March 13 in freethought history…

rightsofmanMarch 13, 1791 – Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Part I, is published in London, England. (Part II would be published eleven months later.) In this landmark book, Paine asserted the sovereignty of the individual, government by assent of the people (as opposed to government by inherited title), and the inherent rights of all men. Paine was convicted in absentia of “seditious libel” and sentenced to hang; however, since he was in France at the time and (understandably) never returned to England, the sentence was never carried out.

March 13, 1878 – Freethinker George Holyoake coins the term “jingoism” (referring to loud, belligerent patriotism) in a letter published in London’s Daily News. (Incidentally, it derived from a popular song–“We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do; We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too…”–stirring up the British populace to become involved in a war between Russia and Turkey that might have led to Russian control of Istanbul.) Holyoake, a prominent freethought leader who lived from 1817 to 1906, also coined the term “secularism.”

March 13, 1938 – Attorney and civil rights activist Clarence Darrow dies in Chicago, Illinois, aged 80. He is best known for leading the defense in famous 20th-century cases like Leopold and Loeb and the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. Darrow was active in freethought and human rights organizations, including the ACLU. In a famous speech titled “Why I Am an Agnostic,” Darrow said, “The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.”

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