Rare First Edition of Thomas Paine's Letter to George Washington, President of the United States of America. On Affairs Public and Private; With 40 extra illustrations
Letter to George Washington, President of the United States of America. On Affairs Public and Private.
Item Number: 52052
Philadelphia: Benj. Franklin Bache, 1796.
First edition of Thomas Paine’s public attack on George Washington, an extra-illustrated copy. Octavo, bound in three-quarters brown morocco over marbled boards, with gilt titles and tooling to the spine. This example contains 40 inserted portraits including: Washington; Morse; Livingstone; John Adams; Monroe; Robespierre, et. al. Signature of Nathan Sanford (1777-1838) to the title page and first page. Sanford was an American politician and later was appointed as United States Attorney for the District of New York, and remained in office until 1815 when the district was split into the Northern and the Southern District of New York. In 1815, he was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1815, to March 3, 1821. He was Chairman of the Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (15th and 16th United States Congresses), and a member of the Committee on Naval Affairs (15th Congress) and the Committee on Finance (16th Congress). Rare and desirable with noted provenance.
Thomas Paine's A Letter To George Washington was a scathing attack on the Father of our Country by the Revolutionary spokesman which seriously damaged Paine's reputation in the eyes of many of his countrymen. Paine’s Common Sense, published in 1776 was championed by Washington at a turning point in the Revolution and Paine, in turn, dedicated Rights of Man published in 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). 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).