Thomas Jefferson Papers

XIII. Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 19 June 1792

XIII. Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine

Philadelphia June 19. 1792.

Dear Sir

I received with great pleasure the present of your pamphlets, as well for the thing itself as that it was a testimony of your recollection. Would you believe it possible that in this country there should be high and important characters who need your lessons in republicanism, and who do not heed them? It is but too true that we have a sect preaching up and panting after an English constitution of king, lords, and commons, and whose heads are itching for crowns, coronets and mitres. But our people, my good friend, are firm and unanimous in their principles of republicanism, and there is no better proof of it than that they love what you write and read it with delight. The printers season every newspaper with extracts from your last, as they did before from your first part of the Rights of man. They have both served here to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to prove that tho the latter appears on the surface, it is on the surface only. The bulk below is sound and pure. Go on then in doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword; shew that reformation is more practicable by operating on the mind than on the body of man, and be assured that it has not a more sincere votary, nor you a more ardent well-wisher than, Dear Sir, Your friend & servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thos. Paine esq.” The pamphlets that TJ acknowledged were six copies of the second part of Rights of Man. Paine had sent Washington a dozen copies, designating half of them for TJ (Paine to TJ, 13 Feb. 1792; Paine to Washington, 13 Feb. 1792, DLC: Washington Papers; see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 2826).

It is significant that TJ allowed another decade to pass before he again wrote to Paine. During this critical period he allowed all of Paine’s various letters to go unanswered (Paine to TJ, 20 Apr. 1792; 10 Oct. 1793; 1 Apr. and 10 May 1797; and 1, 4, 6, and 16 Oct. 1800). The reason seems obvious. A failure at almost everything save his great achievements as a political propagandist, Paine succeeded ultimately in alienating himself not only from such former friends as Washington, Adams, and TJ, but from the mainstream of events in England, France, and the United States as well. More and more he became obsessed with the idea that the American national character had deteriorated. “The neutral powers despise her for her meanness and her desertion of a common interest,” he wrote TJ in 1797, “England laughs at her for her imbecility, and France is enraged at her ingratitude and sly treachery” (Paine to TJ, 1 Apr. 1797). His hatred of the Federalists was so violent as to suggest mental derangement, leading him into the seditious act of planning the conquest of the United States by France. His letters of 1800 were such that TJ felt obliged, shortly after becoming President, to restate his inaugural pledge and to warn Paine that the United States would not become involved in European contests—even, he added, “in support of principles which we mean to pursue” (TJ to Paine, 18 Mch. 1801).

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