Thomas Paine papers  1776-1811
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Thomas Paine collection at the Clements Library is comprised of a small number of extraordinary manuscripts documenting the life of the most feared radical in Europe during the late 18th century. Although the collection does not comprise a coherent whole -- beyond its reflection of Paine's all-encompassing radicalism -- it contains numerous highlights. The two manuscript essays are classic examples of Paine's intellect. Le Sens Commun is noteworthy as the manuscript from which the first French-language edition of Common Sense was prepare for publication. Based on Almon's London edition of 1776, Le Sens Commun was published in Rotterdam the same year. Paine's essay "To the Citizens of the United States... Letter the Sixth," is a powerful attack on Federalist Party politics in the wake of discussions of French-American foreign relations, the Jay Treaty, and Thomas Jefferson's policies.

The correspondence in the collection includes three letters written by Paine, six to him, and one about him. In his letter to William Petty, Lord Shelburne (1787 September 21), Paine claims an affinity with the earl, arguing that both opposed the war in America on principle. But Paine goes on to argue that the anti-French sentiment prevailing in England, and particularly the "clamor for war" are incomprehensible, based upon false ideas of France. Paine's letter to John Breckinridge (1803 August 2) includes an extended analysis of the constitutional issues raised by the Louisiana Purchase, with Paine arguing that Federalist attempts to derail the purchase by insisting upon Senate approval were legally insupportable.

The letters to Paine are equally interesting, including a letter from a supporter offering financial assistance (1798 March 20), a fascinating letter from an old friend in Bordentown, N.J., regarding the impact of the Rights of Man and events in the states since Paine's departure for Europe (1792 September 10), and a letter from Thomas Cooper, imprisoned in Philadelphia for his opposition to the Sedition Law, bemoaning the rightward turn in American politics under the Adams administration (1800 August 4).

The final item in the collection is an "obituary" of Paine written by the otherwise unidentified, T.H. A vicious assault on the man and his ideas, the obituary gloats over Paine's alleged turn to God on his deathbed, and even more at the failure of Paine's ideas to leave any legacy: "The blow he aimed at our constitution fell to the ground leaving no trace of its effects behind. The notions he propagated respecting religion (or rather, his endeavour to extirpate religion from the land), I am fearful still pervade the minds of too many" (1811 October 16).

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