Letter to George Washington

George WASHINGTON   |   Thomas PAINE

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PAINE, Thomas. Letter to George Washington, President of the United States of America. On Affairs Public and Private. Philadelphia: Benj. Franklin Bache, 1796 [i.e. 1797]. Slim octavo, contemporary marbled boards rebacked in calf-gilt, red morocco spine label; pp. (1-3), 4-76, (2).

First edition of Paine's controversial public attack on George Washington, a handsome copy in contemporary marbled boards.

The highly combustible relationship between Thomas Paine and George Washington, forged in the Revolution only to shatter with the publication of Paine's open Letter to George Washington, "is not just the story of two men; it is the story of the entire Revolutionary generation" (Hamilton, Rise and Fall, 150). Paine's brilliant Common Sense (1776) was famously championed by Washington at a turning point in the Revolution and Paine, in turn, dedicated Rights of Man (1791) to Washington. Yet during the months Paine sat in a French prison amidst the chaos of the French Revolution, charged as an enemy alien, he ultimately blamed the President "for not quickly interceding on his behalf… Moreover, while in prison he had contracted a serious illness, which he likewise now blamed on Washington's negligence… Paine had written Washington on September 20, 1795 [printed herein]: '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 shall continue to think you treacherous, till you give me cause to think otherwise.' When Paine did not receive any answer to this letter, he was convinced that Washington had connived at his imprisonment, and published this violent diatribe, first in America in 1796, and shortly afterward in England" (Gimbel-Yale, 430, 434).

In this important first edition of his open Letter to George Washington, Paine charges: "You folded your arms, forgot your friend, and became silent." Attacking Washington's leadership in the Revolution, he boldly writes: "It is time that the eyes of America be opened upon you… without whole assistance in men, money and ships, Mr. Washington would have cut but a poor figure in the American war." Paine targets not only Washington, but also John Jay and Governor Morris. Thomas Jefferson, who had a first edition of this work in his library, is also briefly mentioned in connection with Morris' appointment as Minister of France, and John Adams is characterized as "one of those men who never contemplated the origin of government, or comprehended anything of first principles."

In 1796 Paine sent his open Letter to George Washington to Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, for publication. Bache shared with Paine a belief "that the Washington administration was turning its back on the democratic principles of the Revolution to become a corrupt variant of British monarchy" (Nelson, Thomas Paine, 292). "Bache printed an excerpt from Paine's Letter in the Philadelphia Aurora on October 17, 1796, and on election day the next month, he printed other excepts as propaganda in favor of the republican doctrines of Thomas Jefferson against the allegedly royalist sentiments of John Adams. Several months later, on February 6, 1797, Bache advertised the pamphlet edition. It caused a sensation… An erstwhile admirer of Paine, writing in the Aurora on November 20, 1802, typically explained that he had read the Age of Reason more fervently than the Bible but that he had become Paine's enemy after reading Letter to Washington. Washington was, after all, the 'Father of His Country.' Paine, a mere English commoner, was mischievously throwing stones." Washington, in turn, "never offered any explanation of his failure to investigate Paine's imprisonment." Some historians suggest that Washington, "mindful of American neutrality, deliberately ignored Paine to avoid creating obstacles to the developing alliance with England" (Keane, 431-33). Containing "Memorial Addressed to James Monroe." Title page with square brackets enclosing "Entered according to law" as in Evans and in Sowerby: some copies found with "parentheses substituted for square brackets" (ESTC W20660), no priority established. Without scarce half title; advertisement leaf at rear. Evans 30951. Howes P24. Gimbel-Yale 104. Gimbel, 77-79). Sabin 58224. ESCT W02660. Sowerby 3189. Small early notation to front pastedown.

Text quite fresh, only faint rubbing to boards. An attractive copy.

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