Tom Paine's First Appearance in America

“It were wise, nay, just,
To strike with men a balance : to forgive,
If not forget, their evil for their good's sake."—Saul. A Drama.

IN the year 1774, David Williams, a gentleman with deistical theories and scientific tastes, lived at Chelsea, near London. It was the same Williams whose tract on Political Liberty, published eight years afterward, and translated by Brissot, earned for him the dignity of citoyen Français, when that new order was created by the Revolution. At the time we speak of, Mr. Williams kept a school for boys. Dr. Franklin, who knew him well, often visited him. On one of these occasions, it is said that Williams introduced to the American agent a bright-eyed man approaching to middle age, named Thomas Paine, who had been usher in a school and was desirous of trying his fortune in the New World. After a short conversation, Franklin was so much pleased with the intelligence of this man, that he gave him full advice with regard to his voyage and to his movements after reaching his destination, and wrote in his behalf a letter to his son-in-law, Bache, introducing him as an “ingenious, worthy young man,” very capable of filling the post of "clerk, or assistant tutor in a school, or assistant surveyor.”

The “young man” was thirty-seven years of age when he landed in Philadelphia in the autumn of 1774, to begin the real business of his life. He had been a staymaker, a sailor, an exciseman, a teacher, a shopkeeper, and an author, to say nothing of his twofold matrimonial experience. Such a long and various course of schooling had fitted him to become an American citizen.

His father was a staymaker, a Quaker, and poor. The son was sent to a free school, where he was taught reading, writing, and arithmetic,—enough learning to be given to any man at the public expense. With these three keys, if he is made of the right material, he can open the world. At thirteen, he worked at his father’s trade ; at sixteen, he ran away and shipped on board the privateer “Terrible,” Captain Death : the names of both craft and captain suggest the black flag and cross-bones. Before the vessel sailed, his father interfered and brought him ashore. Luckily for him ; for, on her next cruise, the “Terrible” was taken into St. Malo, a prize to the “Vengeance,” after one of the most desperate sea-fights on record. Her captain was killed ; out of a crew of two hundred men, only twentysix were found alive, most of them badly wounded. Visions of sea-life again lured Paine away from the shop-board. He shipped in another privateer, and this time actually served out the cruise. In 1759, we find him living at Sandwich, a staymaker and a married man. In 1761, he was a widower and an officer of the excise. From this position he was dismissed, for some reason which escaped both Cobbett and Cheetham, and eleven months afterward was reinstated on his own petition. In the interval, he found employment in London as usher in a school, at twenty-five pounds a year. His leisure moments he devoted to lectures on Natural Science. In 1768, he took a second wife at Lewes, the daughter of a tobacconist; and the father dying soon after, Paine kept the shop. Here he wrote for his brother-excisemen a petition to government for an increase of salary. Four thousand copies were published by subscription. This piece introduced him to Goldsmith, and a letter from the author to the famous Doctor still exists, requesting “the honor of his company at the tavern for an hour or two, to partake of a bottle of wine.”

The year 1774 was an eventful one for Paine. He failed in the shop, was separated from his wife, and dismissed from his office as exciseman. After petitioning in vain to be reinstated, he determined to emigrate.

His first scheme was, to establish a school for girls in Philadelphia; but Bache procured him an engagement as assistant editor of the “Pennsylvania Magazine,” at fifty pounds a year. Paine’s contributions were much applauded, and soon attracted subscribers. His “Reflections on the Life and Death of Lord Clive” were considered admirable, but do not suit our present taste. A song on the Death of General Wolfe, still occasionally reprinted, does not rise above a low level of mediocrity. But here is a paragraph on the Mineral Riches of the Earth, which, many years later, found favor in the eyes of the surly Cheetham, and may still be read with some interest:—

“Though Nature is gay, polite, and generous abroad, she is sullen, rude, and niggardly at home ; return the visit, and she admits you with all the suspicion of a miser, and all the reluctance of an antiquated beauty retired to replenish her charms. Bred up in antediluvian notions, she has not yet acquired the European taste of receiving visitants in her dressing-room: she locks and bolts up her private recesses with extraordinary care, as if not only resolved to preserve her hoards, but to conceal her age, and hide the remains of a face that was young and lovely in the days of Adam. He that would view Nature in her undress, and partake of her internal treasures, must proceed with the resolution of a robber, if not a ravisher. She gives no invitation to follow her to the cavern,—the external earth makes no proclamation of the interior stores, but leaves to chance and industry the discovery of the whole. In such gifts as Nature can annually recreate, she is noble and profuse, and entertains the whole world with the interest of her fortune, but watches over the capital with the care of a miser. Her gold aud jewels lie concealed in the earth, in caves of utter darkness; and hoards of wealth, heaps upon heaps, mould in the chests, like the riches of a necromancer’s cell.”

