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Franklin Delano Roosevelt Criticizes Thomas Paine on Opposing George Washington
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FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT. Typed Letter Signed as President, to Frederic A. Delano. Washington, D.C., August 25, 1942, 1 p., 7 x 9 in. On White House stationery.

Inventory #22923       Price: $6,500

Complete Transcript

Dear Uncle Fred:- Many thanks for sending me that clipping about Tom Paine. I, too, have always had a keen interest in him. His principal mistake lay in his rather violent opposition to Washington in the campaign of 1792. [sic 1796].

Historical Background

Franklin Delano Roosevelt thanks his Uncle Fred, his mother’s brother, for sending an article on Thomas Paine, a Revolutionary figure in whom the president had “a keen interest.” However, FDR was mistaken in his reference to Paine’s opposition to Washington in the presidential campaign of 1792. There was no campaign in 1792; Washington ran unopposed and was unanimously reelected. Paine’s opposition came in 1796, after two parties had formed: the Federalists and the anti-Federalists, the nascent Democratic - Republican party. 

In 1792, Paine and Washington were on good terms, as evidenced by a series of correspondence between the two. In 1791, Paine dedicated the first part of his “Rights of Man” to Washington and President Washington wrote Paine on May 6, 1792, “My thanks for the token of your remembrance, in the 50 copies of ‘Rights of Man’ … I rejoice in the information of your personal prosperity…”

While in Paris in 1793, Paine, a naturalized American citizen since 1774, was arrested and imprisoned. On Sept. 20, 1795, Paine wrote Washington hoping that the president could affect his release. “After you were informed of my imprisonment in France, it was incumbent on you to have made some enquiry into the cause...” Paine concluded.“I cannot understand your silence upon this subject....I shall continue to think you treacherous, till you give me cause to think otherwise.” During the campaign of 1796, Paine again wrote Washington on July 30, 1796, “I also declare myself opposed to almost the whole of your administration; for I know it to have been deceitful, if not perfidious.” Paine then published his letter, cementing the acrimony between him and Washington, and by extension John Adams, the Federalist candidate in 1796.

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