Having been told "you are not an American Citizen" and being prevented from voting in a local election, Paine invokes "the effect which the work Common Sense and those several numbers of the Crisis had upon the Country" in seeking Vice President Clinton's assistance in restoring his franchise.
A remarkable and stirring letter that demonstrates the ill-feeling still existing between Tory and Revolutionary a quarter-century after the War. Expending no preliminaries, Paine immediately describes his current predicament to his "Respected Friend." "Elisha Ward and three or four other Tories who lived within the british lines in the Revolutionary War got in to be inspectors of the election last year at New Rochelle. Ward was supervisor. These Men refused my vote at the election saying to me 'you are not an American Citizen, Our Minister at Paris, Governeur Morris, would not reclaim you when you were emprisoned in the Luxemburg at Paris and general Washington refused to do it.['] Upon my telling him that the two cases he stated were falsehoods and that if he did me injustice I would prosecute him he got up and calling for a constable said to me, 'I will commit you to prison.' He chose however to sit down and go no further with it."
Paine and his opponents were speaking of the bitter period of 1793 and 1794 when he had been committed to prison by his Jacobin enemies. Gouverneur Morris visited Paine in jail, but did not effect his release. He tells Clinton "I have written to Mr. Madison for an attested copy of Mr. Morris's letter to the then secretary of State, Randolph, in which Mr. Morris gives the Government an account of his reclaiming me and of my liberation in consequence of it; And also for an attested copy of Mr. Randolph's Answer in which he says 'The president approves what you have done in the case of Mr. Paine.' The matter, I believe, is, that as I had not been gilliotined Washington thought best to say what he did.—As to Governeur Morris the case is that he did reclaim me but his reclamation did me no good, and the probability is, he did not intend it should. Joel Barlow and other Americans in Paris had been in a body to reclaim me but their application being unofficial was not regarded. I then applied to Morris. I shall subpoena Morris and if I get attested Copies from the secretary of State's office it will prove the lie on the inspectors."
Paine proudly reminds Clinton of the role his brilliant polemics played in making the United States a free and independent nation. "As it is a New generation that has risen up since the declaration of independence, they know nothing of what the political state of the Country was at the time the pamphlet Common Sense appeared, and besides this, there are but few of the old standers left and none that I know of in this City." He also believes that his Revolutionary service will benefit him should his proposed case result in a trial: "It may be proper at the trial to bring the mind of the court and Jury back to the times I am speaking of, and if you see no objection in your way, I wish you would write a letter to some person stating from your own knowledge what the condition of those times were and the effect which the work Common Sense and those several numbers of the Crisis had upon the Country."
Paine even drafts an opening for the letter he is soliciting from Clinton. "It would, I think, be best that the letter should begin directly upon the subject in this manner. Being informed that Thomas Paine has been denied his rights of citizenship by certain persons acting as inspectors at an election at New Rochelle &c." Paine has "put the prosecution into the hands of Mr. Riker district attorney who can make use of the letter in his address to the Court and Jury," and tells Clinton that his "handwriting can be sworn to by persons here if necessary." He concludes by informing Clinton that "Had you been upon the spot I should have subpoenaed you, unless it had been too inconvenient to you to have attended." The draft of Clinton's reply assures Paine that he has written the letter requested to Richard Riker, but that he doubts "whether the Court will admit [it] to be read as Evidence."
Paine wrote a similar entreaty on the same day to Joel Barlow, who is referenced in the present letter. The letter to Barlow was sold at Christie's, 3 December 2007, lot 173.
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