An essay against African. Slavery, written for Bradford's paper, introduced Paine to the notice of several distinguished men, — among others, to that of Dr. Rush. Many years afterward, in a letter to Cheetham, the Doctor described his first interview with Paine. In this communication, he insinuates that he suggested the famous pamphlet and the no less famous signature, “Common Sense.” But in 1809, the venerable Doctor was an old man ; and even in earlier days, his keen appreciation of “Ille ego qui quondam” and “Quorum pars magna fui,” as the choicest passages in Virgil, was good-naturedly noticed by his contemporaries.*

Paine’s own account of the work is probably the true one :—

“In October, 1775, Dr. Franklin proposed giving me such materials as were in his hands towards completing a history of the present transactions, and seemed desirous to have the first volume out the next spring. I had then formed the outlines of “Common Souse,” and finished nearly the first part: and as I supposed the Doctor’s design in getting out a history was to open the new year with a new system, I expected to surprise him with a production on that subject much earlier than he thought of.”

The times were more suggestive than doctors, even when Franklin was one of them. When Paine came to America, he found the dispute with England the all-absorbing topic. The atmosphere was heavy with the approaching storm. The First Congress was in session in the autumn of that year. On the 17th of September, John Adams felt certain that the other Colonies would support Massachusetts. The Second Congress met in May, 1775. During the winter and spring the quarrel had grown rapidly. Lexington and Concord had become national watchwords ; the army was assembled about Boston ; Washington was chosen commander-in-chief. Then came Bunker’s Hill, the siege of Boston, the attack upon Quebec. There was open war between Great Britain and her Colonies. The Americans had drawn the sword, but were unwilling to raise the flag.

From the beginning of the troubles the Colonists had been consistent in their acts. Public meetings, protests, burnings in effigy, tea-riots, militia levies, congresses, skirmishes, war, followed each other in regular and logical succession ;— but theoretically they did not make out so clear a case. They had fine-drawn distinctions, not easy to appreciate at this day, between taxes levied for the purpose of raising revenue and duties imposed for the regulation of trade. Parliament could lay a duty on tobacco in a seaport, but might not make the weed excisable on a plantation, — could break down a loom in any part of British America, could shut out all intercourse with foreign nations by the Navigation Act, but had not the legal right to make the Colonial merchant write his contracts or draw his bills on stamped paper. As to independence, very few desired it. “Independence,” it was the fashion to say, “would be ruin and loss of liberty forever.” The Colonists insisted that they were the most loyal of subjects; but they had men and muskets ready, and were determined to resist the obnoxious acts of Parliament with both, if necessary. These arguments of our ancestors led them to an excellent conclusion, and so far are entitled to our respect ; but logically we are afraid that King George had the best of it.

Before many months had passed, lagging theory was left so far in the rear by the rapid course of events, that the Colonists felt it necessary to move up a new set of principles to the van, if they wished to present a fair front to the enemy. They had raised an army, and taken the field. Unless they declared themselves a nation, they were confessedly rebels. And yet almost all hesitated. There was a deep-seated prejudice in favor of the English government, and a strong personal liking for the people. Even when it was known that the second petition to the King — Dickinson’s “measure of imbecility ”— was disregarded, as it deserved to be, and that the Hessians were coming, and all reasonable men admitted that there was no hope for reconciliation, they still refused to abandon the pleasing delusion, and talked over the old plans for redress of grievances, and a constitutional union with the mother country. With little or no belief in the possibility of either, they stood shivering on the banks of the Rubicon, that mythical river of irretrievable self-committal, hesitating to enter its turbid waters. A few of the bolder “shepherds of the people” tried to urge them onward ; but no one was bold enough to dash in first and lead them through. Paine seized the opportunity. He had a mind whose eye always saw a subject, when it could perceive it at all, in its naked truth, stripped of the non-material accessories which disturb the vision of common men. He saw that reconciliation was impossible, mere rebellion folly; and that, to succeed in the struggle, it was necessary to fight Great Britain as an equal,—nation against nation. This course he recommended in “Common Sense,” published in January, 1776.

