George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Paine, 20 September 1795

From Thomas Paine

Paris Sepr 20 1795


I had written you a letter by Mr Letombe french Consul but at the request of Mr Monroe I withdrew it and the letter is still by me I was the more easily prevailed upon to do this as it was then my intention to have returned to America the latter end of this year (1795) but the illness I now suffer prevents me.1 In case I had come I should have applied to you for copies of such parts of your official letters (and of your private ones if you had chosen to give them) as contained any instruction or directions either to Mr Morris or to Mr Monroe or to any other person respecting me; for after you were ⟨infor⟩med of my imprisonment it was incumbent upon you to have ⟨mad⟩e enquiry into the Cause, as you might very well conclude that I had not the opportunity of informing you of it.2 I cannot understand your silence upon that head upon any other ground than as connivance at my imprisonment; and this is the manner it is understood here and will be understood in America unless you give me authority for contradicting it. I therefore write you this letter to propose to you to send me Copies of any letters you may have written that may remove that Suspicion. In the preface to the second part of the Age of Reason I have given a memorandum from the hand writing of Robespiére in which he proposed a decree of Accusation against me “for the interest of America as well as of France3—He could have had no Cause for putting America into the Case but by interpreting the Silence of the American Government into Connivance and Consent—I was imprisoned on the ground of being born in England,4 and your silence in not enquiring into the Cause of that imprisonment and reclaiming me against it was tacitly giving me up. I ought not to have suspected you of Treachery, but whether I recover from the illness I now suffer or not I must continue to think you treacherous till you give me Cause to think otherwise. I am sure you would have found yourself more at your ease if you had acted by me as you ought, for whether your desertion of me was intended to gratify the English Government, or to let me fall into destruction in France that you might exclaim the louder against the french revolution, or whether you hoped by my extinction to meet with less opposition in mounting up the American government, either of these will involve you in reproach you will not easily shake off.

Thomas Paine

ALS, DLC:GW; ALS (photocopy of duplicate), DLC: James McHenry Papers; copy, MHi: Adams Papers. Benjamin Franklin Bache’s note on the cover of the ALS, dated 18 Jan. 1796, reads: “Enclosed to Benj. Franklin Bache, and by him forwarded immediately upon rec⟨ei⟩pt.” The cover of the duplicate ALS was pictured in Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., catalog 596, The James McHenry Papers, 30–31 Oct. 1944, item 251. It bears Bache’s note of 9 Feb. 1796, stating that the letter was “Forwarded immediately upon receipt.” Where the ALS is mutilated, the text in angle brackets is taken from the duplicate ALS.

1Paine referred to Philippe-André-Joseph de Létombe, French consul to Philadelphia. In his pamphlet Thomas Paine’s Letter to George Washington, President of the United States (Baltimore, 1797), Paine claimed to have written a letter to GW on 22 Feb. under cover to Secretary of State Edmund Randolph. He entrusted it to Létombe. When he thought the consul had sailed to America to assume his post, Paine mentioned the letter to James Monroe and showed him a copy. Monroe “expressed a wish that I would recall it, which he supposed might be done, as he had learned that mr. Letombe had not then sailed. I agreed to do so, and it was returned” to Monroe.

Paine had contracted a severe fever in late May 1794 while imprisoned in France and suffered from an abscess in his side (see Fruchtman, Paine, description begins Jack Fruchtman, Jr. Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom. New York, 1994. description ends 331).

2The French government arrested Paine on 28 Dec. 1793. Jacobin leaders charged him with support of the Girondist stand against the execution of Louis XVI and a claim that Paine, as a British citizen, retained close ties to that enemy of France (see Ayer, Paine, description begins A. J. Ayer. Thomas Paine. New York, 1988. description ends 128; and Fruchtman, Paine, description begins Jack Fruchtman, Jr. Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom. New York, 1994. description ends 312, 314). He remained in the Luxembourg prison until late 1794. Monroe had received a letter from Randolph on 2 Nov. 1794 instructing him to protect any Americans in France who were charged with crimes but innocent of wrongdoing. Monroe interpreted the letter to apply to Paine and obtained Paine’s release on 4 Nov. 1794 (see Ayer, Paine, description begins A. J. Ayer. Thomas Paine. New York, 1988. description ends 131).

3Paine took this loose quote from a statement by Robespierre that was discovered in a notebook after his execution on 28 July 1794. Paine wrote the second part of The Age of Reason while he stayed at the home of Monroe and recuperated from his illness and the effects of imprisonment. A pirated edition of Paine’s work was published in October (see Ayer, Paine, description begins A. J. Ayer. Thomas Paine. New York, 1988. description ends 131).

4Paine was born in Thetford, England, about seventy-five miles from London, but emigrated to America and lived there at the time of the Revolutionary War. He took his first oath of allegiance to the United States as a Pennsylvania citizen in 1776, and a second one before Congress in 1777 upon his appointment as secretary in the Office of Foreign Affairs. The French government proclaimed Paine an honorary subject of that country in August 1792, but the 1793 charges against him specified Paine as an English citizen (see Vincent, Paine, description begins Bernard Vincent. The Transatlantic Republican: Thomas Paine and the Age of Revolutions. New York, 2005. description ends 111–12).

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