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The Transatlantic Republican

Thomas Paine
and the Age of Revolutions


General Editor

Rob Kroes
Amerika Instituut
University of Amsterdam
The Transatlantic Republican
Thomas Paine
and the Age of Revolutions

Bernard Vincent

Amsterdam - New York, NY 2005

The paper on which this book is printed meets the requirements of “ISO
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Requirements for permanence”.

ISBN: 90-420-1614-0
©Editions Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam - New York, NY 2005
Printed in the Netherlands

Various parts of this book have appeared previously in other versions, as follows:

Chapter 1 originally appeared in French as “La stratégie du temps dans Common

Sense,” in Autre temps, autre espace: essais sur l’Amérique pré-industrielle, ed. Élise
Marienstras and Barbara Karsky (Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1986).
Chapter 2 originally appeared as “Thomas Paine, Freemasonry and the American
Revolution,” in Bulletin of the Thomas Paine Society (UK) 1 (spring 1988).
Chapter 3 originally appeared as “Myth and Reality: Americans in Paris during the
French Revolution,” in Les Américains et la Révolution française (Paris: Editions de
la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1989).
Chapter 4 originally appeared as “Thomas Paine and the French Revolution.,” in the
Huguenot-Thomas Paine Historical Association Pamphlet (New Rochelle) (summer-
fall 1989 and winter-spring 1990).
Chapter 5 originally appeared in Plantation Society in the Americas 3, no. 2 (1993).
Chapter 6 originally appeared as “A National Hero in Transit: The Problem of
Thomas Paine's American Citizenship,” in Prospero (Rivista di culture anglo-
germaniche (Trieste) 2 (1995).
Chapter 7 originally appeared in Qwerty (Pau) (October 1995).
Chapter 8 originally appeared as “Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice: A Prophecy for
our Times,” in Sources (Orléans) 6 (fall 1998).
Chapter 9 originally appeared in The Red Badges of Courage: Wars and Conflicts in
American Culture, ed. Biancamaria Pisapia, Ugo Rubeo & Anna Scacchi (Rome:
Bulzoni Editore, 1998).
Chapter 11 originally appeared in Predecessors: Intellectual Lineages in American
Studies, ed.. Rob Kroes (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1999).
These contributions are hereby reprinted, with minor changes, by permission of the

The author wishes to express special thanks to Rob Kroes for his unremitting support
and encouragement, as well as to John Goulet and Marc Niemeyer, who accepted to
read the manuscript with a critical eye.
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Storming the “Bastille of Words”: Tom Paine’s
Revolution in Writing 1

Part I. Paine, America and France

I The Strategy of Time in Common Sense 21
II Thomas Paine, the Masonic Order, and the American
Revolution 35
III From Fact to Myth: The Americans in Paris during
the French Revolution 65
IV Paine’s “Share” in the French Revolution 85
V Thomas Paine, the Louisiana Purchase,
and the Rights of Man 97
VI A National of Nowhere: The Problem of Thomas
Paine’s American Citizenship 109

Part II. Paine and the Enlightenment

VII Thomas Paine and the Issue of Universal Suffrage 117
VIII Paine’s Agrarian Justice and the Birth
of the Welfare State 125
IX A Quaker with a Difference: Tom Paine’s Republican
Rhetoric of War and Peace 137
X From the Rights of Man to the Rights of God: Thomas
Paine’s Ultimate Challenge 143
XI A Pioneer with a Difference: Thomas Paine and Early
‘American Studies’ 155

Bibliography 167
Index 173
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Storming the “Bastille of Words”:

Tom Paine’s Revolution in Writing

Thomas Jefferson considered Thomas Paine (1737-1809) as the only

man of letters of his own generation that wrote better than he did.
Commenting on Common Sense, he had this remark: “No writer has
exceeded Paine in ease and familiarity of style, in perspicuity of
expression, happiness of elucidation, and in simple and unassuming
language. In this he may be compared with Dr. Franklin, and indeed
his Common Sense was, for a while, believed to have been written by
Dr. Franklin.”1 Franklin himself added: “Others can rule, many can
fight, but only Thomas Paine can write for us the English tongue.”2
Yet Paine would not practice art for art’s sake. Everything in him
was focused on action, on the possibility of changing the established
order of things. He believed in the subversive virtue and historical
function of writing. His only purpose as a writer was to help public
opinion evolve, convinced as he was that a change in the minds of
people would sooner or later result in a transformation of society.
Such was, to a large extent, the destiny of his first pamphlet Common
Sense, whose outright plea in favor of independence brought about “a
wonderful change . . . in the minds of men” (George Washington)3,
and was even deemed by General Charles Lee powerful enough, “in
concurrence with the transcendent folly and wickedness of the
[English] ministry,” to give “the ‘coup-de-grace’ to Great Britain.”4
Similarly, when the French Revolution broke out, Paine viewed the
event as the result of what pre-Revolutionary authors had
prophetically expressed in their writings. As he put it in Rights of

Andrew A. Lipscomb, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, 1903-
1907), 15: 305.
Quoted in Bulletin of Thomas Paine Friends 4, no. 3 (August 2003): 3.
Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington (Boston, 1833-37), 3: 347.
Jared Sparks, ed., The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution
(Boston, 1829–30), 1: 136.
2 The Transatlantic Republican

Man, “the progress of time and circumstances, which men assign to

the accomplishment of great changes, is too mechanical [mechanistic]
to measure the force of the mind, and rapidity of reflection, by which
revolutions are generated.”5
For him, as well as for the Bible or the Christian ‘fabulists’ he so
savagely criticized, “in the beginning was the word.”
This was true even in the early days of his own life. When he
was eight years of age, his pet bird (a crow) died and young Paine
wrote an occasional poem—an epitaph—which tells us a lot about his
early view of the world:
Here lies the body of John Crow,
Who once was high but now is low;
Ye brother Crows take warning all,
For as you rise, so must you fall.6
Already perceptible in, or between, those lines are Paine’s democratic
approach to society, his detestation of rapacious aristocrats (like the
Graftons who were then reigning supreme over Norfolk and Thetford,
where he was born), and his sober ‘commonsensical’ way of
expressing his revolutionary views, however disturbing they might be.
In his recent—and excellent—biography of Paine, John Keane
rightfully explains that “the crow epitaph not only displays traces of
the razor-sharp ability to rally human spirit against injustice for which
Paine later became world famous. It also prefigures his immense
capacity for writing in militant and down-to-earth language.”7

From a literary point of view, the success of Paine’s books may be
attributed to two central causes: the simplicity of the revolutionary
doctrines formulated in them, and the simplicity, or directness and
accessibility, of the style in which these doctrines were formulated.
It must be remembered that in Paine’s time those who wrote
books did so to be read by an elite. They had spent years in schools
and universities, learning a language which was both a means of

Philip S. Foner, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. (New York:
The Citadel Press, 1945), 2: 340-41 (henceforward referred to as FO 1 or 2).
Thomas Clio Rickman, The Life of Thomas Paine (London, 1819), 34.
John Keane, Tom Paine: A Political Life (Boston, London: Little, Brown &
Company, 1995), 25.
The Bastille of Words 3

communication between members of the same dominant social groups

and, because of its sophistication and coded character, a language
closed to other social groups. This is precisely what Paine exploded in
his works, and this is what made his writing (and writings)
revolutionary. When the first part of Rights of Man came out in 1791,
many were those in England who, like Isaac Hunt (the father of Leigh
Hunt, the poet), feared that Thomas Paine’s “coarse and rustic” style
might “seduce his illiterate and unskilled” readers. Hunt saw Paine as
a dangerous internationalist—a “Transatlantic Republican”—and
likened his rhetoric to “poison.”8 Horace Walpole went even further,
asserting that Paine’s way of writing was “so coarse, that you would
think he means to degrade the language as much as the government.”9
A man of the people writing for the people (more particularly for
the new emerging class of artisans, craftsmen and small shopkeepers),
Paine ‘stormed the Bastille of words’ (in which titled aristocrats
“immured” themselves)10, inviting the common man to enter the
republic of letters and, by doing so, pave the way for the establishment
of political republicanism—a form of government based (as he, like
Jefferson, saw it) on a well-informed citizenry. Paine was one of the
very first plebeian intellectuals of the Age of Enlightenment. As such,
he firmly believed that the democratization of writing was a
prerequisite for the establishment of political democracy. If only in
that respect, he was on a different planet than Edmund Burke. His

Isaac Hunt, Rights of Englishmen. An antidote to the poison now vending by the
Transatlantic Republican Thomas Paine (London, 1791). Quoted in John Keane, Tom
Paine, 307.
Wilmarth S. Lewis, Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (New Haven, Conn.:
Yale University Press, 1973), 11: 239.
It was apropos of “titles” that Paine, in Rights of Man, first used the ‘Bastille of
Words’ metaphor: “It is, properly, from the elevated mind of France that the folly of
titles has been abolished. It has outgrown the baby clothes of count and duke, and
breeched itself in manhood. France has not levelled, it has exalted. It has put down the
dwarf, to set up the man. The insignificance of a senseless word like duke, count or
earl has ceased to please. Even those who possessed them have disowned the
gibberish, and as they outgrew the rickets, have despised the rattle.
“The genuine mind of man, thirsting for its native home, society, contemns the
gewgaws that separate him from it. Titles are like circles drawn by the magician's
wand, to contract the sphere of man's felicity. He lives immured within the Bastille of
a word, and surveys at a distance the envied life of man” (FO 1: 286-87, emphasis
4 The Transatlantic Republican

target, and his weapon, was “common sense,” not the refined and
sometimes euphuistic intelligence of the ‘happy few.’
Who, however uneducated, could not understand the following?
The duty of man . . . is plain and simple, and consists but of two points. His
duty to God, which every man must feel; and with respect to his neighbour, to
do as he would be done by.11
This is a common sense remark, quite biblical in its simplicity,
but indeed much more subversive than one might think at first. As
James Boulton explained in his book on The Language of Politics in
the Age of Wilkes and Burke, for Paine “the duty to one’s neighbour
should be recognised by all men, by rulers as well as the ruled; Paine’s
reader then discovers that the moral injunction has become a means by
which rulers are to be assessed and that those who act well according
to this principle will be respected, those who do not will be
despised”12—i.e. rejected from the universe of reason and ousted from
their throne. Innocent and harmless at first sight, common sense was
now a revolutionary tool.
Paine wanted to be read by all classes of men, and he was. While
visiting the British Parliament in 1792, Francisco de Miranda, one of
the liberators of Latin America (and a friend of Paine) “noted that
copies of the second part of Paine’s Rights of Man, at that time
proscribed by the British government, were being sold along with
sandwiches in the House of Commons.”13 But similar attitudes were
also to be found at the other end of the social spectrum. As J. T.
Mathias, a contemporary of Paine, pointed out in 1797, “our peasantry
now read the Rights of Man on mountains, and moors, and by the
wayside.”14 Paine was indeed well aware that, in his time, some 90%
of the population were farmers or lived and worked in a rural
environment. Hence, among many other instances, his famous reply to
Edmund Burke’s sympathy for the fate of Marie-Antoinette: “He
pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird”15; or the final

Rights of Man, Part 1, in FO 1: 275.
James T. Boulton, The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke
(London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1963), 136 (republished by Greenwood Press in
A. Owen Aldridge, Early American Literature: A Comparatist Approach
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982), 217n.3.
In Boulton, op. cit., 138.
Rights of Man, Part 1, in FO 1: 260
The Bastille of Words 5

‘agricultural’ metaphor (on the inevitability of universal revolution)

with which Paine wound up the second part of Rights of Man
Though the vegetable sleep will continue longer on some trees and plants than
on others, and though some of them may not blossom for two or three years,
all will be in leaf in the summer, except those which are rotten. What pace the
political summer may keep with the natural, no human foresight can
determine. It is, however, not difficult to perceive that the spring is begun.16
Or again this maritime—and highly derisive—metaphor well
calculated for people living by the sea:
I know a point in America called Point-no-Point; because as you proceed
along the shore, gay and flowery as Mr Burke’s language, it continually
recedes and presents itself at a distance before you; but when you have got as
far as you can go, there is no point at all. Just thus it is with Mr Burke’s three
hundred and sixty-six pages.17
Who, in Britain, Ireland or America, could not understand this? No
intricate argumentation, no Latin, no Greek like in so many other
works, no scholarly or pedantic quotations. Paine used to say: “I
scarcely ever quote; the reason is, I always think.”18 In the first of the
American Crisis papers (“These are the times that try men’s souls…”),
Paine had informed his readers about his method as a political writer:
“I dwell not upon the vapours of imagination; I bring reason to your
ears and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.”19
A world apart from the aristocratic literature of the time, this “vulgar”
(Boulton’s phrase)20 or “plebeian” way of writing (my phrase) was for
the author of Common Sense and Rights of Man a way of testing “the
manner in which a work, written in a style of thinking and expression
different to what had been customary in England, would be
The reactions to Rights of Man in Britain were commensurate
with the provocation. Paine, wrote Sir Brooke Boothby—a romantic
poet and friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—, has “the natural
eloquence of a night-cellar [low-class tavern] [and] writes in defiance

Ibid., Part 2, in FO 1: 453-54.
Ibid., Part 1, in FO 1: 258.
Third letter “to Cato” (Rev. William Smith, Anglican Provost of the College of
Philadelphia) signed “The Forester”, FO 2: 78.
The American Crisis I, in FO 1: 50, 56.
Boulton, 134.
“Preface” to Rights of Man, Part 2, in FO 1: 348-49.
6 The Transatlantic Republican

of grammar, as if syntax were an aristocratical invention.”22 His

writing, The Monthly Review added, is “desultory, uncouth, and
inelegant . . . His wit is coarse, and sometimes disgraced by wretched
puns; and his language, though energetic, is awkward, ungrammatical,
and often debased by vulgar phraseology.”23 The most negative
assessment came, unsurprisingly, from Edmund Burke himself in a
letter to William Smith dated 22 July 1791:
He [Paine] is utterly incapable of comprehending his subject. He has not even
a moderate portion of learning of any kind. He has learnd the instrumental part
of literature, a style, and a method of disposing his ideas, without having ever
made a serious preparation of Study or thinking—for the use of it . . . They
indeed who seriously write upon a principle of levelling ought to be answerd
by the Magistrate—and not by the Speculatist . . . They who cannot or will not
be taught, must be coerced.24
There were nevertheless in Britain a few good minds sufficiently
avant-garde to acknowledge that Rights of Man was a demonstration
“as clear and simple as the first rule in arithmetic” (Charles Fox,
leader of the Whig party).25 One English reader went so far as to say
that Rights of Man “is now made as much a standard book in this
country as Robinson Crusoe and the Pilgrim’s Progress.”26 As Olivia
Smith has rightly pointed out, Paine’s “experience of revolutionary
America provided him with a range of conventions that was foreign to
English literature and English concepts of language. This externality
was essential to his becoming an author and to his becoming the type
of author he became.”27
For Paine, nothing was supposed to go over the heads of ordinary

Brooke Boothby, Observations on the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs,
and on Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man (London, 1792), 106n, 273-74.
The Monthly Review (May 1791): 93.
Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., ed., Selected Letters of Edmund Burke (Chicago &
London: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 295-96. William Smith was a young
Irish barrister who wanted to dedicate to Burke the second edition of his anti-Paine
pamphlet The Rights of Citizens. Being an Examination of Mr Paine’s Principles
Touching Government (spring 1791).
Boulton, 137-38.
Benjamin Vaughan, 30 Nov. 1792, Home Office Papers, 42.22, cited in E. P.
Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage Books,
1966), 108.
Olivia Smith, The Politics of Language, 1791-1819 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1984), 39. This book contains an excellent study of Paine’s innovative prose—in
particular Chapter 2, “Rights of Man and its aftermath.”
The Bastille of Words 7

people: neither politics, (because it concerned their everyday lives),

nor literature, at least political literature (because it was about human
experience). Paine’s plebeian approach to writing had three critical
advantages: (1) using ordinary language to address issues that Burke
tackled from on high, in a lordly manner, was already a way of
exposing his opponent to the mocking eyes of the multitude; (2)
writing in a clear, simple way, and making key sentences sound like
proverbs or “repeatable” stock phrases, amounted to providing the
uneducated reader with linguistic weapons that could easily be
peddled around and spread; (3) writing in that particular way gave
Paine’s prose what was lacking in Burke’s, i.e. an exuberant energy, a
kind of solar force that tended to turn the most ill-disposed reader into
an admirer, if not a supporter.
As a rule, Paine would take his images and metaphors from the
reservoir of popular experience. For instance, when he wants to
ridicule the “elevation” of thought Burke draws on to impress what he
calls the “swinish multitude,”28 Paine skillfully refers to something
everybody knew about: the aeronautical experiments of his time (in
particular the flight performed in 1785 over the English Channel by
Blanchard and Jeffries). Hence his ironical depiction of Burke
“mounted in the air like a balloon, to draw the eyes of the multitude
from the ground they stand upon.”29
The theater, which was very popular at that time, and therefore
present in the minds of the general public, was also an important
source of inspiration for Paine’s imagery. He would readily speak of
the “puppet show of state and aristocracy” or describe the system of
“mixed government” as a “pantomimical contrivance.”30 The
theatrical metaphor is always, with him, an aggressive instrument, a
way of winning the public over by making them laugh, to the
detriment of someone else. Burke also used theatrical metaphors, but
he borrowed them from tragedy rather than comedy, inviting the
reader not to laugh at radicals, but to view the French revolution as an

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Harmondsworth:
Penguin books, 1981), 173. One page further, Burke defines the swinish multitude as
“a nation of gross, stupid, ferocious, and at the same time, poor and sordid barbarians,
destitute of religion, honour, or manly pride, possessing nothing at present, and
hoping for nothing hereafter” (174).
Rights of Man, Part 1, in FO 1: 282.
Ibid., 267.
8 The Transatlantic Republican

unsurpassed drama. Paine was, paradoxically, very critical of this kind

of rhetoric (when used by Burke):
As to the tragic paintings by which Mr Burke has outraged his own
imagination, and seeks to work upon that of his readers, they are very well
calculated for theatrical representation, where facts are manufactured for the
sake of show, and accommodated to produce, through the weakness of
sympathy, a weeping effect.31
Burke was good at that, just as Paine was good at producing
laughing effects: so his remark was quite unfair. Paine was less good,
though, when he was not himself, and tried, in a mimetic way, to write
like Burke and imitate the rhetoric of his time:
In the declaratory exordium which prefaces the Declaration of Rights, we see
the solemn and majestic spectacle of a nation opening its commission, under
the auspices of its Creator, to establish a Government; a scene so new, and so
transcendently unequalled by anything in the European world, that the name
of a Revolution is diminutive of its character, and it rises into a regeneration
of man.32
Had Paine always written in that somewhat verbose and bombastic
way, no one would take the trouble to discuss, nor dare to extol, his
clarity and efficiency.
In terms of immediate efficiency, Common Sense, not Rights of Man,
was Paine’s masterpiece. Denouncing the past behavior of Britain,
advocating independence and republicanism or describing in
anticipation the glorious future of a liberated America, Paine excelled
in the art of propaganda and was quite certainly the ‘great
communicator’ of his age. He knew that his readership was socially
heterogeneous and that their preoccupations and interests were not
necessarily similar, nor necessarily convergent. That was why he tried,
with consummate skill, to touch the right chord in each reader or
group of readers.
What strikes the reader of Common Sense today—as it certainly
did when the book came out—is the brilliancy and power of Paine’s
pamphleteering. “His writing,” Bernard Bailyn explains, “has an
energy and drama and verbal flair that none of the American

Ibid., 258-59.
Ibid., 317.
The Bastille of Words 9

pamphleteers had. He brought over a different kind of combative,

flamboyant, completely irreverent, even violent, consciousness into
the American picture.”33 Compared to him, all other American
polemicists were ‘amateurs.’ Although he rejected Britain en bloc,
Paine was in fact an heir to the great English tradition of
pamphleteering, that of writers like Swift or Defoe—but an heir with a
While explicitly appealing to the reason and common sense of
those who read his book, Paine knew how to play with human
psychology and, a Freudian before Freud, he kept encouraging
American colonists to engage in ‘the murder of both the father and the
No man was a warmer wisher for a reconciliation than myself before the fatal
nineteenth of April, 1775, but the moment the event of that day was made
known I rejected the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England forever
and disdained the wretch that, with the pretended title of FATHER OF HIS
PEOPLE, can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter and composedly sleep with
their blood upon his soul.34
The mother comes next. Because, he says, she is motivated by
“interest,” not “attachment,” England should no longer be recognized
as the “mother country.” Her selfishness, he goes on to say, is worse
than that of wild animals or wild people: “Even brutes do not devour
their young nor savages make war upon their families.”35 Such an
unnatural parent deserves no gratitude, the era of childish docility and
humiliation is closed, “the last cord now is broken”36 (meaning
‘umbilical cord’). By emphasizing America’s ‘maturity,’ by opposing
maternal metaphors (inherited from the past) to the metaphors of
rupture and adulthood, Paine aimed at nothing but stripping the reader
of his old beliefs and making him (or her) able to view the future of
America in a new light, without any reference to the antiquated
images of childish dependency.
To merchants and farmers, Paine spoke the language of
economic interest and profit, arguing that independence would keep
America away from European conflicts and help the country develop

“The Past IS Unpredictable: A Conversation with Bernard Bailyn,” interview by
Mary Lou Beatty, Humanities 19, no. 2 (March-April 1998): 7.
Common Sense, in FO 1: 25.
Ibid., 18, 19.
Ibid., 30.
10 The Transatlantic Republican

its commercial relations with the Old World as a whole, instead of

restricting it to just the British market. To German, Irish and Swedish
immigrants and other citizens of non-British origin, he explained that
Europe, not England, was their actual mother country and that
America, as an asylum for the victims of universal persecution, was a
national melting-pot of a totally different and new nature. To the
upholders of reconciliation and to the pacifist members of the Quaker
community, whose demotivating influence he dreaded, he enumerated
the atrocities and devastations performed by the British occupation
forces, playing now on the need for safety of wealthy people, now on
the fear of fathers for their families, now on the panic of daughters and
wives. Taking his stand on people’s religious feelings and the
authority of the Scriptures (in which he did not believe), he used the
Bible to condemn monarchy and hereditary succession. Drawing from
the philosophy of his time and echoing the birth of the Frontier spirit,
he referred to ‘natural law’ in order to show that monarchy was a
fraud and to denounce the ‘unnatural’ connection that places a
continent under the tutelage of an island. Addressing the business and
financial community, whose material support was necessary to the
success of the Revolution, he maintained that, by selling Western
lands, an independent government could cover the expenses of war
and liquidate the national debt without milking the taxpayer. To
shipbuilders and their subcontractors, then facing paralysis and
unemployment, he announced the creation—after the Revolution—of
an American navy and the extension of maritime commerce. To the
more radical wing of the population, he proposed the establishment of
a democracy based on one popular assembly and a broad suffrage with
no tax qualifications. Nobody’s forgotten, nothing’s forgotten: the
materialistic and money-oriented inclinations of the population; the
deep-seated religiosity of the American people; their combined
aspirations to affluence, internal security and external peace; their
two-centuries-old sense of autonomy and self-help; the geographic
and economic specificity of the continent—indeed all the ingredients
that then contributed to the diversified but unified (or unifying)
identity of America are to be found in Common Sense. Thanks to that
virtuoso performance (close to that of a magician), Paine was able to
amplify, beyond whatever could divide his contemporaries, a nascent
form of patriotism which, within months, was to galvanize the
Revolution and ensure its final success.
The Bastille of Words 11

When compared to the political writers of his time, Thomas Paine may
be viewed as a new kind of artist—the modern author—or, as Novalis
would have put it, a “harp in the democratic wind” of the history of
letters. This, as we have seen, was due to the way he wrote and the
peculiar quality of his prose, but if one moves from quality to quantity
(the amount of books sold), what one finds is that Paine’s new
‘plebeian’ approach to writing actually won him the admiration of an
unprecedented number of readers. And this was true for each of his
three major works, Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of
Reason. The fact that these works were all ‘bestsellers’ is remarkable
in itself, as a unique historical occurrence, but it is even more
important in terms of the impact they had on those who read them.
Common Sense was undoubtedly the most widely circulated
bestseller in early American history—a literary contribution to the
cause of independence which, according to John Keane, proved to be
as important “as that of George Washington on the battlefield or
Benjamin Franklin on the diplomatic front.”37 On April 8, 1776, Paine
reported with pride that in less than four months, although “the book
was turned upon the world like an orphan to shift for itself,” at least
120,000 copies had already come off the press.38 Between January and
June 1776, 35 editions were published.39 Three years later, Paine
claimed that “the number of copies printed and sold in America was
not short of 150,000,” adding rightly, but somewhat immodestly, that
this was “the greatest sale that any performance had ever had since the
use of letters.”40
As far as sales were concerned, Paine was probably not
exaggerating, and the figures are astounding: they mean that out of a
total population of 2.5 million people (minus 500,000 black slaves,
minus a great number of illiterate white people, minus children), at
least some 500,000 Americans actually read Common Sense, i.e.
practically all American adults then able to read: this was indeed, if
one excepts the Bible, the first mass phenomenon in the history of

John Keane, Tom Paine, 110-11.
Second letter “to Cato” signed “The Forester”, FO 2: 67.
Nathalie Caron, Thomas Paine contre l’imposture des prêtres (Paris:
L’Harmattan, 1998), 321.
Letter to the Honorable Henry Laurens (14 January 1779), FO 2: 1163.
12 The Transatlantic Republican

literature. In Paine’s America, the circulation of a ‘bestseller’ was

between five and six thousand copies. The most famous of them was
Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, with 10,000 copies sold every
year between 1750 and 1760.
The sales of Common Sense brought in a huge amount of money
(£1,000 a day at the time of publication just for the city of
Philadelphia, where seven editions were released). But Paine had
made it a principle not to accept any money for his political and
religious writings. Common Sense was no exception: “In order to
accommodate that pamphlet to every man’s purchase and to do honor
to the cause, I gave up the profits I was justly entitled to.”41 Paine
accordingly gave all his royalties away to the Continental army, so
that mittens could be bought for the ill-equipped patriots then fighting
the British in Quebec. He later had a similar attitude with Rights of
Common Sense was also a success in Europe. As early as 1776,
translations appeared in Germany, Poland, Denmark and Russia. The
pamphlet, noted John Adams, “was received in France and in all
Europe with rapture.”42 In August of the same year, Silas Deane, then
commercial agent of Congress in Paris, reported to the Committee of
Secret Correspondence that Common Sense had been translated in
France, and had “a greater run, if possible, here than in America.”43 In
Latin America, Paine’s ‘plebeian’ work, although it apparently did not
directly reach a vast popular audience, actually contributed, through
the comments and critical essays it sparked off, to the further
development of pro-independence movements, notably in Venezuela,
Mexico and Ecuador—as well as in Brazil, where “five thousand
translated copies . . . were introduced clandestinely.”44
Rights of Man, which appeared in England fifteen years after
Common Sense, was an equally astounding success. Edmund Burke’s
Reflections on the Revolution in France (November 1790), to which
Rights of Man was a response, was itself a bestseller by 18th century

Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), 2: 351.
Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the
United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), 2: 124.
A. Owen Aldridge, Early American Literature, Chap. 8, “Paine and Latin
American Independence,” 244.
The Bastille of Words 13

standards: 12,000 copies were sold within one month; the total
circulation for the first year was 19,000, and the book continued to sell
well afterwards outside of Britain—in Ireland, the United States,
Germany and Italy—the circulation was huge too, and in France some
15,000 copies were sold in only three months.45
But this was nothing compared to the historic circulation figures
achieved by Paine’s book. At the time of the publication of Rights of
Man, the average size of an edition in Britain was about 1,250 for a
novel, 750 for more general works.46 As John Keane points out, “Sir
Walter Scott, the most popular novelist a generation after Paine, sold
10,000 copies of Rob Roy in a fortnight,” but Paine’s figures were
beyond belief. Part 1 had appeared on February 22, 1791, and by May
50,000 copies had been sold. In all, 26 editions (of the first and second
parts) appeared.47 Basing his calculations on information from his
publishers, Paine himself, Keane explains, “estimated that in Britain
the sales of the complete edition [Part 1 + Part 2] reached ‘between
four and five hundred thousand’ copies within ten years of
publication, making it the most widely read book of all time, in any
language”—with, again, the exception of the Bible.48
Out of the nine or ten million people then living in Britain, four
million at most were able to read: this means that one potential reader
in ten purchased Rights of Man. But even those figures are misleading
because they do not take into account pirated and serialized editions—
and there were many. Nor do they include the number of those to
whom parts of the book were read and who, openly or secretly,
discussed the ideas put forward by Paine. There is no doubt that
Rights of Man was circulated and talked about in the literate public,
but, Keane goes on to say, the great novelty was that it was also “read
aloud and talked about to the illiterate on an unheard-of scale,” i.e. in
taverns and radical societies, in much the same way as Common Sense
had been in America. Therefore “not only did the book touch virtually
the whole of the reading public; it also helped transform the meaning

William B. Todd, “The Biographical History of Burke’s Reflections on the
Revolution in France,” The Library, 5th ser., 6 (1951-52): 100-108.
Raymond Williams, “Notes on English Prose,” in Writing in Society (London:
Verso, 1980), 69-70.
Nathalie Caron, Thomas Paine contre l’imposture des prêtres, 321.
John Keane, Tom Paine, 307. (For the total claimed by Paine, see E. P.
Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 117).
14 The Transatlantic Republican

of the public by broadening and deepening its narrow boundaries.”49

As far as Britain and Europe were concerned, Rights of Man was
certainly the first political work to reach what we now call the
‘general public.’ Let alone the ideas contained in the book proper,
Paine’s ‘quantitative’ performance was in itself an important step
toward the democratization of the publishing world.
Just as he had done with Common Sense, Paine did not keep a
single penny for himself. All the money went to groups of
constitutional reformers and other radical societies who, in turn,
contributed to the propagation of the book in popular circles.
Although The Age of Reason (1794-1795) was written and first
published in France, we have no indication that it met with any
success locally. No circulation data have been found, and one has
every reason to believe that the book went largely unnoticed, if only
because the obsessions and preoccupations of the French were then of
a political, not of a spiritual, order. In revolutionary France,
dechristianization was in full swing, and, since September 1792, “the
birth of Christ was no longer the beginning of recorded time”50: the
republican calendar, which now replaced the Christian one, was
supposed to mark the opening of a totally new—and secular—era. In
such a context, the publication of Paine’s “thoughts upon religion”51
could not have occurred at a worse moment. Nor is it irrelevant to
point out that, as a critique of the Scriptures, The Age of Reason was
in itself of much less interest to Catholics (generally inclined to
believe in the infallibility of the Pope) than to Protestants (more prone
to place their faith in the infallibility of the Bible).
Ignored by the French, the book was extraordinarily successful in
Britain and America—and it seems also to have sold well in countries
like Germany or Hungary.52 In England, The Age of Reason rapidly
became a bestseller, in spite of the government’s decision to prosecute
any bookseller that would circulate it. The book had to be printed and
sold underground, and this is why we have no reliable figures
regarding the actual sales. In the United States, demand was even
more frenetic, and there was no censorship, in any form whatsoever.

Ibid., 308.
Keane, Tom Paine, 392.
The opening words of The Age of Reason: “It has been my intention, for several
years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion.”
Keane, 397.
The Bastille of Words 15

Eight editions appeared in 1794, seven in 1795, two in 1796. In the

year 1797, 100,000 copies were sold in America alone.53
Success, whether in Britain or America, did not mean approval:
most readers, including many of Paine’s own friends, were
scandalized at the ‘impious,’ disrespectful, iconoclastic audacity of the
book. Although Paine’s work had originally been composed to keep
the French from “running headlong into atheism,”54 it was
immediately referred to, in the English-speaking world, as the
“Devil’s Prayer-Book” or “the Bible of Atheism.”55
The Age of Reason was not the first critique of the Biblical text to
be published during the Age of Enlightenment, but it was the first one
to have been written in such simple and direct language, larded with
wit, humor, verve, cheek (with at times a touch of demagoguery), a
clever mixture of popular common sense and scientific analysis that
could easily be grasped by the mass of ordinary people—those
precisely whom the Bible and the established Churches had always
endeavored to reach out to and control. As in the case of Rights of
Man, it was this, more than anything else, that Paine was never
forgiven for, especially in Britain and the United States (where the
discreet Deism of leaders like Franklin or Jefferson had never really
shocked anyone). And it was this ‘socially dangerous’ rejection of the
Bible as “the word of God” that several American ecclesiastical
envoys desperately—but vainly— tried to make Paine publicly recant
toward the end of his life, including on his death-bed.
One can indeed measure the impact of The Age of Reason by the
number of ‘replies’ (most of them negative) that were printed in the
months and years that followed the publication of Paine’s work.
Nathalie Caron has established that 111 such ‘answers to Paine’
actually came out: none in France, one in Germany56—but 110
(almost equally distributed) in Great-Britain and the United States!57

Ibid., 396, 399.
Paine’s letter to Samuel Adams (1 Jan. 1803), in FO 2: 1436.
W . E. Woodward, Tom Paine: America’s Godfather (New York: Dutton, 1945),
F. W. Hagen, Vindicae Prophetarum Ebraicorum et Jesu Christi contra Thomam
Paine ejusque libelli de vera et fictitia religione Germanicum interpretem
(Nuremberg, 1798).
Nathalie Caron, Thomas Paine contre l’imposture des prêtres, 272-81, 323-28.
Her full list (522-30) includes 69 replies published in the British Isles—with about 50
in England alone—as against 41 published in the United States.)
16 The Transatlantic Republican

The most serious and distinguished of those ‘replies’ was An Apology

for the Bible published in 1796 by Richard Watson, Bishop of the
Welsh diocese of Llandaff.58
But Paine’s ‘success’ was this time highly counterproductive:
instead of adding to his glory, as Common Sense and Rights of Man
had done, it eventually ruined his reputation for many decades to
come. More than a century after the publication of The Age of Reason,
someone like Theodore Roosevelt was still calling Paine a “filthy little
atheist,” describing the man as the worst possible sort of infidel, and
his anti-religious book as nothing but a “bladder of dirty water”
thrown at Christianity.59

While writing Common Sense, Paine popularized two words which

Benjamin Rush had insistently advised him “to avoid by every means
as necessary to his safety and that of the public—Independence and
Republicanism”60: six months later, the thirteen British colonies of
America proclaimed themselves an ‘independent republic.’ In Rights
of Man, Paine spoke for the universal character of human rights,
insisting that those rights were not only of a political but also of a …
social and economic order! In The Age of Reason, he affirmed his
deistic faith in “one God, and no more,” condemned all inventors of
religious fables, and went so far as to “vindicate the moral justice of
God against the calumnies of the Bible.”61 Because of these radical
ideas, Paine was either admired, abhorred or feared. But what was
most feared by the powers-that-be, in England more than anywhere
else, was less the subversive content of Paine’s philosophy than the
fact that, instead of being confined to a select set of customary ‘happy
few’ readers, his radical books and ‘devilish’ ideas were able to reach
and contaminate the masses, and in so doing to undermine a system

Paine was still in France when the Bishop of Llandaff’s reply appeared. He
immediately began to write a rebuttal, which he intended to publish, once back in the
United States, as Part 3 of The Age of Reason. But no American publisher wanted to
take the risk, and Paine’s rebuttal was not published until after his death. The text may
be found in FO 2: 764-788.
Theodore Roosevelt, Gouverneur Morris (New York, 1888), 289.
Washington C. Ford, ed., “Letters of William Duane, 1800-1834,” Proceedings
of the Massachusetts Historical Society 20 (1906-07), 279.
FO 1: 523.
The Bastille of Words 17

based from time immemorial on the ignorance of the people. Those

who rejected Common Sense, or banned Rights of Man, or called The
Age of Reason “a pamphlet against Jesus Christ,”62 did so because
they were able to perceive in Paine’s works what Marshall McLuhan
was much later to theorize in Understanding Media (1964): the
revolutionary and bewildering idea according to which the medium,
beyond a certain degree of success, becomes the message.