Paine told the Colonists in this pamphlet that the connection with the mother country was of no use to them, and was rapidly becoming an impossibility. “It is not in the power of England to do this continent justice. The business of it is too weighty and too intricate to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience by a power so distant. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which, when obtained, requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness.” As to the protection of England, what is that but the privilege of contributing to her wars? “Our trade will always be a protection.” “Neutrality is a safer convoy than a man-of-war.” “It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she can never do white by her dependence on Britain she is made the make-weight in the scale of European politics.” According to “Common Sense,” not only was a separation necessary and unavoidable, but the present moment was the right time to establish it. “The time hath found us.” The materials of war were abundant; the union of the Colonies complete. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to form the continent into a government half a century hence. Now the task is easy. The interest of all is the same. “There is no religious difficulty in the way.” "I fully believe that it is the will of the Almighty that there should be a diversity of religious opinions among us. I look upon the various denominations among us as children of the same family, differing only in what is called their Christian names.” All things considered, “nothing can settle our affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration of independence.”

This proceeding may at first appear strange and difficult. A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right” ; but in a little time it will become familiar. “And until independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done ; hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.” To this he thought it necessary to add a labored argument against kings from the Old Testament, which may possibly have had much weight with a people some of whose descendants still triumphantly quote the same holy book in favor of slavery.

The King’s speech, “a piece of finished villany” in the eyes of true patriots, appeared in Philadelphia on the same day as “Common Sense.” Thus Paine was as lucky in his time of publication as in his choice of a subject. All contemporaries admit that the pamphlet produced a prodigious effect. Paine himself says,— “The success it met with was beyond anything since the invention of printing. I gave the copyright up to every State in the Union, and the demand ran to not less than one hundred thousand copies.” The authorship was attributed to Dr. Franklin, to Samuel Adams, and to John Adams.

It is hardly necessary to mention that the movement party, with General Washington at its head, considered Paine’s “doctrines sound, and his reasoning unanswerable.” Even in England, Liberals read and applauded. The pamphlet was translated into French. When John Adams went to France, he heard himself called le fameux Adams, author of “Common Sense.”

It soon became apparent that the people were charged with Independence doctrines, and, like an electrified Leyden jar, only waited for the touch of a skilful hand to produce the explosion. "Common Sense” drew the spark. The winged words flew over the country and produced so rapid a change of opinion, that, in most cases, conservatives judged it useless to publish the answers they had prepared. One or two appeared. None attracted attention. About five months later, Congress declared independence ; “as soon,” Paine wrote, "as 'Common Sense’ could spread through such an extensive country.” In a few years Paine asserted and believed, that, had it not been for him, the Colonial government would have continued, and the United States would never have become a nation.

If we countermarch and get into the rear of Time, to borrow an expression from “The Crisis,” and, placing ourselves in January, 1776, look at “Common Sense” from that date, we may understand without much difficulty why it produced so great an impression. Paine, as later, when he brought out the "Rights of Man,” caused a chord to vibrate in the popular mind which was already strung to the exact point of tension. The publication was not only timely,—it was novel. Paine founded a new school of pamphleteering. He was the first who wrote politics for the million. The learned political dissertations of Junius Brutus, Publius, or Philanglus were guarded in expression, semi-metaphysical in theory, and Johnsonian in style. They were relished by comparatively few readers ; 1 but the shrewd illustrations of “Common Sense,” the homely force of its statements, and its concise and muscular English stirred the mind of every class. Even Paine’s coarse epithets, “Common Ruffian.” “Royal Brute of Britain,” and the like, which offended the taste of the leaders of the American party,—for party-leaders were gentlemen in 1776,—had as much weight with the rank-and-file as his arguments.

