Thomas Jefferson Papers

XI. Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 29 July 1791

XI. Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine

Philadelphia July 29. 1791.

Dear Sir

Your favor of Sep. 28. 1790. did not come to my hands till Feb. 11. and I have not answered it sooner because it said you would be here in the Spring. That expectation being past, I now acknolege the reciept. Indeed I am glad you did not come away till you had written your ‘Rights of man.’ That has been much read here, with avidity and pleasure. A writer under the signature of Publicola attacked it. A host of champions entered the arena immediately in your defence. The discussion excited the public attention, recalled it to the ‘Defence of the American constitutions’ and the ‘Discourses on Davila,’ which it had kindly passed over without censure in the moment, and very general expressions of their sense have been now drawn forth; and I thank god that they appear firm in their republicanism, notwithstanding the contrary hopes and assertions of a sect here, high in names, but small in numbers. These had flattered themselves that the silence of the people under the ‘Defence’ and ‘Davila’ was a symptom of their conversion to the doctrine of king, lords, and commons. They are checked at least by your pamphlet, and the people confirmed in their good old faith.

Your observations on the subject of a copper coinage have satisfied my mind on that subject, which I confess had wavered before between difficulties. As a different plan is under consideration of Congress, and will be taken up at their meeting, I think to watch the proper moment, and publish your observations (except the Notes which contain facts relative to particular persons which I presume you would dislike to see published, and which are not necessary to establish the main object,) adding your name, because it will attract attention and give weight to the publication. As this cannot take place under four months, there is time for you to forbid me, if it should be disagreeable to you to have the observations published, which however I hope it will not be.

Genl. Scott has just returned from a succesful expedition against the Indians, having killed 32 warriors and taken 58. women and children, and burnt several towns. I hope they will now consent to peace, which is all we ask.—Our funds are near par; the crops of wheat remarkeably fine; and a great degree of general prosperity arising from 4. years successive of plentiful crops, a great diffusion of domestic manufacture, a return to economy, and a reasonable1 faith in the new government.—I shall be happy to hear from you, and still more so to see you, being with great & sincere esteem Dr. Sir Your friend & servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

Late in November, after receiving the above letter, Paine wrote to his friend John Hall: “I have received a letter from Mr. Jefferson who mentioned the great run [Rights of Man] has had there. It has been attacked by John Adams, who has brought an host about his ears from all parts of the Continent. Mr. Jefferson has sent me twenty-five different answers to Adams who wrote under the name of Publicola” (Paine to Hall, 25 Nov. 1791, Philip S. Foner, The complete writings of Thomas Paine, ii [New York, 1945], 1322). Paine’s misrepresentation of TJ’s letter led David F. Hawke, Paine, p. 234, to the conclusion that TJ, in spreading rumor for fact about the authorship of the Publicola essays, had done his friend Adams a great disservice. This gossip, he added, “sealed Paine’s hatred of Adams and Paine ever after pursued Adams with the ferocity he usually reserved for kings.” Paine, however, needed no prompting on this score. He had long since joined TJ, Rush, and others in thinking that Adams had changed his political principles since 1776. Indeed, at this time, Paine boasted: “I had John Adams in my mind when I wrote [Rights of Man] and it has hit as I expected” (Paine to William Short, 2 Nov. 1791, Foner, Writings of Paine, ii, 1320, from RC in PHi). Far from identifying Adams as Publicola in the above letter, TJ carefully concealed his opinion on the subject, thereby silently defining the limits of his confidence in Paine’s discretion.

Surprisingly, it was William Short’s breach of TJ’s confidence which enabled Paine to give Hall the erroneous impression that John Adams was Publicola. On the day before TJ wrote the above letter, he gave Short a brief account of the enthusiastic reception of Paine’s pamphlet, the attack on it by “a writer under the name of Publicola,” and the response “by a host of republican volunteers.” He also expressed his fear that “the honestest man of the party will fall a victim to his imprudence on this occasion”—an expression which pointed unmistakably to Adams. But even with a correspondent in whom he had implicit confidence, TJ took pains to encode the passage of his letter naming Adams as first among those hoping “to make way for a king, lords and commons” in the United States (TJ to Short, 28 July 1791). Short sent to Paine a copy of this private letter and also forwarded to him the collection of anti-Publicola clippings from Bache’s General Advertiser (Paine to Short, 2 Nov. 1791, Foner, Writings of Paine, ii, 1320). From TJ’s letter to Short and from these clippings, Paine drew the inference that John Adams was Publicola and passed the unfounded supposition on to his friend Hall. He also gave him the false impression that it was TJ himself who had sent him the anti-Publicola pieces.

Paine’s “Thoughts on the Establishment of a Mint” was enclosed in his letter to TJ of 28 Sep. 1790 and is printed there. When Paine next wrote, he did not mention receipt of the above letter or comment on TJ’s suggestion, perhaps because he was so disturbed over the appointment of Gouverneur Morris as minister to France (Paine to TJ, 13 Feb. 1792). In the meantime, TJ made the essay on the mint available to Freneau, who published it in the National Gazette, 17 Nov. 1791. The original manuscript has not been found, and so the names that TJ deleted cannot be known with certainty, but these must have included that of Robert Morris, whose plan for coinage had been criticized by TJ. The name of Gouverneur Morris, who had written on the subject, may also have appeared in the text (see Editorial Note and group of documents on coinage, at end of Apr. 1784).

1This word interlined in substitution for “great degree of,” deleted.

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