Letter of Gouverneur Morris to Thomas Jefferson, 21 Jan. 1794, quoted in
Moncure Daniel Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine (Folcroft Library Edition, 1974),
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The Strategy of Time in Common Sense

Occasional works are by nature doomed to oblivion—and nothing is

more occasional than a political pamphlet. Among hundreds of
documents of this type which preceded or accompanied the American
Revolution,1 only Common Sense has managed to escape this fatality,
finally to become an imperishable monument. How can this paradox
be explained? How was it achieved? Through what stratagems—or

On January 10, 1776, six months before the Declaration of

Independence, a short pamphlet entitled Common Sense appeared in
Philadelphia. The work was anonymous, the author unknown. The
publication of the pamphlet coincided to the very day with that of the
repressive “King’s Speech to Parliament”2 in the local press, and give
or take a few days, with the announcement of the embargo decreed by
the House of Commons3: America was in an uproar. Common Sense

See Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), in particular Chapter 1, “The
Literature of Revolution”; Maurice W. Cranston, Philosophers and Pamphleteers:
Political Theorists of the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986);
Howard Zinn, Artists in Times of War (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003),
particularly Chapter 4, “Pamphleteering In America.” Some 400 political pamphlets
were published in the thirteen colonies between 1750 and 1776.
The King’s Speech to Parliament, 26 October 1775, was published in
Philadelphia on January 10, 1776. It acknowledged the fact that “the rebellious War
now levied is become more general, and is manifestly carried on for the Purpose of
establishing an independent Empire,” and it solemnly aimed at putting “ a speedy End
to these Disorders by the most decisive Exertions.”
The Prohibitory Act of 22 December 1775 forbade “all manner of trade and
commerce” between England and the rebellious colonies and declared a blockade of
the American coast.
22 The Transatlantic Republican

had been drafted in a few short weeks, published with no or very little
publicity; and yet—and this was the first paradox—during the course
of the next few weeks or months 120,000 copies or so were sold in
America alone, sparking off impassioned debates among people
everywhere. From the outset, the chronology, the moment, and the
circumstances were clearly the main ingredients of a work in which
the action of time was transmuted by some instantaneous alchemy into
action upon time. It is impossible to talk about time in Common Sense
without instantly mentioning the impact that Common Sense had on
time itself.
Thomas Paine’s life was unique—and that is the second
paradox—in that it began with the crossing of an endless wilderness.
Paine disembarked at Philadelphia on November 30, 1774. The man
had spent the first thirty-eight years of his existence in Britain, making
corsets or occupying some obscure post as an Excise officer. And here
we find him, only two years later, covered in glory, with Common
Sense the biggest publishing success of the eighteenth century, and
himself one of the leading lights of the American Revolution! Such a
destiny, such a turnabout of fate, such a “revolution” in this up-to-then
perfectly humdrum existence could not but give Paine a peculiar sense
of the nature of time and endow Common Sense with an uncommon
subversive power amid the surrounding slowness and gravity of
things. If time could so radically and swiftly change the life of one
man, what could the vagaries and turnabouts of fate not do to the life
of a nation?
This brings us to the third paradox. Between 1776 and 1783
Paine published in the wake of Common Sense sixteen articles or
essays, under the heading The American Crisis. Signed “Common
Sense,” these texts, read and acclaimed just as much as the original
pamphlet, have the same single objective: to keep time from resuming
its former heaviness; to ensure that the revolutionary enthusiasm and
fervor continue, come what may, to strip away the cloak of history; to
force inexorable time inexorably to change its course, its logic, its
nature. Herein lies the fundamental paradox: to turn freedom into
destiny, a fleeting moment into history, the present into
transcendence; to catch time in the trap of time; to reconcile “kaïros”
and Kronos, and be ready to depose Kronos, as Zeus, his own son,
once did.
Time and space: both are to be found at the heart of Common
Sense, shoulder to shoulder in the same cause, bent on achieving the
The Strategy of Time 23

same object, and with geography, when need be, speeding to the aid of
history. In Crisis II (13 January 1777), when the American troops
were in a critical situation and when time seemed once more to be in
the Crown’s favor, Paine, addressing his words to Admiral Richard
Howe, brother of the commander-in-chief of the British forces,
developed along these lines a spatial strategy based on a war of
attrition, and the Fabian tactics dear to Washington, in which space
turns out to be a mere auxiliary, or even a particular form or modality,
of time:
Your advantages turn out to your loss, and show us that it is in our power to
ruin you by gifts: like a game of drafts, we can move out of one square to let
you come in, in order that we may afterwards take two or three for one; and as
we can always keep a double corner for ourselves, we can always prevent a
total defeat. You cannot be so insensible as not to see that we have two to one
the advantage of you, because we conquer by a drawn game, and you lose by
it . . . Were you to garrison the places you might march over, in order to
secure their subjection . . . , your army would be like a stream of water
running to nothing. By the time you extended from New York to Virginia, you
would be reduced to a string of drops not capable of hanging together; while
we, by retreating from state to state, like a river turning back upon itself,
would acquire strength in the same proportion as you lose it, and in the end be
capable of overwhelming you.4
“Like a river turning back upon itself”: this fluid strategy of
space is also, in a way, the strategy of time brought into play by
Common Sense—with this not inconsiderable difference, however,
that time is more complex than space, that it can be interpreted in
many different ways, that Paine plays on the diverseness of the
concept and bases his strategy precisely on its fundamental polysemy.
We shall attempt, therefore, to unravel the skein, to see what
subterfuges went hand in hand with such an unwonted use of time,
and to understand how Paine managed, once Kronos had been
deposed, or at least shaken to the very core, to ensure that a dark and
unbending past actually gave way to what he was later to call “the
morning of Reason.”5

FO 1: 67, 68.
Rights of Man, ed. Henry Collins (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982), 230
(afterwards referred to as RM).
24 The Transatlantic Republican

1. The Polemic Use of Time

Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense at the very moment when

Britain’s American colonies were on the verge of going over the
brink, when time was in a turmoil, the past struggling for survival, the
future uncertain, the present elusive, and when, nonetheless, all the
different forms of time seemed to be converging on the same focal
point, there to unite and crystallize: at the very spot where a new but
hesitant history was about to be born.
It was the Americans themselves who in fact were wavering: at
the intersection of a maternal past which they still cherished, of an
adult and autonomous future, and of a somewhat chaotic present, they
were uncertain about which time to commit themselves to, which to
abolish or which to summon in. They needed a new voice, speaking
with confidence, and perhaps from outside, to tell them, “’TIS TIME
TO PART.” Building on this confusion in people’s minds, Paine
turned time to his advantage, using it like some polemical weapon,
and stretching it out with infinite artistry—and at times artifice—in
the direction of that massive collective drift towards American
independence. “Common sense” must also be construed as meaning
“common direction,” the common arrow of time.
Following this arrow will take us from the imaginary past to the
imagined future, with the present forming a hiatus between the two—a
sort of a-temporal seat of freedom where reason is at liberty to recast
To define the present as the source of all history implies an all-
out rejection of the past, and that is indeed what Common Sense is
essentially about. But the use Paine makes of this dimension of time is
not without contradictions. For instance, not hesitating to cite as proof
the very past that he condemns, he looks for inspiration sometimes to
mythical time (the state of nature) in order to explain the origin of
governments (CS, 66), sometimes to biblical time to describe the
beginning of monarchy or hereditary succession (CS, 72-76), and
sometimes to historical time to denounce the doubtful origins of the
English monarchy (CS, 77-80). All of that was sheer polemics:
nothing more nor less than an attempt to counter the upholders of

Common Sense, ed. Isaac Kramnick (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1982),
87 (afterwards referred to as CS).
The Strategy of Time 25

custom and tradition on their own ground. Moreover, Paine was well
aware that his readers knew the Bible inside out, that none of them
had forgotten England’s recent past, and that the ideas of Locke on the
origin of political power were familiar to a good many of them. It is
not surprising, then, that he made rhetorical use of all these pieces of
history which, whether real or imaginary, militated so forcibly in favor
of both independence and the republic.
But, deep down, the validity of the past is well and truly rejected.
The dead, Common Sense contends, have no legitimate claim to
govern the living; the present belongs to itself, and forfeits its nature if
it consents to be no more than a mechanical and morbid extension of
centuries past. In Rights of Man (1791-92) things will be made even
clearer. Attacking Edmund Burke and his mystical cult of tradition,
Paine will describe the past as being a grave (“the tomb of time” [RM,
190]), a dark night (“the obscure field of antiquity” [RM, 207]), a
sepulchre, and a form of tyranny. Whoever establishes a regime and
wishes to justify its continuation from one generation to another by
calling on the authority of tradition makes of time both a despot and a
usurper. Not only does he bequeath to those who come after a polity
which is not of their own choosing, but, in addition, he forces them to
live under an hereditary form of government which, by definition, the
founder himself was not subject to. This is the height of the perversion
of time. Hence the necessity for any man capable of reason not to
allow himself to be walled up within the “sepulchre of precedents,”
where the upholders of tradition, those “ghosts of departed wisdom”
(RM, 218, 219), would like to keep him forever. Precedent is not law.
There is no such thing as an authority of the past. Time is a monarch
or a tyrant only for those who regard it as sacred.
Paine’s attachment to the present as the pulse of history, as the
historic time of the living, does not prevent him from making
incursions—rhetorical or polemical—into the future: a time to come,
upon which he simply projects the various potentialities of the present,
foreseeing the worst for America if the loyalists get the upper hand (a
king motivated by a desire for revenge [CS, 92-93], seizure of power
by some foreign adventurer [CS, 98], internecine war between the
colonies [CS, 95]); or, on the other hand, describing an America at last
independent, “now descending to the scenes of quiet and domestic life
. . . to enjoy in her own land and under her own vine the sweet of her
26 The Transatlantic Republican

labors and the reward of her toil.”7 Here looms a new contradiction: if
the past does not command the present, the present, as Paine sees it,
certainly has command over the future. Thus, the right he denies his
forebears he accords to himself, and along with himself, to a whole
generation: in his eyes, proclaiming independence and setting up a
republic are irrevocable acts: “’Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or
an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more
or less affected even to the end of time by the proceedings now” (CS,
In Rights of Man, Paine will get out of this contradiction most
elegantly by proposing a type of constitution not fixed or frozen
forever, but subject at will to revision by future generations.
Nonetheless, the present so vaunted and proclaimed in Common Sense
is more than just the present; it is affected by temporal transcendence
(“The cause of America is in a large measure the cause of all
mankind” [CS, 63]) and it quite clearly carries with it something of a
prophetic or even messianic nature: “We have it in our power to begin
the world over again. A similar situation to the present has not
happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new
world is at hand” (CS, 120). Utterly cut off from the past, America
finds herself, as it were, outside of time, somewhere before or after
history, and there is consequently no gap between the present and
what naturally extends and perpetuates it. Rights of Man will go
further than Common Sense in this respect. There, in addition to the
wiping out of the past, Paine will refer to the utter newness of
America, and to the pioneer virginity of a continent set, so to speak, in
times prior to time: “The case and circumstances of America present
themselves as in the beginning of a world . . . We are brought at once
to the point of seeing government begin, as if we had lived in the
beginning of time. The real volume, not of history, but of facts, is
directly before us, unmutilated by contrivance, or the errors of
tradition” (RM, 207). With the past consigned to the shadows, time
relieved of its weightiness, the immediate terrain cleared of all
obstacles (save the British occupying forces), and with the future like
a new book to be written in the present, America is seen, in these ideal
circumstances, as a nation free to choose its own destiny with a lack of
constraint previously unknown to man in any age or place. Such is, in

FO 1: 231 (Crisis XIII).
The Strategy of Time 27

its naïve form and force, the adamic message conveyed by Common
Sense. Just like Jefferson, Thomas Paine acknowledged the legitimate
right of each generation, and in particular his own, to reconstruct the
world and reset the clock of the universe to zero. Time must indeed be
magnanimous, since history—American history at any rate—was in
great measure to prove them right: independence was achieved and the
republic was established.

2. An Ambiguous Concept

If in Common Sense Thomas Paine takes liberties with time, if he

manhandles the concept and exploits it for purposes of persuasion and
for polemic reasons, if he uses time for his own ends just as he does
nature, it is because the concept itself suffers from a vagueness which
undoubtedly detracts from the intellectual rigor of the pamphlet, but
which lends itself admirably to the art of the pamphleteer. The
ambiguity of Common Sense with regard to time and the use to which
it is put results from the same word being invested with a variety of
seemingly irreconcilable meanings, with on the one hand mechanical
time and the time of God, and on the other hand the time of Man. How
do these complex elements interrelate and how, in the final analysis,
can their contradictions be smoothed out?
“Time makes more converts than reason” (CS, 63). Time is first
of all a teacher, a better teacher than doctrines, theories or writings,
including Common Sense (unless, of course, Paine’s pamphlet is to be
read as a piece of time). Nature’s great book goes hand in hand with
the book of mechanical time, with its successive chapters, numbered
pages, inescapable order. The break with Britain is already inscribed
in it, recorded, fatum, and no one can wipe clean or tear out a single
page: “Like all other truths discovered by necessity, [independence]
will appear stronger and stronger every day” (CS, 116). There is, thus,
a time of the world, a force of events, a necessary history, a path laid
out and signposted, with here and there rivers to cross, as irremeable
as the Styx, as decisive as the Rubicon (“The Rubicon is passed” [CS,
119]). That time is irreversible. It dictates our separations, the
beginning and the end of eras. Man has no say in the matter: “The
period of debate is closed” (CS, 82). You who speak to us of harmony
and reconciliation, Paine tells the loyalists, “can ye restore to us the
time that is past?” (CS, 99). The teaching force of circumstances
28 The Transatlantic Republican

sooner or later illuminates human reason, and from that moment when
man half glimpses a possible advance toward freedom, no power in
the world can reverse the order of time, which has suddenly become
the order of his conscience. “When once any object has been seen,”
Paine was to write in Rights of Man, “it is impossible to put the mind
back to the same condition it was in before it saw it . . . it has never
been discovered, how to make man unknow his knowledge, or unthink
his thoughts” (RM, 140, 141). Doubters must therefore remain silent,
or convert. American independence and the establishment of the
republic belong to the realm of inevitability.
But the doubters could not, any more than the patriots or Paine
himself, be satisfied with such an implacable necessity. To place one’s
trust in the force of circumstances, or in the perpetuity of the Crown,
did not exempt anyone from believing in God and in His capacity to
intervene in the affairs of the world. Alongside the time of necessity
there appears, then, in Common Sense, another category of time: that
of the Almighty, or of Providence, or of Grace. Paine is convinced,
and openly admits, “that God governs the world.”8 Comparing various
great human events, he asks himself whether the American Revolution
“may be called one.”9
Occasionally, providential time may of course be the accomplice
of Kronos: Why was the Reformation preceded by the discovery of
America if not, in fact, because “the Almighty graciously meant to
open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years”? (CS, 87). But it is
also possible for God to intervene against the tide of events, as if to
deflect the arrow of time. Thus, for instance, does He induce fiendish
General Howe to commit certain strategic errors (in particular in
November 1776 during the retreat of the American troops from New
Jersey to Pennsylvania); one must assume, Paine then observes, that
the agents of Hell “are under some providential control.”10 Whether
divine intervention simply accompanies the mechanical course of
events, or imperiously forces the hand of destiny by reversing the
most desperate situations, it is indeed God, and His grace, who finally
rules over the work—here, the revolutionary work—of time.

FO 1: 54 (Crisis I).
Ibid., 232 (Crisis XIII).
Ibid., 52 (Crisis I).
The Strategy of Time 29

Obviously, the Puritan doctrine of predestination was still present in

the age of Enlightenment.
In Paine’s case, however, neo-Calvinism was sufficiently
tempered, despite the apparent contradiction, to exclude neither reason
nor free will: “Throw not the burden of the day upon Providence,” he
told the insurgents, but “‘show your faith by your works’.”11 In other
words, of all the things that befall men God is only responsible for one
half, or perhaps one third, another third having its origin in necessity,
and the final third in mankind itself. Necessity and Providence do not
impose absolute rigidity upon time; there is some space left for
maneuver, some room for flexibility, sufficient leeway for human time
to intervene. The independence of the continent is inevitable, but if it
is so, Paine points out, it is “as an event which sooner or later must
arrive” (CS, 91, emphasis mine). Time, therefore, has an elasticity
which allows man to modify, if not the nature, then at least the rhythm
of history. Or again, in the same vein, toward the end of 1775: “The
present winter is worth an age, if rightly employed, but if lost or
neglected the whole continent will partake of the misfortune” (CS,
89). To an occasionally well-disposed God we must respond with
something more than resignation and fatalism; both Grace and
Necessity need the help of human works if they are to succeed. Man is
party to a history which, when all is said and done, is also his own. In
Rights of Man, Paine will—once more—go somewhat further,
highlighting, in a manner this time more reminiscent of the Age of
Enlightenment, the preeminent role played by the intellect in the
making of history: “The progress of time and circumstances, which
men assign to the accomplishment of great changes, is too mechanical
to measure the force of the mind . . . by which revolutions are
generated” (RM, 165). This idealistic statement of belief (already
quoted in our “Introduction”) means that, by a sort of psychokinetic
effect, the mind (here the influence of pre-Revolutionary philosophes)
bends, contracts, accelerates, precipitates, in short directs the curve
and course of time. Therefore the intellectual dynamic, the magnetism
of reason, the strength of the mind are to be recognized, in the same
way as God and Necessity, as prime movers of history, as driving
forces behind the reality of time. The immediate and powerful
influence of Common Sense in the months that followed its

Ibid., 55.
30 The Transatlantic Republican

publication seem indeed to corroborate this particular view of things.

The force of circumstances, the omnipotence of God, the
dynamic impetus of the mind: a miracle is needed to reconcile so
many opposites, to bring these scattered arrows of time and history to
converge on the same spot. This astounding accomplishment,
apparently achieved by Common Sense, we shall call the strategy of

3. The Strategy of Coincidence

I have never met with a man, either in England or in America, who has not
confessed his opinion that a separation between the countries would take place
one time or other . . . As all men allow the measure, let us, in order to remove
mistakes, take a general survey of things and endeavour, if possible, to find
out the very time. But we need not go far; the inquiry ceases at once, for the
time has found us. The general concurrence, the glorious union of all things
prove the fact. (CS, 100)
One idea obsesses Thomas Paine from the first to the last page of
Common Sense—namely, that alongside this multiplicity of times
which govern the world, there exists an historical tempo, a rhythm to
events, now slow, now spasmodic; an alternation of quiet and hectic
phases; miraculous conjunctions, unforeseen and undreamed of
encounters; historical marriages where opposites are joined in
wedlock, finally producing “the general concurrence, the glorious
union of all things.” These fragile parentheses in which the various
forms of time suddenly fuse and become one Paine calls “the very
time” or “the present opportunity”(CS, 108) or again “seasonable
juncture[s]” (CS, 113). When the times of Necessity, Providence and
Man coincide in this manner, when they unexpectedly combine, and
dispel their irreducible contradictions for a while, then history
becomes moment, momentum, movement, mutation. No longer a
trinity, the various times, working now as one, can carry out their
common task.
But in what ways was America favored, during the period 1775-
76, by the particular circumstances then prevailing? Politically, says
Paine, in the following way (the prophetic character of which is quite
It might be difficult, if not impossible, to form the continent into one
government half a century hence. The vast variety of interests, occasioned by
an increase of trade and population, would create confusion. Colony would be
The Strategy of Time 31

against colony . . . Wherefore the present time is the true time for establishing
it. (CS, 108)
And militarily thus:
At the conclusion of the last war [1763], we had experience but wanted
numbers, and forty or fifty years hence we shall have numbers without
experience; wherefore the proper point of time must be some particular point
between the two extremes, in which a sufficiency of the former remains and a
proper increase of the latter is obtained. And that point of time is the present
time. (CS, 116)
Paine did not believe in the cyclical theories of history. He was
convinced that history never passes the same way twice and that
America’s situation was of the kind “which never happens to a nation
but once” (CS, 108). Out of this conviction was to be born his
strategy—a strategy based on historical opportunism, and that can be
summed up as follows: making the most of coincidence; being able, at
the right moment, to synchronize one’s own efforts with the action of
circumstances or of Heaven; uniting one’s free will with Necessity
and Grace; bringing to earth at the self-same spot the three arrows of
time. At such little cost (with its echo of Taoist wisdom) nations are
founded, republics set up, new historical eras ushered in.
This way of thinking which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems
self-evident, was at the time far from being a matter of course. It
necessitated, in those days of confusion and painful soul-searching, a
lucidity and audacity quite out of the ordinary. But, more than that, it
implied, and heralded too, an unprecedented vision of ‘man in the
world.’ For the independence advocated by Paine was not simply a
break with Britain; it was also, at least in part, a means of severing the
links with a history hitherto subject to forces and powers external to
man himself. Simultaneously, the wished-for setting-up of an
American Republic meant not simply a rejection of the divine right of
monarchs, or of the sacred person of the king; it was also, at least in
part, a way of denying the divinization or fetishization of history, and
of establishing man as an actor, or co-actor, in his own history. This
incipient revolution, which the time of men was soon to complete, is
what Paine later called, as previously stated, “the morning of Reason.”

To conclude will be an easy task. How can we account for the fact that
a 50-page pamphlet by an unknown writer, published if not at the
32 The Transatlantic Republican

author’s expense, then at least without any large-scale publicity, could

be reprinted in a multitude of newspapers and gazettes, with pirate
copies appearing everywhere, and finally be read by some 500,000
Americans out of a total population of 2,5 million?
How is it that such a modest piece of writing, soon to be
published and acclaimed throughout Europe, was able to convert to
the dual cause of independence and republicanism tens of thousands
of American colonists, including a whole section of the political elite,
and eventually make such a powerful contribution to that revolution in
consciousness which shortly after was to achieve its crowning glory in
the Declaration of Independence?
What possible explanation can there be for the fascination, still
felt in some measure today, which Common Sense then held? None
other, it seems, but the magic which from the outset presided over the
relationship between time and the pamphlet, endowing it with a
peculiar force that is not to be found in any of the other political
writings of that age.
To sum up: putting aside the tricks and wordplay used for
polemic effect, what Paine, at the very right moment, set before the
American colonists was a strategy of time perfectly in tune with a
circumstance in their history when the confusion of men and events
was at its height. Even the best minds were then spinning giddily in
the whirlpool of time. No more were present, past, or future in their
appointed places. The arrows of time were like compass needles
swinging wildly from side to side. Human thought had no points of
reference left. The course of events, the ways of Heaven, and the paths
of men no longer seemed to have a common direction. The old
Puritanism and the Enlightenment were still locked in indecisive
combat. History was wavering. The slightest push could tip the
balance one way or the other, suddenly and irresistibly carrying
everything away in one direction—like a stream once again true to its
course, or “like a river turning back upon itself.” That push, in fact,
which in one single movement was to gather and marshal all the
fragments of time and set American history in motion, was, more than
anything else, provided by Common Sense. And the river suddenly
turning back upon itself and abruptly changing its course was nothing
The Strategy of Time 33

else but what John Adams was soon to call “Independence like a
The fascination that Common Sense held for its readers was that
of a piece of writing in direct contact with time, and which, to some
extent, was able to master it—a superhuman achievement for the work
of a mortal man, an achievement which probably ensured its perpetual
glory. It might also be said that the fact that the author was totally
unknown, and that the pamphlet was originally published
anonymously, added to the mysterious and magical force surrounding
it. These strange circumstances no doubt induced many of Paine’s
contemporaries to regard Common Sense as one of those disturbing
texts which from time to time history has the knack of producing—a
Word falling from nowhere, to bring meaning and sense to a world of

John Adams, letter to James Warren, 20 May 1776, Warren-Adams Letters,
Being Chiefly a Correspondence Among John Adams, Samuel Adams and James
Warren (New York: AMS Press, 1979 [1925]), 1: 249.
This page intentionally left blank

Thomas Paine, the Masonic Order,

and the American Revolution

As it happens, it was through Thomas Paine that I became interested

in early American Freemasonry. While working on my Tom Paine
biography, I was intrigued from the outset by the fact that all of a
sudden, within just a few weeks or months, and as if by magic, Paine
leaped from his obscure humdrum existence in England—where he
had worked as a corset-maker and an Excise officer—onto the
American literary-political stage, there to become, at the age of almost
forty, one of the leading lights of the Revolutionary movement.
How was it that a man who was little short of a failure in his
native country became acquainted so rapidly with the most prominent
figures in the Colonies, even becoming a friend of theirs in many
cases? How can one account for the quickness of his ascent and the
suddenness of his glory?
One way of accounting for this, one hypothesis (which has
several times been made), is to consider that Paine had become a
Freemason and that, as such, he enjoyed, first in America, then in
England and France, the kindly assistance of certain lodges or of
certain individual Masons.
Some time before he left England in 1774, Paine met Benjamin
Franklin in London—Franklin, the founding father of Freemasonry in
Pennsylvania, and future Venerable of the famous Lodge of the Nine
Sisters in Paris where he was to preside over Voltaire’s initiation on
April 7, 1778.1 In his Revolution and Freemasonry, the French
historian Bernard Faÿ goes so far as to say that it was Franklin himself
who then converted Paine to the Masonic creed.2 However, he does

On Franklin as Freemason, see Ronald E. Heaton, Masonic Membership of the
Founding Fathers (Silver Spring, MA.: Masonic Service Association, 1974), 18-19.
Bernard Faÿ, Revolution and Freemasonry, 1680-1800 (Boston: Little, 1935); La
franc-maçonnerie et la révolution intellectuelle du XVIIIesiècle (Paris: Cluny, 1935),
36 The Transatlantic Republican

not give any factual evidence in support of his assertion. The only
thing we know for sure is that on September 30, 1774, on the very eve
of his departure from London, Paine was given by Franklin a letter of
recommendation addressed to his son-in-law, Richard Bache, himself
a Mason3 and a wealthy businessman in Philadelphia. It was Bache
who guided Paine’s first steps in that city, where he was to live until
1787, and where he met, among many other colonial Masons, John
Witherspoon, Frederick Mulhenberg, Benjamin Rush, David
Rittenhouse, William and Thomas Bradford—and, some time later,
Henry Laurens, the Lee brothers, General Roberdeau, Robert Morris,
Nathanael Greene, Joel Barlow, Thomas Jefferson (whose
membership is not proven), and of course George Washington.4 And
who were to become his friends in revolutionary France? Danton,
Condorcet, Lafayette, Sieyès, Brissot, La Rochefoucauld, Duchâtelet,
all Masons. And where did he stay after his release from prison in
Paris? First with Nicolas de Bonneville and then with James Monroe,
both of them well known as Freemasons.
Paine’s interest in Freemasonry was such that toward the end of
his life, in 1805, he wrote a lengthy piece entitled An Essay on the
Origin of Freemasonry,5 in which he traces back the birth of Masonry
to the ancient rituals of druidism. (This essay was published only after
his death.)
But this does not prove, any more than any other detail or fact
that we know of, that Paine was a Mason. There is indeed no formal
trace of his initiation or membership in England, none in America, and
none in France. Questioned about Paine’s membership—questioned
because non-Masonic scholars cannot have direct access to English
Masonic archives—the United Grand Lodge of England had only this
to answer: “In the absence of any record of his initiation it must,
therefore, be assumed that he was not a member of the order.”6
Whether or not he was initiated, it is most unlikely that Paine ever

Mentioned as a member of Lodge No. 2 in Norris Stanley Barrett & Julius
Sachse, Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, 1727-1907, as shown in the records of Lodge
No. 2 (Philadelphia, 1908-1919), 2: 438.
Evidence of their membership is to be found either in Heaton or Barrett, or in
documents issued by the Library of the Supreme Council, 33° (Washington, D.C.).
New York, 1810.
Audrey Williamson, Thomas Paine: His Life, Work and Times (New York: St.
Martin’s Press, 1973), 237.
The Masonic Order 37

became a member of a British lodge, if only because English

Freemasonry was at that time closely connected with aristocracy and
even with the king or his entourage: thus the Duke of Cumberland,
Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge until 1790, was succeeded
by the future George IV!
In France, although Philippe-Égalité and the future Charles X
were also Freemasons, the situation was somewhat different. French
lodges (and Paris had no less than 81 lodges) seem to have been
socially and politically more open. During the Revolution, the French
capital even had an “American Lodge” ( known as “la loge des
Américains”) which numbered no less than 143 members—but in
whose records Paine’s name never appears. Nor does it appear on any
of the lists recently established by Alain Le Bihan regarding the
respective memberships of “le Grand Orient” and “la Grande Loge de
And yet Bernard Faÿ maintains that Paine was a Mason. And so
do Dr. Robinet in his Danton émigré,8 and Franck Alengry in his
biography of Concorcet,9 and Brissot himself alluding in his Memoirs
to his “friend Bonneville and Thomas Payne . . . who pride themselves
on possessing every single secret of the Order.”10 But Brissot’s remark
is no proof: studying the secrets of Freemasonry, or even “possessing”
them or some of them, does not necessarily imply that one is a
member (I am not a member). In much the same way, Ignace
Guillotin, the humanitarian inventor of the guillotine, recorded in his
diary that he “attended Lodge in company with Mr. Jefferson and Mr.
Paine from the American states.”11 But this again is no proof, for there
were, and there still are today, two types of Masonic meetings: some
open to non-members and others “tiled” (i.e. with the tiler, or warden,

Alain Le Bihan, Francs-maçons parisiens du Grand Orient de France (fin du
XVIIIe siècle) (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1966); Loges et chapitres du Grand
Orient et de la Grande Loge (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1967).
Dr. Robinet, Danton émigré (Paris, 1887), 8.
Frank Alengry, Condorcet, guide de la Révolution française (Paris, 1904), 19.
J.-P. Brissot de Warville, Mémoires relatifs à la Révolution française (Paris,
1830), 1: 218. “Mon ami Bonneville et Thomas Payne . . . qui se piquent de posséder
tous les secrets de l’Ordre.”
The quote from Guillotin’s diary is to be found in a “special file on Thomas
Paine” at the Library of the Supreme Council, 33° (Washington, D.C.). In spite of
intense research, I have been unable to find the original document.
38 The Transatlantic Republican

standing outside the outer door to keep off “cowans” [uninitiated

people], eavesdroppers and other unauthorized persons).
More convincing perhaps is the testimony provided by R. Le
Forestier in his famous book on the Bavarian Illuminati, a subversive
secret society founded in 1776 at Ingoldstadt by an enlightened and
ambitious eccentric called Adam Weishaupt. Le Forestier writes that
in 1794 (at a time when Thomas Paine was a member of the
Convention in Paris), Count Lehrbach, imperial ambassador in
Munich, sent to Vienna a list of illustrious Illuminati containing,
among others, the names of “the Duke of Orléans, Necker, La Fayette,
Barnave, Brissot, La Rochefoucauld, Mirabeau, Payne, Fauchet, for
France.”12 This is indeed an official document, but it is not the record
of a specific Masonic lodge, and besides one could actually belong to
the Illuminati without necessarily being a Mason. So, again, we are
left with no satisfactory evidence.
My investigations in the United States have not been more
successful. The name “Thomas Paine” does appear on several
Masonic rosters of the Revolutionary period (in Boston, Albany and
Providence), but there is no evidence whatsoever that the man thus
listed was the historic figure. Similarly, local records do mention the
creation in 1792 of a “Paine’s Lodge No. 27” at Amenia, N.Y., but at
the time it was not uncommon for lodges to take the name of such and
such famous man who had never been initiated. In 1809, when Paine
died, the Grand Lodges of both Louisiana and Georgia honored his
memory with solemn orations, while the Grand Lodge of South
Carolina organized a mourning procession in the streets. But who was
actually honored in these celebrations: the hypothetical Freemason?
Or the apostle of Reason? Or the champion of the rights of man? One
cannot say with any certainty.
If we are to understand Paine’s intellectual itinerary, it is quite
enough to know that, though he probably never belonged to any
specific fraternity, he nevertheless actively sympathized with the
Masonic movement and the philosophy it espoused. Masonic thought
had much in common with his own deistic outlook and his own cult of
reason, and it was part of the great intellectual swirl of the age of
Enlightenment wherefrom he derived most of his creeds as a

R. Le Forestier, Les Illuminés de Bavière et la franc-maçonnerie allemande
(Paris, 1915), 654.
The Masonic Order 39

rationalist. Therefore it was into ideas rather than into rituals that
Franklin initiated his protégé, inasmuch as he initiated him into
anything. Paine’s psychology is here more convincing than material
evidence. A rugged individualist, Paine neither liked collective
ceremonies nor secret practices; he dreamed, instead, of an open form
of democracy, of a see-through republic with a public life as
transparent as a palace of glass. Both his nature and the lessons of
experience made him loathe the idea of regimentation. He never was a
declared member of any party or sect or church, and it is highly
probable that he never joined the Masonic Order. “My own mind is
my own church”: no words could describe better than this key
sentence of The Age of Reason a man who could at best become a
‘fellow-traveler,’ as we say today, but whose real vocation was to
espouse causes, not structures.
Why then bother, some might rightfully ask, about Paine’s
relationship with an organization to which in all probability he never
belonged? Well, just as penicillin was serendipitously invented by a
scientist who was in fact looking for something else, so studying Paine
in that context, i.e. against the background of Masonic organization
and militancy, inevitably led me to widen the scope of my research—
and of my inconclusive findings—to the role of Freemasonry in the
American revolution at large. The paradox is that, although I did not
find much about Paine in terms of positive data, I discovered quite a
number of interesting things about the larger issue that had hitherto
been unjustly neglected. Let me then lift here at least one tiny corner
of the veil.