Paine became suddenly famous. General Charles Lee said “that he burst upon the world like Jove, in thunder.” His acquaintance was sought by all who were of the true faith in Independence ; and when, soon afterward, he visited New York, he carried with him letters from Dr. Franklin and John Adams, introducing him to the principal residents “as a citizen of the world, the celebrated author of ‘Common Sense.'” Had he been a man of fortune or American-born, he might have reached a place in the foremost rank of the Fathers of the Country. But nativism was powerful, and position important at that time, as Lee and Gates and even Hamilton himself experienced. The signature, “Common Sense,” Paine preserved through life. It became what our authorlings, who ought, to know better, will persist in calling a nom.2de plume, — a Yankee affectation, unknown to French idioms.

In the autumn of 1776, Paine joined the army as volunteer aide-de-camp to General Greene, and served through the gloomy campaign which opened with the loss of New York in September. He remained in the field until the army went into winter-quarters after the battles of Trenton and Princeton. It was not as a combatant that Paine did the States good service. He played the part of Tyrtæus in prose,—an adaptation of the old Greek lyrist to the eighteenth century and to British America,—and cheered the soldiers, not with songs, but with essays, continuations of “Common Sense.” The first one was written on the retreat from Fort Lee, and published under the name of “The Crisis,’ on the 23d of December, when misfortune and severe weather had cast down the stoutest hearts. It began with the well-known phrase, “ ‘ These are the times that try men's souls.’ The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of his country ; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”—“But after all,” he continues, “matters might be worse. Howe has done very little. Fort Washington and Fort Lee were no loss to us. The retreat was admirably planned and conducted. General Washington is the right man for the place, ‘with a mind that can even flourish upon care.'" He closes with a cheerful sketch of the spirit and condition of the army, attacks the Tories, and appeals to the Colonies for union and contributions.

This “Crisis” produced the best effect at home ; in England it had the honor of being burned by the hangman. The succeeding “Crisises” were brought out at irregular intervals, whenever the occasion seemed to demand Paine’s attention ; some of them not longer than a leader in a daily paper ; others swollen to pamphlet dimensions. They were read by every corporal’s guard in the army, and printed in every town of every State on brown or yellow paper ; for white was rarely to be obtained. In their hours of despondency, the Colonists took consolation and courage from the “Crisis.” “Never,” says a contemporary, “was a writer better calculated for the meridian under which he wrote, or who knew how to adapt himself more happily to every circumstance..... Even Cheetham

admits, that to the army Paine’s pen was an appendage almost as necessary and as formidable as its cannon.”

The next campaign opened gloomily for the Colonies. The Tories felt certain of victory. In the political almanac of that party, 1777 was “the year with three gallows in it.” The English held New York and ravaged the Jerseys on their way to Philadelphia. Howe issued a proclamation “commanding all congresses and committees to desist and cease from their treasonable doings,” promising pardon to all who should come in and take the oath of allegiance. Paine met him with a “Crisis.” “By what means,” he asked, “do you expect to conquer America ? If you could not effect it in the summer, when our army was less than yours, nor in the winter, when we had none, how are you to do it ? If you obtain possession of this city, [Philadelphia,] you could do nothing with it but plunder it; it would be only an additional dead-weight on your hands. You have both an army and a country to contend with. You may march over the country, but you cannot hold it; if you attempt to garrison it, your army would be like a stream of waiter running to nothing. Even were our men to disperse, every man to his home, engaging to reassemble at some future day, you would be as much at a loss in that case as now. You would be afraid to send out your troops in detachments ; when we returned, the work would be all to do.” Paine then turns to those who, frightened by the proclamation, betrayed their country, and paints their folly and its punishment. In speaking of them, he calls upon the Pennsylvania Council of Safety to take into serious consideration the case of the Quakers, whose published protest against breaking off the “happy connection” seemed to Paine of a treasonable nature. “They have voluntarily read themselves out of the Continental meeting,” he adds, with a humor, doubtless, little relished by the Friends, “and cannot hope to be restored to it again, but by payment and penitence.”

In April, Paine was elected, on motion of John Adams, Secretary to the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, with a salary of seventy dollars a month. When Philadelphia surrendered, he accompanied Congress in the flight to Lancaster. The day after the affair at Brandywine, a short “Crisis” appeared, explaining the accidents which had caused the defeat of the Continentals, and insisting that the good cause was safe, and that Howe’s victories were no better than defeats. Paine was right. The Americans were gaining more ground in Northern New York than they had lost in Pennsylvania. Burgoyne, who,

“Unconscious of impending fates,
Could push through woods, but not through Gates,”

had capitulated. The news reached Philadelphia on the 18th of October.

