George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Paine, 31 January 1779

From Thomas Paine

Philadelphia Janry 31st 1779


Hearing that you leave this place tomorrow I beg you to accept a short reason why I have not waited on you.

I have been out no where for near these two months. The part I have taken in an affair that is yet depending, rendered it most prudent in me to absent myself from Company, lest I should be asked questions improper to be answered, or subject myself to Conversation that might have been unpleasant.1 That there has been foul play somewhere is Clear to every One—and where it lies, will, I believe, soon come out.

Having thus explained myself, I have to add my sincerest wishes for your happiness in every line of life, and to assure you, that as far as my abilities extend I shall never suffer a hint of dishonor, or even a deficiency of respect to you to pass unnoticed.

I have always acted that part, and am confident that your Vertues and Conduct will ever require it from me as a duty as well as render it a pleasure.

I never heard either Col. R. or Col. F. Lee express a Sentiment in your disfavor.2 I can answer for nothing farther. I likewise take the liberty of mentioning to you that at the time some discontents from the Army and the Country last Winter were doing you great Injustice; I published the fifth No. of the Crisis, in wch I hoped that by bringing your former services in View to shame them out, or at least to convince them, of their Error.3 I was then at Lancaster, and on my Return to york Town I saw the foreign Committee of which Col. R. H. Lee was chairman had sent off dispatches to France; the Copy was in his hand writing and in these dispatches He enclosed that Pamphlet and spoke of it as “the general Sentiments of America on what the Enemy had so boastingly called their Successes.”4

I am very desirous of bidding you farewel—and intend making you a short Visit to day for that purpose, notwithstanding the reasons I have before mention’d. I am with every wish for your happiness your Obt huble Servt

Thos Paine


1In recent weeks Paine had embroiled himself in the bitter controversy between American diplomats Silas Deane and Arthur Lee, attacking Deane in letters signed “Common Sense” that were published in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) between 15 Dec. 1778 and 9 Jan. 1779 (see Francis Lightfoot Lee to Richard Henry Lee, 15 Dec. 1778 and 5 Jan. 1779, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 11:344–45, 418–19). Paine’s assertions in the 2 and 5 Jan. issues of the Pennsylvania Packet that France had given military stores to the Americans as a gift in 1776, when such aid was still secret, embarrassed the French and prompted the French minister to the United States, Conrad-Alexandre Gérard, to protest to Congress. Called before Congress on 6 Jan., Paine admitted writing the offending passages. Two days later, to avoid being dismissed, he resigned his position as secretary to Congress’s committee of foreign affairs (John Jay to Gérard, 10 Jan., and n.1 to that document, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 11:445–46).

2Virginia delegates Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both of whom GW knew well, were older brothers of Arthur Lee.

3For GW’s increasingly strained relations with Horatio Gates, Thomas Conway, and others during the winter of 1777–78, see GW to Gates, 4 Jan. 1778, and n.3 to that document. In part five of the The American Crisis, dated 21 March 1778 at Lancaster, Pa., Paine wrote: “Towards the close of the campaign in seventy-six, these middle States were called upon and did their duty nobly. They were witnesses to the almost expiring flame of human freedom. It was the close struggle of life and death. The line of invisible division; and on which, the unabated fortitude of a Washington prevailed, and saved the spark, that has since blazed in the North with unrivalled lustre” (Paine, The American Crisis, 5:72–73).

4This letter has not been identified, but see the long, less laudatory account of the 1777 Philadelphia campaign that Paine wrote in his letter to Benjamin Franklin of from York, Pa. (Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends , 26:478–89).

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