"HIS PRINCIPAL MISTAKE LAY IN HIS RATHER VIOLENT OPPOSITION TO WASHINGTON IN THE CAMPAIGN OF 179": WONDERFUL TYPED LETTER WRITTEN AND INITIALED BY FDR AS PRESIDENT DURING THE WORST DAYS OF WORLD WAR II THANKING HIS UNCLE FOR A CLIPPING ABOUT TOM PAINE
ROOSEVELT, Franklin D. Typed letter initialed. Washington, 1942. Single sheet of light green White House letterhead, measuring 7 by 9 inches; p. 1. $7500.
Fascinating typed and hand-initialed letter written during World War II from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to his uncle, the Honorable Frederic A. Delano, thanking his uncle for sending a clipping on Tom Paine and stating that Paine's principal mistake was opposing Washington in the election of 1796.
The letter, typed on light green White House stationery, dated "August 25, 1942," and addressed to FDR's uncle, the Honorable Frederic A. Delano, reads in full: "Dear Uncle Fred:- Many thanks for sending me that clipping about Tom Paine. I , too, have always had a keen interest in him. His principle mistake lay in his rather violent opposition to Washington in the campaign of 1792 [i.e. 1796]. Affectionately, [hand-initialed] FDR." This letter actually refers to the campaign of 1796, rather than the non-existent campaign of 1792; Washington was unanimously re-elected without a campaign in 1792. By 1796, circumstances were very different: two political parties had been formed. Federalists supported John Adams, while anti-Federalists (also known as Republicans and Democratic-Republicans) supported Thomas Jefferson. In 1791, Paine had been avidly pro-Washington. In fact, he dedicated the first part of Rights of Man to him. On May 6, 1792, a similarly admiring Washington wrote Paine, in part: "My thanks for the token of your remembrance, in the 50 copies of Rights of Man… I rejoice in the information of your personal prosperity."
Then, in 1793, Paine was arrested in Paris. A long-naturalized American citizen, he had fled to Paris from Britain where an arrest warrant had been issued due to the anti-government principles espoused in his work. While he came to France unable to speak the language, he was eventually elected to the French National Convention. Paine gained enemies there. Viewed as a Girondist, his political beliefs were a stark contrast to those of Robespierre and his allies. When Robespierre came to power, Paine was arrested and thrown in jail to await execution. After a lengthy imprisonment and a lucky escape from the guillotine, Paine's feelings toward Washington changed. He was deeply aggrieved, asserting that there had been a conspiracy between Washington and Robespierre to imprison him. Without that rationalization, Paine simply could not understand the betrayal of his best friend. He wrote him angrily without receiving any response. Ultimately, Paine contacted his longtime publisher, the anti-Federalist Benjamin Bache, requesting that he publish his Letter to George Washington in 1796. In the publication, Paine attacked Washington as "an apostate or an impostor," question whether he had "abandoned good principles or whether [he] ever had any."
Roosevelt had a deep fascination with Paine. In fact, in one of his most famous Fireside Chats, on February 23, 1942 during the darkest days of the war, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, began with a lengthy invocation of the Revolutionary War and quoted Paine ("These are the times that try men's souls…"). "Paine enjoyed a brief revival in the 1940s, after F.D.R. quoted The American Crisis… and an excellent two-volume set, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, edited by Philip Foner, was published in 1945" (New Yorker).
This letter was written to the Honorable Frederic A. Delano, a railroad magnate who held numerous governmental positions including Vice Governor of the Federal Reserve, colonel of the Transportation Corps during World War I, receiver in the Red River Boundary Case, Oklahoma v. Texas, by the US Supreme Court, member of the League of Nation's International Commission concerning opium production in Persia, a member of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents, trustee and chairman of the Brookings Institute, member and chairman of the National Park and Planning Commission of Washington, chairman of the National Resources Planning Board, and chairman emeritus of the American Planning and Civic Association. Perhaps more importantly, he was FDR's favorite uncle and much of their correspondence, as well as some of Delano's papers, reside in the FDR Presidential Library.