Thomas Paine (17371809). The Writings of Thomas Paine. 1906.
Messrs. Deane, Jay, and Gérard
MR. DUNLAP, IN1 your paper of August 31st was published an extract of a letter from Paris, dated May the 21st, in which the writer, among other things, says:
It is long since I felt in common with every other well-wisher to the cause of liberty and truth, the obligations I was under to the author of Common Sense, for the able and unanswerable manner in which he has defended those principles. The same public motives I am persuaded induced him to address the public against Mr. Deane and his associates. The countenance and support which Deane has received is a melancholy presage of the future. Vain, assuming, avaricious and unprincipled, he will stick at no crime to cover what he has committed and continue his career.
The impunity with which Deane has traduced and calumniated Congress to their face, the indulgence and even countenance he has received, the acrimonious and uncandid spirit of a letter containing Mr. Paines publications which accompanied a resolve sent to Mr. Gerard, are matters of deep concern here to every friend to America.
By way of explaining the particular letter referred to in the above, the following note was added:
The letter here alluded to can be no other than that signed John Jay, dated January 13th, and published in Mr. Dunlaps paper of Jan. 16th. It is very extraordinary that Mr. Jay should write such a letter, because it contains the same illiberal reflections which Congress, as a Body, had rejected from their resolve of January 12, as may be seen by any one who will peruse the proceedings of January last. Congress has since declined to give countenance to Mr. Jays letter; for tho he had a public authority for writing a letter to Mr. Gerard, he had no authority for the reflections he used; besides which, the letter would be perfectly laughable were every circumstance known which happened at that particular time, and would likewise show how exceedingly delicate and cautious a President ought to be when he means to act officially in cases he is not sufficiently acquainted with.
Every person will perceive that the note which explains the letter referred to, is not a part of the letter from Paris, but is added by another person; and Mr. Jay, or any other Gentleman, is welcome to know that the note is in my writing, and that the original letter from Paris is now in my possession. I had sufficient authority for the expressions used in the note. Mr. Jay did not lay his letter to Mr. Gerard before Congress previous to his sending it, and therefore, tho he had their order, he had not their approbation. They, it is true, ordered it to be published, but there is no vote for approving it, neither have they given it a place in their Journals, nor was it published in any more than one paper in this city (Benjamin Townes), tho there were at that time two others. Some time after Mr. Jays letter appeared in the paper, I addressed another to Congress, complaining of the unjust liberty he had taken, and desired to know whether I was to consider the expressions used in his letter as containing their sentiments, at the same time informing them, that if they declined to prove what he had written, I should consider their silence as a disapprobation of it. Congress chose to be silent; and consequently, have left Mr. Jay to father his own expressions.
I took no other notice of Mr. Jays letter at the time it was published, being fully persuaded that when any man recollected the part I had acted, not only at the first but in the worst of times, he could but look on Mr. Jays letter to be groundless and ungrateful, and the more so, because if America had had no better friends than himself to bring about independance, I fully believe she would never have succeeded in it, and in all probability been a ruined, conquered and tributary country.
Let any man look at the position America was in at the time I first took up the subject, and published Common Sense, which was but a few months before the declaration of Independance; an army of thirty thousand men coming out against her, besides those which were already here, and she without either an object or a system; fighting, she scarcely knew for what, and which, if she could have obtained, would have done her no good. She had not a day to spare in bringing about the only thing which could save her. A REVOLUTION, yet no one measure was taken to promote it, and many were used to prevent it; and had independance not been declared at the time it was, I cannot see any time in which it could have been declared, as the train of ill-successes which followed the affair of Long Island left no future opportunity.
Had I been disposed to have made money, I undoubtedly had many opportunities for it. The single pamphlet Common Sense, would at that time of day, have produced a tolerable fortune, had I only taken the same profits from the publication which all writers had ever done, because the sale was the most rapid and extensive of any thing that was ever published in this country, or perhaps any other. Instead of which I reduced the price so low, that instead of getting, I yet stand thirty-nine pounds eleven shillings out of pocket on Mr. Bradfords books, exclusive of my time and trouble, and I have acted the same disinterested part by every publication I have made. I could have mentioned those things long ago, had I chosen, but I mention them now to make Mr. Jay feel his ingratitude.
