Lot 222

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Thomas Paine's infamous letter to George Washington. Upset at Having "been imprisoned seven months, and the silence of the executive government of America, Mr. Washington"

4pp, measuring 11" x 18", [Concord], New Hampshire, dated December 16, 1802. An issue of the "Courier of New Hampshire", No. 47, Vol. XIII, with an early printing of Thomas Paine's infamous letter to George Washington of July 30, 1796, in which he publicly berates Washington following his imprisonment in France. Additional articles include details of a female arsonist executed in Germany, a French artillery captain who committed suicide, various election results, the closing of New Orleans port, and much more. At the back of the paper are various ads, including one for a published "History of the Indian Wars in New England." The newspaper has flattened folds with separations and edge chipping repaired in places with tape. Moderate toning throughout, with light foxing. Staining at the top front page.

Paine's letter in part:

"…it was the duty of the executive department in America to have made (at least) some enquiries about me, as soon as it heard of my imprisonment. But if this had not been the case, that government owed it to me on every ground and principle of honor and gratitude. Mr. Washington owed it to me on every score of private acquaintance, I will not now say, friendship; for it has for some time been known, by those who know him, that he has no friendships; that he is incapable of forming any; he can serve or desert a man or a cause with constitutional indifference; and it is this cold hermaphrodite faculty that imposed itself upon the world, and was credited for a while by enemies as by friends, for prudence, moderation and impartiality…I had then been imprisoned seven months, and the silence of the executive government of America, Mr. Washington, upon the case and upon everything respecting me, was explanation enough to Robespierre that he might proceed to extremities. A violent fever which had nearly terminated my existence, was, I believe, the circumstance that preserved it. I was not in a condition to be removed, or to know of what was passing, or of what had passed for more than a month. It makes a blank in my remembrance of life…

...The character, which Mr. Washington has attempted to act in the world, is a sort of non-describable, cameleon-coloured thing, called prudence. It is, in many cases, a substitute for principle, and is so nearly allied to hypocrisy, that it easily slides into it. His genius for prudence furnished him in this instance with an expedient, that served, as is the natural and general character of all expedients, to diminish the embarrassments of the moment and multiply them afterwards…It is laughable to hear Mr. Washington talk of his sympathetic feelings, who has always been remarked, even among his friends, for not having any. He has, however, given no proof of any to me. As to the pompous encomiums he so liberally pays to himself, on the score of the American Revolution, the reality of them may be questioned…"

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was an English-born intellectual, inventor, and radical pamphleteer who influenced both the American and French Revolutions. His powerful pamphlet, Common Sense (1776), was the best-selling original work published in eighteenth-century America and had a pronounced impact on the Revolution by making a case for complete independence from Great Britain; General Washington even ordered the first number to be read aloud to his men. In 1790, Paine moved to France, where he published the liberal Enlightenment treatise Rights of Man (1791). However, as a Girondin, he gained enemies in the French government and was arrested in 1793, narrowly escaping the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Adding insult to injury, Paine was convinced that the American ambassador to France, Federalist Gouverneur Morris, had somehow engineered his arrest. His release was eventually arranged by James Monroe in November 1794, but Paine took his anger out on Washington, who he believed should have secured his release much earlier - especially since the two men were friends. Paine wrote this scathing public letter to Washington, personally attacking Washington as an incompetent general and elitist president who had betrayed Paine for not protecting him when he claimed American citizenship when arrested by France. And yet, despite Paine's dissatisfaction with America's government, he returned to the United States in 1802 upon the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson and remained there until his death in 1809.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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March 15, 2023 11:00 AM EDT
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