George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Paine, 28 April 1784

From Thomas Paine

New York April 28th 1784

Dear Sir

As I hope to have, in a few days, the honor and happiness of seeing you well at Philadelphia,1 I shall not trouble you with a long letter.

It was my intention to have followed you on to Philadelphia, but when I recollected the friendship you had shewn to me and the pains you had taken to promote my interest, and knew likewise the untoward disposition of two or three members of Congress, I felt an exceeding unwillingness that your friendship to me should be put to farther tryals, or that you should experience the mortification of having your wishes disappointed, especially by one to whom delegation is his daily bread.

While I was pondering on these matters, Mr Duane and some other friends of yours and mine, who were persuaded that nothing would take place in Congress; (as a single man when only nine States are present could Stop the whole) proposed a new line, which is to leave it to the States individually; and a unanimous resolution has passed the senate of this State, which is generally expressive of their opinion and friendship. what they have proposed is worth at least a thousand Guineas. Other States will act as they see proper. If I do but get enough to carry me decently thro the world and independantly thro’ the History of Revolution I neither wish nor care for more, and that the States may very easily do if they are disposed to it. The State of Pennsylvania might have done it alone.2

I present you with a new song for the Cincinati, and beg to offer you a remark on that subject. The intention of the name, appears to me either to be lost or not understood. For it is material to the future freedom of the Country, that the example of the late Army retiring to private Life on the principles of Cincinatus, should be commemorated, that in future ages it may be imitated, Whether every part of the institution is perfectly consistent with a republic, is another question, but the precedent ought not to be lost.3

I have not yet heard of any objection in the Assembly of this State to the resolution of the Senate, and I am in hopes there will be none made. Should this method succeed, I shall stand perfectly clear of Congress which will be an agreeable Circumstance to me, because whatever I may then say on the necessity of strengthening the Union and enlarging its powers, will come from me with much better grace than if Congress had made the acknowlgment themselves.

If you have a convenient opportunity, I should be much obliged to you to mention this subject to Mr president Dickinson. I have two reasons for it, the one is my own interest and circumstances the other is on account of the State, for what with their parties and Contentions, they have acted to me with a Churlish selfishness, which I wish to conceal unless they force it from me.4

As I see by the papers you are settling a tract of Land, I enclose you a letter I received from England on the subject of Settlements.5I think Lands might be disposed of in that Country to advantage. I am Dear Sir your much Obliged and Obedient Hble servant

Thomas Paine


In the fall of 1783 shortly before GW left the army, Thomas Paine was living in some poverty in Bordentown, N.J., when GW, having learned of this, wrote Paine on 10 Sept. from his headquarters at Rocky Hill near Princeton to invite him to “come to this place, and partake with me.” Paine made his visit during the fall before GW’s return to West Point in November. Paine’s most recent employment was in 1782 when he was being paid at the rate of 800 dollars per annum from secret service funds for “informing the People and rousing them” to action through his writings (see Robert Morris, Robert Livingston, and GW to the Continental Congress, 10 Feb. 1782). This employment came to an end after Robert Morris’s resignation from the office of superintendent of finance January 1783. Paine wrote Elias Boudinot, president of Congress, on 7 June 1783 asking that Congress “direct me to lay before them an account of such services as I have rendered to America” (DNA:PCC, item 55). He wrote Boudinot again on 26 June expanding on his services to America and asking for a response to his letter of 7 June. Before closing, he wrote: “General Washington is the only Gentleman to whom I was ever fully explicit on the Circumstances of my Situation and that more particularly in a conference which he had with me at my Lodgings soon after my return from france [c.September 1781]. He felt for me because he felt for himself, and I owe something to the friendship of that Gentleman that I have been enabled to continue in America during the War” (DNA:PCC, item 55). Paine’s request was referred to a committee of three, and Benjamin Hawkins reported for the committee on 18 Aug. 1783: “That it is indispensably necessary, a just and impartial Account of our Contest for public freedom and happiness should be handed down to posterity. That this can be best done by a historiographer to the United States of great industry and abilities; by one too, who has been and is governed by the most disinterested principle of public good, totally uninfluenced by party of every kind. That Thomas Paine Esqr. has rendered very essential services to the cause of America, from the commencement of the War to the conclusion thereof, without having sought, received or stipulated for any honors, advantages, or emoluments for himself. That a history of the American Revolution compiled by Mr Paine is certainly to be desired, Whereupon, the Committee recommend the following Resolution.

“That Thomas Paine Esqr. be appointed Historiographer to the United States. That his salary be [ ] dollars per annum” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 24:513). The report was referred to another committee on 31 Oct. 1783, where the matter seems to have ended.

1Paine is alluding to the meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati to be held in Philadelphia in May.

2For the action taken by New York, see GW to Patrick Henry, 12 June 1784, n.2. James Duane (1733–1797) was at this time mayor of New York City and a member of the state senate.

3The only song written by Paine which has been found that is appropriate for the Cincinnati is called “Columbia” to be sung to the tune of “Anacreon in Heaven.” It concludes with this sixth stanza (Conway, Writings of Paine, description begins Moncure Daniel Conway, ed. The Writings of Thomas Paine. 4 vols. 1902–8. Reprint. New York, 1969. description ends 4:488–89):

Ye sons of Columbia, then join hand in hand,

Divided we fall, but united we stand;

’Tis ours to determine, ’tis ours to decree,

That in peace we will live Independent and Free;

And should from afar

Break the horrors of war,

We’ll always be ready at once to declare,

That ne’er will the sons of America bend,

But united their Rights and their Freedom defend.

4John Dickinson (1732–1808) was president of the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania. Paine, who had been deeply involved in the turbulent politics of Pennsylvania in 1779, wrote Mathew Irwin on 27 Nov. 1784:“The President [Dickinson] has made me acquainted with a Conversation which General Washington had with him at their last interview respecting myself.” On 6 Dec. the Pennsylvania council sent a message to the general assembly stating that “the President having reported in Council a conversation between General Washington and himself respecting Mr Thomas Paine, we have thereby been induced to take the services and situation of that gentleman at this time into our particular consideration.” Its message went on to call for “a suitable acknowledgement of his eminent services, and a proper provision for the continuance of them in an independent manner.” The assembly voted to pay Paine £500 (Conway, Paine, description begins Moncure Daniel Conway. The Life of Thomas Paine with a History of His Literary, Political, and Religious Career in America, France, and England. 2 vols. New York, 1892. description ends 208–9). For GW’s unsuccessful efforts to have the Virginia legislature come to Paine’s aid, see GW to Patrick Henry, 12 June, and notes, and Madison to GW, 2 July, 12 August.

5The letter has not been identified.

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