James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Washington, 12 June 1784

From George Washington

Mount Vernon June 12th 1784

Dear Sir,

Can nothing be done in our Assembly for poor Paine? Mus[t] the merits, & Services of Common Sense continue to glide down the stream of time, unrewarded by this Country? His writings certainly have had a powerful effect on the public mind; ought they not then to meet an adequate return? He is poor! he is chagreened! and almost, if not altogether, in despair of relief.

New York it is true, not the least distressed, nor best able State in the Union, has done something for him. This kind of provision he prefers to an allowance from Congress—he has reasons for it, which to him are conclusive, and such I think, as would have weight with others. His view[s] are moderate—a decent independency is, I believe, all he aims at.1 Should he not obtain this? If you think so, I am sure you will not only move the matter, but give it your support. For me, it only remains to feel for his Situation, and to assure you of the sincere esteem & regard with which I have the honor to be Dr. Sir, Yr Most Obedt Hble Serv[t].2

Go: Washington

RC (CSmH); FC (DLC: Washington Papers). Cover missing: In a clerk’s hand. The FC contains slight variations in phraseology but no substantial differences from the RC.

1In Apr. 1784 the General Assembly of New York presented Paine with a confiscated tory estate at New Rochelle. Although Paine desired to be the historiographer of the Revolution, he found distasteful the proposition of depending on a salary appropriated annually by a political body such as Congress (Alfred Owen Aldridge, Man of Reason: The Life of Thomas Paine [Philadelphia and New York, 1959], pp. 101, 103).

2Washington wrote similar letters on 12 June to Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVII, 421–23). The latter’s brother, Arthur Lee, could not forget that Paine had written the pamphlet Public Good a few years earlier, which was meant to prejudice the western land claims of Virginians in the Ohio Valley. Lee therefore proceeded to wreck the whole plan. JM explained the circumstances of the unsuccessful effort in his letter to Washington, 2 July 1784. For an earlier commentary by a Virginian who considered Public Good a scandalous performance, see Mays, Papers of Edmund Pendleton, I, 328–38. Pendleton did not then know Paine was the author of the pamphlet but observed that “His fine Compliments upon Virginia remind me of the Robber of Mrs. Sutten, who paid many fine Compliments to her beauty, whilst he was dispoiling her of jewels.”

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