While non-Masonic historians have, with very few exceptions, tended

to overlook the underground role of lodges in the American
Revolution,13 the great majority of Masonic scholars have on the

In the Harvard Guide to American History (1974 edition), not a single page, not
even a single entry deals with early Freemasonry. A Guide to the Study of the United
States of America (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1960; suppl. 1976) has
one entry on Freemasonry out of a total of 9,430. In Ronald M. Gephart’s more recent
bibliography of the Revolution (Revolutionary America, 1763-1789. A Bibliography,
2 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1984)), Freemasonry is allotted 1/4
page out of 1,671, and 6 entries out of a total of 14,810. As regards standard historians
40 The Transatlantic Republican

contrary been prone to overrate their real impact. This neglect on the
part of traditional historians may be ascribed to either skepticism,
academic routine, or to some legitimate distrust of occult activities;
but an important reason for their wariness probably lies in the fact that
in such a field secondary as well as primary sources must be handled
with particular care. Consider, for instance, the Declaration of
Independence and its 56 signers: how many of them have been
identified as Masons? The answer varies considerably from one
enumerator to another. William Grimshaw gives a list of 51 Masonic
signers, as only against 8 in Henry Coil’s Encyclopedia. William
Boyden suggests 29; Ronald Heaton 9; Philip Roth 20; and the George
Washington Masonic National Memorial Library 30.14 Which of these
are we to believe? And how can such differences be accounted for?
The main problem lies in fact with primary sources, whose
unreliability has been, and still is, a frequent cause of error. The early
lodges and Provincial Grand Lodges were careless about the keeping
of records and minutes. Early Masonic records were not always well-
written or, if written at all, were not always carefully preserved. In
Colonial days many lodges functioned for a short time only, leaving
no trace whatsoever of their transient existence. And during the War
of Independence there were many so-called “Army Lodges,” which
conferred degrees, but kept no records or destroyed them for lack of a
safe and permanent place to store them in. Over the years a fair
amount of Masonic records were destroyed as a result of warfare, or
were lost by fire,15 or discarded by heedless holders through ignorance
of their value, or disposed of to prevent disclosure. Also, in the

of the United States or of the American Revolution, they rarely make more than
casual allusions to the Masonic Order—a few scattered lines for the sake of local
color. A few recent publications have tried to throw some light on this neglected
dimension of early American history: Neil L. York, “Freemasons and the American
Revolution,” The Historian 55 (1993): 315-30; Allen E. Roberts, Freemasonry in
American History (Richmond: Macoy, 1985); Stephen C. Bullock, “The
Revolutionary Transformation of American Freemasonry, 1752-1792,” William and
Mary Quarterly 37 (1990): 347-69.
These authors are listed in the bibliography.
A good instance of this was the burning of the Masonic Hall in Philadelphia
(standing on the north side of Chestnut Street) on March 8, 1818. Although part of the
records of the Provincial Grand Lodge were destroyed, many of the old papers were
saved, and taken to the house of the Grand Secretary, George A. Baker, Jr.
The Masonic Order 41

eighteenth century, it was quite customary to treat the initiation16 of a

candidate as merely the impartation of secrets, without making him a
member of any specific lodge or even entitling him to membership
until voted in by some lodge, on payment of the necessary fee.
Besides, prior to the establishment of Grand Lodges, it was not
infrequent for a prominent Masonic figure to make some illustrious
member of his entourage a Mason without further ceremony, i.e.
without any tangible trace left. As we shall see later, confusion was
also caused at the time by the fact that in the thirteen Colonies there
were two separate Masonic systems which often operated as rivals, or
at least as competitors. This makes the early history of American
Masonry even more difficult to decipher, at least until 1813, when the
two rival Grand Lodges finally merged, in England as well as in
America. On the whole, what characterizes the surviving vestiges of
Masonic life in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is that
they are, more often than not, ‘gappy’ or fragmentary or confused or
all three.
Finding relevant Masonic documents is, then, hardly an easy task.
Interpreting them may prove to be a risky venture, as is evidenced by
the following anecdote. In his fairly reliable listing of “10,000 famous
Freemasons,”17 William Denslow surprisingly identifies James
Madison as a Mason, on the basis of a letter sent to him on February
11, 1795 by John Francis Mercer, Governor of Maryland.18 The
passage quoted by Denslow reads: “I have had no opportunity of
congratulating you on becoming a Free Mason, a very ancient and
honorable fraternity.” If this was no proof, I thought to myself, what
could be? Some time later, however, I was able to read Mercer’s letter
in its entirety, and found to my astonishment that his hint at Masonry
was a mere joke, a play on words, a metaphor; that in fact Mercer was
congratulating Madison on his recent marriage; that the “fair
prophetess who has converted you to the true faith” was no other than

“The basic system of Masonry, the ‘Blue Lodge,’ contained three degrees of
membership: a new member was ‘initiated’ to become an entered Apprentice,
‘passed’ to become Fellow Craftsman, and ‘raised’ to the Master’s degree” (Dorothy
Ann Lipson, Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 1789-1835 [Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1977]).
William R. Denslow, 10,000 Famous Freemasons, 4 vols. (Richmond: Macoy,
Mercer’s letter to Madison has recently been published as part of Volume XV of
The Papers of James Madison (University of Virginia, 1985).
42 The Transatlantic Republican

his wife, Dolley Payne Todd; and that the initiation into Masonry to
which Mercer referred was nothing but an initiation into the bonds and
mysteries of married life. Although an obvious source of error, this
Masonic metaphor is nevertheless interesting and significant in that it
shows how important Freemasonry was in the mental world of
eighteenth-century Americans. The final scales about Madison fell
from my eyes when I discovered that in 1832 he himself had denied
the rumors which were then being spread about his membership: “I
never was a Mason,” he wrote to Stephen Bates,19 thus refuting
allegations which then, the anti-Masonic crusade being in full swing,
might have hurt his political reputation.

Prior to the Revolutionary period, Freemasonry existed in the
Colonies only in an embryonic form. One of the earliest American
Masonic manuscripts dates back to 167720; but it was only around
1730 that Freemasonry actually became established in British
America. In 1734 Benjamin Franklin printed Anderson’s Constitutions
originally published in London in 1723: James Anderson was the
Grand Master of the First Grand Lodge of England, a central Masonic
organization which had resulted from the unification, in 1717, of the
“Four Old Lodges” then operating in the London area. Under that First
Grand Lodge, also known as the Premier Grand Lodge of the World,
began an era of Masonic expansion within the British Empire and
beyond. Patronized by royalty, the Craft (i.e. the Masonic Fraternity)
spread rapidly throughout Great Britain and the American Colonies. In
imitation of their English brethren, the Masons of Ireland and
Scotland founded, in 1725 and 1736 respectively, Grand Lodges of
their own.
The First Grand Lodge of England developed a pronounced
aristocratic and elitist tendency, recruiting most of its members among
gentlemen of culture and substance, selecting its grand officers from a
limited privileged class, and denying admission to Irish workers

On Madison’s letter to Stephen Bates, and on the debatable date of the letter, see
Ronald E. Heaton, Masonic Membership of the Founding Fathers (Silver Spring, Md.:
Masonic Service Association, 1974), 141-43.
“Carlson ms.” in Massachusetts. Mentioned in Hugo Tatsch, Freemasonry in the
Thirteen Colonies (New York: Macoy, 1929), 20.
The Masonic Order 43

residing in London. The official reason was that they were affiliated
with the Grand Lodge of Ireland, but the real motive was that socially
they did not belong in the same league. Under the leadership of
Lawrence Dermott, who soon allied himself with the Grand Lodge of
Scotland, these rejected Masons formed their own lodges, declaring
themselves to be “Antient Masons,” i.e. faithful to the old tradition of
Operative Lodges, while the Grand Lodge of England was
opprobriously called “Modern,” because of its new selective approach
to fraternity.
This breach had far-reaching consequences in the history of the
American Colonies.21 Because they recruited from every walk of life,
the lodges of “Antients” were more democratic in substance and
tended to attract budding republicans, whereas most conservative-
minded colonists would naturally join “Modern” lodges, openly
patronized by provincial governors and leading notables.22
Hierarchically, the Moderns were utterly dependent on England
(through Provincial Grand Masters), while the Antients were
connected with the Grand Lodges of either Ireland or Scotland, whose
statutes were much less constraining and more respectful of local
autonomy—a circumstance which probably favored, among the
Colonial “Antients,” the development of a more independent turn of
mind. Such was the case in Boston for instance, with St John’s Lodge
(Moderns) founded by Henry Price in 1733, and St Andrew’s Lodge
(Antients) organized at the Green Dragon Tavern in 1752, a lodge
chiefly composed of merchants, seafaring men, artisans and
mechanics. The Green Dragon Tavern, which was also the meeting
place of the Sons of Liberty and of the North End Caucus (“a band of
stalwart, daring and fearless mechanics”)23 was described as “a nest of

For a detailed description of the schism between Antients and Moderns, see
Sidney Morse, Freemasonry in the American revolution, Volume III of The Little
Masonic Library (Kingsport, Tenn.: Southern Publishers, Inc., 1946), 226-30.
S. Morse, Freemasonry in the American revolution, 243.
Ibid., 252. St Andrew’s Lodge purchased the Green Dragon Tavern in 1764 and
changed its name to “Freemason’s Hall,” by which name it was known until 1818
when the lodge moved to the Exchange Coffee House. On the whole, the social
picture of Freemasonry during the Revolution was, it seems, more complex than the
one described by Henry Wilson Coil: “It is probable that most Freemasons in the
Colonies were for the Revolution, not because they were Freemasons, but rather
because they were of the less wealthy class. Many of the prominent Freemasons were
well off and were Tories” (Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia [New York, 1961], 525).
44 The Transatlantic Republican

sedition” by the royal governor of Massachusetts and as the

“Headquarters of the Revolution” by Daniel Webster.24
Yet it would be wrong to say that all Antients were to become
patriots while all Moderns remained loyal to the Crown, even if such
was the dominant trend. Lodges, whatever their allegiance, were all
affected by political dissension and some of them were so divided that
they had to cease functioning.25 Another reason why lodges were often
obliged to suspend operation was the regular absence of their
members, many of whom were fighting on the battlefields. Therefore,
early American Freemasonry can be split into two distinct periods: (1)
Colonial times, when urban lodges played a leading role; (2) the
Revolutionary war, when traveling Army Lodges took over and
became central to the Masonic movement.
Curiously, it was only during the decade preceding the
Revolution, and during the Revolution itself, that American
Freemasonry thrived and grew in a spectacular way. Was there a
relation of cause and effect between these two phenomena? That is
precisely the question which this chapter will try to answer.

Here then are some figures and a selection of events, some well-
known, some less known, but the bulk of which is fairly impressive:

– Prior to the Revolution, there were more than 100 stationary

lodges in the Colonies and upward of 50 traveling military lodges.
During the Revolution about 25 additional military lodges were
created (10 in the Continental Army and 15 in the British ranks, in
addition to the 50 Army Lodges that had come to America along with
the British troops). The 24 Colonial lodges of New England doubled
in number during the war. The Middle Colonies had 32 lodges before
1775, and 47 at the end of hostilities, while Virginia, Georgia and the
Carolinas could boast some 30 Colonial lodges thanks to which
“Masonic light” could be spread in the South. The city of Boston had
6 lodges prior to the Revolution, and 10 lodges had been established
in Philadelphia when the first Continental Congress met in 1774 (4
“Modern,” 5 “Antient,” plus one Scotch lodge). The Masonic

S. Morse, 242.
See Lipson, Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 51n.15a.
The Masonic Order 45

population of Philadelphia and vicinity at that time is estimated to

have been upward of 1,000, i.e. about 3% of the total population, as
against 2.5% in Boston.26 It has also been calculated that in 1790 the
United States numbered a total of about 3,000 Freemasons for a total
population of 4 million, i.e. almost 1%.27 Three particular lodges
played a prominent role in the American Revolution: St Andrew’s
Lodge (Antients) in Boston, with Joseph Warren, John Hancock and
Paul Revere as leading figures; Lodge No. 2 (Antients) in
Philadelphia, whose roster included no less than 16 colonels and read,
says Sidney Morse, “almost like a muster roll of the Continental
Army.”28 The third one was the American Union Lodge, a rallying
point created in Connecticut in 1776 for Masons serving in the Army,
and empowered to operate all over the Continent.29
– Freemasons were present and active in the very first stages of
the rebellion. It was James Otis, a member of St John’s Lodge in
Boston, who in 1761 first took the now familiar view that taxation
without representation was tyranny. In 1772, the burning of the
Gaspee was organized and led by Abraham Whipple of St John’s
Lodge in Providence.30 That very same year, James Otis, Joseph
Warren, John Hancock and Samuel Adams launched the first
Committee of Correspondence, which soon spread to other Colonies
and, to use Sidney Morse’s words, “transformed the towns, from a
rope of sand, to a strong cord.”31 The leaders of these Committees, out
of which the Continental Congress itself was to grow, were most often
Freemasons, as is shown by the records. And, according to the
archives of St Andrew’s Lodge as well as to the published

Herman Nickerson, “Masonic Lodges in the American Revolutionary Period,”
The New Age (August 1975): 9; and Marie-Cécile Révauger, “La franc-maçonnerie
dans la Révolution américaine: rites et idéologie,” in Idéologies dans le monde anglo-
saxon, ed. Pierre Morere (Grenoble: Centre de Recherches d’Etudes Anglophones,
1985), 220.
Most of the above figures and data are in S. Morse, 228, 229, 241, 258, 269,
271, 285, 288, 298, 301, 309. They can be nothing but an approximation, especially as
membership in several lodges was a current practice at the time.
S. Morse, 288.
E. G. Storer, The Records of Freemasonry in Connecticut (New Haven, 1859),
S. Morse, 250. On James Otis as a Mason, see Philip A. Roth, Masonry in the
Formation of Our Government, 1761-1799 (Milwaukee, WI.: Masonic Service
Bureau, 1927), 16-18.
S. Morse, 250.
46 The Transatlantic Republican

proceedings of St John’s, there is much reason to believe that the

Boston Tea Party was headed and carried out by Bostonian
Freemasons, although only nine of them actually took part in the
attack on the tea vessels (7 from St Andrew’s, 2 from St John’s).32 The
fact that the chief ringleader, Samuel Adams, was probably not a
Mason, but only a ‘fellow-traveler,’ did not deter Paul Revere from
declaring the very next day: “The Tea Party was as dignified a
Masonic event as the laying of a cornerstone, as indeed in very truth it
– I have already mentioned the high proportion of Masonic
signers of the Declaration of Independence. According to the best
available sources, between one third and two thirds of the 39 signers
of the Constitution were also Masons. In that connection, an original
way of looking at the Constitutional Convention would be to view it
as a meeting to a large extent organized according to Masonic rules,
i.e. behind closed doors, with the proceedings held in secret, and
George Washington himself elected to the chair, let alone certain
similarities between the historic Federal document and Anderson’s
Constitutions. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that many, if
not most, of the leading figures of the Revolution belonged to the
Craft. For some, like Jefferson, Samuel and John Adams, Madison,
Hamilton and his (future) dueling partner Aaron Burr, Masonic
membership has never been established with certainty. But for many
others, some of whom held high positions within the Masonic Order,34

Lodge of St Andrew Bicentennial Memorial, 1756-1956 (Boston: A Publication
of the Lodge, 1963), 21-23; and Proceedings in Masonry: St John’s Grand Lodge,
1733-1792 (Boston: Grand Lodge of Mass., 1895).
Hugo Tatsch, “Freemasons and the Boston Tea Party,” The Empire State Mason
(December 1973): 7.
George Washington was made a Mason at Fredericksburg, Va., in 1752; he was
Charter Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 39 when he acceded to the U.S. Presidency
in 1789; on September 18, 1793, he laid the cornerstone (a Masonic rite) of the
National Capitol in Washington; on May 13, 1783, at the very end of the War, he had
been elected first president of the Order of Cincinnati, a veteran officers’ association
based on the social principles of Freemasonry. Benjamin Franklin was a Past Grand
Master of Pennsylvania (elected 1734); he was appointed Provincial Grand Master in
1749 and, according to tradition, laid the cornerstone of Independence Hall in 1734.
Joseph Warren was Provincial Grand Master of Massachusetts and Master of St
Andrew’s Lodge whose Junior Warden was Paul Revere, afterwards Grand Master of
the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. (After the death of Warren, whose body had been
mangled by the British victors of Bunker Hill, it was Revere who identified the body
The Masonic Order 47

membership is fully documented and cannot be denied. Such was, in

addition to those already cited, the case of: George Washington,
Peyton and Edmund Randolph, Henry Laurens, John Dickinson,
Robert R. Livingston, John Paul Jones, Robert Treat Paine, Roger
Sherman, William Hooper, John Marshall and, in all likelihood,
Patrick Henry, John Jay, Richard Henry Lee, Robert Morris, Benjamin
Rush, John Witherspoon, David Rittenhouse, etc.35
– Of the 75 General Officers of the Continental Army, at least
33, and possibly 40 more, were Masons.36 According to Lafayette,
Washington was always reluctant to appoint a general that was not a
member of the Fraternity. And when he heard that Benedict Arnold
had betrayed the American cause, he turned to Henry Knox and
Lafayette, both of them Masons, and said in words that have become
famous, “Whom can we trust now?” Montgomery, Greene, Sullivan,
Wayne, Clinton, Parsons, De Kalb and Mercer, all were brethren of
the Mystic Tie, as also were Ethan Allen, the Ticonderoga hero, and
George Rogers Clark, the conqueror of the Northwest. Quite
unsurprisingly, the main protagonists at Yorktown were all Masons:
Washington, de Grasse, Rochambeau, d’Estaing, Lincoln, Knox,
Hamilton (?), Lafayette—and Cornwallis himself!37
– Not all Masons, or Masonic leaders, were Patriots. There were
some Loyalist lodges, and Masonry as a whole was not left untouched
by Toryism. British occupation, in places like New York or

by a tooth which he himself had recently filled with gold). Peyton Randolph was
Provincial Grand Master of Virginia and the highest Masonic officer present at
Carpenter’s Hall when the delegates to the first Continental Congress elected him to
the chair.
For documented membership of these names, see Heaton, Masonic Membership
of the Founding Fathers. Robert R. Livingston, whom Heaton does not mention,
ended up his Masonic career as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York.
David Rittenhouse is identified as a Mason in N. S. Barrett & J. F. Sachse,
Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, 1727-1907, as shown in the Records of Lodge No. 2
(Philadelphia, 1908-1919), 2: 85.
Heaton identifies 33 generals of the Continental Army as indisputable Masons,
and about 40 as “possible.”
Masonic membership of French officers in America is to be found in Gilbert
Bodinier, Dictionnaire des officiers de I’armée royale qui ont combattu aux États-
Unis pendant la Guerre d’Indépendance (Vincennes: Services historiques de I’Armée
de Terre, 1982). As regards Hamilton and Burr, they are described by Sidney Morse
on the outbreak of hostilities as “two young New Yorkers, both of whom later became
Freemasons” (S. Morse, 275).
48 The Transatlantic Republican

Philadelphia, threw local Masonic affairs into confusion. For instance,

the Provincial Grand Master of New York, John Johnson, who was a
notorious Loyalist, escaped to Canada and from there stirred up Indian
uprisings in the Mohawk Valley. He was assisted by Joseph Brant, the
famous Indian chief converted to both Anglicanism and Masonry. In
Philadelphia, where the Loyalist party was quite strong, the Junior
Warden and Secretary of Lodge No. 3 (Antients) went over to the
British, while William Allen, Provincial Grand Master of
Pennsylvania, sought the protection of Lord Howe and tried to raise a
regiment for the British army. In the South, there was Egerton Leigh,
Provincial Grand Master of South Carolina, who also put himself
under British protection.38 It seems nevertheless that in most cases
political dissension within the lodges, or between lodges, did not
prevent Masons of all persuasions from remaining on speaking, or
even brotherly, terms, presumably in the name of their common
Rather than going on with facts, I will now try to account for this
profusion of data and its historical significance. That Freemasonry
was real is beyond doubt. The central question is: How real and how
specific was its role in the American Revolution?

Dorothy Ann Lipson’s Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut offers
an accurate analysis of the many reasons why enlightened Americans
were at the time so attracted to the Craft. Masonry, she argues, tended
to reconcile the growing diversity of religions with the emergence of
universal values based on Reason and Science; and it did so by
providing a “pseudo-religion” or “surrogate religion,” a kind of
secularized Deism, with rituals, myths, symbols, esoteric knowledge,
and initiation as a substitute for baptism. For members of a growing
empire (whether British or American), the humanistic idea of a
“global fraternity” or “secular catholicity,” i.e. the idea of Masonry
turning men into citizens of the world, was also a relevant concept. So
too was, for the then rising classes largely represented in the

See S. Morse, 276, 280, 288, 289, and Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, 525.
On the “influence of fraternal feelings . . . even amidst the passions of war,” see
S. Morse, 289.
The Masonic Order 49

Fraternity, the Masonic model of internal “meritocracy” based on

superior personal achievement: disconnected from the real social
structure, Masonic merit and its rewards certainly appeared to many as
a desirable, and so to speak republican, substitute for hereditary status
and ascribed social roles (we shall come back to this later). Yet
Masons were not levelers, and one should not overemphasize their
taste for equality. Theirs was a qualified sort of egalitarianism, and,
once out of the lodge, every member was to some degree expected to
return to his station. As Edmund Burke, himself a Freemason, was
soon to say, “all men have equal rights, but not to equal things.”40 The
last attraction of Masonry as underlined by Lipson was a change in
collective attitudes which contrasted sharply, especially in New
England, with the surrounding “Puritanical strictness,” and whose
main components were: fraternity among members, the practice of
friendship and conviviality, a recourse to songs and repeated drinking
toasts, which contravened blue laws and were criticized by
temperance reformers, some going so far as to speak of “bacchanalian
revels.” Although taverns were generally selected as meeting places,
“Masonic lodges were not primarily drinking clubs, but they did
celebrate the joys and pleasures of festivity and friendship”; in so
doing, Masons set up barriers, enclaves of harmony, against a cruel
world, and ushered in a new form of sociability.41 (I shall return to this
later as well).
The reality of revolution is so complex that it would be an error
to study Freemasonry as an isolated agent of change. Masonic lodges
were part of a larger intellectual, institutional, and international
phenomenon. They contributed no, or very few, original ideas to the
age of Enlightenment whose ready-made philosophy catered to all
their needs. It would be of little use, then, to analyze the Masonic
discourse of the time because, as we shall see, the Masonic structures
and the way they worked were in that instance the message: it was
through rites and social behavior that Masonic ideology was actually
produced.42 From an institutional point of view, lodges were one
particular form amid a proliferation of clubs, salons, literary circles,

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Pelican Classics,
1981), 150.
Lipson, 37-41, 74, 120-121, 260, 263.
On this particular point, see Marie-Cécile Révauger, “La franc-maçonnerie”,
50 The Transatlantic Republican

reading associations, learned societies, and scientific or philosophical

academies—what Augustin Cochin called “les sociétés de pensée”43:
Franklin’s “Junto,” or the Philosophical Society, or the first Anti-
Slavery Association in Philadelphia are well-known instances of
these. In terms of social change, some of these active groups were
more significant than others, and R. R. Palmer was, I think, mistaken
when he suggested that “reading clubs . . . were more important than
Freemasonry as nurseries of pro-Revolutionary feeling.”44 At the time,
instilling new attitudes was probably more subversive than
propagating theories and doctrines. Palmer makes a good point,
though, when he explains that the network of Masonry created across
the Atlantic “an international and interclass sense of fellowship among
men fired by ideas of liberty, progress, and reform.”45 The Masonic
ties between France and America were particularly strong, and the fact
that Washington and most American leaders were Masons should not
be ignored or underestimated. On his arrival in Paris in 1777, one of
the first things Franklin did to popularize the Revolution was to join
the Lodge of the Nine Sisters; and, with perhaps the exception of
Jefferson and Silas Deane, all of the American negotiators in Paris
were Masons, as were most of their French counterparts. As Marie-
Cécile Révauger has very nicely put it, common membership in the
Craft worked, among these Republicans and Royalists of two different
countries, as a kind of political “Esperanto,”46 a higher language also
understood and spoken in England by such illustrious Masons as
Burke or Chatham or Wilkes.47
But the Masonic “International” was at the very most an
intellectual network, a shared language, a common mold; it was by no
means the instrument of some willful conspiracy. Historically, the plot
theory was formulated after the event, at the very end of the 1790s,
and was nothing but an unsupported piece of counter-revolutionary
polemic. The doctrine of an underground machination against “the

Augustin Cochin, Les sociétés de pensée et la démocratie (Paris, 1921).
R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1964), 2: 53.
Ibid., 1: 245.
Révauger, “La franc-maçonnerie”, 238.
Both Burke and Wilkes were members of Jerusalem Lodge No. 44 in London.
Tradition has it that Wilkes was initiated into Masonry by Burke himself. See
Révauger, “Franc-maçonnerie”, 235. On Pitt, earl of Chatham, see Roth, Masonry in
the Formation of Our Government, 24.
The Masonic Order 51

Throne and the Altar” was originally put forward by Barruel in France
and John Robison in Britain.48 Robison’s ideas were peddled in
America by leading figures of the New England Congregationalist
establishment like Jedidiah Morse, minister at Charlestown, David
Tappan, professor of divinity at Harvard, and Timothy Dwight,
president of Yale.49 Not only were Masons accused of subverting
social order and religion, but it was also proclaimed that they were
manipulated by infiltrated agents, and that their own conspiracy was
in fact secretly engineered by the international Order of the Bavarian
That Order was founded in 1776 at Ingolstadt by an enlightened
and ambitious eccentric called Adam Weishaupt. Weishaupt had first
been tempted by Masonry, but he had found the initiation fee too high
and the level of secrecy too low. His sect was originally designed as a
means of combating Jesuit influence in academe, but he soon turned it
into an organization aimed at promoting his own utopian dreams of
social regeneration. The most convenient way of achieving this was to
penetrate secretly the Masonic Craft which he had failed to join: “The
Illuminati,” J. M. Roberts writes, “were the first society to use for
political subversion the machinery of secret Organization offered by
freemasonry.” The result, he concludes, was that “the grip of the new
order on Masonic lodges grew steadily.”51 Barruel puts the blame on

Abbé Barruel, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du jacobinisme, 4 vols.
(London, 1797-1798); John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions
and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons,
Illuminati, and Reading Societies (Edinburgh, 1797; New York, 1798).
Jedidiah Morse, A Sermon, Delivered at the North Church . . . May 9th, 1798
(Boston, 1798); David Tappan, A Discourse delivered in the Chapel of Harvard
College, June 17, 1798 (Boston, 1798); Timothy Dwight, The Duty of Americans, at
the Present Crisis (New Haven, 1798) and The Nature and Danger of Infidel
Philosophy (New Haven, 1798). On their anti-Masonic activity, see Vernon Stauffer,
New England and the Bavarian Illuminati (New York: The Columbia University
Press, 1918), especially Chapter 4: “The Illuminati Agitation in New England”; see
also Ruth Bloch, Visionary Republic (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985),
140, 204.
On the Bavarian Illuminati, see R. Le Forestier, Les Illuminés de Bavière (Paris,
1914); J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies (New York: Scribner,
1972). As regards the influence of the sect in America, see Vernon Stauffer, New
England and the Bavarian Illuminati.
Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret Societies, 124. Barruel describes that grip
as follows: “Under the name of Illuminés, a band of Conspirators had coalesced with
the Encyclopedists and Masons, far more dangerous in their tenets, more artful in their
52 The Transatlantic Republican

the French minister to the United States, Adet, for the introduction of
the Order into North America; but lyricism is all he has to offer by
way of evidence: “As the plague flies on the wings of the wind, so do
their triumphant legions infect America.”52 In New England the
campaign launched by Morse and his fellow ministers was soon
amplified by the press, with in particular the Massachusetts Mercury
serving as an echo chamber. Thomas Paine was one of Morse’s
favorite targets, his widely-circulated pamphlets being viewed as “part
of the general plan to accomplish universal demoralization.”53
Theodore Dwight, brother to Timothy, aimed even higher: “If I were
to make proselytes to illuminatism in the United States,” he wrote on
Independence Day 1798, “I should in the first place apply to Thomas
Jefferson, Albert Gallatin, and their political associates.”54 These
indirect political attacks sounded like rearguard actions, but at the
same time, with the myth of Masonic conspiracy serving as a pretext,
they actually foreshadowed, and paved the way for, the anti-Masonic
witch-hunt of the early 1830s.
Just as the autonomous status of “Antient” lodges favored the
contemplation of Independence among American colonists, so the
ritual functioning of Masonic fraternities, both Antient and Modern,
helped to promote the ideal of a republican and democratic system
throughout the Continent. When one considers Freemasonry during
the Revolutionary period, the difficult thing is to weigh the active,
conscious, militant part it played, against its more seminal role in
favor of independence, human rights, or the republic—a role and an
influence that extended far beyond the bounds of the Craft itself and
which, in spite of its diffuseness, or perhaps thanks to it, was an
important factor in ideological and political transformation. Whether
the political commitment of a Patriot should be ascribed to his being a

plots, and more extensive in their plans of devastation.” Quoted in Stauffer, 223n.
Quoted in Stauffer, 226. Pierre-Auguste Adet (1763-1832?) was appointed
Minister to the United States in 1795.
J. Morse, 24 (quoted in Stauffer, 234). Thomas Paine is described, together with
Brissot, Lafayette, Mirabeau and others, as a member of the Illuminati in an official
Austrian diplomatic document cited in Le Forestier, 654. As regards Freemasonry,
Paine’s membership has never been established.
Theodore Dwight, An Oration spoken at Hartford, in the State of Connecticut,
on the Anniversary of American Independence, July 4th, 1798 (Hartford, 1798), 30.
The Masonic Order 53

Mason or to some other cause can hardly ever be proved. But what
effect it had on an American to “attend lodge” and model his behavior
on its rituals is something that can more easily be grasped and
In all lodges, whatever their affiliation, an extensive though
orderly and ritualized liberty of expression and discussion was the
rule—much on the model of the British Parliament—together with a
common practice of tolerance and open-mindedness. What American
Masonry actually contributed to the Revolutionary movement was
first and foremost an image of its own functioning, with its local
chapters operating as discreet schools of liberalism, as republics in
miniature, as living laboratories of democratic and egalitarian values,
as the palpable prefiguration of a new era. Belonging to a lodge was in
itself a form of dissent, since the lodge worked, both in vitro and in
vivo, as a social utopia experimented with against a background of
universal tyranny.
As we have already suggested, what most characterized Masonic
lodges was that they generated a new kind of sociability. While
attending lodge, colonial Masons normally divested themselves of
their social differences so as to appear, if only for a limited time, on an
equal footing with their brethren. An artificial form of equality was
thus pitted against the social hierarchies of the outside world, with its
oppressive pattern of age-old subordination. To be a Mason was to
usher in “a world turned upside down” and, as François Furet has
pointed out in his illuminating comments on Cochin, a Masonic lodge
was, as a société de pensée, “characterized, for each of its members,
by nothing else but its relation to ideas, thereby heralding the
functioning of democracy.”55 If Masonry was important in the
American Revolution, it was not as the instrument of a mythical plot,
but because, Furet goes on to say, it embodied more than anything else
“the chemistry of the new power, with the social becoming political,
and opinion turned into action.”56 By and large, Masons tended to
belong to social groups that were not miles apart, so that their abstract
equality within lodges was not too difficult to achieve; but what
mattered politically and ideologically was the ritual itself as the living
sign of a better world for all. And since 1% of all Americans belonged

François Furet, Penser la Révolution française (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), 272.
Ibid., 291.
54 The Transatlantic Republican

to the Craft, it may be inferred that the Revolutionary impact of

Masonry was by no means insignificant. Although they debated new
and sometimes subversive ideas, Masonic lodges were not regarded as
dangerous institutions, and no authority at the time ever thought of
banning them. What went then unnoticed was that Masons were, so to
say, political mutants, with their lodges working in the dark as unseen
vehicles of social change. Thomas Paine was not wrong in
emphasizing the role of pre-revolutionary ideas and “the force of the
mind . . . by which revolutions are generated,”57 but he may have
missed the central point, which is to know how these ideas worked
their way into society and were gradually established there as new
dynamic forms of social practice.
American Freemasonry was in many ways similar to its European
counterparts, but it had features of its own that should not be
overlooked. Before the Revolution, colonial lodges of “Antients”
operated as a ferment of anti-British feeling. During the War they
became factors of national unity. Whether traveling or stationary,
Sidney Morse explains, they “drew together in the bonds of unity . . .
the leading citizens of scores of colonial towns and villages;
inculcated the doctrine of brotherhood . . . exemplified a form of
democratic self-government; taught parliamentary procedure;
established mutual confidence; and thus afforded a training school in
which were developed a majority of the leaders of the patriot cause.”58
There was an interplay of influences between the Order and the
Nation: while Freemasonry helped unify the fighting Colonies by
means of its uniform rituals, or through what Lipson calls its
“supranationalism,”59 the Fraternity was simultaneously Americanized
by a Revolution which aimed at nothing short of a separation from
England. “Americanized,” says Lipson, “but not nationalized,”60
although two serious moves were made in that direction: one at
Morristown in December 1779, when George Washington was asked
by his brethren in arms to form an American Grand Lodge and to
assume its leadership—but the idea was regarded as premature by the

Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (Pelican Classics, 1969), 165.
S. Morse, 221-22.
Lipson, 47.
The Masonic Order 55

Masons of Massachusetts and finally rejected; a second attempt was

made in 1780, which proved equally ineffectual.61
The American Craft of the time was also original—especially
when contrasted with French Masonry—in that it never defined itself
as, and never was, anti-religious. Henry May has shown that
Enlightenment figures in America were much less committed to
rationalism and free-thinking, much less cut off from religious
traditions than their European counterparts.62 A parallel distinction
should be made with regard to Masonry: religious tolerance, not to say
ecumenical attitudes, was a striking feature of American lodges,
although Deism, with its view of God as the great architect of the
universe,63 fitted more neatly into the spiritual pattern of Masonry.
One had to be a believer to become a Mason, and the Bible, Lipson
remarks, “was a conspicuous part of the equipment of a lodge and was
used in all the rituals.”64 In America, no Mason, however committed
to republican ideas, ever dreamed of establishing a Civil Constitution
of the Clergy, not to mention the enthronement of a Supreme Being as
a substitute for the Christian God! The anti-religious excesses of the
French Revolution had, to say the least, a cooling effect on many a
sympathizing Mason in America, and, to begin with, on George
Washington himself.
During the whole revolutionary period, American lodges also
worked as centers of social integration for immigrants newly-arrived
from Europe, for foreign soldiers serving in the Continental Army,
and later on for French expatriates hounded out of their country by the
Terror. Aliens were readily admitted into American lodges, and
several foreign lodges came into being during the War. The first
French lodge known as “la loge de l’Amitié” was created in Boston as
early as 1779. It soon got into trouble, however, as a result of financial
misappropriations and, some time after, because its Right Worshipful
Master was deservedly accused of bigamy. For native-born

