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Thomas Paine: Who Suggested that America should have a Monarch?
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Paine asks a newspaper publisher for the source of a report, that Great Britain had circulated a proposal “among the most influential federalists” recommending that the Duke of Clarence be made the King of America. This letter, attacking the Federalists generally and American monarchists specifically, is completely in line with a campaign he waged in his waning years against any in the United States who might yearn for a constriction of democracy and a resumption of monarchic rule in America. Thomas Paine returned to the United States in 1802, after living most of the previous fifteen years abroad. Shortly after his arrival in the United States he was hosted by Jefferson at the White House, and quickly became the target of Federalist attacks. Paine answered those attacks in published articles and in private letters – the present letter is one of those responses. He also asks why his letter (dated June 8) was not printed in the paper.

THOMAS PAINE. Autograph Letter Signed, to Elisha Babcock. New Rochelle, N.Y., July 2, 1805. 1 p., 8 x 10 in., with address leaf.

Inventory #21490.99       Price: $60,000

Transcript

New Rochelle July 2d ’05--

Citizen

            In your paper of June 27, in a piece containing remarks on a paragraph in the Norwich Centinel the writer of the remarks speaking of what several of the feds [i.e. Federalists] had said, adds the dissemination of the sentiments was only a preliminary measure to the acceptance of the proposal made by Great Britain and circulated secretly among the most influential federalists, Hamilton for one, viz, “That Great Britain to should cede Canada to the United States on condition that the Duke of Clarence should be placed on the American throne and recognized as the monarch of America.” -- This might have been easily answered by saying We have blackguards enon of our own.

            I will, however, be obliged to you if you can give me any information respecting this proposal so as it may be traced to some source. You will recollect that Oliver Ellsworth was after his mission expired in France, went over to England, and I informed you near two years ago that he had declared himself a monarchist in a company of 10 or 12 persons and I gave you the name of the gentleman who told me of it and who was one of the company, but you made no use of the information.

            My last letter (the 8th) is the most important of any I have published. I have been disappointed in not seeing it in your paper. I have reason to believe the matters therein contained stated will be taken up at the next meeting of Congress, and the inquiry at that time, will not be sufficiently understood by those who had not an opportunity of seeing that letter. I know the feds want to keep that letter out of sight.

                                    Yours in friendship

                                    Thomas Paine

Historical Background

The early 19th century saw the strengthening of Federalist sentiment in New England, culminating in the “Hartford Convention” from December 1814 to January 1815. In this letter, Paine writes Elisha Babcock, publisher of the American Mercury newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut. Paine rails against the “feds” and their supporters, specifically criticizing a notion that had been circulating in Connecticut newspapers that “Great Britain should cede Canada to the United States on condition that the Duke of Clarence should be placed on the American throne and recognized as the monarch of America.”

Paine asks Babcock for assistance in tracking down the source of this proposal. “I will...be obliged to you if you can give me any information respecting this proposal as it may be traced to some source. You will recollect that Oliver Ellsworth after his mission expired in France, went over to England, and I informed you nearly two years ago that he had declared himself a monarchist in a company of 10 or 12 persons and I gave you the name of the gentleman who told me of it and who was one of the company but you made no use of the information.” Ellsworth was a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut – among other political posts – and had been Chief Justice of the United States from 1796 to 1800.

Paine closes by asking Babcock why he has not yet published his most recent “Letter to the Citizens of the United States.” Paine wrote the first seven such “Letters” between November 1802 and April 1803. In these articles, published in the Jeffersonian organ, The National Intelligencer (as well as other newspapers), Paine argued for the broadening of American democratic institutions, supported Jefferson, and criticized Federalist ideas and actions. Paine wrote an eighth “Letter,” published in the Philadelphia Aurora of June 7, 1805, in which he resumed his attacks on the Federalists and on the actions of former President John Adams in particular. Paine writes Babcock, imploring him to publish his piece: “My last letter (the 8th) is the most important of any I have published. I have been disappointed in not seeing it in your paper. I have reason to believe the matters therein stated [the word “contained” is written but obliterated, in favor of “stated”] will be taken up at the next meeting of Congress, and the inquiry at that time, will not be sufficiently understood by those who had not an opportunity of seeing that letter. I know the feds want to keep that letter out of sight.”

Paine died less than four years after he penned this letter. Any manuscript material from Thomas Paine is very rare on the market. A letter such as this, in which Paine harshly criticizes the Federalists generally, and Oliver Ellsworth specifically, for their supposed monarchical tendencies, is an important part of Paine’s democratic canon.

Sources

Philip S. Foner, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. II  (New York: Citadel, 1969) pp. 1467-1468.


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