In the Pennsylvania Packet of last Tuesday some person has republished Mr. Jays letter, and Mr. Gerards answer of the 13th and 14th January last, and though I was patiently silent upon their first publication, I now think it necessary, since they are republished, to give some circumstances which ought to go with them.
At the time the dispute arose, respecting Mr. Deanes affairs, I had a conference with Mr. Gerard at his own request, and some matters on that subject were freely talked over, which it is here unnecessary to mention. This was on the 2d of January.
On the evening of the same day, or the next, Mr. Gerard, thro the mediation of another gentleman, made me a very genteel and profitable offer. I felt at once the respect due to his friendship, and the difficulties which my acceptance would subject me to. My whole credit was staked upon going through with Deanes affairs, and could I afterwards have written with the pen of an Angel, on any subject whatever, it would have had no effect, had I failed in that or declined proceeding in it. Mr. Deanes name was not mentioned at the time the offer was made, but from some conversation which passed at the time of the interview, I had sufficient reason to believe that some restraint had been laid on that Subject. Besides which I have a natural inflexible objection to any thing which may be construed into a private pension, because a man after that is no longer truly free.
My answer to the offer was precisely in these wordsAny service I can render to either of the countries in alliance, or to both, I ever have done and shall readily do, and Mr. Gerards esteem will be the only recompense I shall desire. I particularly chose the word esteem because it admitted no misunderstanding.
On the fifth of January I published a continuation of my remarks on Mr. Deanes affairs, and I have ever felt the highest respect for a nation which has in every stage of our affairs been our firm and invariable friend. I spoke of France under that general description. It is true I prosecuted the point against Mr. Deane, but what was Mr. Deane to France, or to the Minister of France?
On the appearance of this publication Mr. Gerard presented a Memorial to Congress respecting some expressions used therein, and on the 6th and 7th I requested of Congress to be admitted to explain any passages which Mr. Gerard had referred to; but this request not being complied with, I, on the 8th, sent in my resignations of the office of Secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs.
In the evening I received an invitation to sup with a gentleman, and Mr. Gerards offer was, by his own authority, again renewed with considerable additions of advantage. I gave the same answer as before. I was then told that Mr. Gerard was very ill, and desired to see me. I replied, That as a matter was then depending in Congress upon a representation of Mr. Gerard against some parts of my publications, I thought it indelicate to wait on him till that was determined.
In a few days after I received a second invitation, and likewise a third, to sup at the same place, in both of which the same offer and the same invitation were renewed and the same answers on my part were given: But being repeatedly pressed to make Mr. Gerard a visit, I engaged to do it the next morning at ten oclock: but as I considered myself standing on a nice and critical ground, and lest my reputation should be afterwards called in question, I judged it best to communicate the whole matter to an honorable friend before I went, which was on the 14th of January, the very day on which Mr. Gerards answer to Mr. Jays letter is dated.
While with Mr. Gerard I avoided as much as possible every occasion that might give rise to the subject. Himself once or twice hinted at the publications and added that, he hoped no more would be said on the subject, which I immediately waived by entering on the loss of the dispatches. I knew my own resolution respecting the offer, had communicated that resolution to a friend, and did not wish to give the least pain to Mr. Gerard, by personally refusing that, which, from him might be friendship, but to me would have been the ruin of my credit. At a convenient opportunity I rose to take my leave, on which Mr. Gerard said Mr. Paine, I have always had a great respect for you, and should be glad of some opportunity of shewing you more solid marks of my friendship.