See Lipson, 60-61 and S. Morse, 296-97. The accounts they give of the
Morristown attempt at unifying American lodges are somewhat different.
Henry F. May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1976).
See S. E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven &
London: Yale University Press, 1972), 366-68. In his Constitutions, James Anderson
expresses the view that Masons are obliged only “in that natural religion in which all
men agree.”
Lipson, 124
56 The Transatlantic Republican

Americans, Masonic lodges seem in many cases to have served as

places of transit from social life to patriotic or political action. This
may well have been the case for Washington, initiated as a mere land-
surveyor at the early age of 20, and for Franklin as well, who was
made a Mason when he was 25.65
The history of early American Freemasonry is, lastly,
characterized by the emergence of a Black Fraternity called “Prince
Hall Freemasonry,” after the name of its founder. On May 6, 1775, the
day following the Boston Massacre, an Irish Army Lodge of the
British occupying forces initiated a black man (possibly an ex-slave)
known as Prince Hall and about fifteen of his black associates into
Freemasonry. It is from that particular date that the Negro Craft of the
Prince Hall Affiliation claims to have grown and to have ultimately
established Negro Grand Lodges in nearly all of the American states.66
During his lifetime, Prince Hall applied to several white Grand
Lodges for recognition, but only in 1787 did his Boston “African
Lodge,” as it was called, receive a warrant from the First Grand Lodge
of England. The larger Prince Hall Grand Lodge was founded as an
autonomous entity in 1791. Ever since then, not a single American
state Grand Lodge, with the short-lived exception of Massachusetts in
1947, has recognized Prince Hall Masonry. Even today, with its 5,000
lodges and 300,000 members, the American Negro Craft is still looked
upon as “spurious, irregular, and clandestine”67 by all its Caucasian
counterparts, including Massachusetts—a situation, Joseph A. Walkes
commented in 1981, which is “intolerable, un-Masonic and un-
American.”68 Prince Hall Freemasonry had no direct impact on the
Revolution, but it was ironically during the Revolution, and in its
context, that racial discrimination became a bone of contention
between men whose raison d’être, as either white or black Masons,
was brotherhood.
Equally ironical, however, is the fact that black Masons, the

See Heaton, 18 and 74.
The early developments of black Freemasonry are accurately related in Joseph
A. Walkes, Jr., A Prince Hall Masonic Quiz Book (Ames, Iowa Research Lodge No.
2., 1981). See also Cécile Révauger, Noirs et francs-maçons (Paris: EDIMAF, 2004).
Thomas J. Harkins, Symbolic Freemasonry Among the Negroes of America: An
Answer to their Claims of Legitimacy and Regularity (Asheville, N.C.: Grand Lodge
of North Carolina, n.d.), 29.
Walkes, A Prince Hall Masonic Quiz Book, 108
The Masonic Order 57

moment they were chartered, exerted on their own colored brethren a

form of social racism which is almost as unacceptable as that to which
they themselves were subjected. In his lucid book on black
Freemasonry, William Muraskin writes:
Since its American founding in 1775 as a branch of worldwide Freemasonry,
the Prince Hall Order has served as one of the bulwarks of the black middle
class. It has worked to separate its members, both socially and
psychologically, from the black masses. It has done so by encouraging its
adherents to believe that they occupy an exceptional position in the black
group, that they represent the finest of their race and possess outstanding
abilities as leaders . . . To allow non-bourgeois men to enter would destroy the
Order’s ability to serve as a badly needed model for the race, weaken the
resolve of the membership to maintain their life style. and destroy the Order’s
potency as a class-defining institution.69

Had not the impact of Freemasonry on the American Revolution been
real, if only in the back of people’s minds, one would be at a loss to
understand the violent reactions and passions it aroused. The plot
theories brandished by Morse, Tappan and Dwight, the books written,
the sermons delivered, were all misdirected in that there was no
Masonic conspiracy, but they were responding to something whose
reality was unquestioned and is evidenced in many ways. Some thirty
years later, the anti-Masonic hysteria of the late 1820’s, a thorough
account of which would exceed the scope of this study, was not a
reaction to imaginary dangers: as Lynn Dumenil recently recalled, the
idea that Masonry challenged democratic and Christian values was
widely-accepted at the time, and it rested on some real facts: (1) “the
power of Masons to subvert the law for their own benefit” (in the
William Morgan affair)70; (2) their actual or alleged elitism “in an age

William Alan Muraskin, Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall
Masonry in America (Berkeley: University or California Press, 1975), 260
The Anti-Masonic party was in fact an American political organization that rose
after the ‘abduction’ and disappearance in New York state in 1826 of William
Morgan. A former Mason, Morgan had written a book purporting to reveal Masonic
secrets. The Masons were said, without proof, to have murdered him, and in reaction
local organizations arose to refuse support to Masons for public office. Anti-Masonry
spread from New York to neighboring states and influenced many local and state
elections. At Baltimore, in 1831, the Anti-Masons held the first national nominating
convention of any party and issued the first written party platform—innovations
followed by the older parties. The vote for their presidential candidate, William Wirt,
58 The Transatlantic Republican

whose watchword was ‘the common man’”; and (3) their

latitudinarian approach to spiritual matters in the context of the
“second Great Awakening.”71 In 1973, Wilson McWilliams, author of
The Idea of Fraternity in America, argued that the anti-Masonic
crusade had had a short career because the Masonic Order did not then
appear as “a plausible enemy and was at best an unlikely cause of
America’s troubles.”72 It may in effect be claimed that the attacks on
Masonry came too late: as long as it was part and parcel of colonial
society, as long as it surfed, as it were, over the Revolutionary wave,
or even guided it, the Order was not seriously challenged; problems
emerged when it shrank back into a separate brotherhood, seemingly
cut off from the larger fraternity of the new nation.
The anti-Masonic movement was on the wane by 1832, but anti-
Masonic feelings persisted much longer. For several decades they
hampered the expansion of the Craft, and they may be held
responsible to a significant degree for the old reluctance of Masonic
lodges to cooperate with historians, as well as for the reluctance of
historians to work on Freemasonry: a situation both outlandish and
outdated which ought soon to disappear (and has already begun to),
now that more likely scapegoats are at hand.

mostly hurt Henry Clay.

Lynn Dumenil, Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880-1930 (Princeton;
Princeton University Press, 1984), 5-6. See also David Brion Davis, ed., The Fear of
Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion from the Revolution to the Present
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971); Ronald Formisano, The Birth of Mass
Political Parties, Michigan, 1827-1861 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971)
and The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790-1840 (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1983).
Wilson Carey McWilliams, The Idea of Fraternity in America (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1973), 255.
The Masonic Order 59

Selected Bibliography

1 General works and documents

2 Colonial and Revolutionary America
3 State studies
4 Masonry and the Atlantic Revolution
5 Illuminati – Occultism
6 Freemasonry among Colored Americans
7 Anti-Masonry

1. General Works and Documents:

Anderson, James. The Constitutions of the Free Masons, Containing the History,
Charges, Regulations, etc. of that Most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity.
London, 1723.
Coil, Henry Wilson. Masonic Encyclopaedia. New York: Macoy, 1961.
——. Freemasonry Through Six Centuries, 2 vols. Fulton, Mo.: The Missouri Lodge
of Research, 1967-68.
Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons, 4 vols. Richmond: Macoy, 1957-
Gould, Robert Fiske. The History of Freemasonry Throughout the World, 3 vols.
London, 1882-87.
Hamill, John. The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry. London: Crucible, 1986.
Ladret, Albert. Le grand siècle de la franc-maçonnerie. Paris: Dervy-Livres, 1976.
Ligou, Daniel. Dictionnaire universel de la franc-maçonnerie. Paris: Éditions du
Prisme, 1974.
——. Dictionnaire de la franc-maçonnerie. Paris: PUF, 1987.
Mackey, Albert G. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry New York: Macoy, 1966.
Mackey, Albert G. & William R. Singleton Clegg. The History of Freemasonry, 7
vols. New York, 1898-1906.
McWilliams, Wilson Carey. The Idea of Fraternity in America. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1973.
Roberts, Allen E. Freemasonry in American History. Richmond: Macoy, 1986.
Stillson, Henry Leonard. History of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and
Accepted Masons and Concordant Orders. Boston, 1910.
Waite, Arthur Robert. A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, London, 1921 (rev. ed.,
New York, 1970).

2. Colonial and Revolutionary America:

Boyden, William L. Masonic Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Signers. Washington,
D.C., 1927.
Brown, William Moseley. George Washington, Freemason. Richmond: Garrett &
Massie, 1952.
Bullock, Steven C. “The Ancient and Honorable Society: Freemasonry in America,
1730-1830.” Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 1986.
——. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the
60 The Transatlantic Republican

American Social Order, 1730-1840. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University

Press, 1998.
Callahan, Charles H. Washington, the Man and the Mason. Washington, D.C., 1913.
Case, James R. Freemasons at the First Inauguration of George Washington, April
30th 1789. Silver Spring, Md.: The Masonic Service Association, 1973.
Hayden, Sidney. Washington and His Masonic Compeers. New York, 1867.
Heaton, Ronald E. Masonic Membership of the Founding Fathers. Silver Spring, Md.:
The Masonic Service Association, 1974.
Jaynes, Herbert. “The Boston Tea Party, Dec.16, 1773.” The Empire State Mason
(Dec.1973): 13.
Johnson, Melvin M. Freemasonry in America prior to 1750. Cambridge, Mass., 1916.
[Republished as Beginnings of Freemasonry in America (Kila, Mt.: Kessinger,
——. The Beginnings of Freemasonry in America. New York: George H. Doran,
Knight, Sir C. Weston Dash. “The Boston Tea Party, a Masonic Event?” Knight
Templar (Dec. 1982): 19-21.
Lawson, Alexander R. “A Masonic History of the War of the American Revolution.”
The Sojourner (Sept. 1941): 7-10.
Mansfield, Hobbs. “The Contribution of Freemasonry and Freemasons to the Success
of the American Revolution.” Masonic Outlook (Sept. 1925): 1-5 and 27.
Milroy, W. J. “Freemasonry and the Revolution.” The New Age (Jan. 1938): 23-25.
Morse, Sidney. Freemasonry in the American Revolution. Washington, D.C.: The
Masonic Service Association, 1924; reprint, Kila, Mt.: Kessinger, 1992.
Newton, Joseph Fort. The Builders: A Story and a Study of Masonry. Cedar Rapids,
Ia., 1916.
Nickerson, Herman. “Masonic Lodges in the American Revolutionary Period.” The
New Age, (Aug. 1975): 9-13.
Peters, Madison C. The Masons as Makers of America: The True Story of the
American Revolution. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1822.
Révauger, Marie-Cécile. “Le franc-maçon citoyen du monde, genèse de la Révolution
américaine.” Franc-maçonnerie et Lumières au seuil de la Révolution française.
Paris: IDERM, 1985, 131-41.
——. “La franc-maçonnerie dans la Révolution américaine: rites et idéologie.” In
Idéologies dans le monde anglo-saxon, ed. Pierre Morere, 213-42. Grenoble:
Centre de Recherches d’Études Anglophones, 1985,
——. “La franc-maçonnerie en Grande-Bretagne et dans l’Amérique révolutionnaire,
1717-1813.” Thèse de doctorat d’État, Université de Bordeaux III, 1987.
——. Le fait maçonnique au XVIIIe siècle. Paris: Edimaf, 1996.
——. La querelle des ‘Anciens’ et des ‘Modernes’: le premier siècle de la franc-
maçonnerie anglaise. Paris: Edimaf, 1999.
Roth, Philip A. Masonry in the Formation of Our Government, 1761-1799.
Milwaukee, Wis.: Masonic Service Bureau, 1927.
Tatsch, Hugo. Freemasonry in the Thirteen Colonies. New York: Macoy, 1929.
——. The Facts about George Washington as a Freemason. 2d ed. New York, 1931.
——. “Freemasons and the Boston Tea Party.” The Empire State Mason (Dec. 1973):
The Masonic Order 61

Tudhope, George V. Freemasonry Came to America with Captain John Smith in

1607. Pomeroy, Wa.: Health Research, 1993.
Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York:

3. State studies:
Barratt, Norris Stanley & Julius F. Sachse. Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, 1727-1907,
as shown in the Records of Lodge No. 2. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1908-1919.
Clark, George B. Genealogy of Masonic Grand Lodges of the United States.
Washington, D.C.: Masonic Service Association, 1939.
Haywood, H. L. Well-Springs of American Freemasonry: A Historian Looks at our
Forty-Nine Grand Lodges. Silver Springs, Md.: Masonic Service Association,
Heaton, Ronald E. & James R. Case, eds. The Lodge at Fredericksburg: A Digest of
the Early Records. Silver Spring, Md.: Masonic Service Association, 1981.
Huss, Wayne A. The Master Builders: A History of the Grand Lodge of Free and
Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. Vol.I. 1731-1973. Philadelphia: Grand Lodge
F. & A.M. of Pennsylvania, 1986.
Kidd, George Eldridge. Early Masonry in Williamsburg. Richmond: The Dietz Press,
Lipson, Dorothy Ann. Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 1789-1835. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1977.
Lang, Ossian. History of Freemasonry in the State of New York. New York, 1922.
Lodge of St. Andrew Bicentennial Memorial, 1756-1956. Boston: Publication of the
Lodge, 1963.
McCalla, Clifford P. Early Newspaper Accounts of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania,
Ireland and Scotland, 1730-1750, by Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Philadelphia, 1886.
Proceedings in Masonry: St. John’s Grand Lodge, 1769-1792. Boston: Grand Lodge
of Massachusetts, 1895.
Proceedings of the Lodge of St. Andrew. Boston: Boston Masonic Library, n.d.

4. Masonry and the Atlantic Revolution:

Aghulon, Maurice. Le cercle dans la France bourgeoise: 1810-1848. Paris: Armand
Colin, 1977.
Barruel, Augustin. Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire du jacobinisme, 4 vols. London,
Cochin, Augustin. Les sociétés de pensée et la démocratie. Paris, 1921; new ed. 1978
as L’esprit du jacobinisme.
——. La Révolution et la libre pensée. Paris, 1924; new ed. 1979.
Dupanloup, Félix. A Study of Freemasonry. London, 1875.
Eckert, E. E. La franc-maçonnerie dans sa véritable signification. Liège, 1854.
Evans, Henry R. “France and the American Revolution.” The Master Mason (Oct.
1926): 846.
Faucher, Jean-André. Les francs-maçons et le pouvoir de la Révolution à nos jours.
Paris: Perrin, 1986.
62 The Transatlantic Republican

Faÿ, Bernard. La franc-maçonnerie et la révolution intellectuelle du XVIIIe siècle.

Paris: La librairie française, 1961.
Fosdick, Lucian J. “The French in Freemasonry,” in The French Blood in America.
Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, 1906.
Furet, François. Penser la Révolution française. Gallimard, Paris, 1978.
Gaume, Jean. La Révolution. Recherches historiques sur l’origine et la préparation
du mal depuis la Renaissance jusqu’à nos jours. Paris, 1860.
Gautrelet, François Xavier. La franc-maçonnerie et la Révolution. Lyon, 1872.
Halévi, Ran. Les loges maçonniques dans la France de l’Ancien Régime: aux origines
de la sociabilité démocratique. Paris: Armand Colin, 1984.
——. “Les francs-maçons et la Révolution.” L’Histoire (Dec. 1984): 74-77.
Hello, H. L’action maçonnique au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1905.
Institut d’Etudes et de Recherches Maçonniques (IDERM). Franc-maçonnerie et
Lumières au seuil de la Révolution française. Paris: IDERM, 1985.
Jacob, Margaret C. The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and
Republicans. London: Allen & Unwin, 1981.
Jeannot, Victor. De l’influence de la franc-maçonnerie sur la Révolution française.
Angers, 1884.
Lamarque, Pierre. Les francs-maçons aux Etats-Généraux de 1789 et à l’Assemblée
nationale. Paris: Edimaf, 1981.
Le Bihan, Alain. Francs-maçons parisiens du Grand Orient de France (fin du XVIIIe
siècle). Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1966.
——. Loges et chapitres du Grand Orient et de la Grande Loge. Paris: Bibliothèque
nationale, 1967.
——. Francs-maçons et ateliers parisiens de la Grande Loge de France (1760-
1795). Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1973.
Luquet, G. H. La franc-maçonnerie et l’État en France au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1963.
Martin, Gaston. La franc-maçonnerie française et la préparation de la Révolution.
Paris, 1926.
Mornet, Daniel. Les origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française, 1715-1787.
Paris: Armand Colin, 1933 (357-87).
Mounier, J. J. De l’influence attribuée aux Philosophes, aux francs-maçons et aux
illuminés sur la Révolution de France. Tübingen, 1801.
Palmer, R. R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution, 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1950. Passim.
Priouret, Roger. La franc-maçonnerie sous les lys. Paris: Grasset, 1953.
Proyart, Abbé. Louis XVI détrôné avant d’être roi, ou Tableau des causes
nécessitantes de la Révolution française. Hambourg, 1800.
See, H. “La franc-maçonnerie et les origines de la Révolution française.” Grande
Revue (April 1927).
Webster, Nestor. World Revolution. The Plot Against Civilization. London, 1921.
——. Secret Societies and Subversive Movements. London, 1924.

5. Illuminati – Occultism:
Le Forestier, R. Les Illuminés de Bavière. Paris, 1914; new ed. Genève, 1974.
——. L’occultisme et la franc-maçonnerie écossaise. Paris, 1928.
The Masonic Order 63

——. La franc-maçonnerie templière et occultiste aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Paris et

Louvain, 1970.
Ogden, J. C. A View of New England Illuminati. Philadelphie, 1794.
Roberts, J. M. The Mythology of the Secret Societies. New York: Scribner, 1972.
Stauffer, Vernon. New England and the Bavarian Illuminati. New York: Columbia
University Press, 1918.

6. Freemasonry among Colored Americans:

Clark, Alexander G. History of Prince Hall Freemasonry (1775-1945). Des Moines:
United Grand Lodge of Iowa, F & A. M., 1947.
Cooper, Aldridge B. Footprints of Prince Hall Masonry in New Jersey. New York:
Henry Emmerson, 1957.
Davis, Harry E. A History of Freemasonry Among Negroes in America. Cleveland:
United Supreme Council, Northern Jurisdiction, 1946.
Denslow, William R. Freemasonry and the American Indian. n.p., 1956.
Crawford, George W. Prince Hall and His Followers. New York: The Crisis, 1914.
Grimshaw, William H. Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People in
North America. New York, 1903; new ed. New York Universities Press, 1969;
and Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
Harkins, Thomas J. Symbolic Freemasonry Among the Negroes of America: An
Answer to their Claims of Legitimacy and Regularity, Grand Lodge of North
Carolina. Asheville, N.C. n.d.
Hayden, Lewis. Masonry Among Colored Men in Massachusetts, 1871.
Muraskin, William Alan. Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall
Freemasonry in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.
Révauger, Cécile. Noirs et francs-maçons. Paris: Edimaf, 2004.
Upton, William H. Prince Hall’s Letter Book. Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati
Lodge, XIII, London, 1900.
——. Light on a Dark Subject. Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, 1902.
——. Negro Masonry. Being a Critical Examination of Objections to the Legitimacy
of the Masonry Existing among the Negroes of America, M.W.P.H.G.L. of Mass.,
Massachusetts, 1902; new ed. New York: American Masonic Service Press,
Voorhis, Harold V. B. Negro Masonry in the United States. New York: Henry
Emmerson, 1940.
Walkes, Joseph A. Black Square and Compass: 200 Years of Prince Hall
Freemasonry. Richmond: Macoy, 1979.
——. A Prince Hall Masonic Quiz Book. Research Lodge No. 2, Ames, Ia. 1981.
Wesley, Charles H. The History of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge . . . of the State of
Ohio, 1849-1960. Wilberforce, Ohio: Central State College Press, 1961.
——. Prince Hall: Life and Legagy. Washington, D.C.: The United Supreme
Council, 1977.
Williams, Loretta J. Black Freemasonry and Middle-Class Realities. Columbia, Mo.:
University of Missouri Press, 1980.
Williamson, Harry A. History of Freemasonry Among American Negroes,. New York,
——. The Prince Hall Primer, New York, n.p., n.d.
64 The Transatlantic Republican

7 Anti-Masonry:
Cummings, William L. A Bibliography of Antimasonry. New York, 1963.
Davis, David Brion, ed. The Fear of Conspiracy: Images of Un-American Subversion
from the Revolution to the Present. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.
Formisano, Ronald P. The Birth of Mass Political Parties, Michigan, 1827-1861.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971 (especially 60-71).
——. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790-1840.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Lemaire, Jacques. Les origines françaises de l’antimaçonnisme (1744-1797).
Brussels: Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1985.
Lipson, Dorothy Ann Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 1789-1835. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1977 (especially 267-340).
McCarthy, Charles. The Antimasonic Party: A Study of Political Antimasonry in the
United States, 1827-1840. Washington, D.C., 1903.
——. “The Antimasonic Party.” American Historical Association Annual Report for
the Year 1902, I, 1903.
Morgan, William. Light on Masonry, a collection of all the most important documents
on all subjects of speculative Freemasonry, Utica, N.Y., 1829
(this book led to the abduction and disappearance of Morgan and sparked off the
anti-Masonic reaction that followed).
Palmer, John C. Morgan and Antimasonry. Volume 7 de The Little Masonic Library.
Kingsport, Tenn.: Southern Publishers, Inc., 1946.
Vaughn, William Preston. The Antimasonic Party in the United States, 1826-1843.
Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 1983.

From Fact to Myth: The Americans in Paris

during the French Revolution

Though not specifically focused on Paine, this chapter may serve to better
understand the political, cultural and cosmopolitan setting in which Paine—
English by birth, French by decree, but American by adoption— moved and
acted in the capital of France during the first (pro-American) phase of the
French Revolution.

When the French Revolution broke out, the population of Paris

already included a number of foreigners. “Nationalism” had not yet
emerged and “cosmopolitanism” was the norm. In this respect, the
Revolution merely perpetuated a tradition inherited from the
monarchical period, intensifying it however in the initial wave of
heady enthusiasm, then stifling it during the somber days of the
Terror. It was therefore quite in order that a Swiss banker (Clavière)
should succeed another Swiss banker (Necker) as head of the
government’s finances. There was one considerable difference
however: under the kings the cosmopolitanism in question was based
on the then legendary hospitality of the French, the powerful
intellectual appeal of Paris, and the transnational nature of the great
family of European princes. After 1789, France opened her doors and
offered herself as a motherland for all, as an example to humanity of
the universal principles of the Revolution. This innovation cannot be
better illustrated than by Anacharsis Cloots, a francophile Prussian
and radical democrat, appearing on June 19, 1790 before the
Constituent Assembly and requesting that the “Fête de la Fédération”
be “not only a celebration for the French but also for the human
race.”1 This eccentric character from across the Rhine, who saw Paris

Albert Mathiez, La Révolution et les étrangers (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre,
66 The Transatlantic Republican

as the “county seat of the globe” and was soon to pronounce that his
“soul [was] sans-culotte” was surrounded as he spoke by a motley
troop of Englishmen, Prussians, Spaniards, Italians, Swiss, Arabs,
Indians and Chaldeans, as well as people from Brabant, Liège and
Avignon. Having won his case, Cloots then took a seat with his
friends on the benches of the Champ-de-Mars “in his capacity as
ambassador of the human race.” The following day he wrote: “The
ministers of tyrants were watching us with jealousy and nervousness
in their eyes.”2
The Americans, the principal (and eventually only) allies of
France were given special consideration under the circumstances;
they, for instance, were allowed to march under their own flag. Both
in reality and in the hearts of the French, they stood out from the rest.
Yvon Bizardel, who studied their presence in Paris during this period,
discovered that over 200 Americans “had resided [in the capital]
between 1789 and 1799.”3 This number did not take into account
tourists or other short-term visitors; it included only Americans who
had left some evidence or trace of their stay, and thus, only persons
whose visits were so remarkable or long enough as to appear in the
printed documents of the time. These citizens of the New World were
not just concentrated in Paris. They were also numerous and active in
the major French ports. Bizardel found, for example, that there had
been over 200 Americans in Bordeaux for the celebrations of the
recapturing of Toulon in December 1793.
Why were there so many Americans in Paris, and who were
they? In 1789, the intelligentsia of what was often called the civilized
world was attracted more than ever to France. Added to the desire to
be in Paris, traditionally the capital of fine taste and minds, was an
enormous sympathy with the new France and an eagerness to see the
“land of liberty” in all its ebullience. Many therefore traveled far, and
despite the obstacle of the ocean, Americans were not to be left
behind. Besides diplomats and special envoys sent by Congress, there
were a number of intellectuals flocking to Paris to see first-hand the
theories of the great “philosophes” and “encyclopedists” being put
into practice, or to witness the initial steps of a revolution which, to

1918), 52.
Ibid., 53, 54.
Yvon Bizardel, les Américains à Paris pendant la Révolution (Paris: Calmann-
Lévy, 1972), 8.
The Americans in Paris 67

some extent, was the daughter of their own. There were also officers
like John Skey Eustace or Eleazar Oswald, who came with the
intention of offering the Revolution the experience they had acquired
during the War of Independence. In terms of numbers, the artists and
writers (John Trumbull, Patience and Joseph Wright, John Vanderlyn,
Joel Barlow, Philip Mazzei, etc.) vied for first place with the
diplomats and the scientists. The latter group did not hesitate, despite
the cost and difficulty of the journey, to come and present their
inventions before the Academy of Sciences, of which Condorcet, La
Rochefoucauld and many other daring minds were members: Thomas
Paine, for his part, was to submit an original plan for a metal bridge4
and James Rumsey a steam system designed to replace draft horses.5
Americans from well-off families, making the grand tour of Europe,
were all too happy to find themselves by chance in the middle of an
historic event. Paris also welcomed a few eccentric adventurers, such
as William Langborn and John Ledyard: their plan was to cross
Europe on foot, and both intended to reach St Petersburg, one by the
Lapland route, the other by way of Dantzig.6 True enclaves of
Americanism existed within Paris, such as the “House of Boston” or
the “House of Foreigners” on rue Vivienne, or the “Hôtel White”
(soon to be renamed “Hôtel de Philadelphie”) located near the Place
des Victoires. Visitors from across the Atlantic were readily invited to
the tables of numerous wealthy “Americanophiles,” and the American
dinners in Lafayette’s mansion were among the best attended in Paris.
The Masonic lodges gave a warm reception to their foreign “brothers”
(or “brethren”), and Paris even had an “American Lodge” 143
members strong.7 In all these places, ideas and information were
exchanged—not to mention state and “boudoir” secrets in which
English spies, well represented in these anglophone circles, took
special delight.
In the midst of this very diverse American colony, merchants and

Bernard Vincent, Thomas Paine ou la religion de la liberté (Paris: Aubier, 1987),
Bizardel, Les Américains à Paris, 17.
Ibid., 18-19.
See Alain Le Bihan, Francs-maçons parisiens du Grand Orient de France (fin du
XVIIIe siècle) (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1966); and Francs-maçons et ateliers
parisiens de la Grande Loge de France, 1760-1795 (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale,
68 The Transatlantic Republican

businessmen held a special position due to their number as well as to

their role. These were often veterans of the War of Independence who
took advantage of their earlier military and/or Masonic contacts to
monopolize markets and pocket contracts. These businessmen
believed in the future prosperity of France and therefore in the
eventual development of cross-Atlantic trading. Moreover, many felt a
moral obligation to supply the basic needs of a friendly country
handicapped by bad harvests and commercially cut off from the rest of
Europe. And many dreamed of seeing France replace England as the
privileged economic partner of republican America. In this sub-group,
which gravitated around Lafayette and more generally around the
“Americanophile” Girondins, idealistic motivations (republic, liberty,
progress) and mercantilist motivations counterbalanced—and
somehow fed—one another. Inevitably, there were profiteers and
shady transactions, like the Scioto affair in which the poet-cum-
speculator Joel Barlow lost a large part of his too flattering
reputation.8 There were also those Americans who wished to acquire
national assets at low cost or through the lottery: thus the Château des
Ternes, the Hôtel de Créqui, the Hôtel de Maillebois (the last
residence of Saint-Simon) and the mansion of the Marchioness of
Brunoy became respectively the property of Richard Codman, Edward
Church and Mark Leavenworth.9 Virtuous or corrupt, the Americans
in Paris were practically the only foreigners never to be overly
worried, even when the Terror was approaching, even in the Spring of
1793 when the Revolution began to change in character and to shrink
back into unhealthy nationalism, treating non-nationals as scapegoats.
The explanation for this privileged status is simple: both politically
and economically, France continued to need republican America.
Among all the Americans present in Paris, the only ones who did have
problems with the “Comités de Surveillance” were those, like Thomas
Griffith, William Haskins or Major Jackson, who were taken for

For further information on the Scioto affair, see Jean Bouchary, Les compagnies
financières à Paris à la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1942); J. J. Belote, The Scioto
Speculation (Cincinnati, 1907); and the warning issued by Franklin to Frenchmen
sorely tempted by the American adventure: Avis à ceux qui voudraient aller en
Amérique (Passy, 1784). Also Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli, Gallipolis: Histoire d’un
mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000).
Bizardel, 278-79.
The Americans in Paris 69

English spies,10 or people like Thomas Paine whose American

nationality was contested.11 Young William Henry Vernon, the
elegant—perhaps too elegant—offspring of a rich Newport merchant,
whilst walking with a friend in a Paris street, was once the victim of
an outbreak of popular anger, and owed his life to the magic word
uttered in extremis by his companion: “A-mé-ri-cain”!12
History has retained but a few great names from this mass of
characters: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris,
Thomas Paine, James Monroe. This list seems obvious to us today, yet
it is more than a little paradoxical. When the Revolution broke out,
Jefferson was still in Paris where he had been the official
representative of his country for the past five years: Lafayette did
consult him over the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen,
but he was called back to Philadelphia and left France on October 8,
1789, not to be involved in subsequent events except at a distance. It
was his private secretary, William Short, who filled the gap until the
nomination (much later) of Gouverneur Morris to this post in 1792.
Although Morris was already present in Paris in 1789, he only
remained in the post for two short years and eventually left
revolutionary France at the end of the summer of 1794. James
Monroe, who succeeded him, also stayed in the capital for a mere two
years. As for Thomas Paine, he only moved to Paris in September
1792: he had just been made a French citizen and elected to the
Convention, but, arrested in December 1793, he was incarcerated in
the Luxembourg prison for almost a year. Admiral John Paul Jones
also spent two years in the French capital: this legendary character had
come from Russia in the middle of 1790, and he died in his residence
on the rue de Tournon in August 1792. While Bizardel describes Jones
as the most popular of the Americans in Paris, it was the personality of
Benjamin Franklin which, without question, dominated all of the
others. Franklin, however, was by far the most absent of them all: he
left France in 1785 and died in Philadelphia on April 17, 1790. It was
he, though, despite or due to his absence, who best embodied America
in the eyes of the French and continued after his departure, and even
after his death, to exert the greatest influence on French public

Ibid., 231-32.
Vincent, Thomas Paine, 285-87; Keane, Tom Paine, 400-402.
Bizardel, 80.
70 The Transatlantic Republican

consciousness. This being so, one can only wonder about the image of
“the American” as seen by the French, and its relation to tangible
reality; quite obviously, the Parisians of the time had a vision of the
American which had little to do with the examples—or samples—they
had before them. The reality of these Americans was infinitely less
important, it seems, than their mythical representation. Let us look at
this point in some more detail.

