Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.
– Thomas Paine, September 11, 1777
This oil on canvas portrait of Thomas Paine (c. 1806/1807) was painted by his close friend John Wesley Jarvis (1780 - 1840).[National Gallery of Art, Washington DC]
The date of Tom Paine's birthday (January 29th) used to be 'a core celebration that was utilized as a platform for women's rights and suffrage, abolition, education, labor, land reform, and a host of progressive causes thoughout the 19th and 20th centuries,' says Kenneth W. Burchell in his essay 'A Short History of the Thomas Paine Birthday Celebrations', featured on www.tompaine.org, who are trying to stimulate interest in reviving this annual event across the USA.
The first Thomas Paine Birthday Celebration was held secretly in London, England in 1818.
The first known US celebration was organized by British émigré Benjamin Offen in 1825. Historians Marshall G. Brown and Gordon Stein assert that this event 'represented the rebirth of organized freethought in the United States and many of its participants played key roles in the great 19th century American equal rights movements.'
'At the Paine Celebration two years later on January 29, 1827, the same individuals established the Free Press Association for the "support of a press, which, without dread, and uninfluenced by party, interest, or public opinion, will maintain the cause of truth and justice."
Fifty years later, Walt Whitman delivered the principal address at the 1877 celebration, on 28th January at Lincoln Hall, Philadelphia. His speech 'In Memory of Thomas Paine' [full text] included this memorable quote:
'He served the embryo Union with most precious service — a service that every man, woman and child in our thirty-eight States is to some extent receiving the benefit of to-day — and I for one here cheerfully, reverently throw my pebble on the cairn of his memory.'
Burchell concludes: 'While Paine's birthday is still observed in a few homes and meeting places in the US and Britain, the celebrations have fallen into the background, out of the awareness of the populace as a whole, and have deteriorated to their historically lowest ebb. '
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