This winter ought to have closed the war. The alliance with France, Burgovne’s capture, two campaigns without useful results, Washington’s admirable patience and management at Valley Forge, with starvation and mutiny in the ranks and disaffection to his person in the officers of the Gates faction, ought to have convinced every Englishman in America that the attempt to reduce the Colonics was now hopeless. Paine was so indignant with the reckless obstinacy of the British government, that he conceived the idea of carrying the war into England with pen and paper, — weapons he began to think invincible in his hands. “If I could get over to England,” he wrote to his old chief, General Greene, “without being known, and only remain in safety until I could get out a proclamation, I could open the eyes of the country with respect to the madness and stupidity of its government.” Greene had no confidence in the success of this appeal to the English people, and advised Paine not to attempt it.

In the mean time the French fleet had arrived, bringing M. Gérard, the first foreign minister to the United States, and with him trouble to Thomas Paine. It is well known that the French government employed Beaumarchais, the author of the “Barber of Seville,” as their agent to furnish secret supplies to the American insurgents, and that Beaumarchais imagined a firm, Rodrigue Hortalez & Co., who shipped to the United Colonies munitions of war furnished by the King, and were to receive return cargoes of tobacco, to keep up mercantile appearances. Silas Deane, a member of Congress from Connecticut, represented the Americans in the business. In 1777, Congress, out of patience with Deane for his foolish contracts with foreign officers, recalled him. He returned, bringing with him a claim of Beaumarchais for the cargoes already shipped to the United States. As Deane could produce no vouchers, and Arthur Lee had cautioned Congress against his demands, the claim was laid on the table until the vouchers should be presented. Deane, confiding in the support of his numerous friends, appealed to the public in a newspaper. Congress bore this indignity so amiably,—refusing, indeed, by a small majority to take notice of it,—that Henry Laurens, the president, who had laid Deane’s appeal before them for their action, resigned in disgust, and was succeeded by John Jay. But Paine, whose position as Foreign Secretary enabled him to know that the supplies had come from the French government, and not from Beaumarchais, answered Deane in several newspaper articles, entitled, “Common Sense to the Public on Mr. Deane’s Affairs.” In these, he exposed the whole claim with his usual unmitigated directness. M. Gérard immediately announced officially that Paine’s papers were false, and called upon Congress to declare them so and to pay the claim. Party feeling ran high on this question,—a foreshadowing of the French and English factions fifteen years later. Congress passed a resolution in censure of Paine. Mr. Laurens moved that he be heard in his defence ; the motion was lost, and Paine resigned his office. A motion from the Deane party to refuse bis resignation and to discharge him was also lost,—the Northern States voting generally in Paine's favor. His resignation was then accepted.

As the French government persisted in denying that the King had furnished any supplies, Congress admitted the debt, and in October, 1779, drew bills on Dr. Franklin in favor of Beaumarchais, for two millions and a half of francs, at three years’ sight. Beaumarchais negotiated the bills, built a fine hotel, and lived en prince. But neither he nor Deane was satisfied. They still demanded another million.

We have no doubt that Paine was correct in his facts, however injudicious it may have been to use them in his position. Deane’s best friends gave him up, before many years had passed. M. de Loménie, in his interesting sketch of Beaumarchais, has tried hard to show the justice of his demands on the United States, hut without much success. He does not attempt to explain how Beaumarchais, notoriously penniless in 1775, should have had in 1777 a good claim for three millions’ worth of goods furnished. The American public looked upon Paine as a victim to state policy, and his position with his friends did not suffer at all in consequence of his disclosures. Personally, he exulted in his conduct to the end of his life, and took pleasure in watching and recording Deane’s disreputable career and miserable end. “As he rose like a rocket, so he fell like the stick,” a metaphor which has passed into a proverb, was imagined by Paine to meet Deane’s case.3 The immediate consequence of Paine’s resignation was to oblige him to hire himself out as clerk to an attorney in Philadelphia. In his office,

Paine earned his daily bread by copying law-papers until he was appointed clerk to the Assembly of Pennsylvania.