Nothing illustrates this French tendency better than the veritable cult
which developed around Franklin.13 When he arrived in Paris in 1776,
he already had a flattering reputation and personified a country which,
in the true sense of the word, was a country of dreams. The French
knew practically nothing of the real English America. The numerous
accounts published in the second half of the 18th century were written
second- or third-hand and they readily replaced critical appraisal and
accuracy with imagination: Paine rightly blamed Abbé Raynal for
having written about a country in which he had never set foot.14
Between 1760 and 1775, it was precisely Raynal—along with Buffon,
de Pauw and others—who propagated the idea of a natural
“degeneracy” of the American settlers, supposedly due to the
composition of the soil and the particularly harsh climatic
conditions.15 This myth crumbled during the War of Independence
when several important Americans appeared on the Paris scene who
conformed more closely to the concept of the “new man” described by
Crèvecoeur than to that of the subhuman depicted by Raynal and his
followers. Franklin’s humor quickly put paid to the anti-American
legend: one day when he had Raynal to dinner at his home in Passy,

See in particular James A. Leith, “Le culte de Franklin avant et pendant la
Révolution française,” Annales historiques de la Révolution française (1976): 543-71.
Also (although much less rigorous) Susan Mary Alsop, Yankees at the Court: The
First Americans in Paris (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1982).
Vincent, Thomas Paine, 139-143. See also Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the
West: A History of the French Image of American Society to 1815 (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1957), 43.
Abbé Raynal, Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du
commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (Amsterdam, 1772); Buffon, Histoire
naturelle (Paris, 1761), 9: 103-104, 111, 114, 125; Corneille De Pauw, Recherches
philosophiques sur les Américains (Berlin, 1768).
The Americans in Paris 71

he invited all his American and French guests to rise from the table
and compare each other: it turned out that the Americans were much
taller and sturdier than the French group. As regards Raynal himself,
Franklin declared that he was no more imposing than a “mere
Franklin represented much more than just his government or
himself in Paris. If he stood for the New World better than any other
American, it was because he was a kind of one-man band of
Americanism and also because he was, without a doubt, the ‘great
communicator’ of his time. A scientist, well-known inventor, rural
economist, educator, legislator, patriot and subtle politician, he had
the makings of a legendary hero. He incarnated the political, moral
and scientific values of the age of Enlightenment; his name was
associated with the Pennsylvania constitution and everybody knew the
part he had played in Philadelphia in the drafting of the U.S.
Constitution. He wore his coonskin cap even at Versailles, and the
simplicity of his garb and manners made him a sort of new Diogenes.
Poor Richard’s Almanac, published in Paris in 1777, price 4 sous,
spread the new principles of civic duty and common morality at all
levels of society. He was known for his experiments on lightning
conductivity and in 1772 was triumphantly elected to the French
Academy of Sciences. It was Turgot who had the honor of merging
the daring man of science and the bold republican into one phrase,
which itself was to become legendary: “Eripuit coelo fulmen,
sceptrumque tyrannis” (he snatched lightning from the sky and the
scepter from tyrants).17
Franklin’s glory was earned. But it was also gained through the
way his image was portrayed by the various media of his time. As
early as 1773, a two-volume translation of his works was published in
Paris, and a host of newspaper articles were written about him. So
many portraits were painted of him that he claimed to be tired of
posing for them. He was included as a symbol in allegories: thus
Fragonard represented him diverting the thunderbolt and ordering
Mars to overthrow Tyranny. But, aside from paintings, Franklin was
also depicted in a series of drawings, prints, statues (most often busts),

Quoted by Jefferson in Works of Jefferson, ed. W. C. Ford (New York, 1904), 3:
See Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: The Viking Press, 1938),
72 The Transatlantic Republican

monuments, miniatures, etc., that were exhibited in the Louvre at the

time of the annual Salons. The image of Franklin found its way into
the simplest households through more commonplace and popular
objects, such as “figurines, wax statues, small plaques, bronze
medallions , tobacco and candy boxes, coffee cups, pendants, rings
and even on cloth.”18 Franklin’s portrait was to be found in a great
many houses, and French people revered him like a household deity.
He was so popular that Anacharsis Cloots went so far as to suggest
that he had coined the famous phrase “Ça ira.”19 He was praised
everywhere and was invited to the most fashionable salons; Masonic
lodges fought for his attendance, and he was celebrated in all forms of
literature: encyclopedia articles, historical monographs, satirical
dialogs, and allegorical tales and poems. The verses of Mme
d’Houdetot describe him as an “Apostle of Liberty”20; others
compared him to Solon or Nestor, and Nogaret did not hesitate to
make him into a real god.21 His death in 1790 marked the pinnacle of
his popularity: the Assembly ordered three days of mourning, and the
Masonic Lodge of the Nine Sisters of which he had been the
“Venerable” and which was frequented by the finest minds of the
time, paid homage to him in a grandiose ceremony. For the occasion,
Boizot had made a sculpture of the hero at the base of which appeared
this testimonial: “The life of Franklin is a hymn to divinity.”22
The cult of Franklin, as already noted, survived both his
departure from France and, later, his departure from the world. It was,
so to speak, the presence of his absence that was used to turn him into
a symbol of wise reason, austere virtue, and republican zeal. At the
height of the Revolution, Franklin continued to appear in almanacs
and readers. His name was mentioned in popular songs. He was still
represented in portraits, often in the company of Rousseau and
Voltaire. His bust was carried in revolutionary celebrations. Streets
and public squares were named after him, and after Robespierre was
brought down, a new edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac was
recommended as a primary school textbook.23 The cult was so long-

Leith, “Le culte de Franklin,” 557.
Chronique de Paris, 4 May 1792, 499.
Leith, 558.
Félix Nogaret, “À M. Franklin,” Almanach littéraire (1784): 264.
Tribut de la société nationale des Neuf Sœurs (14 October 1790): 288-291.
16 pluviôse an III. Archives nationales, F17 1331B, dossier 6, No. 167.
The Americans in Paris 73

lived that, in 1864, Georges de Cadoudal could write: “Even today

Franklin remains a demigod . . . a model of all human virtues, classic
simplicity, good faith and candor.”24
For French people and particularly Parisians, Franklin thus
represented a mythical and legendary America, both perfect and
almost divine in its perfection. The presence of Franklin, and
thereafter the memory of his presence, served the revolutionary
function of authenticating the American dream in the minds of those
who, on the banks of the Seine, were dreaming of a more egalitarian
and fraternal France. It was not merely by chance that he was taken
for a Quaker and that his character was often adapted for the stage
during the Revolution: through the image of the good Quaker and that
of the ‘Américain de théâtre,’ i.e. the typical American as portrayed in
the theater, the Revolution tried to arm itself with a particular image
of the New World which, though failing to match reality, fitted its
own oneiric needs. Let us now look in more detail at these two aspects
of the Américain de rêve.
The American Quaker occupies a prime position in the imagery of the
French Revolution. Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques (1734) marked
the beginning of the legend of the “good Quaker,” which was so
subtly analyzed by Edith Philips.25 Voltaire was certainly critical of
certain eccentricities peculiar to the Friends (those precisely which
were later to meet with such success in France), and, while he paid
tribute to William Penn as the restorer of a “Golden Age” that was
unique of its kind, he nevertheless went on to say that Penn made the
Quakers “respectable in Europe, if men can respect virtue in such
ridiculous guise.”26 But what he says of Pennsylvania’s inhabitants
bears all the characteristics of a dream. He praised their simplicity by
comparing it to that of the first Christians; he admired their preference
for morality over theology, and lauded a blessed land where equality,
religious tolerance and civil peace prevailed. In 1755, in his Essai sur
les Mœurs, Voltaire returned to the subject and embellished again this
idyllic picture of a community and land free of intolerance, clergy and
misery. Having never been to Philadelphia, Voltaire, like Montesquieu
and most of those who admired the Friends, spoke about something of

Georges de Cadoudal, Les Serviteurs des hommes (Paris, 1864), 24.
74 The Transatlantic Republican

which he had no direct knowledge; the truth of it was that he found in

the Quaker community what he projected into it, a dreamed-up
example of what he himself advocated for France.
Thanks to Voltaire, a legend immediately took root which could
not be eradicated, even when first-hand observers revealed a harsher
reality, or when the Quaker ideal clashed with the brutal demands of
the Revolution. At the end of the Ancien Régime, Pennsylvania
appeared to many as a beacon: it was the homeland of Quakerism; it
had the most democratic constitution of the time; it had abolished
slavery (Brissot remembered this when he founded the “Société des
Amis des Noirs”)27; it had welcomed Thomas Paine, himself the son
of a Quaker, and Benjamin Franklin was one of its native sons. As we
have seen, when Franklin first arrived in Paris, he was taken for a
Quaker, which he was not; but given the reputation of that sect in
France, it is not surprising he never denied the allegation. He had
indeed all the supposed characteristics of a Quaker: simplicity, civic
virtue, sound pacifism—and his head was almost always covered with
his legendary fur cap, a symbol of the natural life and of the rejection
of artifice.
As Franklin was on his way back to the New World, Parisians
saw other Quakers—whalers from Nantucket—arrive in the capital.
Financially ruined along with other New England fishermen by the
War of Independence and its subsequent economic repercussions,
these “Nantuckois,” as they were called, took refuge at Dunkirk in
1785 and soon monopolized the fish oil market. Under the leadership
of Jean de Marsillac, a French gentleman-Quaker and author of a
biography of William Penn, they came to Paris as a delegation at the
beginning of the Revolution. Received with great pomp and ceremony
at the Assembly, though not wearing “cockades,” they made requests
which all ran counter to the revolutionary requirements of the day:
they asked for freedom of religion, refused to carry arms, to celebrate
victories or to place flags in their windows on patriotic public
holidays; they also wanted to be exempted from “oaths imposed by
the constitutional law.”28 It would seem that everything was permitted,

Edith Philips, The Good Quaker in French Legend (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1932).
Oeuvres complètes de Voltaire (Paris: Garnier, 1879), 22: 91.
Philips, The Good Quaker, 134-35.
Bizardel, 90.
The Americans in Paris 75

almost as of right, to these peculiar representatives of the New World:

not only were they given a polite hearing, but nothing they asked for
was refused. Such leniency gives an indication of what they
symbolized for the French and of the importance that was attached to
these symbols. Besides frugality, pacifism, tolerance and mutual aid,
they used the familiar “thee and thou” form of address with everyone,
and there is good ground to believe that the “tu” form adopted during
the French Revolution, and first advocated by the Mercure National
on December 14, 1790, had its source in this custom of the Quakers.29
When the King officially recognized the Friends (in 1787),30
Quakerism was already fashionable and the interest or craze it aroused
was to be lasting. Several Parisian newspapers—the Patriote français,
the Mercure national and the Bouche de fer, as well as the Feuille
villageoise—spread about the mythical image of the “good Quaker.”
Abbé Fauchet and Nicolas de Bonneville (both members of the
“Cercle social”) took turns in this role, as did Brissot and Abbé
Grégoire. The latter, in his capacity as bishop of Blois, endeavored in
1792-93 to help certain Quakers buy Chambord castle and found there
a model farming community.31 In 1791, the National Assembly
discussed the penal code, and at the heart of the debate was the
humanitarian spirit with which the American Quakers had dealt with
the problem of prisons and punishments for crimes.32 Those who
condoned the new egalitarianism often referred to the evangelical
fraternity of the Quakers, and the “Theophilanthropists” saw in the
Quakers’ worship of Nature and the Supreme Being the seed of a new
universal religion based on Reason. At the very moment when the
Revolution was asserting itself against the Church, Quakerism
provided living proof that it was possible to reconcile revolution and
faith, republican virtue and the need for transcendence. What indeed
could be more commendable than a system of belief “free of vain
images and puerile ceremonies”33—without fables, clergy and oaths,
and so conformable to the requirements of common sense and to the
development of equality. Supporting Quakerism was therefore, for
French revolutionaries, a convenient way both to fight the Catholic

See Philips, 157-58.
Ibid., 138.
Ibid., 139-40.
Ibid., 161-62.
La Feuille villageoise, 17 Feb. 1791.
76 The Transatlantic Republican

Church without lapsing into irreligiousness, and to tie together two

mystic opposites: the mysticism of religion (here reduced to a kind of
morality) and revolutionary mysticism.
This politico-ethico-religious “projection” onto a mostly
fictitious Quaker was far from being approved by all of the
participants in the Revolution. The refusal to carry arms did not sit
well in a besieged country; therefore, the legendary pacifism of the
Friends was favorably received only by the most moderate of the
Girondins. In February 1791, Mirabeau was quick to warn the
delegation of Nantuckois that “the defense of one’s neighbor can also
be a religious duty!”34 During the trial of Louis XVI, Marat himself
challenged what he viewed as Thomas Paine’s reprehensible leniency
in these terms: “I maintain that Thomas Paine may not vote on this
matter; being a Quaker, his religious principles conflict with the death
sentence.”35 A certain disillusionment even began to appear in the
writings of contemporary travelers who, this time, had gone to judge
for themselves first-hand the supposed saintliness of the Quakers.
After a visit to the United States in the summer of 1791, Ferdinand
Bayard revealed to the French that they had false notions about the
Friends and had been duped by Crèvecœur’s inventions, by Brissot’s
naïvety (hadn’t Brissot criticized Chastellux in 1786 for his
insufficient adulation of the sect!36) and by all those who had wrongly
“portrayed the Quakers as models or pure spirits opposed to worldly
goods.”37 The same year, Chateaubriand visited Philadelphia with his
mind “full of Raynal’s ideas,” but, once in the city of Penn, all he
found was a mix of luxury (very unevenly distributed), frivolity, easy
virtue and immoral dealings.38 In 1795, Abbé Bonnet also observed
the situation first-hand, after having for years, like many others, relied
on Raynal’s accounts: the Quakers that he encountered no longer
evidenced the purity of the founders, and only their dress
distinguished them from the rest of the population. “Under this

le Journal de Paris, 10 Feb. 1791.
Vincent, Thomas Paine, 261.
Brissot, Examen critique des voyages de M. le marquis de Chastellux (London,
1786) [in reply to Chastellux, Voyage de M. le chevalier de Chastellux en Amérique
(Paris, 1785)].
Ferdinand Bayard, Voyage dans l’intérieur des Etats-Unis pendant l’été de 1791
(Paris, Year VI) Introduction: x.
Chateaubriand, Voyage en Amérique (Paris, 1815).
The Americans in Paris 77

costume,” he wrote, “there are no more honest men than under any
other . . . They are just ordinary men.”39 He did not go as far as
Marsillac who, on his return from Philadelphia in 1798, disowned
overnight twenty years of Quaker belief and worship.40 All those who
traveled to the United States during the Revolution—except for
Crèvecoeur later in his Voyage dans la Haute Pennsylvanie (1801)—
saw their dreams shatter when they came into contact with reality.
They then devoted themselves to demythologizing the legendary
Quaker, who had become so dear and undoubtedly so important to the
But to no avail. Realistic, or at least more qualified accounts,
failed to erase the popular image of the good Quaker, an image that
subtly merged the two main utopian ideals of the era—that of a pure
republic and that of a purified religion. The unreal continued to prevail
over reality throughout the Revolution, and in fact it was on the
Parisian stage, through the “Américain de théâtre” and the magic of
performance, that the unreal manifested itself in its most visible and
mythical form: the theatrical representation.

Before the War of Independence and the French Revolution, the only
American character portrayed on the Parisian stage was the Indian. As
the Ancien Régime came to an end, he was gradually replaced by the
“new man” described in idyllic terms by Crèvecœur.41
In the first half of the 18th century, plays representing the “noble
savage” inspired the philosophes; in the second half of the century,
such plays served more to illustrate their theories. In the 18th century,
there were roughly 50 comedies and 20 tragedies that had an oriental
backdrop and depicted Turks, Persians, Chinese and Hindus. Plays
having to do with American Indians were less common, and they
fulfilled a different function. As Gilbert Chinard has remarked, the
Orientals were depicted in the theater (and elsewhere) as civilized
beings, not savages, and the very act of putting them in a French

Cité dans Philips, 143 et 144.
Philips, 140-42; and Bernard Faÿ, L’esprit révolutionnaire en France et aux
Etats-Unis à la fin du XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1925), 304-05.
St. John de Crèvecœur, Letters from an American Farmer (London, 1783).
78 The Transatlantic Republican

setting made them “likely to be parisianized”; the Hurons and the

Iroquois, however, remained true to type even when transplanted.42
Indeed, it was not until the 18th century that the American
savage arrived on the French stage to criticize a society to which he, in
contrast to the Persian of Montesquieu, was unable to adjust. It was
somewhere between 1720 and 1730 that the Parisian public took an
interest in the antisocial Indian and his exotic wisdom. These plays,
with their anarchistic utopianism and moral freedom (“Indian love”),
responded to the spirit of the times and complemented it. The work
which best illustrates this type of play—one which was more
‘philosophical’ and less frivolous than Rameau’s Indes galantes
(1735)—was l’Arlequin sauvage by Delisle de la Drevetière, which
was staged at the Théâtre des Italiens in 1721, at the same time that
Les Lettres persanes and the first translation of Robinson Crusoe were
published in France. Arlequin is a savage whom Lélio, a young
captain, has brought back from America to amuse his mistress.
Chinard emphasizes the fact that the Indian immediately criticizes
French society “by contrasting it, not as Usbeck did at around the
same time, to another form of society, but to the happy and complete
freedom of the New World.”43 Arlequin, both astonished that human
beings “need laws to be good” and scandalized by the “monstrous
inequalities” that prevailed in France, ends up imploring Lélio: “All I
want is to be a free man. Take me back to where you took me from, so
that I may forget in my forests that the world is made up of rich and
poor.”44 Arlette, the maid, succumbing to the temptations of “Indian
love,” follows Arlequin back to his desert. This all served to underline
the superiority of “savage” love and of Nature over civilization.
Rousseau knew of and liked this play, one of the boldest of his
century, in which the author put on stage, in a non-theoretical way,
many of the themes that were later to be found in the Discourse on
Inequality and the Social Contract.
Other plays, such as Alzire by Voltaire (1736) and Fernand
Cortez by Piron (1744) tried to go against current fashion, but
Voltaire’s efforts to defend civilized man against the savage, or
Christianity against barbarism, were in vain, as was Piron’s attempt to

Gilbert Chinard, L’Amérique et le rêve exotique dans la littérature française au
XVIIe et XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 1913), 223.
Ibid., 226.
Quoted in Chinard, L’Amérique et le rêve exotique, 230.
The Americans in Paris 79

represent Hernando Cortés as a heroic peddler of civilization. Parisian

audiences did not tolerate having their dreams destroyed in this way,
and the good savage triumphantly lived on. In the second half of the
century, his presence was felt more than ever in Paris theaters, where
he embodied and spread abroad the new ideas of the age. The most
famous of the “Indian plays” of the period was undoubtedly La Jeune
Indienne by Chamfort (1764). In this play, a young officer is saved
from cannibals by a squaw and becomes her lover; but the young man
is already engaged to the daughter of a Quaker! In this case, fashion
dictated the denouement, with the squaw finally prevailing over the
values of the civilized world—and the good Quaker going as far as to
provide his daughter’s rival with a dowry! In comparison with this
pleasant little comedy of manners, other productions of the time
(mostly tragedies) were mere thesis plays. Some of them—like Hirza
ou les Illinois by Sauvigny (1767)—extolled unreservedly the
beneficial effects of living in the wilds, while others—like Manco
Capac by Le Blanc (1763)—presented the civilized savage as a more
reasonable prospect, better suited to the Age of Enlightenment. In that
play is to be found the phonetically unforgettable line: “Of this crime
do you consider Manco Capac capable?”! (“Crois-tu de ce forfait
Manco Capac capable?”)
But with the American Revolution quickly followed by the
French, the Indian soon disappeared from the stage to be replaced by
an equally mythical character: the regenerated man of the New World,
the unmaker of kings, the herald of the republican millenium. This
‘new man’ personified “virtue regained,” and incarnated a twofold
notion of liberty—that of independence and that of the “natural,”
“inalienable” or “sacred” rights of humanity. Thus, between 1783 and
1789, works celebrating Franco-American brotherhood flourished, in
particular several stage adaptations of Charles de Mayer’s novel
Asgill,45 as well as other comedies depicting the love affair between a
French officer and a winsome American lady.46 But after the storming
of the Bastille, the focus of interest changed and it was principally
through the character of the Quaker and the legendary figure of
Franklin that the three major theaters (l’Opéra, la Comédie-Française,
and le Théâtre des Italiens) together with the small acting companies

See Echeverria, Mirage in the West, 141.
For instance, J. C. Gorgy, Les Torts apparents, ou la famille américaine (1787).
80 The Transatlantic Republican

which were then multiplying in Paris, presented the virtue and liberty
of the New World.
The comedy Allons, ça va, ou le quaker en France by Beffroi de
Reigny (1793) is the best example illustrating this change. In
Chamfort’s previously mentioned play, the figure of the Quaker,
portrayed for the very first time on a French stage, was that of a true
individual identified by his name (Mowbray), his family and his
character. But he was included mainly for local color and his personal
morality, with no overtones of a political message. Reigny’s treatment
of the Quaker was totally different. His Quaker no longer had a name
or character of his own; he was the prototype of the perfect citizen,
incarnating abstractedly, so to speak, public-spiritedness and the
principles of republicanism. He was exhibited as a mere instrument of
propaganda and the author had him express only dominant popular
opinions and thus serve the Revolutionary cause: Reigny’s Quaker
had left behind him an America where money was starting to corrupt
everything and where, as he confides, “luxury perverts our success.”47
The character was distorted to such an extent that this unfortunate
representative of the Friends finally appeared as a militarist and a war-
lover! In this example, the idealization of the Quaker went hand in
hand with the intentional deformation of his message. A few years
later, during the Directory, the “Quaker de théâtre” ceased to be
fashionable, as did virtue and idealism. No longer fitting the
requirements of the time, he disappeared forever from the French
The case of Franklin calls for similar reflections. If he appeared
in certain plays or inspired certain scenes during the Revolution, this
was never in his lifetime—and never as a living character. Nothing
was seen but a shadow, and nothing heard but a mere voice from
beyond the grave. Joseph Aude, in Le Journalisme des ombres (1790)
placed him in Charon’s boat and had him say to Voltaire (who had
departed from this world twelve years before): “I have seen equality,
the bane of the great, / Spread its deep roots throughout the universe.”
The sage of Philadelphia never appeared except in the company of the
dead—the philosophers of Antiquity, the emancipators of the human
race, or the great thinkers and orators of the 18th century, such as
Rousseau, Voltaire or Mirabeau. In Dejaure’s play, L’Ombre de

Beffroy de Reigny, Allons, ça va, ou le quaker en France (Paris, 1793), 24.
The Americans in Paris 81

Mirabeau (1791), Franklin welcomed Mirabeau into the world of

afterlife and placed a “civic” wreath on his head. When he was not at
Plato’s, Solon’s or Lycurgus’ side, he would find his way into
allegories of “Time” or “Glory,” as in La France régénérée by
Chaussard (1791). In Desfontaines’ comedy, L’Imprimeur ou la fête
de Franklin (1791), he was represented merely by a bust and by a
testament to liberty which filtered through in the words and songs of
the characters. When the Revolution was over, Franklin reappeared on
the stage in La Mort de Robespierre by Sérieys (1800), but his voice
was then used to tell the French how far astray they had gone in the
conduct of their revolutionary adventure.
Kenneth McKee, who has written the only in-depth article about
the “Américain de théâtre” of the period and to whom these lines owe
a great deal,48 seems to have made a serious error in interpreting the
phenomenon. At any rate, his ideas contradict themselves in several
places. “The Revolution,” he says, “served to introduce the real
American [emphasis mine] to the French theater, especially through
the character and philosophy of Benjamin Franklin.”49 No, it was not
the real American that was represented in Paris theaters by the Quaker
or Franklin or even George Washington (in a successful play by
Sauvigny50): these were myths or symbols. The legendary Quaker, to
whom every virtue was attributed and whose Philadelphia prototype
was never to be discovered by genuine travelers, was mythical.
Mythical as well was the ethereal and allegorical Franklin whom no
one ever perceived otherwise than through a voice or an image. How
could these be true characters when they only served to convey a
message or sway public opinion? The period called for idealized
images and symbols, mirrors reflecting not the American reality, but
its own (French) aspirations and fantasies. An account of the play
about Washington by Sauvigny in the Journal de Paris of July 13,
1791 reported seeing—and this was highly significant—“beneath the
veil of the American Revolution, the picture of a more modern

Kenneth N. McKee, “The Popularity of the ‘American’ on the French Stage
during the Revolution,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 83 (Sept.
1940): 479-91.
Ibid., 479.
Billardon de Sauvigny, Vashington [sic] ou la liberté du Nouveau Monde (1791).
82 The Transatlantic Republican

revolution” (meaning the French one) and “a meeting of Congress

which resembles a session at the National Assembly.”51
Abandoning the idea of the true American, McKee suddenly
claims that the American, on and off-stage, was for the French but a
pure symbol—that of “the person who breaks the fetters of
monarchical domination”52; but this symbolical American, he adds
(shrewdly this time), was “blessed with all the qualities that the
French [found] admirable.”53 In other words, what the “Américain de
théâtre,” and more generally the American citizen, symbolized, at
least for the Parisians of the time, was not so much an imagined
America as a France dreaming itself away and dying to see its own
reflection in the warped image of the model nation. At the close of the
Revolution, the “Américain de théâtre”—and this is also very
revealing—became again a mere individual whose national traits were
no longer significant. In Bella (1795) or in La Famille américaine by
Bouilly (1796), his Americanness was now accessory to the plot. He
had ceased to be useful as a myth or as a symbol.

All in all, we can say that the Americans who most influenced the
French Revolution were not those who resided in France, and in
particular in Paris, for the longest time.54 On the contrary, it would
seem that their influence was inversely proportional to their actual
presence. Neither the nature of their characters nor their basic
Americanness can explain the infatuation or fascination they aroused.
Whether absent from the scene (like Jefferson), dead (like Franklin),
or seemingly fallen from another planet (like the Quakers), it was their
lack of reality which, lending itself so well to the illusions of the
theater, had the most real impact on France—a France in need of

Journal de Paris, 13 July 1791, supplement: 80.
McKee, “The Popularity of the ‘American’”: 487.
Ibid., 479.
Paine might be regarded as an exception, but he was not exactly an American;
and, although he continued to live in Paris after his release from prison (he sailed back
to the United States only until 1802), he was no longer to play any important role
there and, while present in the capital, was virtually absent from the French political
The Americans in Paris 83

fantasy and anxious to idealize the only model then at hand to create
its own history.
Durand Echeverria rightly speaks of the American “dream” or
“mirage” as a psychological necessity for the French in revolt. In
resorting to an idealized representation of America, they could project
their “aspirations upon a scene which was both accommodating and
distant enough to blur the inconsistencies and contradictions.”55 But it
is less the idealization that counts here than the projection, less the
embellished image of a legendary America than the “Frenchification”
of that image for the sake of the cause. The Revolution did more than
just “naturalize” the new America by adopting some of her ideas or by
bestowing the title of French citizen on several of her heroes
(Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Paine, Barlow); it also
“naturalized” the mythical image of the New World, and taking
advantage of its vagueness, modified it so as to find in it an idealized
image of itself.
This then was the main function of American exoticism: to
supply French revolutionaries with a reassuring reflection of their own

Echeverria, 140.
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Paine’s “Share”
in the French Revolution

“A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose”1: when Paine

sent off these famous words to George Washington on October 16,
1789, his “share” in the French Revolution had in fact not yet begun.
Throughout the summer of 1789, Paine remained in England where, as
appears from his correspondence, he was much less concerned by
French politics and what was going on in Paris than by the impending
construction of his revolutionary iron bridge over the Thames—what
he humorously called his “pontifical” works. He did not ‘rush’ to Paris
until November, and stayed there until next March, when he left again
for Britain where his bridge was about to be completed.
By then a few essential things had occurred in France: the
opening of the States General, the birth of the National Assembly, the
Oath of the Tennis-Court, the appointment of Lafayette as commander
of the National Guard, the storming of the Bastille, the night of
August 4 and the abolition of privileges, the adoption of the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the march of women
to Versailles and the agitated return of the King to Paris. But very
little blood had as yet been spilled, and Paine was utterly confident in
the successful outcome of the Revolution: “With respect to the French
Revolution,” he wrote to (probably) Benjamin Rush on March 16,
1790, “be assured that every thing is going on right. Little
inconveniences, the necessary consequences of pulling down and
building up, may arise; but even these are much less than ought to
have been expected.”2
I shall not attempt here to recount in detail what many others—
and myself—have already narrated in a variety of essays and
biographies. It is now known to many that English-born Paine arrived

RM, 9.
FO 2: 1285.
86 The Transatlantic Republican

in America in 1774 when he was 38, that he became famous due to the
publication of Common Sense in 1776, that he was the first American
to mention in print the idea of a “declaration of Independence,” that
he served in the Continental army under General Greene, that he
negotiated, on behalf of Congress, a peace treaty with Indian tribes at
Easton, Pa., that he was the first official in charge of American
diplomacy (as secretary of the Congressional Committee of Foreign
Affairs), that as secretary of the Pennsylvania Assembly he then wrote
(in March 1778) the preamble of a bill for the gradual abolition of
slavery, that he defended the universal dimension of the American
Revolution against the belittling interpretations of the Abbé Raynal,
that he upheld the supremacy of the Union over the States in Public
Good (1780), and lastly that he went to France in early 1781, together
with John Laurens, and brought back to America the promise of
enough money and weapons to defeat the British army at Yorktown.
Paine’s revolutionary achievements in France are not as well
known. His most spectacular and perhaps most positive action was of
an intellectual order: the publication, in early 1791, of Rights of Man,
in response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in
France. The Burke/Paine controversy stands, even today, as the most
important political and ideological debate over the French Revolution
to have taken place during the Revolution itself. Burke’s book was a
frontal attack on the pretensions of the French to create a completely
new polity. This, as he saw it (and he was in this respect quite a
visionary), was an historical error that could only turn into tragedy and
end up in military dictatorship. The shaky ‘reason’ of individuals
being by definition unable to establish stable institutions, only the
collective wisdom incarnated by some national ‘tradition’—the
wisdom of the dead—was, in his eyes, capable of leading the living.
The present was not so much a break with the past as a continuation of
it, the perpetuation of proven formulae, an immovable tribute to the
inspired generation of those who had forever shown the way.
It would have been difficult to express ideas more contradictory
to the convictions of Thomas Paine. The world, Paine retorted in
Rights of Man, belongs to those who live in it, and the rights of men,
be it in England or anywhere else, are the rights of the living, not
those of the dead. It is the light of individual reason, as a reflection of
God’s own reason, and not the obscurity of the past, that must preside
over the organization of society, and it belongs to every generation, if
it so desires (an idea also shared by Jefferson), to endow itself with
The French Revolution 87

new institutions suited to its wishes, its rights or its ideas. Conceived
in the image of God, Paine went on to say, men were born equal in
rights and free to exercise these rights, i.e. free to think, to express
themselves, to imagine, and to unite as equal citizens to change what
must be changed and to reshape the world in their own fashion.
Viewing the French Revolution as a prolongation or an offshoot of the
American upheaval, he found it, in this respect, quite exemplary and
above criticism. It should be mentioned as a kind of footnote that, at
the time he was writing Rights of Man, the French Revolution had not
yet begun to devour its children and to violate the fundamental rights
it had just proclaimed.
In December 1792, Paine was banished from England for “high
treason,” and further distribution of his book was prohibited. But,
even before the verdict was announced, Paine had left his native island
as a result of circumstances which tell us a lot about his tremendous
popularity among French people at the time. In August, while he was
still in England, the National Assembly in Paris made him a French
citizen (together with 17 other distinguished foreigners)3; and a few
days later, even though he had not presented his candidacy and knew
nothing about what was brewing in his favor across the Channel, he
was elected deputy of the Convention in four different departments,
all of them rural areas. He finally chose to represent Calais, where he
arrived on September 13 and was given a colorful and enthusiastic
The republic was proclaimed a few weeks after, and, as the new
regime needed new structures, Paine was elected, along with Sieyès,
Barère, Danton, Condorcet, Brissot and three others, to the
“Committee of the Nine” in order to draft the Constitution of Year I. It
was at this juncture that the trial of Louis XVI took place, a crucial
event in which Paine was to play, or could have played (had he spoken
French, which he never did), a decisive role. Against the mood of the
times, he expended great efforts and risked his reputation (which was
then at its peak) to try and save the head of a deposed prince who was
now referred to as Louis Capet or the “one-time King.” During the

In a letter written to James Monroe from the Luxembourg prison on September
10, 1794, Paine asserts that he was the originator of that measure: “The idea of
conferring honor of citizenship upon foreigners, who had distinguished themselves in
propagating the principles of liberty and humanity, . . . was first proposed by me to
Lafayette, at the commencement of the French Revolution” (FO 2: 1345).
88 The Transatlantic Republican

trial, Paine spoke (through an interpreter) longer than any other

Conventionnel, and his line of argument was simple: (1) Louis XVI
has helped the American colonies to break from England (the
hereditary foe of the French) and to become a republic: his death
might offend the only country that remained a firm ally of France, the
United States; (2) it was royalty itself that ought to disappear, and not
the person of this or that king; (3) to give Louis XVI the aura of a
martyr would reinforce the coalition of European monarchies against
France and make the pursuit of the Revolution even more difficult, if
not impossible; (4) therefore, Paine concluded, the only proper and
realistic measure consisted in keeping the king hostage until the
external conflicts were over, and then exiling him and his family to
the United States, where the one-time monarch would harmlessly end
his days under the enlightening umbrella of American democracy.
The immediate beheading of Louis Capet was passed by a
majority of one vote (as was to be the case, a century later, for the
reestablishment of the Republic). While the consequences of the vote
were quite unpleasant for the King himself, they were also
disagreeable to Thomas Paine, though to a lesser degree. Having
become a suspect, like so many others at the time, he was soon a
victim of the Terror and found himself imprisoned at the Luxembourg
Palace (today’s Senate), together with Danton, Fabre d’Églantine
(inventor of the revolutionary calendar), Anacharsis Cloots, Camille
Desmoulins, Hérault de Séchelles, and so many others. Oddly enough,
he was arrested as an Englishman, although he had recently been
banished from his native land and was no longer a subject of His
Majesty (a word which Paine spelled “Madjesty”!). He remained there
nearly a year, and miraculously escaped the guillotine: the
executioners’ custom was to mark a cross in chalk on the doors of
those who were to be beheaded the next morning. When they drew the
cross on Paine’s door, it was open, and the cross was marked on the
inside, which, once the door was closed, made it invisible. Since good
things never happen one at a time, a few days later Robespierre (who,
in fact, had probably delayed Paine’s execution so as not to alienate
American public opinion) was brought down and the Terror came to
an end. The people of Paris danced again in the streets, and the
political prisoners—the few who were still alive—were released.
Paine was, however, one of the last ones to be freed. During his
long imprisonment, neither Gouverneur Morris (the U.S. Minister in
Paris) nor President George Washington (although a close and sincere
The French Revolution 89

friend) had lifted a finger to obtain the release of their fellow

countryman. It must be kept in mind at this point that the Terror had
dampened Franco-American relations—to say the least—and that
Washington, like Morris, had already begun to make sheep’s eyes at
England, a country which they certainly regarded as much better
company, in spite of past conflicts, than revolutionary France. Paine
was never to forget their neglect towards him and never pardoned
them for what he considered a betrayal of the Franco-American axis,
an axis established at the time of the War of Independence, and which
he viewed as indestructible. Hence, two years later (1796), his
celebrated Letter to George Washington, which aroused a storm in
America, especially among the Federalists. Not only did Paine accuse
the President of political duplicity, and the former commander of the
Continental Army of unequaled military incompetence, but he ended
his diatribe with these terrible words:
And as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for so you have been to
me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will
be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you
have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.4
Bitter and disappointed, Paine retreated from active politics.
Even before his imprisonment, he had started to commit to paper his
own ideas concerning religion. After his release, he completed his
two-volume work, entitled The Age of Reason, in the house of James
Monroe, the new American Minister in Paris. Monroe had obtained
his liberation by simply claiming him “as an American”—something
which, for obscure and probably shameful reasons, Gouverneur
Morris had never thought fit to do. A Deist, and convinced that in the
Age of Enlightenment no religious fable could stand examination by
an enlightened mind, Paine predicted in his book that, if religions did
not divest themselves of the superstitions which prevent people from
growing into adulthood, then it would be the end of religious faith,
and atheism would invade the civilized world. He explained that the
worst enemy of true religion was the Bible itself, together with the
extraordinary web of lies, or fairy tales, it contains. As already stated
in the Introduction, his aim, or mission, was thus very simple: to

Ibid., 723.
90 The Transatlantic Republican

“vindicate the moral justice of God against the calumnies of the

Needless to say that Paine was misunderstood and that no one or
practically no one believed his explanations concerning the necessity
to fight atheism not by denouncing the Devil, but the Bible itself,
universally regarded as the Word of God! Although it was first
published in Paris, The Age of Reason caused little stir in France:
those who might have criticized the book were in exile or hiding in the
provinces, and most of Paine’s potential supporters were either in jail
or going in hundreds to the scaffold. But in both England and
America, where the Scriptures were central to religious belief, the
sacrilegious pamphlet scandalized people and earned Paine
unremitting hatred, including from men who had been his friends
(with the notable exception of Thomas Jefferson). In Britain, those
who had already banished the author decided to ban his “Bible of
Atheism”: until the mid-1830’s, any printer or bookseller that dared
put it into circulation was sure to be tried and jailed for years, and
many were. In the United States, where, as we have seen, dozens of
“replies” to The Age of Reason were published, preachers thundered
forth against Paine, whom they depicted as an Antichrist or a specter
of Evil, while others called him an “impious buffoon,” an “obscene
old sinner” or a “loathsome reptile.”6
No longer interested in national political concerns, Paine, who
now lived in the house of his own printer (Nicolas de Bonneville),
turned his thoughts to international issues and the organization of
world peace. In 1800, he published Maritime Compact, an astonishing
document written “to compel the English government to acknowledge
the rights of neutral commerce, and that free ships make free goods.”7
Distributed to all foreign ministers then resident in Paris, the pamphlet
was more generally designed to render war impossible by threatening
belligerent nations with total commercial boycott on the part of neutral
countries peacefully leagued into an “Unarmed Association of
Nations.”8 The idea was that such a boycott would immediately ruin
the aggressor’s economy by cutting it off from the rest of the world,

Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, ed. Philip Foner (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press,
1974), 109.
David Freeman Hawke, Paine (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 353, 354.
FO 2: 946.
Ibid., 941.
The French Revolution 91

and thus render warfare counter-productive. The Association would

have its own flag “composed of the same colors as compose the
rainbow”9 and a presidency by rotation.

