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Table of Contents and Extract from the General Conclusion to ‘Thomas Paine and the Polity of the Blood’





I | Paine on Hereditary Right

Paine’s Rejection of Hereditary Succession

Grounds for the Public’s Rejection of Paine

Paine’s Tolerance of the Hereditary Right to Private Property


II | The Provenance of Paine’s Political Ideology

The Essence of Paine’s Republicanism


The Making of Common Sense

Paine versus Whiggery

Paine’s Debt to the Radical Enlightenment

The Consistency of Paine’s Political Thinking


III | Rights of Man: its Sale and Suppression


Initial Sales

The Readership

Cheap Editions

The Censorship of Part II

Overall Distribution in Britain

Suppression and its Impact


IV | Paine and the Tradition of Radical Reform

Richard Carlile’s Promotion of Paine

Radical Reform’s Antipathy to Paine

Radical Reform’s Republican Moment

The NUWC and its Promotion of Paine

O’Brien Makes his Mark

The NUWC’s Persistence with a National Convention

The Fiasco at Cold Bath Fields

Carlile’s Last Stand

The Limitations of Paineite Republicanism Exposed

The Chartist Aversion to Paine

Democracy versus Democracy


V | General Conclusion


Appendix: The Tale of Tom Paine’s Bones

Flawed Versions of the Story

Paine’s Repatriation and its Problems

A Public Funeral Denied


Select Bibliography

Reference Notes


Extract from the General Conclusion to ‘Thomas Paine and the Polity of the Blood’

An instructive contrast distinguishes the return of Paine’s bones from the USA to England in November 1819 and the return of the body of Terence McManus from the USA to Ireland in November 1861. McManus had suffered transportation to Tasmania for his part in the Young Irelanders’ Uprising in Tipperary of 1848. Escaping to San Francisco, he died at the age of forty-one and was initially buried there in 1861. Arrangements were made, however, by the Irish Republican Brotherhood to exhume the body and return it to Ireland. This was done with a service held by the grave side in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, where, despite the rain, slush and mud, a large crowd of 20-30,000 gathered to honour the body. McManus’ burial signalled a turning point for the Brotherhood in Ireland, with James Stephens, organiser of the funeral arrangements, suddenly finding himself leader of a flourishing republican movement in his home country.


Something similar might have followed the return of Paine’s skeleton to England in 1819, but for the fact that there was no equivalent of Stephens to exploit the republican opportunity and, given the strength of loyalty to the Crown, not much of a constituency to arouse. And, whereas in Ireland republicanism and Christianity went hand in hand through Catholic opposition to an imposed Protestant state religion, in England Paineite republicanism had to face the repressive authority of the Anglican Church. Moreover, radical reformers, as led by Henry Hunt and later by Feargus O’Connor, were predominantly monarchists and Christians, so little inclined to resurrect Paine. In fact, given their central goal of extending the parliamentary franchise to include all adult males, they were more inclined to distance themselves from his doctrines in order not to damage this cause. In such a hostile environment, the keepers of Paine’s bones, namely William Cobbett and later Benjamin Tilly, chose to hide them away. Instead of the spectacular funeral and impressive monument that Cobbett had promised, they were simply stowed away in the chest used to convey them to England and kept well out of public sight.

Guide to Establish a True Republic

Paine’s legacy was not just a skeleton but also a celebrated book: a teach-yourself treatise on how to define and establish a true republic. Rights of Man was a best seller when first published in 1791-2 but thereafter suffered many years of government suppression, a period of persecution only terminated by William Sherwin’s boldness in republishing it in 1817. Paine’s political beliefs belonged to a British radical tradition reaching back to the revolutions of the seventeenth century. Yet they were distinguished by their unrelenting antipathy to rule by hereditary right. Previously, kingship had been condemned but only for being autocratic, its critics having no deep-seated grudge against the principle of hereditary succession. All that was required was a parliamentary limitation upon the monarch’s authority.

Paine’s stand was distinctly different as were its implications. Essentially, for him a new political system had to be created resting solely upon principles justified by reason. This meant the rejection not only of monarchy and aristocracy, irrespective of what form they took, but also the basic beliefs that upheld them: notably, the ancient constitution and the theory of divine right. The latter, the original justification for the principle of hereditary succession, had been challenged by leading philosophers from Thomas Hobbes onward; but, well beyond Paine’s time, presenting monarchy as a calling from God exercised through the hereditary principle endured as the means by which the Anglican priesthood upheld royal authority. Moreover, belief in the ancient constitution, with its dependence upon hereditary authority, remained intact and inviolable until Paine declared there was no such thing until one could be popularly approved in writing. Also challenged by Paine was the belief that political reform could only be achieved through the king in parliament. Paine argued that parliament was not a fit body for the purpose and that a specially elected convention expressive of the nation’s will was required to put matters right, not by serving as a part of everyday government but simply through creating a constitution in which monarchy and aristocracy had no place


The snag with this procedure was that, from a practical point of view, it presupposed a revolutionary disruption of the state. Thus, it was applied successfully in the USA and in France, but only following an overthrow of the old regime. In Britain the Paineite idea of a national convention provoked severe government counteraction, as in the early 1790s when attempts to hold one in Scotland and England led to sentences of transportation for sedition and trials of high treason. The same repressive scenario was re-enacted in the early 1830s, leading to the fiasco on Cold Bath Fields and an end to the idea as envisaged by Paine. When the Chartists employed the term, it had a very different purpose: their ‘convention’ aimed not to create a constitution but merely to approve a petition calling upon the government to permit the reform of the House of Commons, principally by making its members answerable to the people through a system of manhood suffrage.

Thomas Paine and the Polity of the Blood


ISBN 978-0-9569670-6-0

Published by Mot Juste

May 2023


Size 160 x 230mm

262 pages in softcover, includes extensive bibliographical references and an index.

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