Early in May, 1780, while the Assembly of Pennsylvania was receiving petitions from all parts of the State, praying for exemption from taxes, a letter was brought to the speaker from General Washington, and read to the House by Paine as clerk. It stated simply that the army was in the utmost distress from the want of every necessary which men could need and yet retain life ; and that the symptoms of discontent and mutiny were so marked that the General dreaded the event of every hour. “When the letter was read,” says Paine, “I observed a despairing silence in the House. Nobody spoke for a considerable time. At length a member, of whose fortitude I had a high opinion, rose. 'If,' said he, ‘ the account in that letter is true, and we are in the situation there represented, it appears to me in vain to contend the matter any longer. We may as well give up first as last.’ A more cheerful member endeavored to dissipate the gloom of the House, and moved an adjournment, which was carried.” Paine, who knew that the Assembly had neither money nor credit, felt that the voluntary aid of individuals could alone be relied upon in this conjuncture. He accordingly wrote a letter to a friend in Philadelphia, a man of influence, explaining the urgency of affairs, and inclosed five hundred dollars, the amount of the salary due him as clerk, as his contribution towards a relief fund. The Philadelphian called a meeting at the coffee-house, read Paine’s communication, and proposed a subscription, heading the list with two hundred pounds in good money. Mr. Robert Morris put his name down for the same sum. Three hundred thousand pounds, Pennsylvania currency, were raised ; and it was resolved to establish a bank with the fund for the relief of the army. This plan was carried out with the best results. After Morris was appointed Superintendent of Finances, he developed it into the Bank of North America, which was incorporated both by act of Congress and by the State of Pennsylvania. Paine followed up his letter by a "Crisis Extraordinary.” Admitting that the war costs the Colonists a very large sum, he shows that it is trifling, compared with the burdens the English have to bear. For this reason it would be less expensive for the Americans to raise almost any amount to drive the English out than to submit to them and come under their system of taxation.

Our ancestors read the “Crisis Extraordinary,” and understood every word of it, we may be sure. Paine’s lucidity of statement is never more remarkable than when he handles financial questions. But conviction did not work its way down to the pocket. Few men gave who could avoid it, and each State appeared more fearful of paying, by accident, a larger sum than its neighbor, than of the success of the British arms. Congress, finding it at last almost impossible to get. money or even provisions at home, resolved to resort again to the financial expedient which has proved so often profitable to this country, namely, to borrow in Europe. Colonel Laurens, son of the late President of Congress, was appointed commissioner to negotiate an annual loan from France of a million sterling during the continuation of the war. Paine accompanied him at his request. They sailed in February, 1781, and were graciously received by King Louis, who promised them six millions of livres as a present and ten millions as a loan. In little more than ten years, the American secretary, who stands respectfully and unnoticed in the presence of his Majesty of France, will sit as one of his judges in a trial for life ! Is there anything more wonderful in the transmutations of fiction than this? Meanwhile, the future member of the Convention, as little dreaming of what was in store for him as the King, sailed for Boston with his principal. They carried with them two millions and a half in silver,— a great help to Washington in the movement southward, which ended with the capitulation of Yorktown. While in Paris, Paine was again seized with the desire of invading England, incognito, with a pamphlet in his pocket, to open the eyes of the people. But Colonel Laurens thought no better of this scheme than General Greene, and brought his secretary safely home again.

Cornwallis had surrendered, and it was evident that the war could not last much longer. The danger past, the Colonial aversion to pay Union expenses and to obey the orders of Congress became daily stronger. The want of a “Crisis,” as a corrective medicine for the body politic, was so much felt, that Robert Morris, with the knowledge and approbation of Washington, requested Paine to take pen in hand again, offering him, if his private affairs made it necessary, a salary for his services. Paine consented. A “Crisis” appeared which produced a most salutary effect. This was followed a few days later by another, in which a passage occurs which may be quoted as a specimen of Paine’s rhetorical powers. A rumor was abroad that England was treating with France for a separate peace. Paine finds it impossible to express his contempt for the baseness of the ministry who could attempt to sow dissension between such faithful allies. “We sometimes experience sensations to which language is not equal. The conception is too bulky to be born alive, and in the torture of thinking we stand dumb. Our feelings, imprisoned by their magnitude, find no way out; and in the struggle of expression every finger tries to be a tongue.” It will be difficult to describe better the struggle of an indignant soul with an insufficient vocabulary.