Moving beyond the foregoing data and anecdotes, I will now
emphasize one particular aspect of Paine’s revolutionary commitment
or “career” which has, to date, been largely overlooked, to wit that,
while he had been almost completely in tune with the American
Revolution, he found himself, in many respects, ‘out of phase’ with
the French one.
Strangely enough, though, the starting point had been quite
similar in both cases. When Paine published Common Sense and
recommended independence together with the establishment of an
American republic, he was ahead both of his time and of his fellow
countrymen: not only were very few—if any—Americans in favor of
independence, but before Common Sense, Pauline Maier asserts, there
was to be found in America “no notorious apology for republicanism
as a system.”10 In much the same way, Paine created, along with
Condorcet, Brissot, Duchâtelet and Bonneville, the very first
“Republican Society” of the French Revolution and, in late June 1791,
right after the King’s return from Varennes, drafted with his own pen
the first “republican proclamation” ever posted on the walls of Paris.
His placard read, among other things:
[The king’s] flight is equivalent to abdication; for, in abandoning his throne,
he has abandoned his office . . . Never again can the nation trust a ruler who
has proved derelict to his duties; has broken his oath, entered into a secret
conspiracy to escape from his post . . . made his way to a frontier full of
traitors and deserters, and then intrigued for his return at the head of an army
that would enable him to act as a tyrant . . . The facts show that, if he is not a
hypocrite or traitor, he must be a madman or an imbecile, and, in any case,
entirely unfitted to discharge the function confided to him by the people.11
And Paine wrote these lines at a time when practically no one among
the French revolutionaries contemplated the establishment of a regular

Ibid., 944.
Pauline Maier, “The Beginnings of American Republicanism, 1765-1776,” in
The Development of a Revolutionary Mentality (Washington, D.C.: Library of
Congress, 1972), 100.
“A Republican Manifesto,” FO 2: 517-18.
92 The Transatlantic Republican

republic—almost all of them, including Robespierre, then favoring the

English model of a ‘mixed government.’ But in this case too, public
opinion was prompt to undergo the change of mind advocated by
Paine and his handful of republican associates.
Apart from this well-timed move, it seems that nothing of what
Paine did in France until his return to America in 1802 was really in
keeping with what was going on. He never quite realized that the two
revolutions he took part in, although they invoked similar principles,
did not have much in common. Contrary to France, the American
colonies had had no feudalism to reject, no high clergy to get rid of,
no local nobility to dislodge, and the King of England was an ocean
away from them, as also were all of their potential European enemies.
The controversy with Edmund Burke was essentially a debate between
English thinkers rather than a dialog with the French, whose minds
were focused not on analyzing, but on making the revolution. Paine
defended the one-time King by appealing to the wise realism and to
the moral sense of Jacobins and Sans-Culottes who were day after day
losing their heads (not just metaphorically) and experiencing the
irrational fascination of death. In a country where the political heritage
was basically anti-liberal, Paine, in fact, approached the French
upheaval in a spirit of foundation (the American way) rather than as a
proper European revolutionist alien to the British tradition of political
liberalism and ready to throw overboard all rule of law.12
In revolutionary France, Paine was to quite a large extent a man
from another planet—the, so to speak, Anglo-Saxon planet. Although
he was a permanent resident in Paris for some 10 years, he was never
able to speak or understand French. He never addressed the members
of the Convention otherwise than through an interpreter. The only
French people he would actually consort with were those who could
speak English. He spent most of his free time in the company of
English or American nationals, frequenting the Parisian haunts of

This is, quite typically, what Paine wrote on the subject in 1795: “Had a
constitution been established two years ago (as ought to have been done), the
violences that have since desolated France and injured the character of the Revolution,
would, in my opinion, have been prevented. The nation would then have had a bond
of union, and every individual would have known the line of conduct he was to
follow. But, instead of this, a revolutionary government, a thing without either
principle or authority, was substituted in its place; virtue and crime depended upon
accident; and that which was patriotism one day became treason the next”
(Dissertation on First Principles of Government, FO 2: 587-88).
The French Revolution 93

Anglo-American tourists or residents, and always ready to enjoy a

protracted and ‘wet’ evening in the anglophone atmosphere of the
“Café irlandais.” And, whereas Common Sense had accelerated the
popular drift toward independence, The Age of Reason, an
impassioned plea in favor of Deism, was written and published “off
beat,” as it were, and against the revolutionary tide—at a moment
when all forms of religion were regarded as suspect. Paine, this time,
did not try to speed up the course of events but (in vain) to slow it
down. Too Anglo-Saxon, too much of a constitution-minded legalist
and too much of a believer to feel at home among the Parisian rebels,
Paine also thought too much in terms of ‘universal’ truths or
principles to be able to grasp the specificity of the French situation.
His share in the American Revolution had been a success almost all
along the line. His role in the French Revolution sounds somewhat
like a wasted opportunity and leaves the historian unsatisfied—as it
obviously did him.
How can one account then for the fact that, after the Terror and his
release from prison, Paine continued so long (8 more years) in a
country in which he did not feel politically at home any more? He was
still very active, to be sure, writing such important essays as Agrarian
Justice, a kind of socialist manifesto (see Chapter 8 of this volume), or
Dissertation on First Principles of Government, a pamphlet arguing
that “the moral principle of revolutions [was] to instruct, not to
destroy,”13 or giving edifying talks at the newly organized Society of
Theophilanthropists. But he had now ceased to play any role in a
revolution which, as he viewed it, had fallen short of its promises. A
few months before his return to America, he told one of his friends,
the young English publicist Henry Redhead Yorke, that France was
“not a country for an honest man to live in; they do not understand
anything at all of the principles of free government, and the best way
is to leave them to themselves.” Yorke then expressed his surprise at
such despondency and insisted that much might still be done for the
Republic: “Republic!,” Paine exclaimed, “do you call this a republic?
Why, they are worse off than the slaves of Constantinople; for there,
they expect to be bashaws in heaven by submitting to be slaves below,

FO 2: 587.
94 The Transatlantic Republican

but here they believe neither in heaven nor hell, and yet are slaves by
choice. I know of no Republic in the world except America, which is
the only country for such men as you and I . . . I have done with
Europe, and its slavish politics.”14
Several factors seem to have delayed his departure from France.
Some have to do with reality, others with dreams. During the last
decade of the century, the war between France and England was still
going on, and Paine, it will be remembered, was an outlaw in his
native country. Had he tried to cross the ocean, he would have risked
being arrested by the English—who searched all neutral ships—and
being returned to London, there to be hanged or at least jailed for
years. Aware of this, Thomas Jefferson, who had just become
President, wrote to Paine (this was in March 1801), inviting him to
return to the United States aboard a war vessel, the Maryland.
Excerpts of that letter were published in several American
newspapers, and the Federalists immediately howled and screamed
against Jefferson’s friendship with Paine—the blasphemous author of
The Age of Reason, the insulter of George Washington, the stateless
peddler of French anarchism. The hubbub was such that Paine had to
give up the idea of travelling on the proposed vessel, and it was not
until a year later, when a truce was signed at Amiens between England
and France, that Paine could at last safely board a merchant ship and
“bid adieu to restless and wretched Europe.”15
But Paine’s protracted stay in France was probably also due to
some secret ambition, which he nourished for years, of playing some
political role in England. The idea that British monarchy would be a
perpetual cause of warfare and international insecurity became such an
obsession with Paine that in 1796 he started contriving and planning a
naval invasion of England, with Bonaparte at the controls and himself
serving as counselor. “The intention of the expedition,” he then wrote,
“was to give the people of England an opportunity of forming a
government for themselves, and thereby bring about peace.”16 It
happens that in the course of my research on Paine I stumbled upon
something which is to be found in none of the previous Tom Paine
biographies: a classified report written in French by some secret agent

Moncure Daniel Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine (New York: Putnam, 1909),
“Letter to Consul Roth, July 8, 1802,” FO 2: 1429.
“To the People of England on the Invasion of England,” FO 2: 680.
The French Revolution 95

then working in Paris for the English government. Dated “January

1798,” the document explains that the French Directoire had drawn up
a list of five British personalities who were to form the English
“Directory” once the invasion was accomplished. And Paine was in
the number, together with John Horne Tooke, William Sharp, John
Thelwall and the marquis of Lansdowne!17 This scheme, this dream,
the prospect of having a share in one more revolution may, at least in
part, account for Paine’s reluctant acceptance to stay in France and, so
to speak, do some “extra time” on the French side of the English
I will conclude with a few questions which all go in the same
direction: why was Paine forgotten for such a long time and in so
many countries? How is it that his name and the role he played in the
birth of our modern democracies are hardly mentioned in history
books and textbooks? Why is there such a glaring discrepancy
between his glory then and his oblivion now?
One reason, I think, is that Paine, not unlike Paul Goodman in
the 20th century, was an unclassifiable character, and this tends to
disturb the established, comfortable order of our mental categories. He
was not a politician (he lacked the patience, the diplomacy, the sense
of compromise); nor was he a theoretician (contrary to Hobbes or
Locke or Bentham, he never wrote ‘treatises’ of any kind); nor was he
either a ‘writer,’ in the English eighteenth-century sense of the word
(he had not read much, did not write in the convoluted style then in
fashion, and rarely quoted ancient writers for the sake of
embellishment). Moreover he had no indisputable nationality: he was
English by birth but had been outlawed and banished from his native
country; he was made a French citizen but this was largely an
‘honorary’ gesture; he was American by adoption but, after his return
to the United States in 1802, was deprived of the right to vote on the
pretense that he had been jailed by the French “as an Englishman”!
(On this particular point, see Chapter 6.) The result today is that none
of these three countries actually claims Paine as a local figure or
national hero. He belongs nowhere; nor is he part of any patrimony.

Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of J. B. Fortescue
presented at Dropmore (London, 1894), 4: 70.
96 The Transatlantic Republican

And, to top it all off, he wrote unforgivable books: Rights of Man

earned him perpetual exile from his homeland, and The Age of Reason
two centuries of pious hatred and neglect throughout the Anglo-Saxon
world. Few political writers have indeed paid a higher price for their
independence of mind than Thomas Paine.
The tide, however, began to turn a few decades ago, when on the
18th of May 1962 Paine’s bust was placed in the New York
University “Hall of Fame,” beside those of Washington, Jefferson and
Franklin. After two hundred years or so spent in the ‘hall of infamy,’
it was only justice that such a choice—and act of redress—be made
(although several attempts were necessary!).

Thomas Paine, the Louisiana Purchase,

and the Rights of Man

The role played by Thomas Paine with regard to the Louisiana

Purchase has generally been either minimized or overlooked. A mere
mention of his name, along with perhaps a couple of quotations, is all
that one will usually find under the pen of either European or
American historians. And yet it would take almost a book to describe
in some detail the part he actually played in this territorial revolution.
One reason for such a lack of scholarly attention is the fact that Paine
was not involved in the transaction as either a politician or a decision-
maker. He stood in the background all along, acting sometimes openly
as a pamphleteer, at other times more discreetly as an unofficial
counselor to Thomas Jefferson and other Republican personalities
such as John Breckenridge1 or James Monroe.
I shall not here attempt to recount the whole story. I will instead
focus on four central issues: Paine’s role in the initial move towards
the Purchase; the way in which he tried to set American public
opinion against certain Federalist warmongers; his practical advice on
how to settle the newly-acquired territories; and his moral insistence
on respect for American democratic values and universal human rights
in the colonizing process.
In December 1802, when the affair of the Louisiana Purchase began,
Paine was in an awkward situation, to say the least. He had recently
returned to the United States after an absence of 15 years, there to
discover that he had lost most of his one-time friends and was being
violently inveighed against by Federalist newspapers (some describing
him as a “loathsome reptile,” others as an “impious buffoon” or as an
“obscene old sinner”).2 Few Americans had forgiven him for the

A Senator from Kentucky, who was very active in the Louisiana affair, and was
later (in 1805) to be appointed Attorney General in the Cabinet of President Jefferson.
See David Freeman Hawke, Paine (New York: Harper, 1974), 353, 354, 365.
98 The Transatlantic Republican

publication of The Age of Reason and for the writing of his both
famous and “infamous” open letter to George Washington in which he
depicted the President as a military cipher (who had lost most of his
battles) and an unworthy friend who had not lifted a finger to get him
out of jail during the French Terror.3 Only Jefferson and a handful of
Republicans remained on friendly terms with the “enfant terrible” of
the age of revolutions. And only through Jefferson, or in his shadow,
or under his wing, could Paine, as we shall see, still exert some
intellectual and political influence in American affairs. He was to
strike back at the Federalist faction in a series of eight letters “To the
Citizens of the United States,” appearing mostly in the National
Intelligencer and reprinted by sympathetic editors throughout the
country where they were widely read and became the subject of heated
When Paine arrived in Washington in November 1802, he took
up his quarters at Lovell’s hotel where, as a Federalist reported, “he
dines at the public table and, as a show, is as profitable to Lovell as an
Ourang Outang, for many strangers who come to the city feel a
curiosity to see the creature. They go to Lovell’s and call for the
show.”4 It was nevertheless in that hotel that Paine first became
involved in the Mississippi question. Word had crossed the Atlantic
that Spain had ceded the Louisiana Territory to France. At about the
same time (October 1802), the Mississippi and the American
“deposit” at New Orleans had been closed to American traffic,
provoking the rage of the Westerners (now half a million people—
mainly in Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio). Wishing to embarrass
Jefferson whose pacifism made them bristle, Federalists in Congress
called for a declaration of war against Spain. But Jefferson was more
infuriated by the French, whom he suspected of playing an active part
behind the scenes: “The day that France takes New Orleans,” he said,
“we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation.”5
But things turned out differently. On the suggestion of one
Michael Leib, a Republican congressman to whom he had confided
his views at the hotel, Paine sent Jefferson a letter explaining that,

See excerpt in Chapter 4.
W. P. and J. P. Cutler, Life and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler
(Cincinnati, 1888), 2: 119.
Richard B. Morris, ed., Encyclopedia of American History (New York: Harper,
1953), 132.
The Louisiana Purchase 99

instead of resorting to war, the Government should “begin by making

a proposal to France to repurchase the cession made to her by Spain
. . . provided it be with the consent of the people of Louisiana, or a
majority thereof.” Knowing that Bonaparte was in a desperate
financial plight (“The French treasury is not only empty, but the
government has consumed by anticipation a great part of the next
year’s revenue”), Paine argued that “a monied proposal [would] be
attended to.”6
Paine was an intellectual pioneer (who defined himself as a
“farmer of thoughts”)7 and he had often appeared as a kind of political
prophet. Not only, for instance, had he been the first American to
mention the idea of a “declaration of independence,” but he had also
been the first to denounce the sacredness of the King of England; the
first to put forward a legislative project for the gradual abolition of
slavery; the first—or one of the first (as early as 1782, in his Letter to
the Abbé Raynal)8— to advocate national and international copyright;
the first to propose the election of “a Continental convention for the
purpose of forming a Continental constitution”9; the first (in 1783) to
suggest the establishment of “a general government over the Union”10;
the first to contemplate the creation of a European Confederacy
(including England, France and the Netherlands and based on a
“general dismantling of all the navies in Europe”)11; the first to plead
for international arbitration and to conceive the idea of an “Unarmed
Association of Nations” (with Paul I, emperor of Russia, as its first
possible president)12; the first also (in 1790) to carry the American
flag in a foreign procession; the first in revolutionary France to create
a republican club, to launch a republican journal, and to publish a
republican manifesto; and finally the first to write a scathing criticism
of Christianity and the Bible (The Age of Reason), not with a view to

FO 2: 1432.
“Letter to Henry Laurens” (printemps 1778), FO 2: 1143.
Ibid, 213n.70. In 1777, Beaumarchais stole a march on Paine by creating in Paris
the “General Statutes of Drama.”
Ibid., 332. In Common Sense, Paine used the phrase “Continental Charter.”
Quoted in Alfred Owen Aldridge, Man of Reason: The Life of Thomas Paine
(Philadelphia & New York: Lippincott, 1959), 99. See also FO 2: 692, note 2.
Paine, Rights of Man (Pelican Classics, 1982), 289.
FO 2: 941, 946. For more details on Paine’s proposals regarding international
peace, see Chapter 9 in the second part of this volume.
100 The Transatlantic Republican

promoting atheism but, paradoxically, in order to prevent its

At the end of 1802, it seems that the idea of purchasing
Louisiana had not yet occurred to anyone, at least as a serious and
feasible alternative. During the spring, several contradictory rumors
had reached the United States, to the effect that Bonaparte was
considering the sale of Louisiana to the American government. In
April, the Kentucky Palladium confirmed that “a negotiation [was]
going on,” but in September the same paper regretfully announced
that “we have no prospect that Louisiana will ever belong to the
Union.”13 When he sent off his letter to Jefferson, Paine most certainly
thought of himself as the originator of this historic operation: “The
idea,” he confessed, “occurred to me without knowing it had occurred
to another person.”14 But, the next morning, he met Jefferson, who
told him, much to his surprise, that “measures were already taken in
that business.”15 In actual fact, Jefferson’s plan for Louisiana was
much more limited than Paine’s daring proposal: Robert R.
Livingston, then the U.S. Minister to France, had been instructed to
try to buy the island on which New Orleans was located, not the entire
Louisiana Territory. It was Paine’s bolder plan which eventually
prevailed, not because Jefferson had changed his mind, but precisely
because Paine’s prophecy was accurate: the coffers of the French state
were empty and Bonaparte needed cash to finance his wars, especially
in view of the impending resumption of hostilities between France and
England. Through the sale of Louisiana, the visionary French First
Consul also wanted to make Britain’s distant future more
complicated: “This territorial extension forever strengthens the power
of the United States; I have just given England a maritime rival which
sooner or later will humble her pride.”16
Meanwhile, those whom Paine dubbed “war-whoop” politicians17
were unrelenting in their attacks on Jefferson’s policy. Aaron Burr
published inflammatory articles, urging the immediate capture of New

Arthur Preston Whitaker, The Mississippi Question, 1795-1803 (Gloucester,
Mass.: Peter Smith, 1962), 237.
FO 2: 1462.
François Barbé-Marbois, Histoire de la Louisiane et de la cession de cette
colonie par la France aux États-Unis de l’Amérique septentrionale (Paris, 1829), 335.
FO 2: 934.
The Louisiana Purchase 101

Orleans. And Gouverneur Morris, the arch-enemy of Paine (who was

soon to denounce his “incurable folly”),18 caused a sensation with the
publication of two pamphlets (An Address to the Government on the
Cession of Louisiana and Monroe’s Embassy),19 in which he insisted
that Louisiana had to be seized at once, otherwise the opportunity
would be lost forever. Paine counter-attacked in March 1803 by
writing his sixth Letter to the Citizens of the United States,
stigmatizing the inconsistency and immorality of the Federalists. He
branded them as an “Opposition without a cause,”20 who had called
for a war merely to secure the Mississippi for the United States, and
who now railed against the President because he had obtained by
peaceful means a much larger territory than the one they themselves
had dreamed of. Paine obviously took a mischievous delight in
exposing the contradictions of the “Feds” and in delivering
Gouverneur Morris the finishing blow (it will be remembered that the
latter had lost a leg in a carriage accident):
That New Orleans could be taken required no stretch of policy to plan, nor
spirit of enterprise to effect. It was like marching behind a man to knock him
down: and the dastardly slyness of such an attack would have stained the fame
of the United States. Where there is no danger cowards are bold . . . Even
Gouverneur, on such a march, dare have shown a leg.21
Paine also defended Jefferson’s positions and advised him in the
constitutional controversy over the annexation of Louisiana. He was,
according to Dumas Malone, “one of the few correspondents of
Jefferson to tackle the constitutional question.”22 A two-third majority
being required for the adoption of a treaty by the Senate, and the
Federalists being “disposed to throw a stumbling block in the way
[by] construing [the Purchase] into a Treaty and rejecting it by a
minority,”23 Paine argued that the cession of Louisiana was a mere
“sale and purchase” which entailed “on the parties [no] future
reciprocal responsibility,”24 and that therefore it was not a treaty, but

Ibid, 962.
See Whitaker, The Mississippi Question, 223, 233.
FO 2: 932.
Ibid, 934.
Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President, First Term, 1801-1805 (Boston, 1970),
FO 2: 1442.
Ibid., 1443.
102 The Transatlantic Republican

“one of those cases with which the Constitution has nothing to do, and
which can be judged only by the circumstances of the times.”25 But
the agreement eventually was called a “treaty,” and Jefferson had to
submit it to the Senate, particularly as it contained a provision stating
that Louisiana was to be “incorporated into the Union” and its
inhabitants made American citizens. This was a political decision
which fell within the constitutional competence of Congress, and of
no other branch of government.
What in fact interested Paine at that point was not so much
parliamentary tactics as the “American” future of the newly acquired
territory. On August 2, 1803, he sent Jefferson the first of a series of
important letters on “the mode of beginning government in the ceded
country.”26 Knowing that the inhabitants of Louisiana had no
experience in democratic ways, Paine even planned to visit New
Orleans and offer them his services: “They are a new people,” he told
Breckenridge, “and unacquainted with the principles of representative
government and I think I could do some good among them.”27 To
Jefferson he suggested that the best way of starting things would be
for Congress to establish a “Government provisoire” for a few years,
until the population was sufficiently “in train to elect their State
government.”28 Paine recommended an attitude of “prudence and
justice” in such matters. With the Northwest Ordinance in mind, he
suggested subdividing Louisiana into several future states, so as to
counter the dangerous wish of certain local inhabitants to govern
“Louisiana in the lump.” He also explained, however, that no such
state ought to be actually created until the number of American
immigrants in any part of the territory equaled that of the French
inhabitants: “To do it now,” he insisted, “would be sending the
American settlers into exile.”29 He even proposed giving up the very
name of “Louisiana,” in imitation of revolutionary France where the
creation of departments had consigned to oblivion the names of the
larger royal provinces. Although he maintained that the Louisianians
had not been forced to adopt American citizenship (“we have neither

Ibid., 1447.
Ibid., 1441.
Ibid., 1445.
Ibid., 1441.
Ibid., 1457.
The Louisiana Purchase 103

conquered them, nor bought them, but formed a Union with them”),30
it is quite clear that one of Paine’s (and Jefferson’s) main concerns
was how to colonize and Americanize this territorial godsend.
“The present Inhabitants and their descendants,” Paine wrote to
Breckenridge, “will be a majority for some time, but new emigrations
from the old states and from Europe, and intermarriages, will soon
change the first face of things, and it is necessary to have this in mind
when the first measures shall be taken.”31 Congress, Paine thought,
should take action to empower the President “to devise and employ
means for bringing cultivators to Louisiana from any of the European
countries,” and Congress should also appoint an “agent” in New
Orleans so as to keep immigration under control.32 Suiting as it were
the action to the word, Paine informed Jefferson that he had
“thousands and tens of thousands” of British friends “in all ranks of
life,” some of them rich, whom he might persuade to settle in the new
country.33 He added that, had he not been 68 years of age, he would
have gladly volunteered as a recruiting agent: “Were I twenty years
younger, and my name and reputation as well known in European
countries as it is now, I would contract for a quantity of land in
Louisiana and go to Europe and bring over settlers.”34 But
immigration on a large scale would remain difficult and perhaps
impossible, Paine pointed out, so long as settlers did not “know
beforehand the government and the laws they [were] to be under.”
Hence his insistence that Congress should frame a provisional “form
of government for them to continue until they arrived at a state of
population proper for constitutional government.”35
Immigration was not only a matter of quantity. Paine considered
that it was equally important to pay attention to the quality of those
who were to come and settle (all future Americans) and, if necessary,
to separate the wheat from the chaff: “The people from the Eastern
States are the best settlers of a new country, and of people from
abroad the German peasantry are the best. The Irish in general are
generous and dissolute. The Scotch turn their attention to traffic, and

Ibid., 1446.
Ibid., 1461.
Ibid., 1441.
Ibid., 1459.
Ibid., 1457.
104 The Transatlantic Republican

the English to manufactures. These people are more fitted to live in

cities than to be cultivators of new lands.”36 Louisiana was in need of
“a useful industrious set of citizens,”37 not of troublemakers or ill-
adapted laborers. The ideal settler was therefore the German
redemptioner, “indented for a term of years”38 and then apt to set up
his own farm or business—as had so successfully been the case earlier
in Pennsylvania (Paine estimated that some 10,000 such immigrants
could be brought in every year).
Attracting indentured servants to Louisiana seemed to Paine a
much better solution than importing slaves. As a man brought up in
the Quaker faith, he regarded as utterly immoral the prospect of
“bringing poor Negroes to work the lands in a state of slavery and
wretchedness.” But he also rejected this for demographic, economic
and political reasons. “Besides the immorality of it,” he told Jefferson,
“[this would be] the certain way of preventing population.” And this
in turn would prevent revenue: “I question,” he went on to say, “if the
revenue arising from ten Negroes in the consumption of imported
articles is equal to that of one white citizen. In the articles of dress and
of the table it is almost impossible to make a comparison.” Last but
not least, redemptioners would be preferable to slaves merely because
“they would grow to be citizens,”39 which blacks would never do,
unless there was general emancipation. But this was not yet part of the
American political agenda.
For Paine, the order of the day was the rapid importation of
German redemptioners so as to turn the French inhabitants into a
minority. And the sooner, said Paine, the better: “for they [the French]
give symptoms of being a troublesome set.” Paine had lived in Paris
long enough to know what he was talking about. He had learned the
hard way that the French were too fickle, too unstable, and
insufficiently versed in democratic ways, to be relied on for any great
length of time: “There will be no end to [their] claims . . . if you once
begin to make a distinction in their favor between them and the
American settlers. They must all be governed by the same law as of
Congress till there are a sufficient number of American settlers to be

Ibid., 1461.
Ibid., 1457.
Ibid., 1458.
The Louisiana Purchase 105

trusted with constitutional powers.”40 In other words, the democratic

future of Louisiana was too serious a matter to be entrusted to the
bunglers of the French Revolution.
If the French could not be trusted, it was, Paine argued, because
the Cession of Louisiana was a great American acquisition which
would rapidly become “an encumbrance on the Union,” were the
settlers “to be under a French jurisdiction . . . It will never answer to
make French Louisiana the legislators of the new settlers.”41 Action
had to be taken (1) to acclimatize French Catholicism to American
mores, and (2) to substitute English for French as the dominant
language in Louisiana. Paine half-jokingly suggested that the French
settlers should be given the “right of electing their Church Ministers”
so as to free them from the external authority of the Pope. This, he
added, would “serve to hold the priests in a style of good behavior,
and also to give the people an idea of elective rights.”42 Louisiana
being now part of the Union, the same rules regarding religion should
prevail there as in the rest of the country, and there was no reason why
Louisiana Catholics should receive special treatment. Even their habit
of organizing “exterior ceremonies (such as processions and
celebrations)” ought to be prohibited if only to prevent quarrels and
scuffles between the old settlers and the new. The Yankees, Paine
warned, “will not move out of the road for a little wooden Jesus stuck
on a stick and carried in procession, nor kneel in the dirt to a wooden
Virgin Mary”!43 To complete his plan of action, Paine proposed
deFrenchifying Louisiana through intensive schooling. “The present
prevailing language,” he told Jefferson, “is French and Spanish, but it
will be necessary to establish schools to teach English as the laws
ought to be in the language of the Union.”44 It should be noted here
that, in the field of politics, Americanization was not long in coming:
as early as December 20, 1803, the United States set up a “legislative
Council” made up of 6 French-speaking members and 7 Americans.
One year later, the proportion was changed to 5 French-speaking
members and 8 Americans.
Just as he had sent a series of letters to “the Citizens of the

Ibid., 1462.
Ibid., 1456-57.
Ibid., 1441.
Ibid., 1446.
Ibid., 1441.
106 The Transatlantic Republican

United States,” on September 22, 1804 Paine decided to publish an

address “to the French Inhabitants of Louisiana.” A few months after
the official announcement of the Purchase, the French inhabitants of
Louisiana had sent a memorial to Congress (“a memorial of our
rights,” as they put it) demanding immediate admission to equal
Statehood and the right to continue the importation of Negro slaves.
Paine’s reply to the memorialists has all the trappings of a patronizing
lecture in civics and on human rights. It is nonetheless beautifully
written and was deemed so effective by John Randolph of Roanoke
that he urged upon Albert Gallatin “the printing of . . . thousands of
copies of Tom Paine’s answer” to be distributed to the people of
Louisiana “by as many thousand troops,” in either English, Spanish or
French.45 The document was indeed convincingly written:
You see what mischief ensued in France by the possession of power before
they understood principles. They earned liberty in words, but not in fact. The
writer of this was in France through the whole of the Revolution, and knows
the truth of what he speaks; . . . You are arriving at freedom by the easiest
means that any people ever enjoyed it; without contest, without expense, and
even without any connivance of your own. And you already so far mistake
principles, that under the name of rights you ask for powers; power to import
and enslave Africans; and to govern a territory that we have purchased . . .
Dare you put up a petition to heaven for such a power, without fearing to
be struck from the earth by its justice?
Why, then, do you ask it of man against man?
Do you want to renew in Louisiana the horrors of Domingo?46
As early as 1791, in a letter to William Short (pro tem U.S.
Minister in Paris), Paine had expressed his sympathy for the black
rebels of Santo Domingo. He knew that they had risen up against the
local whites who refused to recognize the civil and political rights
granted to some of them by the French National Assembly.
“Distressing accounts” had reached Paris of what was going on across
the Ocean: “It is,” Paine had remarked, “the natural consequence of
Slavery and must be expected everywhere.”47 From then on, he openly
sided with Toussaint-Louverture and was regarded by the Bonapartists
as an inspirer of the Santo Domingo insurgents. In January 1805, three
months after his address “to the French Inhabitants of Louisiana,”

Moncure Daniel Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine (New York: Putnam, 1909),
2: 339.
FO 2: 964-68 passim.
Ibid., 1321.
The Louisiana Purchase 107

Paine wrote again to Jefferson about the conflict which was now
opposing France and the newly-proclaimed Republic of Haiti. He
wanted to persuade the President to have the United States serve as a
mediator between the two parties. Such an intercession, he said,
“would be beneficial to all the parties, and give us a great commercial
and political standing, not only with the present people of Domingo
but with the West Indies generally.”48 Here again we have a perfect
example of how Paine was able to combine idealism and practical
action, a deep attachment to universal principles and a keen sense of
what American interests were about.

Paine’s influence (that of Common Sense, Rights of Man, The Age of
Reason) had been most felt, to begin with, in Europe and in the
Northern and Middle States of the U.S. With the Louisiana affair, his
influence spread to the Western Territory and to the South. A few
decades later, as Alfred Owen Aldridge has pointed out, it went even
farther south, reaching Latin-America where it “certainly made a
significant contribution to the development and final success” of
various independence movements, particularly in Venezuela,
Argentina and Chile.49
Influential in North America, Europe, Louisiana, Latin America,
to be sure, Thomas Paine, the “farmer of thoughts,” did deserve the
title which he readily and immodestly applied to himself—that of
“citizen of the world”—for so he was.

Ibid., 1454.
Alfred Owen Aldridge, Early American Literature: A Comparatist Approach
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 215-260.
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A National of Nowhere:
The Problem of Thomas Paine’s American

A freeman, Cato, is a stranger nowhere—a slave, everywhere.

Thomas Paine, “To Cato,” 8 April 17761

In November 1802, when he landed in Baltimore, Paine (aged 65) was

in an uncomfortable situation, to say the least. After an absence of
fifteen years, he soon found out that he had lost most of his one-time
friends and was being violently inveighed against by the Federalist
press. As we saw in the previous chapter, few Americans had forgiven
him for the publication of The Age of Reason, let alone his insulting
open letter to George Washington.
Four years later, in November 1806, Paine went to the polls in
New Rochelle, where he now lived, to vote for members of Congress
and state assemblies. The supervisor of the election was a man named
Elisha Ward, whose father and brothers, according to Paine, had
“joined the British in the war.” Paine’s account of his own
disenfranchisement is contained in two letters (one to Madison, the
other to George Clinton)2 sent from New York in early May 1807:
I tendered my tickets separately distinguishing which was which, as is the
custom; each of which Ward refused, saying to me “You are not an American
Citizen . . . Our minister at Paris, Gouverneur Morris, would not reclaim you
as an American Citizen when you were imprisoned in The Luxembourg at
Paris, and General Washington refused to do it” . . .
Upon my telling him that the two cases he stated were falsehoods . . . 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 farther with it . . .
I accordingly commenced a prosecution against him last fall and the court
will sit the 20th of this May.3

FO 2: 69.
George Clinton, former governor of New York, was then Vice-President of the
United States.
FO 2: 1486-87.
110 The Transatlantic Republican

In preparation for the trial, Paine undertook to gather evidence,

collecting affidavits from those who could testify to his citizenship:
Clinton, Madison, Barlow.
To Vice-President George Clinton he wrote: “As it is a new
generation that has risen up since the declaration of independence . . .
I wish you would write a letter . . . stating . . . the effects which the
work Common Sense . . . had upon the country.”4 Paine was not a
“Founding Father” in the sense that he had neither been a signer of the
Declaration of Independence, nor of the U.S. Constitution; but, as the
author of Common Sense, he had admittedly been one of the political
and ideological co-founders of the American Republic and, if only on
that account, could not be denied the title of “American Citizen”: this,
at least, was the kind of official recognition—and reminder—Paine
wanted to get from Clinton.
As current Secretary of State, James Madison had in his office
James Monroe’s report to the then Secretary of State, Edmund
Randolph, claiming Paine as an American Citizen when he was in jail
in Paris. This is what Paine asked him to do (It must be remembered
that Gouverneur Morris, here very critically mentioned by Paine, was
a strange character strangely appointed by George Washington as U.S.
Minister to France. Morris was a staunch conservative, hostile to the
French Revolution, hostile to Paine, and secretly favorable to a radical
shift in American diplomacy, i.e. to the reinstatement of Britain—
instead of France—as the main partner and ally of the United States):
When Mr. Monroe came Minister from the United States to the French
Government, I was still imprisoned in the Luxembourg . . . As soon as Mr.
Monroe could make his own standing good, which required time on account
of the ill conduct of his predecessor Gouverneur Morris, he reclaimed me as
an American citizen, for the case was, I was excluded from the Convention as
a foreigner and imprisoned as a foreigner. I was liberated immediately after
Mr. Monroe’s reclamation.
Mr. Monroe wrote an official account of this to the secretary of state, Mr.
Randolph . . . In Mr. Randolph’s official answer to Mr. Monroe’s letter, he
says . . .: “The President [George Washington] approves what you have done
in the case of Mr. Paine..” . .
I will be obliged to you for an attested copy of Mr. Monroe’s letter and also
of Mr. Randolph’s official answer. . .

