visit to the Morristown National Historic Park (Jockey Hollow) at  580 Tempe Wick Road in Harding.

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I think the citizens of Morristown should get on board to support the movement to declare January 29th, Thomas Paine day. Lets start the movement here in Morristown where Paine’s ideas have flourished, throughout its history.

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