When peace was proclaimed, Paine, the untiring advocate of independence, had a right to print his “Io Pæan.” The last “Crisis” announces, “that the times that tried men’s souls were over, and the greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew gloriously and happily accomplished.” “America need never be ashamed to tell her birth, nor relate the stages by which she rose to empire.” But it is to the future he bids her look, rather than to the past. “The remembrance of what is past, if it operates rightly, must inspire her with the most laudable of all ambition, that of adding to the fair fame she began with.” “She is now descending to the scenes of quiet and domestic life,—not beneath the cypress shade of disappointment, but to enjoy in her own land and under her own vine the sweet of her labors and the reward of her toil. In this situation may she. never forget that a fair national reputation is of as much importance as independence,—that it possesses a charm that wins upon the world, and makes even enemies civil,—that it gives a dignity which is often superior to power, and commands reverence where pomp and splendor fail.” As indispensable to a future of prosperity and dignity, he warmly recommends the Union. “I ever feel myself hurt,” he says, “when I hear the Union, that great Palladium of our liberty and safety. the least irreverently spoken of. It is the most sacred thing in the Constitution of America, and that which every man should be most proud and tender of.” Thus he anticipated by seventy-five years our “Union-savers” of 1856, few of whom dreamed that their pet phrases, or something very like them, originated with Thomas Paine.

The war left Paine no richer than it found him. He had made fame, but no money, by his writings. None of the proceeds of large editions had enriched his purse. He had an exalted ideal of an author’s duty when his work is on political subjects. Louis Blanc has written somewhere, ”Le journalisme est un sacerdoce.” This seems to have been Paine’s thought, although he may not have expressed it so sonorously,—for there are no phrase-makers like the French. But Paine went, we suspect, much farther than Louis Blanc ; for he held that the priest ought to take no pay for his ministrations. And he acted up to this unusual theory in literary ethics. If he took out a copyright, he gave it away to some public use. As he himself said, late in life, — “I could never reconcile it to my principles to make money by my politcs or my religion.” “In a great affair, where the happiness of man is at stake, I love to work for nothing ; and so fully am I under the influence of this principle, that I should lose the spirit, the pleasure, and the pride of it, were I conscious that I looked for reward.”

His friends and admirers did not permit him to have the honor of giving not only his services, but his actual expenses, to the Republic. The State of New York presented him with a confiscated Royalist estate, near New Rochelle, three hundred acres of good land, with the necessary fences and buildings upon it. Pennsylvania voted him five hundred pounds, currency. And the Virginians were talking about making a similar donation, when an unlucky pamphlet from Paine appeared, demolishing the claim of Virginia to the Western country. This publication changed the views of the chivalry, and Paine lost his grant. He owned, besides, a small place in Bordentown,—a gift, we believe, of the State of New Jersey. The other nine States passed him over. New England had expended enough, both of men and means, for the cause,— and the South had fine feelings, but no money.

In the autumn of 1783, when Paine was residing at Bordentown, he received a letter from Washington, who had fixed his quarters at Rocky Hill, near Princeton, until he could resign his command to Congress. It ran thus:—

“I have learned, since I have been at this place, that you are at Bordentown,—whether for the sake of retirement or economy ; be it for either or both, or whatever it may, I shall be exceedingly happy to see you here.

“Your presence may remind Congress of your past services to this country ; and if it is in my power to impress them, command my best exertions with freedom, as they will be rendered cheerfully by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your works, and who, with much pleasure, subscribes himself "G. WASHINGTON.”

Such a letter of hearty approval and respect, from the greatest man of the country, perhaps of the age, (we Americans, at least, all think so,) rich, powerful, honored, is certainly a “handsome testimonial,” worth writing or fighting for. It was not an empty offer of service. Washington spoke to several members of Congress in Paine's behalf, and told them that it would be pleasing to himself, as well as right and proper, to make a suitable provision for Paine. In 1785, Congress at last granted him three thousand dollars, much of which they fairly owed him for his loss on the depreciated currency in which his salary as Secretary had been paid. Paine accepted the General's invitation, and spent some time in his family, at Mrs. Berrian's, Rocky Hill. One evening of his visit was devoted to setting a neighboring creek on fire. This successful experiment, as performed by the Father of his Country, assisted by Thomas Paine, General Lincoln, and Colonel Cobb, is described in a tract on the Yellow Fever, written by Paine a few years before his death, at the request of Thomas Jefferson.