May 4, 1807, FO 2: 1489-90.
A National of Nowhere 111

As to Gouverneur Morris, the fact is, that he did reclaim me on my

application to him as Minister, but his reclamation of me did me no good.5
In reality, it is not quite the case that Gouverneur Morris
reclaimed Paine as an American. Morris’s letter to Deforgues, the
French minister of Foreign Affairs (Feb. 14, 1794), reads: “Thomas
Paine has just applied to me to claim him as a Citizen of the United
States.” But at no point in the rest of the letter does Morris actually
claim him as such, insisting, on the contrary, that Paine “was born in
England”—not a very supportive remark under the circumstances! 6
Paine finally sent a letter to his old friend Joel Barlow, still in
Paris, who had also interceded for him at the time: “I have prosecuted
the Board of Inspectors for disenfranchising me. You and other
Americans in Paris went in a body to the Convention to reclaim me,
and I want a certificate from you, properly attested, of this fact” (a fact
which actually took place on January 20, 1794).7
The political truth of the matter is complex but pretty clear: born
in England, Paine had first been a British subject; at the age of 38, he
had left Britain for America, had become a resident there, then a
citizen of the newly independent states, and had twice taken the oath
of abjuration to the British crown and sworn personal allegiance to the
United States, “once as a citizen of the State of Pennsylvania in 1776;
and again before Congress . . . when I was appointed Secretary in the
office of Foreign Affairs in 1777.”8 The oath established by Congress
(January 16, 1777) for all officers of the continental service and for all
holding civil office in Congress was as follows:
I [in this case Thomas Paine] do acknowledge the Thirteen United States of
America . . . to be free, independent and sovereign states, and declare that the
people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of
Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse, and abjure any allegiance or obedience
to him; and I do swear that I will to the utmost of my power support, maintain
and defend the said United States against the said King George, etc.9
Paine was then made an honorary citizen of the French Republic (in

May 3, 1807. FO 2: 1486-87.
See Bernard Vincent, Thomas Paine, 300.
May 4, 1807. FO 2: 1488-89. Barlow’s letter to the Court is currently owned by
Mr. Richard Maass, Hamson (N.Y.).
Letter to James Monroe, September 10, 1794, FO 2: 1353.
Frank George Franklin, The Legislative History of Naturalization in the United
States (New York: Arno Press, 1969 [Chicago, 1906]), 2.
112 The Transatlantic Republican

August 1792) and was elected to the Convention (in September); but
in December 1793 he was dismissed from that assembly, arrested and
jailed “as a foreigner,” that is as an Englishman—the irony being that
he was no longer English at the time. The publication of Rights of
Man had recently caused him to be tried in absentia at the Guildhall in
London, to be banished from Britain, and therefore deprived of his
original national identity—a kind of civil death. It could be argued
that, having spent so many years (15 in all) away from the United
States, Paine could rightfully be considered as an alien or at least as a
non-citizen. But in 1807 there existed no legislation taking this kind of
absence into account. Only in 1808—maybe as a consequence of the
Tom Paine affair—did the Federalists try to get the U.S. Congress to
enact a law stipulating that “if any citizen shall expatriate himself, he
shall, ipso facto, be deemed an alien, and ever after be incapable of
becoming a citizen.”10
It would take a whole book to analyze all the political and legal
aspects of this strange affair. Although I am well aware that the
political context, i.e. the tension between Jeffersonians and
Federalists, probably played a more important role than the sheer rigor
of the law itself (let alone the fact that, as a child, Gouverneur Morris
had attended school in the Huguenot settlement of New Rochelle, and
therefore probably knew the Ward family personally ...),11 I will
restrict myself here to analyzing some of the purely formal reasons
why Paine finally lost his suit and therefore never recovered his
American citizenship.12
Madame Bonneville, wife of the French revolutionary printer
Nicolas Bonneville, lived for many years on Paine’s farm in New
Rochelle (this farm, incidentally, was the confiscated property of a
former Loyalist, one Frederick Devoe, and had been given to Paine by
the New York legislature in 1784, in recognition of his great
“patriotic” services). In the notes she left, Mme Bonneville, to whom
Paine bequeathed most of his estate, gives interesting information

Ibid., 116.
This detail is mentioned in Mark M. Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American
Revolution (New York: David MacKay, 1976), 737.
My main source here will be a short but well-documented pamphlet written by
Thomas D. Scoble, Jr. and published in 1946 by the Thomas Paine National Historical
Association in New Rochelle (Thomas Paine’s Citizenship Record, hereafter referred
to as ‘Scoble’).
A National of Nowhere 113

about the trial:

This case was pleaded, before the Supreme Court of New York by Mr. Riker,
then Attorney General [meaning, in fact, District Attorney], and, though Paine
lost his case, I as his legatee did not lose the having to pay for it. It is,
however, an undoubted fact, that Mr. Paine was an American Citizen.13
In his letter to George Clinton, Paine refers to Riker, and to a
“Court and Jury,” probably that of the First District (then including
New York and Westchester counties), but does not mention the New
York Supreme Court—which was then but a mere court of first
instance. No public record of Paine’s action has been found, either in
New York City or in Westchester County, and most of the papers left
by Riker after his death were accidentally destroyed.14
According to Thomas Scoble, a New Rochelle attorney who
investigated the matter in 1946, there may be a technical explanation
to this mystery: “The requests of Paine to Clinton, Madison and Joel
Barlow, to furnish him with letters for his use on the prosecution of
Ward would indicate that the actual proceeding was a motion, based
on documentary evidence, rather than a jury trial with witnesses and
cross examinations.”15 A motion (i.e. an application to a court for a
ruling to relieve the applicant from some injustice) was usually not
preserved or recorded as part of court reporting.
Although one is tempted to ascribe Paine’s defeat to political
reasons, it is quite likely that the negative attitude of the court,
whichever court it was, was simply dictated by technical defects in
legal pleading. In his reply to Paine (May 12, 1807), George Clinton
seems to have sensed the problem, expressing doubts “whether the
Court will admit it to be read as evidence.”16 As Scoble explains:
From every known rule of evidence prevailing then and now, such letters
(which Paine indicated would constitute his case) would not be admitted in
evidence. The reason is abundantly clear. The writers of those letters were
alive at the time of the trial. In order to give fair opportunity to the opposition
to test the truth or accuracy of the statements in the letters, in simple fairness,
the writers should have first been sworn to tell the truth, then testify to matters
of which they actually had personal knowledge, and then submit to all the
tests which the cross-examining lawyer has at his command to break down

Moncure Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine (New York: Putnam, 1909), 2:
On this accident, see Conway, op. cit., 383.
Scoble, 29.
Conway, op. cit., 381.
114 The Transatlantic Republican

such testimony. Such has always been the strict rule in our courts and it
properly prevails today.
Accordingly, if Paine’s attorney tried to present his case merely on letters
and affidavits, the presiding judge quite rightfully may have excluded them
from evidence and dismissed Paine’s complaint, without passing on its merits,
for failure to present proper proof. This action would not be a judicial
determination that Paine was wrong in his contentions, or Ward right. The
merits of the issue simply would not receive judicial consideration, much less
determination. The decision would constitute no precedent or court ruling on
Paine’s citizenship.17
The net result of this nonsuit was that Paine, who had so ardently
contributed to the establishment of republicanism in America, spent
the last two years of his life (he died in June 1809) without any formal
citizenship or voting rights.
As early as 1778, Paine had defined himself as a cosmopolitan:
“My attachment is to all the world, and not to any particular part.”18
But unlike those who shared or had shared this kind of sentiment
(Hume, Voltaire, Condorcet, Gibbon or even Burke),19 Paine was not
only a philosophical cosmopolitan; he was an activist of universal
citizenship—neither an abstract citizen of the world nor the citizen of
an abstract world. He was prepared to become a real citizen of any
country where universal rights were at stake or imperiled: “Where
liberty is, there is my country,” Franklin once reportedly told him;
“Where liberty is not, there is mine,” Paine allegedly replied. That was
why he had come to America; that was why he had then gone to
France; that was why he had dreamed of establishing a British
republic. And now he was in America again, but this time a citizen of
nowhere, a man without a country, a voter forbidden to vote, a
disenfranchised Founding Father. He soon after died, but his bones
were stolen from the grave by William Cobbett, taken back to
England, sold, dispersed, never to be found again.

Scoble 30.
FO 1: 146.
See Ian Dyck, “Local Attachments, National Identities and World Citizenship in
the Thought of Thomas Paine,” in History Workshop Journal 35, 1993: 117-135; and,
more generally, Thomas Schlereth, The Cosmopolitan Ideal in Enlightenment Thought
(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977).


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Thomas Paine and the Issue

of Universal Suffrage

When I first thought of writing on this subject, my conviction was that

Paine had moved, over the years, from a narrow conception of
franchise (in 1776) to full manhood, if not universal, suffrage when
the French Revolution began. I was wrong. When one compares what
Paine wrote in Common Sense to his 1795 speech at the French
Convention, one finds practically no evolution. The philosophy is the
same; there is simply more clarity and precision in his approach to the
Paine’s views certainly evolved with regard to the system of
representation, as he became more and more wary of the
“precipitancy”1 accompanying unicameralism; but paradoxically
(though not strangely), he stuck to his original guns concerning
franchise, simply because the issue was a matter of principle linked to
a doctrine of natural rights from which he never departed, whatever
the time, country, or circumstances.
Regarding his attitude to suffrage, one should nevertheless
distinguish between two periods: the American period, during which
he contributed to the Republican debate as a mere pamphleteer, or
occasionally as an intellectual adviser of those in high places; and the
French period, during which he was an elected legislator, a
constitution-maker, i.e. one who could not be content with vague,
albeit generous, ideas, but had to go into more detail and address the
issue of suffrage in both ideological and practical terms.

In Common Sense, the problem of popular representation is referred to
in two different but essential passages. In the opening pages, it is first

Word used in various texts, e.g. in “Constitutional Reform” (1805), FO 2: 993.
118 The Transatlantic Republican

described as a natural necessity for any increasing community that can

no longer be ruled through town meetings or general assemblies. This,
Paine explains, “will point out the convenience of their consenting to
leave the legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen
from the whole body, who are supposed to have the same concerns at
stake which those have who appointed them.”2 The formulation here is
still hazy, and Paine says nothing about who is going to be “the select
number chosen from the whole body,” nor does he say anything about
the common “concerns at stake” between the elected and the
electors—although he insists on “the propriety of having elections
often,” so that the elected may “never form to themselves an interest
separate from the electors.”3
Paine’s second allusion to suffrage in Common Sense is linked to
his proposal of convening a “continental conference” for the purpose
of framing “a Continental Charter or Charter of the United Colonies.”
In addition to “a committee of twenty-six members of Congress” plus
an equivalent number of delegates from provincial assemblies, Paine
suggests that “five representatives of the people at large [be] chosen in
each province . . . by as many qualified voters as shall think proper to
attend from all parts of the province for that purpose.”4 Nothing is said
about the mode of “choosing,” nor about the “qualifications” of those
who will “think it proper to attend.” It seems to me that at this point
Paine was trapped in an epistemological contradiction: the business of
the continental conference being, among other things, to “fix . . . the
number and manner of choosing members of Congress” in the future,
how could one pre-determine the manner of choosing constitutional
delegates without begging the question—or putting the cart before the
horse? Paine never quite extricated himself from this vicious circle.
The Forester’s Letters (April-May 1776) were at attempt at
clarification, though not a very successful one. “In republican
governments,” Paine writes in his third letter (“to Cato”), “the leaders
of the people are removable by vote,” adding that the best “bulwark of
natural rights” is a political system patterned on the tradition of “trial
by juries.” Here, says Paine, “the power of kings is shut out. No royal
negative can enter this court. The jury, which is here supreme, is a

CS, 67 (emphasis mine).
Ibid., 96, 97 (emphasis mine).
Universal Suffrage 119

Republic, a body of judges chosen from among the people.” But Paine
does not enlighten us about how to define “the people” and “choose”
their leaders. He often refers to the people as “the public,” which is
just as vague, and he sometimes identifies voter with freeman, a fairly
ambiguous term. “On the part of the public,” he writes in the first
Forester Letter, “it is more consistent with freemen to appoint their
rulers than to have them born.”5 Apart from the question of knowing
whether to “appoint” and to “choose” mean the same thing (and what
exactly do they mean?), Paine’s mention of freemen as being those
who choose points to a somewhat restrictive conception of suffrage on
his part, at least if we trust John Toland’s definition of the word: “By
freeman, I understand men of property, or persons that are able to live
of themselves; and those who cannot subsist in this independence I
call servants.”6 We are quite far here from universal suffrage; but, as
we shall see, Paine’s doctrine of property was far more sophisticated
and egalitarian than that of Toland.
More enlightening was Paine’s attitude toward the electoral
system adopted in Pennsylvania at the very outset of the American
Revolution. Although he did not participate in the Pennsylvania
Constitutional Convention and took no part in the drafting of the
Constitution itself, he nevertheless approved of its (relatively) radical
approach to suffrage. In his “Serious Address to the People of
Pennsylvania” (December 1778), Paine eloquently supported a
constitution that he called “the Bible of the State,”7 and which had
extended the vote to all white males over twenty-one who had lived in
the state one year and paid taxes of any kind. Although this was still
what the French call a système censitaire (i.e. a voting system based
on tax liability), property qualifications for both voting and office-
holding had been abolished; and Paine, for the first time, spelled out
his views on the subject of property-and-franchise, insisting that
suffrage was a matter of natural equal rights, not property:
Property alone cannot defend a country against invading enemies. Houses and
lands cannot fight; sheep and oxen cannot be taught the musket; therefore the
defence must be personal, and that which equally unites all must be something

Ibid., 78, 79, 80.
In H. T. Dickinson, Liberty and Property: Political Ideology in Eighteenth
Century Britain (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1977), 89.
Paul P. Selsam, The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776; A Study in Revolutionary
Democracy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1936), 208.
120 The Transatlantic Republican

equally the property of all, viz. an equal share of freedom, independent of the
varieties of wealth . . . The man who today proposes to regulate freedom by
fortune, being rich himself, little thinks what may be his own state before he
dies, and that of his children after his death.8
Paine’s remarks on the injustice of property qualifications were not
just leveled at Pennsylvanians, but concerned the whole continent: “I
speak this to the honor of America,” and his final motto had a
universal ring to it: “Leave Freedom free.”9
In a retrospective article published in 1805 (again, a Letter to the
Citizens of Pennsylvania—and the very last pamphlet of his life),
Paine argued that, though imperfect, the Pennsylvania Constitution of
1776 “had many good points,” and that, in sharp contrast to it, the new
conservative Constitution adopted in 1790 was not “conformable to
the Declaration of Independence [because it made] artificial
distinctions among men in the right of suffrage,”10 meaning
distinctions based on property.
Some further clarification came, in 1786, with the publication of
Dissertation on Government; the Affairs of the Bank; and Paper
Money. What Paine clarified was not so much the concept of people
(vaguely and metaphorically defined as “the fountain of power”) as
that of nation and sovereignty.
Regarding the people, whose natural right it was to choose “a
select number of persons, periodically . . . who act as representatives
and in behalf of the whole,” Paine referred his readers, in a footnote,
to Article VII of the Declaration of Rights “prefixed” to the
Pennsylvania Constitution, and which reads: “All free men having a
sufficient evident common interest with, and attachment to, the
community, have a right to elect officers, or to be elected into
office.”11 Although women, blacks, jobless citizens and other idle or
dependent persons were left out, this was indeed the most daring
definition of manhood suffrage ever formulated and put into practice.
More explicit, and even more central to our topic, was Paine’s
definition of the nation as a disparate or non-unified seat of sovereign
power, i.e. as the reverse of an army:
A nation is composed of distinct, unconnected individuals, following various

FO 2, 288, 289 .
Ibid., 289.
Ibid., 993, 1001.
Ibid., 369, 372, 373.
Universal Suffrage 121

trades, employments and pursuits; continually meeting, crossing, uniting,

opposing and separating from each other, as accident, interest and
circumstance shall direct.12
When Paine left America and became an active participant in the
French Revolution, he soon found out that much of the debate on
universal suffrage revolved around the various ways in which the
“nation” was perceived. He persistently sided with those (mostly
Girondins) who viewed it as an addition of individual sovereign wills
rather than as a transcendent collective body to be ruled like a
regiment. At every stage in the controversy Paine had something to
say—and, this time, precise proposals to make.
During the French Constitutional debates of 1791, only 5
deputies came down in favor of universal suffrage. A distinction was
made between passive citizens (the people at large) and active citizens
(those fit for voting, or being voted for). The distinction was based on
a doctrinal differentiation between “franchise-as-a-right” (l’électorat-
droit) and “franchise-as-a-function” (l’électorat-fonction).13 The
former was (theoretically) to be exercised by all individual members
of the community on the ground of their natural inherent sovereignty;
the latter on behalf of the transcendent Nation by those, limited in
number, considered fit or qualified for the function. The so-called
qualification was in fact based on tax liability. To be an active citizen,
one had to pay a direct annual tax equal to at least 3 days of work
(whatever that meant!). Although the Constitution of 1791 was a far
cry from manhood suffrage, it created a body of 4.3 million active
citizens for a total population of 24 million. Thus, one French person
out of six was permitted to vote—not in their own names though, but
in the name of some superior national entity that was more than the
addition of its parts.
Paine, recently elected to the Convention, took up his pen and
exposed the imperfections of a system that fell short of being really
republican, or at least was not in phase with his own adamic
philosophy of natural God-given rights. In his Letter Addressed to the
Addressers (written late in the summer of 1792), he contended that

Ibid., 371.
On this controversy, see Julien Laferrière, Manuel de droit constitutionnel
(Paris: Domat-Montchrestien, 1947), 66 ff.
122 The Transatlantic Republican

“the custom of attaching rights . . . to inanimate matter [like places of

residence, real estate, etc.], instead of to the person, [was] too absurd
to make any part of a rational argument.”14 And not only did he attach
the civic rights of man to the individual person, but he also made a
subtle distinction between two forms of property—a distinction which
tended to invalidate all voting qualifications, including that provided
for in the French system of the time:
As every man in the nation, of the age of twenty-one years, pays taxes, either
out of the property he possesses, or out of the product of his labor, which is
property to him . . . so has everyone the same equal right to vote, and no one
part of the nation, nor any individual, has a right to dispute the right of
Every worker or laborer being therefore possessed of the right of
vote, the only qualification Paine was ready to accept was that of age,
“because the qualification is such, as nothing but dying before the
time can take away,” and because, in the case of a legal age
requirement, “the equality of rights . . . as a principle, is recognized in
the act of regulating the exercise.”16
Then Paine, who served on a special committee (“Comité des
Neuf”) appointed to draw up a new Constitution (Constitution of
Year I), began to work with Condorcet on a daily basis, paving the
way for a system based on full manhood suffrage. The plan, drafted in
January 1793, provided that the national sovereignty “reside[d]
essentially in the entire people” and that “each citizen ha[d] an equal
right to concur in its exercise.”17 Later taken up by the Montagnards,
the Girondin project established direct universal suffrage. The right to
vote was no longer subject to any property or pecuniary condition, and
the electorate even included people on relief or people in domestic
service—not to mention foreign residents, now part of the Nation: a
triumph for the doctrine of franchise-as-a-right!
But then came the Terror. Jailed for almost a year, Paine was
released in December 1794, and almost immediately reinstated in his
seat at the Convention. It did not take him long to realize that his
colleagues—all of them survivors of the Terror—had no intention of

FO 2: 505.
Ibid. (emphasis mine).
Ibid., 560 (Plan of a Declaration of the Natural, Civil and Political Rights of
Universal Suffrage 123

returning to the good old days of universal suffrage. Instead, they

began to think of, and frame, a new Constitution (the Constitution of
Year III) that would re-establish property or tax-liability qualifications
for voting, thus going back to the safer doctrine of franchise-as-a-
function. Before he finally withdrew from politics, Paine gave only
one speech at the Convention, and that one speech (on July 7, 1795)
was a diatribe—very coldly received—against those who were
planning to “deprive half the people in [the] nation of their rights as
citizens” by restricting franchise to those citizens who were able to
pay “any direct contribution whatsoever.”18
A few days before, Paine had sent to his fellow deputies copies
of his Dissertation on First Principles of Government, in which he—
more clearly than ever—presented the case for universal suffrage:
The right of voting . . . is the primary right by which other rights are protected.
To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in
being subject to the will of another . . . If . . . we depart from the principle of
equal rights . . . where are we to stop? . . . By what principle are we to find out
the point to stop at, that shall discriminate between men of the same country,
part of whom shall be free, and the rest not?19
This criticism, repeated a few months later in Agrarian Justice,20
did not deter Paine’s colleagues from adopting the villainous
Constitution (on August 23), nor from adding to it two even more
villainous decrees: one compelling voters to re-elect two thirds of the
outgoing deputies; the other stipulating that, if this minimum was not
reached, the said deputies would be reappointed despite the election
results. Obviously Paine’s influence over the Convention was no
longer what it used to be!

Sickened by so many betrayals of the Republican ideals, Paine finally

returned to the United States (in 1802)—and, there, as we have seen,
was excluded from suffrage. For the first time in his life, he found
himself in the uncomfortable predicament of having some of his civil
rights denied, a predicament so familiar to black people and women.
As a sincere abolitionist, he was certainly not averse to the prospect of

Ibid., 590.
Ibid., 579, 583.
FO 1: 607.
124 The Transatlantic Republican

black males being some day granted the right to vote. After all, he was
the one who, as early as 1776, had prophetically warned his fellow-
Americans: “Forget not the hapless African.”21
But, unlike Mary Wollstonecraft, Paine never went so far as to
advocate franchise for women. Not a word, in all his writings, about
the New Jersey law of July 2, 1776, giving the right to vote to female
citizens—and no comment of his when this very right was taken back
from them in 1807! And not a word either against the then prevalent
idea that women were mere dependents and had “no wills of their
own”22 and therefore could not vote.
For once, Paine failed to be a prophet. To his “Forget not the
hapless African” he might, and should, have added (like Abigail
Adams, in March 1776, in a famous letter to her husband, John
Remember the Ladies . . . If particular care and attention is not paid to the
Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves
bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.23
She was right (although one may wonder whether she was
worried about the blacks): liberty, like suffrage, is either universal—or
is nothing at all

“To Cato,” FO 2: 82.
In Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York:
Vintage Books, 1993), 179.
L. H. Butterfield, M. Friedlander and M. J. Kline, eds., The Book of Abigail and
John. Selected Letters of the Adams Family (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1975), 121.

Paine’s Agrarian Justice

and the Birth of the Welfare State

Described by some as “the real father of Social Security,”1 Paine

wrote Agrarian Justice during the winter of 1795-96,2 while
convalescing in the house of the U.S. Minister James Monroe, after
his release from the Luxembourg prison where he had spent almost a
year. But the piece was published only in the spring of 1797. Paine
was then living in an apartment (on today’s rue de l’Odéon) lent to
him by his friend Nicolas de Bonneville, publisher and founder of the
famous Cercle Social where many revolutionary ideas had been
discussed—and printed—before the Terror. Agrarian Justice appeared
in Paris first, then in London, a few days before the publisher, Thomas
Williams, was arrested and jailed. Just as the pamphlet was about to
be published, Paine decided to return to America. He left Paris for Le
Havre, where he remained from mid-March till mid-May, waiting for
a safe boat to take him home—but only to find out that the ocean was
more than ever under British control, and that he just could not go. His
departure from Paris had been so hasty that Paine, unable to supervise
the translation of Agrarian Justice into French, had entrusted a friend
with the task. Back in Paris in the latter part of May, “he found that
the pamphlet had done well enough to warrant a further printing, and
this gave him the excuse to write a preface.”3
Paine wrote Agrarian Justice at a time when the issue of land and
landed property was at center stage in France, as a practical result of
the abolition of tithes, and as a social consequence of the sale of the
“national estate” (“biens nationaux”) confiscated from the clergy.4 It

Whitfield J. Bell, The Bust of Thomas Paine (Philadelphia: American
Philosophical Society, 1974—printed for The Friends of the Library), 16.
See “Author’s English Preface” to Agrarian Justice, FO 1: 609.
David Freeman Hawke, Paine (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 328.
On June 5 1793, the Convention also resolved that all common property (“biens
126 The Transatlantic Republican

has been estimated that 40% of the land thus redistributed was
acquired by the peasantry. The rest was bought by rural bourgeois or
surviving aristocrats.5 France had, to a relatively large extent, become
of nation of land-owners. The question of representative democracy
and the problem of land-taxation appeared in a new light, and raised
new social issues that Paine now wanted to address differently from
what he had done a few years before in the second part of Rights of
In 1797, the Terror was over, but war was going on between
France and England—with England, as Paine said, “supporting the
despotism of Austria and the Bourbons against the liberties of
France.”6 In his preface to the English edition, Paine explains that he
would have preferred the pamphlet to appear later, when “the present
war” was over, but that he had resolved to publish it now in response
to a sermon delivered by Richard Watson, bishop of Llandaff—a
sermon entitled “The Wisdom and Goodness of God, in having made
both rich and poor.” “It is wrong,” Paine wrote, “to say God made rich
and poor; He only made male and female; and he gave them the earth
for their inheritance.”7 This, as we shall see, was to be the starting-
point of his Biblical case for a welfare system.
Another aspect of the context in which Paine wrote and then
published Agrarian Justice has to do with the French Constitution of
Year III, adopted by referendum in September 1795. Paine had been
one of the drafters of the Girondin constitutional project of 1793, and
he probably thought of himself as an indirect originator of the new
constitution. He, therefore, unsurprisingly called it “the best organised
system the human mind has yet produced.”8 But, in his view, the
Constitution of Year III had one important flaw: suffrage, instead of
being equal, was now based on property qualification, i.e. the payment
of a direct land or personal property tax. The consequence of this was
that unpropertied citizens were purely and simply excluded from the

communaux”)—with the exception of woods, buildings and public tracks—could be

shared among local citizens if one third of them asked for the sharing.
See Bruno Brunoit, Les grandes dates de la Révolution française (Paris:
Larousse, 1989), 125; and Albert Soboul, La Révolution française (Paris: Gallimard,
1984), 209.
Agrarian Justice, FO 1: 609.
Ibid,. 607.
The Welfare State 127

republican principle of political participation and representation. This

defect, Paine argued, was at the origin of Babeuf’s conspiracy.9
Babeuf and his fellow-conspirators, he wrote, were right to protest
since a basic human right was at stake, but instead of “constitut[ing]
themselves personally into a Directory, which is formally destructive
of election and representation,” and is even worse than the flaw they
condemned, they should have suggested a peaceful, constitutional
rectification of the clause in question. “Had Babeuf and his
accomplices taken into consideration the condition of France under
the Constitution, and compared it with what it was under the tragical
revolutionary government, and during the execrable Reign of Terror,
the rapidity of the alteration must have appeared to them very striking
and astonishing. Famine has been replaced by abundance, and by the
well-founded hope of a near and increasing prosperity.”10 For Paine,
who thus openly supported the “Directoire” and the new assemblies, it
did not make political sense to try and overthrow a regime which was
much better than the previous ones, and rested on a good amendable
constitution. His object therefore, in Agrarian Justice, was precisely to
propose “to the legislature and the Executive Directory of the French
Republic,”11 to which the piece is inscribed, a constitutional
amendment dissociating property (an acquired right) from the
expression of individual sovereignty (a natural birthright of man,
however propertyless he may be). The tragic end of Gracchus Babeuf,
who was arrested, tried and finally guillotined in May 1797, certainly
encouraged Paine to publish his thoughts on the subject, but it also
compelled him to be somewhat cautious in questioning the dominant
bourgeois system.
In that respect, the exact title of Paine’s pamphlet must be kept in
mind: Agrarian Justice opposed to Agrarian Law, and to Agrarian
Monopoly.12 Like Mably and Montesquieu who had propagated the
idea, the French Convention believed that the “agrarian laws” of

Gracchus Babeuf’s “Conspiracy of the Equals” (1796) was one of several plots
that aimed at overthrowing the Directorate. Babeuf and his friends were arrested, but
Babeuf used the trial as an opportunity to denounce the decline of the Revolution and
to restate his vision of a communist egalitarianism. He was sentenced to death, and
executed the following year.
Ibid., 608.
Ibid., 606.
Title of the French edition: La Justice Agraire opposée à la Loi Agraire, et aux
privilèges agraires.
128 The Transatlantic Republican

Roman times aimed at dispossessing rich land-owners, or at limiting

land property, whereas in fact Roman legislators intended only to give
the poor, i.e. the plebeians, a more substantial share of the cake (the
cake being territories taken from the enemy, turned into state property
... and usually grabbed by patricians). The Convention therefore
passed a law (17 March 1793), condemning to death any person
proposing the adoption of an “agrarian law.” Paine’s apparent
circumspection (compared to Babeuf’s audacity), and his insistence on
Agrarian Justice as opposed to Agrarian Law, is quite easy to
understand in that light.
But Paine did not need a threat of this kind to believe that a mass
dispossession of the propertied, and the establishment of a communist
system based on collective ownership à la Babeuf, would not be a
sound remedy. Like most Enlightenment thinkers, he was an admirer
of Adam Smith and believed in economic liberalism, but his belief
was inseparable from the idea that some kind of compensation should
be granted by the community to those who were victimized by the
system of property accumulation, i.e. deprived of their natural, God-
given right to possess the earth. This compensation was the price to
pay for social peace (together with the restoration of suffrage, as a
natural right, to the landless).
With regard not to the context but to the text itself, the best approach,
as I see it, and as Gregory Claeys saw it in an excellent book on
Paine’s political thought (to which I am very much indebted here),13
consists in comparing Agrarian Justice with Paine’s welfare proposals
in the second part of Rights of Man. Such a comparison will highlight
the merits of Agrarian Justice in terms of its contribution to modern
utopian thought, and as a source of inspiration and reflection for the
“Basic Income” theme as it is now called and discussed by various
groups of economists and political scientists.14

Gregory Claeys, Thomas Paine: Social Justice and Political Thought (Boston:
Unwin Hyman, 1989).
Among the most active of these groups are: B.I.E.N. (Basic Income European
Network), A.I.R.E (Association pour l’Instauration d’un Revenu d’Existence) and
M.A.U.S.S (Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales). For a precise
definition of “Basic Income,” see Philippe Van Parijs, ed., Arguing for Basic Income
(London: Verso, 1992): “A basic income is an income unconditionally paid to all on
The Welfare State 129

In Agrarian Justice, Paine’s arguments for redistributing proper-

ty were quite unlike anything he had previously suggested, and can be
seen as considerably more radical than the plan proposed in Rights of
Man, a plan based on various allowances—for the poor, the widows,
the unemployed, the aged, the education of children, etc.—to be
financed through existing taxes and the institution of a plan of
progressive taxation on land.15
A new proposition, not of an historical but of a religious nature,
was that “the earth, in its natural, uncultivated state was . . . the
common property of the human race,” man being viewed as a “joint
life proprietor” of both the “soil” and “all its natural productions,
vegetable and animal.”16 By virtue of this new right, every landed
proprietor owed the community a “ground-rent,”17 as Paine called it,
i.e. a kind of democratic tithe—not for God or the Church this time,
but for man.18 This meant that not effort or industry, but land itself
was the original source of wealth. Writing this was more than
saying—as historians might do, or as was evidenced by the Indians of
North America insistently mentioned by Paine in his pamphlet—that
the earth had once been “common property.” What was central here
was the religious argument about “the original bequest of the whole
earth to all by God at the Creation.”19 Strangely enough, Paine based
his case on the Biblical account of the Creation (Genesis), in which he
did not really believe, as all readers of The Age of Reason will
In his either sincere or rhetorical view, however, the earth was
not given to man for him to cultivate, but as a garden, where he could
hunt and pick fruit. Cultivation was a human invention, which
gradually gave rise to culture and civilization, and resulted in the

an individual basis, without means test or work requirement. In other words, it is a

form of minimum income guarantee that differs from those that now exist in various
European countries by virtue of the fact that it is paid: 1. to individuals rather than
households; 2. irrespective of any income from other sources; and 3. without requiring
any present or past work performance, or the willingness to accept a job if offered” (p.
See Bernard Vincent, Thomas Paine, 223-227.
FO I, 611.
The phrase “Not for God, but for man” is Moncure Daniel Conway’s in his Life
of Thomas Paine (New York: Putnam, 1909 [1892]), 2: 257.
Claeys, Thomas Paine: Social Justice and Political Thought, 200.
130 The Transatlantic Republican

current state of things, in which a landed monopoly had dispossessed

at least half the population from the soil. Hence the cultural necessity
of a compensation—and the practical measures proposed by Paine,
which aimed at bringing “a revolution in the state of civilization.”20 In
practical terms, this meant the establishment of a special tax on
inherited property, and the creation of a national fund, out of which
every man or woman reaching the age of twenty-one would receive a
sum of fifteen pounds sterling (enough for a couple to “begin the
world,” and “buy a cow, and implements to cultivate a few acres of
land,” instead of being “burdens upon society”),21 while every person
aged fifty, whether “rich or poor,” would receive a minimum
subsistence allowance of ten pounds a year for the rest of his or her
Parallel to his religious argument, and probably in order to
counterbalance it by means of a more secular approach, Paine
introduced a new concept, a kind of positive or dynamic “principle of
progress,” to use Claeys’ phrase,22 which Paine summarizes as
follows: “No person ought to be in a worse condition when born under
what is called a state of civilization, than he would have been had he
been born in a state of nature.” Therefore, when such was the case—
like, for instance, in his own day, when the poor were worse off than
the Indians—, a compensation had to be provided for “by subtracting
from property a portion equal in value to the natural inheritance it has
absorbed.”23 This more secular argument had the advantage of taking
into account what the Biblical narrative ignored, that is the gradual
increase in standards of living: it meant that in proportion as their
wealth increased, more money would be taken from the rich and go
into the fund supporting the poor. Affluence would thus be profitable
to all, with private property continuing, almost intact, as the
cornerstone of the economic system.
But there was another side to the coin of progress. As Claeys
puts it, “the great novel claim of Agrarian Justice,” different from his
earlier optimistic views on the development of commerce, “was that
poverty not only resulted from but also increased with civilisation.”24

FO I, 621.
Ibid., 618.
Claeys, 201.
FO I, 613.
Claeys, 199.
The Welfare State 131

Therefore something had to be done if civilization was to remain

livable for the poor and was still to be based on the principle that “the
condition of every person born into the world, after a state of
civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been
born before that period.”25 If left to itself, and to the “laissez-faire”
principle, civilization ironically tended to drift toward new forms of
barbarity, a paradox confirmed at the time by the development of
industrial cities in both Europe and America. This negative drift
justified Paine’s proposed compensation, which, in turn, was made
possible by the positive dimension of progress: the neoliberal circle
was thus complete.
Even more secular, and perhaps more revolutionary, was Paine’s
next argument, suggesting that “personal property is the effect of
society . . . All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond
what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in
society; and he owes . . . a part of that accumulation back again to
society from whence the whole came.”26 This notion of a social debt
simply meant that all property (financial speculation, for instance, or
wealth derived from manufacturing), and not only land, could be taxed
or otherwise redistributed for the common good. This claim of justice
for the wage-earner could not be vindicated in terms of the Biblical
argument and was too loosely covered by the principle of progress.
Paine therefore grounded it on the proto-Marxist realization that “the
accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of
paying too little for the labor that produces it”—the consequence
being “that the working hand perishes in old age,” while “the
employer abounds in affluence.”27 An economic debt was thus added
to the cultural and social necessities of a compensation. But in his
practical measures Paine did not propose to tax personal property: this
would have had revolutionary implications that could not be
envisaged by his contemporaries—let alone by himself. The economic
argument nevertheless added secular weight to his rhetoric. This,
Claeys concludes, was “a step of immense importance in the history of
ideas of public welfare.”28

FO I, 610.
Ibid., 620.
Claeys, 205. “Paine’s efforts represent an important transitional stage in the
radical secularization of natural law arguments . . . Paine’s was a middle position
132 The Transatlantic Republican

In Paine’s time, most people believed that unpropertied workers

should be excluded from the right to vote if only because, being
dependent on their masters, they were not free to think on their own
and make autonomous choices. As John Keane recently put it: “Paine
stood this old argument on its head. Instead of denying the franchise
to those who currently depend politically on the rich, the dependents
should be granted monetary independence. That universal guarantee
of a right to a basic citizen’s income would then require—contrary to
the spirit of the new 1795 constitution—a universal franchise.” 29
Paine’s protest against the institution of a property qualification in the
French Constitution and his proposal of a universal basic income are
thus closely connected in Agrarian Justice, although critics have often
described them as a sign of intellectual inconsistency.