I confess I felt myself hurt and exceedingly concerned that the injustice and indiscretion of a party in Congress should drive matters to such an extremity that one side or other must go to the bottom, and in its consequences embarrass those whom they had drawn in to support them. I am conscious that America had not in France a more strenuous friend than Mr. Gerard, and I sincerely wish he had found a way to avoid an affair which has been much trouble to him. As for Deane, I believe him to be a man who cares not who he involves to screen himself. He has forfeited all reputation in this Country, first by promising to give an history of matters important for the people to know and then not only failing to perform that promise, but neglecting to clear his own suspected reputation, though he is now on the spot and can any day demand an hearing of Congress, and call me before them for the truth of what I have published respecting him.
Two days after my visit to Mr. Gerard, Mr. Jays letter and the answer to it was published, and I would candidly ask any man how it is possible to reconcile such letters to such offers both done at one and the same time, and whether I had not sufficient authority to say that Mr. Jays letter would be truly laughable, were all the circumstances known which happened at the time of his writing.
Whoever published those letters in last Tuesdays paper, must be an idiot or worse. I had let them pass over without any other public notice than what was contained in the note of the preceding week, but the republishing them was putting me to defiance, and forcing me either to submit to them afresh, or to give the circumstances which accompanied them. Whoever will look back to last Winter, must see I had my hands full, and that without any person giving the least assistance. It was first given out that I was paid by Congress for vindicating their reputation against Mr. Deanes charges, yet a majority in that House were every day pelting me for what I was doing. Then Mr. Gerard was unfortunately brought in, and Mr. Jays letter to him and his answer were published to effect some purpose or other. Yet Mr. Gerard was at the same time making the warmest professions of friendship to me, and proposing to take me into his confidence with very liberal offers. In short I had but one way to get thro, which was to keep close to the point and principle I set out upon, and that alone has rendered me successful. By making this my guide I have kept my ground, and I have yet ground to spare, for among other things I have authentic copies of the dispatches that were lost.
I am certain no man set out with a warmer heart or a better disposition to render public service than myself, in everything which laid in my power.2 My first endeavour was to put the politics of the country right, and to show the advantages as well as the necessity of independance: and until this was done, independance never could have succeeded. America did not at that time understand her own situation; and though the country was then full of writers, no one reached the mark; neither did I abate in my service, when hundreds were afterwards deserting her interest and thousands afraid to speak, for the first number of the Crisis was published in the blackest stage of affairs, six days before the taking the Hessians at Trenton. When this State was distracted by parties on account of her Constitution, I endeavored in the most disinterested manner to bring it to a conclusion; and when Deanes impositions broke out, and threw the whole States into confusion, I readily took up the subject, for no one else understood it, and the country now see that I was right. And if Mr. Jay thinks he derives any credit from his letter to Mr. Gerard, he will find himself deceived, and that the ingratitude of the composition will be his reproach not mine.
Note 1. From the Pennsylvania Packet of September 14, 1779. The French Minister, Gérard, who was interested in the Deane-Beaumarchais claims (though Paine did not know it) complained to Congress of Paines disclosures. Paine resigned his secretaryship, and the President of Congress, Jay, wrote an effusive and apologetic letter to Gérard. Congress knew that Paine had written only what was true, but after the French Ministers complaint were obliged, as Hon. Gouverneur Morris said, to act as if they believed otherwise.Editor. [back]
Note 2. A heavy reproach does indeed rest upon the Congress and its president for their treatment of the Secretary who saved them from the Beaumarchais-Gérard-Deane imposition, which, had it succeeded, would have crippled the means of the Revolution, and tended to defeat the object of the supplies sent by Louis XVI. Paine was the one man who knew as much about Silas Deane as George III. did, when he wrote to Lord North (March 3, 1781): I think it perfectly right that Mr. Deane should so far be trusted as to have three thousand pounds for America; and in the same year (July 19th): I have received Lord Norths boxes containing the intercepted letters of Mr. Deane for America. I have only been able to read two of [them], on which I form the same opinion of too much appearance of being connected with this country, and therefore not likely to have the effect as if they bore another aspect. In August 7th the king suggests what Deane should write (Donne, vol. ii., pp. 380, 381.)Editor. [back]