Until the spring of 1787, Paine spent his time in Philadelphia or in Bordentown, writing occasionally on subjects which interested him, and indulging his taste for scientific speculations in the company of Franklin and Rittenhouse. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society, as well as an A. M. of the University of Philadelphia. His reputation, his wonderful memory, the shrewd originality of his remarks, made him a welcome guest in the best society. He was no talker or conversationist, (an excellent word we should like to see legitimated,) but a quiet, observing man, who spoke to the point, inoffensive in manner, and not unprepossessing in appearance. As one of the lions of the country, he was much looked at, especially by foreigners. We find a sketch of an interview with him in the Travels of the Chevalier de Chastellux. De Lafayette and himself requested permission to call “on that author so celebrated in America and in Europe by his excellent work entitled 'Common Sense.’” Colonel Laurens introduced them. “His physiognomy,” the Chevalier thinks, “did not belie the spirit that reigns throughout his works. Our conversation was agreeable and animated, and such as to form a connection between us ; for he has written to me since my departure, and seems desirous of maintaining a constant correspondence.”

In common with most of the clever men of his day, Paine, as we have said, cultivated a taste for mechanics and natural science. There was an awakening of the mind, in physics as well as in politics, at that period ; and it must be confessed that the natural philosophers have succeeded better than the constitutionmakers. Paine’s mechanical hobby was an iron bridge. A single arch, of four hundred feet span, and twenty feet in height from the chord-line, was to be thrown over the Schuylkill, near Philadelphia. The idea was suggested to him by a spider’s web, a section of which the bridge resembled ; and the principle he worked upon was, that the small segment of a large circle was preferable to the great segment of a small circle. Paine made a complete model of his bridge, in wrought iron and wood, at Bordentown ; but, finding that the insufficiency of capital and of skill in the working of iron in America would prevent him from carrying out his plan, he sailed for France to lay his model before the Académie des Sciences. Franklin, who always liked him, gave him letters to the celebrated Malesherbes, Le Roy, the Abbé Morellet, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, introducing him “as an ingenious, honest man, author of 'Common Sense,’ a famous piece, published here with great effect on the minds of people at the beginning of the Revolution.” He had also a satisfactory credential from Congress, in the shape of the following resolution, adopted by that body in August, 1785 :—

“Resolved, That the early, unsolicited, and continued labors of Mr. Thomas Paine, in explaining and enforcing the principles of the late Revolution, by ingenious and timely publications upon the nature of Liberty and Civil Government, have been Well received by the citizens of these States, and merit the approbation of Congress.”

  1. Compare, for instance, Judge Drayton’s Independence Charge to the Grand Jury of Charleston, delivered April 23, 1776, with “Common Sense.”
  2. They generally spell it “nomme.”
  3. see “Climenole” in The Portfolio, 1803.
  4. This Beaumarchais claim was kept alive until the beginning of the present generation. In 1794, Gouverneur Morris, Minister to the French Republic, obtained from the Minister of Finance a receipt to the Crown for a million of francs, signed by Beaumarchais, and sent it home to meet the claim which had again been presented. In 1806 it reappeared, urged by the Imperial Ambassador. In 1816, the Duc de Richelieu, minister of Louis XVIII., sustained it, and declared, on the strength of Gérard’s assertions, that the million receipt did not in any way concern the United States. In 1824, the daughter of Beaumarchais came to this country to solicit Congress in person, with no better success. But at last, in 1835, when our claim of twenty-five millions on France was settled, eight hundred thousand francs were allowed to the heirs of Beaumarchais, and the business closed forever, — not creditably to us. The claim was probably unfounded; but our government admitted its validity by the fact of payment; and the money, if due, ought to have been paid forty years before, or a suitable compensation made for the long delay. To be Liberals in borrowing and Conservatives in repayment is not a desirable financial character for a nation to obtain.