Due to circumstances (the war, “Pitt’s Terror” in England, the
aftermath of the Terror in France, the political anticlimax that
followed it), the impact of Agrarian Justice at the time of its
publication seems to have been negligible. Paine himself had
predicted that, at least in his native country, the reaction of the
dominant class to his Basic Income proposal would be highly
negative: “I know that the possessors of [overgrown] property in
England, though they would eventually be benefited by the protection
of nine-tenths of it, will exclaim against the plan”30—the irony being
that this plan would in fact be less costly, annually, for English
taxpayers than the war against France which they currently had to
support. The wealthy, Paine argued, ought to be less blind in the
defense of their own interests; they should realize that “it is only in a
system of justice that the possessor can contemplate security.”31 Social
justice as the natural companion and safeguard of economic

between the Spenceans and others who unabashedly appealed to divine intention in
support of positive community of goods, and the Owenite socialists of the early 1820s
and later, who, both more historicist and more consistent in their deism, rejected
completely appeals to the state of nature and founded property rights entirely upon
labour, and community of goods upon its economic and moral advantages rather than
its divine origins” (206).
John Keane, Tom Paine, 427.
FO I, 619.
Ibid., 621.
The Welfare State 133

liberalism: this is what Paine’s “social-democratic” profession of faith

was all about.
There were a few unrelenting enthusiasts, like William Blake,
who, after reading Agrarian Justice, ranked Paine with Jesus Christ as
“a worker of miracles.”32 But on the whole Paine was now preaching
in the wilderness.
As far as popular reactions are concerned, very little is known,
except that “several cheap editions appeared in Manchester and
elsewhere [and that] segments of Agrarian Justice were reprinted by
exiled radicals in America . . . with a full edition appearing in Albany
and another in Philadelphia in 1797.”33 Intellectually, the most
important response to Agrarian Justice was Thomas Spence’s The
Rights of Infants (London, 1797), although its circulation and actual
impact were quite negligible. Spence, a Newcastle schoolmaster and
later London printer, who had been arrested for selling Rights of Man,
called Paine’s proposed compensation based on 10% of land values a
“poor, beggarly stipend,” and saw no reason why landowners should
keep the remaining 90%, since most improvements brought to their
property were carried out by the “labouring class.”34
At a later stage, the direct or indirect influence of Agrarian
Justice can be traced in the works or practical experiments of Louis
Blanc, Robert Owen and other 19th-century socialist utopians or, as
Philippe Van Parijs has pointed out, in the writings of Herbert
Spencer, Henry George, Léon Walras or more recently Hillel
Steiner.35 Also, in his Histoire socialiste de la Révolution française
published at the turn of the century, Jean Jaurès repeatedly refers to
Paine’s “social fecundity” as he found it in Rights of Man, and
discusses his welfare “plan of legislation” at length,36 but no mention
is made of Agrarian Justice, an omission which is quite baffling and
difficult to account for.
In my view, it was Edward Bellamy—with his Looking

David V. Erdman, Blake, Prophet Against Empire (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1954), 277.
Claeys, 207.
Ibid., 207.
Philippe Van Parijs, “Competing Justifications of Basic Income,” in Philippe
Van Parijs, op. cit., 12.
Jean Jaurès, Histoire socialiste de la Révolution française (Paris: Éditions
sociales, 1971 [1901-1904]), 4: 422.
134 The Transatlantic Republican

Backward, a best-selling science-fiction novel first published in

1888—who was closest to Paine’s pamphlet, although he never
mentions it either and, unlike Paine, grounds his Basic Income
proposal on a work requirement. Central to his famous utopia was the
right of any man to subsistence, a right which, Bellamy writes,
“depends on the fact that he is a man, and not on the amount of wealth
and strength he may have, as long as he does his best.”37 In exchange
for their “maintenance at the nation’s table,”38 workers were required
to perform a “period of industrial service [of] twenty-four years,
beginning at . . . twenty-one and terminating at forty-five.”39 After that
period, people could at leisure “devote [themselves] to the higher
exercise of [their] faculties, the intellectual and spiritual enjoyments
and pursuits which alone mean life.”40
In more recent times, Paul Goodman, a declared admirer of Paine
and a friend of Ivan Illich, also tried to connect the subsistence
economy with the general economy. In Communitas (1947), a highly
stimulating book written with his brother Percival, he suggested as the
only way to get out of the “system”—a system where, “unless every
kind of goods is produced and sold, it is also impossible to produce
bread”41—a division of the economy into two sectors: a communist,
state-run sector (10% of the total production) where elementary
subsistence goods and services would be provided for, and a capitalist
sector (90%) for the production of convenience, comfort and luxury
goods. The subsistence goods would be produced by “universally
conscripted labor, run as a state monopoly like the post office or the
army,”42 each man serving “in the national economy for six or seven
years of his life.” This plan, when proposed (right after World War II),
sounded as “military” in its inspiration, and almost as coercive, as the
one proposed by Edward Bellamy, but Goodman forcefully argued
that it was in fact less coercive “than the situation most people are
used to” in modern life.43 I don’t think Thomas Paine would have

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (New York: The New American Library,
1960 [1888]), 98.
Ibid., 58.
Ibid., 136.
Paul and Percival Goodman, Communitas (New York: Vintage Books, 1960
[1947]), 188-89.
Ibid., 192.
Ibid., 198.
The Welfare State 135

agreed with either of these plans. His idea, his “beautifully,

disarmingly simple idea,”44 of a Basic Income deserves more serious,
more down-to-earth consideration.
The age of structural unemployment in which we are living today
may be the right time for a full recognition—at last—of Paine’s merits
as a prophet and proponent of the “Basic Income” concept. This
concept may indeed sound more relevant than ever in the face of an
economic system which is obviously going wild and can increasingly
dispense with the services of mankind. In this distracted world, the
most appropriate response might, once again, be that of ... “common

Philippe Van Parijs, op. cit., 3.
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A Quaker with a Difference:

Tom Paine’s Republican Rhetoric
of War and Peace

That Thomas Paine was a pioneer, a prophet, a visionary is something

that cannot reasonably be denied. It seems however that he has been
much less celebrated as a prophet of peace than as a proponent of
American Independence or an advocate of human rights or a
denouncer of revealed religions. Popular imagery often represents him
with a gun in his hands, writing bellicose exhortations by the light of
some campfire (which he actually did), and the fact is that he is less
frequently depicted as a pacifist than as a warmonger or at least as a
Quaker armed to the teeth.
In part, this blurred image is, I think, precisely due to his strange
relationship with the Society of Friends. All those familiar with the
life of Thomas Paine know that his father was a Quaker. Although he
never formally belonged to the Society, Paine was deeply influenced
by his father’s creed and, as a rule, he had more faith in dialogue and
persuasion than in violent confrontation. But, for all that, he was too
much of a realist ever to subscribe to the naïve or hypocritical ideas of
those who in the name of non-violence always tend to collaborate with
the powers-that-be, however despotic, or in times of war to side with
the winning camp or, even worse, with the invader. Much like Gandhi,
Paine would have preferred violence to submission and, had he lived
in our time, he would have been strongly averse to unilateral
disarmament. Although a lover of peace, he was no pacifist in the
strict sense of the word, persuaded as he was that liberty could not be
defended by good feelings alone. As he saw it, peace was not
something that could be proclaimed by the victim, but something,
rather, that had to be collectively and rationally organized, structured,
discussed, struggled for—even if this meant occasionally and
provisionally resorting to defensive force. During the war of
Independence, what he blamed the Philadelphia Quakers for was
138 The Transatlantic Republican

precisely the duplicity with which they brandished their principles in

order, in fact, to leave a clear field for the troops of His Britannic
Majesty, whom he then dubbed the “Honorable plunderer of his
country” or the “Right Honorable murderer of mankind.”1
A few weeks after the Battle of Lexington, he launched his first
attack on the Quakers, saying: “I am thus far a Quaker, that I would
gladly agree with all the world to lay aside the use of arms, and settle
matters by negotiation; but unless the whole will, the matter ends, and
I take up my musket and thank heaven he has put it in my power.”2
This passage is well-known; less known but perhaps more precise and
penetrating is the following one, taken from the same article (July
1775): “The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian . . .
The balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would
be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be
alike; but . . . horrid mischief would ensue were one half of the world
deprived of the use of them; for while avarice and ambition have a
place in the heart of man, the weak will become a prey to the strong.”3
Although he was later to dream of a military invasion of England, it is
clear that, for Paine, only defensive wars were justifiable, and in his
eyes such was the case of the American War: “The period of debate is
closed . . .; the appeal [to arms] was the choice of the king, and the
continent has accepted the challenge.”4 Hence his sarcastic remarks
about the treacherous Society of Friends, whom he depicted as
“antiquated virgins . . . mistaking [their] wrinkles for dimples”5 and
who, “with the word ‘peace, peace,’ continually on their lips,” are so
fond of supporting a government “which is never better pleased than
when at war”!6 Paine could bite; but the Friends had a good memory
and never forgave him, even on his deathbed.
One of Paine’s most important contributions to international
peace was his Maritime Compact published in Paris (as Pacte
maritime) in the summer of 1800. Written “to compel the English
government to acknowledge the rights of neutral commerce, and that

“Reflections on Titles,” FO 2: 33.
“Thoughts on Defensive War,” FO 2: 53.
Common Sense, FO 1: 17.
American Crisis III, FO 1: 94.
Ibid., 93.
A Quaker with a Difference 139

free ships make free goods,”7 this astonishing document, distributed to

all foreign ministers then resident in Paris, was more generally
designed to render war impossible by threatening belligerent nations
with total commercial boycott on the part of neutral countries
peacefully leagued into an “Unarmed Association of Nations.”8 The
idea was that such a boycott would immediately ruin the aggressor’s
economy by cutting it off from the rest of the world, and thus render
warfare counterproductive. The Association would have its own flag
“composed of the same colors as compose the rainbow”9 and a
presidency by rotation, “the first president to be the executive power
of the most northerly nation.”10 In fact, Paine had in mind Paul I,
Emperor of Russia, as the first possible president: “Had it not been for
the untimely death of Paul,” he later contended, “a Law of Nations,
founded on the authority of nations . . . would have been
This idea, and ideal, were not new for Paine. Eighteen years
before, in his famous Letter to the Abbé Raynal (1782), he had already
expressed similar views and summarized the whole issue with
eloquence: “The sea is the world’s highway; and he who arrogates a
prerogative over it transgresses the right [to the freedom of the ocean],
and justly brings on himself the chastisement of nations.”12 It was
precisely in the same work—a reply to the Abbé’s Observations on
the Revolution in America—that, as an American historian has put it,
he “actually ceased to think in nationalistic terms and became a
practical internationalist.”13 ‘Practical’ is perhaps not the right word,
in the sense that Paine’s utopian proposals were well ahead of his time
and clearly overrated the degree of wisdom actually reached by his
contemporaries. The novelties formulated in his Letter are well-
known: the establishment of international free trade, the organization
of peace on a world-wide basis, a concerted limitation of armaments
and a federation of nations. Paine saw commerce as a convivial

Maritime Compact, FO 2: 946.
Ibid., 941.
Ibid., 944.
Ibid., 945.
Ibid., 946.
Letter to the Abbé Raynal, FO 2: 262.
See D. Abel, “The Significance of the Letter to the Abbé Raynal in the Progress
of Thomas Paine’s Thought,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,
LXVI (April 1942): 176-90.
140 The Transatlantic Republican

competition and as a means of international rapprochement. Hence his

belief in the pacifying virtues of trade: “Commerce,” he wrote,
“though in itself a moral nullity, has had a considerable influence in
tempering the human mind.”14 He also believed that, through the
exemplary union of its thirteen states and its alliance with France,
Spain and the Netherlands, revolutionary America was in fact
“opening a new system of extended civilization”15 and a new era
during which the league of nations would at long last put an end to
international violence and anarchy.
Also less known, or less noticed, is the way in which Paine first
insisted on the possibility of a peaceful entente between states with
different political regimes, and then moved on to a conception of
international progress that was much less ecumenical. When he wrote
his Letter to the Abbé Raynal, Paine thought that nations could
associate with each other in the name of peace and establish between
themselves international rules independently of the nature of their
several political regimes: “Forms of government,” he insisted, “have
nothing to do with treaties.”16 He had therefore no objection to a
republic entering into an alliance with a monarchical country: “So
long as each performs its part, we have no more right or business to
know how the one or the other conducts its domestic affairs.”17
Although this may sound like Realpolitik, Paine’s attitude was that of
an idealist: “It is best mankind should mix,” he went on to say, “and it
is by a free communication, without regard to domestic matters, that
friendship is to be extended and prejudice destroyed all over the
world”18—prejudice which he so beautifully defined as “the spider of
the mind.”19 But the most interesting argument here, and the most
original, was Paine’s presentation of the concert of nations as a kind
of international republic where each member, regardless of its size or
of the nature of its government, could have a say, and act as an equal
partner, in the preparation of peace agreements. That all countries, “be

Letter to the Abbé Raynal, FO 2: 241.
Ibid., 256.
Ibid., 244.
Ibid., 245.
Ibid., 242.
A Quaker with a Difference 141

their forms what they may, are relatively republics with each other,”
such was, he explained, “the first and true principle of alliance.”20
Ten years later he had learned much and changed his mind in
many ways. In the second part of Rights of Man (1792) he takes up
again, and expands, the utopian themes outlined one decade before in
his reply to Raynal, advocating this time: (1) a sort of Alliance for
Progress in the form of a European Confederacy including England,
France and Holland—not unlike the “European Republic” envisioned
by Rousseau21; (2) a gradual but “general dismantling of all the navies
in Europe”; and (3) a joint pressure of the United States and
Confederated Europe in order to obtain from Spain “the independence
of South America and the opening [of] those countries . . . to the
general commerce of the world.”22 But Paine was now convinced that
his dreams had no chance of coming true so long as England remained
allergic to democratic and republican principles, so long as it
remained a court government “enveloped in intrigue and mystery,”23
equally unable to cater for the actual needs of its people and to
peacefully cooperate with such countries as had cast off the yoke of
tyranny. He was confident that the establishment of a democratic
system in Britain would powerfully contribute to the spread of
republicanism throughout the world and to international peace.
The idea that British monarchy would be a perpetual cause of
warfare became such an obsession with Paine that in 1796 he started
contriving and planning a naval invasion of England, thus betraying
his own previous attachment to the doctrine of defensive war. But, as
he himself put it, it was still for the cause of peace that he was acting
that way: “The intention of the expedition [with Bonaparte at the
controls] was to give the people of England an opportunity of forming
a government for themselves, and thereby bring about peace.”24
Behind his dreams of naval conquest lay the deeply-rooted creed that
Britain’s external violence was nothing but a projection of its own
internal system based on social injustice, and that no lasting peace
would be achieved in Europe while England remained the stronghold
of hereditary inequality. More generally, Paine considered that the

Ibid., 244.
See the third Forester’s Letter, FO 2: 79.
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969), 289.
Ibid., 288.
“To the People of England on the Invasion of England,” FO 2: 680.
142 The Transatlantic Republican

establishment of social peace in each and every civilized country was

a prerequisite for a better understanding amongst the nations of the
world. Hence his insistence, in Rights of Man, on the necessity of
developing social as well as political rights, so as to diminish
economic frustrations, bring men closer to one another, increase the
amount of fraternity in the world and diminish aggressive drives. For
Paine, proposing “plans for the education of helpless infancy, and the
comfortable support of the aged and distressed”25 was not only a just
policy; it was also part of an active strategy of peace based on the idea
that non-belligerence between nations does rest, to a not
inconsiderable degree, on the establishment of social non-violence
between the citizens of each national community.
Like all prophets, Paine was, so to speak, a ‘delayed-action
realist’—someone who had a clear view of the future at a time when
so many minds were befuddled. He was not just the visionary of a
more peaceful future. He was an actor, a militant and, if I may put it
so, a “soldier of peace.” He did not see world peace as merely a
godsend resulting from chance or Providence, but as the reward of a
long, patient, difficult struggle. In other words, he was the reverse of a
fatalist: “Man,” he once wrote, “must be the privy councillor of fate,
or something is not right.”26

“Letter addressed to the Addressers on the Late Proclamation,” FO 2: 488.
Letter to the Abbé Raynal, FO 2: 238.

From the Rights of Man to the Rights of God:

Paine’s Ultimate Challenge

Who art thou, presumptuous Paul,

that puttest thyself in God’s place?
Thomas Paine (1809)1

In a letter addressed to Thomas Erskine,2 who had defended Paine in

1792 in the suit against Rights of Man and was, in 1797, prosecuting
Thomas Williams, a London publisher accused—“on the charge of
blasphemy”—with printing The Age of Reason (Williams was finally
sentenced to three years in prison), Paine wrote these luminous lines
which can be read as a summary of all his works, or used as a guide to
understand better their internal dynamics, i.e. the way in which
Paine’s successive challenges were, though different in scope, all of a
Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.
Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this
attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity.3
Starting from this quotation, I will try to show how Thomas
Paine, throughout his life-long career as a defender of natural rights,
actually “rose” from the local to the universal, and then from the
universal to the divine, without ever changing his stand as both a
rationalist and a Deist. From his first challenge to his last, he remained
persistently committed to the same sacred cause, whether this cause
was, say, the religion of America, or later the religion of human rights,
or, later still, the public affirmation of his deistic belief “in one God,
and no more.” From beginning to end, and on both continents, his was

Thomas Paine, “Predestination: Remarks on Romans, IX, 18-21” (1809), FO 2:
In fact a pamphlet published in Paris in September 1797.
FO 2: 728.
144 The Transatlantic Republican

above all a spiritual adventure, and not a political or literary one, as

has so often been contended.
When in 1793 Paine started writing the first part of The Age of
Reason, he had already been, in two historic circumstances, “the man
through whom scandal does come” (Matthew, 18, 7). Profoundly,
almost physically averse to political imposture and usurpation, he had
dedicated his first book, Common Sense, to a denunciation of British
colonialism in North America and, as a result, had been regarded, in
London as well as among American Loyalists, as a traitor to the King
(whom he had dubbed “the Pharaoh of England” or “the High
Honorable murderer of mankind”) and as a traitor to his native
country which he had left only two years before. In 1791-92, Paine
went one step further: with Rights of Man, he launched forth into a
direct attack on the fraud of monarchical regimes and so profoundly
shocked aristocratic England that he was finally tried “for high
treason” and forever banished from Britain. Greeted as a hero in Paris,
made a French citizen, and elected to the Convention by four different
departments, our unmaker of kings provoked one more scandal by
paradoxically pleading against the beheading of a monarch, Louis
XVI. As he saw it, the French revolution would be a mere farce if it
proved to be, in its acts, as cruel and bloodthirsty as the former
despotism. Paine paid dearly (almost a year in prison) for his moral
commitment to the scandal of truth, and only a miracle kept him from
the guillotine. With The Age of Reason (1794-95), Paine aimed even
higher: the problem, this time, was not to liberate America from the
colonial bond or to liberalize England and its government or to
humanize the French Revolution, but to storm heaven itself or at least
to attack all established churches, all forms of so-called “revealed”
religion—that supreme trickery which seemed to extend its boundless
empire to the whole world, and even beyond.
A defender of the rights of American colonialists, then a
defender of the rights of man, Paine ended up as a defender of the
rights of God; but one should not be misled by this moral and spiritual
escalation, nor taken in by Paine’s apparently growing concern with
religious issues. There was no discontinuity in his approach to society
and the world, even though, from one book to another, religious
references became less and less rhetorical, more visibly sincere, more
and more central to his thought. Faith, and the inalienable rights of
Paine’s Ultimate Challenge 145

God, seem to have been, from his Quaker days at Thetford to the
woeful year spent in the Luxembourg prison, at the core of his
experience as both a man and a writer.
If one considers all the literature dedicated to Common Sense over
more than two centuries, one cannot fail to see that the religious
dimension of Paine’s first pamphlet has gone practically unnoticed.
And yet it is there, throughout, from the first to the last page of a book
which, above all else, was an act of faith. Most critics have contented
themselves with a few well-founded commonsensical remarks about
Paine’s rhetorical and insincere use of biblical references and
chronology, for instance when describing the ungodly origin of
monarchy or hereditary succession (“The will of the Almighty, as
declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of
government by kings . . . Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the
sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against
them,” etc., etc.) (CS, 72-73).
True, even as early as 1776, Paine most probably did not believe
a word of the Bible and was profoundly distrustful of established
churches, including the Christian denomination. Here is, for example,
what he wrote retrospectively on the subject at the beginning of The
Age of Reason:
Soon after I had published the pamphlet Common Sense, in America, I saw the
exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be
followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection
of church and state . . . had so effectually prohibited by pains and penalties
every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion,
that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could
not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this
should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human
inventions and priestcraft would be detected; and man would return to the
pure, unmixed and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.4
It is therefore unquestionable that the biblical references with
which Common Sense is pervaded were essentially a means artfully
resorted to to win over an audience of believers and church-goers for
whom the Bible (which they knew inside out) was, in most cases, all
the culture they had. But this should not blind us to other passages in

FO 1: 465.
146 The Transatlantic Republican

Common Sense which can in no way be identified as mere rhetoric,

but do evince an authentic creed, a genuine religious approach to
reality. Paine’s pamphlet is suffused with a feeling of historic
transcendence (“The cause of America is in a large measure the cause
of all mankind”) (CS, 63), and it quite clearly carries with it something
of a prophetic or even messianic—not to say adamic—nature: “We
have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation similar
to the present has not happened since the days of Noah until now. The
birthday of a new world is at hand” (CS, 120).
While men and necessity play a role of their own in history,
Paine had in mind another category of time: that of the Almighty, or
of Providence, or of Grace. In Crisis 1 (which was a continuation of
Common Sense), he openly admitted “that God governs the world.”5
What we said about this in Chapter 2 might usefully be repeated at
this point:
Why [in Paine’s view] was the Reformation preceded by the discovery of
America if not, in fact, because “the Almighty graciously meant to open a
sanctuary to the persecuted in future years”?6 But it is also possible for God to
intervene against the tide of events, as if to deflect the arrow of time. Thus,
for instance, does He induce fiendish General Howe to commit certain
strategic errors (in particular in November 1776 during the retreat of the
American troops from New Jersey to Pennsylvania); one must assume, Paine
then observes, that the agents of Hell “are under some providential control.”7
Whether divine intervention simply accompanies the mechanical course of
events, or imperiously forces the hand of destiny by reversing the most
desperate situations, it is indeed God and His grace who finally rule over the
work—here, the revolutionary work—of time . . .
In Paine’s case, however, neo-Calvinism was sufficiently tempered, despite
the apparent contradiction, to exclude neither reason nor free will: “Throw not
the burden of the day upon Providence,” he told the insurgents, but “‘show
your faith by your works’.”8
There is therefore little doubt that the fascination which Common
Sense—an anonymous work written by a totally unknown author—
immediately held for masses of people in America was, at least in
part, linked to its religious overtones and its mysterious messianic

FO 1: 54.
CS, 87.
Ibid., 52 (Crisis I).
Ibid., 55.
Paine’s Ultimate Challenge 147

It may not be exaggerated to describe Rights of Man, written some

fifteen years after Common Sense, as a religious book—a book in
which human rights and the prerogatives of God are closely
connected, and the Bible no longer treated as a fraud, but defined, so
far at least as Genesis is concerned, as the source-book of all our
“natural” liberties. All rhetoric is now discarded: faith, genuine faith,
is at the core of a philosophy of rights in which everything is directly
related to the Divinity.
In Rights of Man, Paine challenges Burke on his own ground and
turns his central doctrine of precedents back on him, arguing that the
origin of human rights is not to be found in this or that period of
history, but in some absolute past, in a time prior to time in which God
and Man were one, or at least undistinguishable:
The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting
the rights of man, is, that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not
go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred
or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present
day. This is no authority at all . . . But if we proceed on, we shall at last come
out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his
Maker . . .We are now at the origin of man, and at the origin of his rights . . .
The fact is, that portions of antiquity, by proving everything, establish
nothing. It is authority against authority all the way, till we come to the divine
origin of the rights of man at the creation [emphasis mine]. Here our inquiries
find a resting-place, and our reason finds a home.9
In this crucial and beautifully written passage, Paine obviously
sides with the Creator, who made man “in his own image,” against the
pretensions of those who dared interpose their puny selves and paltry
gesticulations between the day of the Creation and the present time
and have impudently presented themselves as the actual initiators or
bestowers or inventors of human rights. Paine’s defense of the rights
of God as the creator of mankind is openly based on “the Mosaic
account of the creation” which, “whether taken as divine authority, or
merely historical,” highlights the indisputable “unity or equality of
man.”10 The usurpers he had in mind when writing this were those
who always tend to forget that “the genealogy of Christ is traced to

RM, 87-88
Ibid., 88.
148 The Transatlantic Republican

Adam,” and who believe that there are providential men, providential
kings, providential generations, providential or ‘glorious’
revolutionists who can legitimately take the place of God and make
their fellow-men in their own images, dictating to posterity—until the
end of time—what they should do, what they should think, how they
should be governed. If so many people refuse to “trace the rights of
man to the creation of man,” if they fail to acknowledge that “every
child born into the world must be considered as deriving his existence
from God,” if they are unable to admit that “the world is as new to
[any newborn child] as it was to the first man that existed,” and that
“his natural right in it is of the same kind,” it is, Paine argues,
“because there have been upstart governments, thrusting themselves
between, and presumptuously working to un-make man,”11 i.e. to
deprive him of his most divine attributes while dispossessing God
Himself of His monopoly as shaper of the human mind.
Paine’s insistence on what he calls “the illuminating and divine
principle of the equal rights of man (for it has its origin from the
Maker of man),” and his idea that “the equality of man, so far from
being a modern doctrine, is the oldest upon record,” aim at
discrediting Burke’s conservative recourse to “prescription” or
collective wisdom or “wisdom without reflection” (Burke’s own
phrase), as an artful way of negating the timelessness and adamic
nature of human rights. In whatever country or age, Paine contends,
each man is the depositary of Providence; and the same is true of
every single generation viewed as a body of individuals. If, for Paine,
the individual wisdom of the living was intrinsically superior to the
collective wisdom of the dead, it was precisely because man’s reason
(“the choicest gift of God to man”)12 was originally made,
manufactured and molded in the very image of God’s reason. And to
deny this was, in Paine’s view, to be a rejecter of God as the Maker of
Man and the Creator of all things. In other words, Mr. Burke, Mr.
Guelph,13 King John, William of Normandy, William of Orange,
George III, etc., the so-called founders or protectors of “English
liberties” (a British and abridged version of the rights of man) were all

FO 1: 482 (The Age of Reason, Part I; in the rest of the chapter, The Age of
Reason will be referred to as AR).
An amused and cruel allusion to the founder of the House of Hanover, from
which the ‘imported’ Kings of England were originally descended.
Paine’s Ultimate Challenge 149

infidels, usurpers, profaners of the original divinity of man, deniers of

the almightiness of their own God.
Not only, Paine goes on to say, must our governors abstain from
usurping the power of God, but they should not be so arrogant as to
lay down rules for the Divinity to follow. “Were a Bill brought into
any parliament, entitled ‘An act to tolerate or grant liberty to the
Almighty to receive the worship of a Jew or a Turk,’ or ‘to prohibit
the Almighty from receiving it,’ all men would startle, and call it
blasphemy. There would be an uproar.” The rights of God are, by
definition, even more inalienable than the adamic rights of man, and
the violation of the former cannot but bring about the abolition of the
latter. Hence Thomas Paine’s admonishment to the impostors of all
ages, countries and descriptions: “Who, then, art thou, vain dust and
ashes! by whatever name thou art called, whether a King, a Bishop, a
Church or a State, a Parliament, or anything else, that obtrudest thine
insignificance between the soul of man and its Maker?”14 In the
conflict between the Creation and human history, it is clear that Paine
made common cause with God. Establishing the rights of man by
means of a “revolution”—which, incidentally, he and his enlightened
friends also called “regeneration”—was, in his eyes, tantamount to
reinstating God in his own transcendental rights. Republicanism, i.e.
the adamic and revolutionary return to natural or native human rights,
was for Paine, if I may put it thus, a practical way of reconciling
heaven and earth, true religion and true politics.

Although it was, and is still, regarded as blasphemous, The Age of
Reason is, throughout, a book on blasphemy. In that respect, Common
Sense and Rights of Man had simply paved the way for this ultimate
plea entirely devoted to the defense of God—and to a merciless attack
on those who endeavor to substitute themselves for the Divinity in the
minds of men. In his letter to Erskine, Paine some time later gave a
very precise definition of what he meant by “blasphemy”:
A book called the Bible has been voted by men [an allusion to the councils of
Nicaea and Laodicea],15 and decreed by human laws, to be the Word of God,

RM, 108.
These two councils, Paine wrote in Examination of the Prophecies, “were held
three hundred and fifty years after the time Christ is said to have lived; and the books
150 The Transatlantic Republican

and the disbelief of this is called blasphemy. But if the Bible be not the Word
of God, it is the laws and the execution of them that is blasphemy, and not the
Paine did not reject the possibility of ‘revelation’ in religious
matters, but revelation, as he saw it, was necessarily a direct
transaction between God and some particular individual. From the
moment the person who had received the revelation turned to other
people to tell them about his or her experience, this was no longer a
revelation (at least for the listeners), but a mere second-hand narrative
or testimony. And this was precisely, Paine contended, what the Bible
was entirely grounded upon, from the first line to the last: unverifiable
pieces of evidence, narratives based on hearsay, tales and fables
expressed in various ancient languages, when in fact, Paine added,
“the Word of God cannot [by definition] exist in any written or human
language” (AR, 477). Paine, just as he had previously done with
Burke, attacked the usurpers of the Word of God on their own ground,
and with their own weapon, resolutely setting out to expose their
trickery and “to show that the Bible is spurious, and thus, by taking
away the foundation, to overthrow at once the whole structure of
superstition raised thereon” (AR, 554).
But in his eyes, the Bible was not only an unreliable collection of
factual contradictions, chronological impossibilities and human (i.e.
erroneous) artifacts; it was also a jumble “of the most unexampled
atrocities” (AR, 528), a “history of assassinations, treachery and wars”
(AR, 539) and therefore an immoral piece of writing, in addition to its
being a “lying book” (AR, 569). Paine consequently assigned to
himself a double task: first, to reinstate the truth of God’s Word in its
original natural rights, by debunking the claims of all Bible-forgers
and Scripture-makers; and, second, to “vindicate the moral justice of
God against the calumnies of the Bible” (AR, 523).
In this battle for truth and morality, Paine, obviously, did not
mince his words, stigmatizing in a most caustic way the blasphemous
and impious attitude of those who had so long and so shamelessly
imposed upon mankind, and put the name of God in the service of
their own cause or interests. The Old Testament (but how could God

that now compose the New Testament were then voted for by yeas and nays, as we
now vote a law. A great many that were offered had a majority of nays, and were
rejected. This is the way the New Testament came into being” (FO 2: 850).
FO 2: 729.
Paine’s Ultimate Challenge 151

have two testaments, two wills? he exclaimed) Paine described as “a

book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy; for what can be greater
blasphemy than to ascribe the wickedness of man to the orders of the
Almighty?” (AR, 529). To the priests of every description, who felt
“no interest in the honor of [their] Creator,” he bluntly said: Is it
because you are “sunk in the cruelty of superstition” that you can
listen to the “horrid tales” of the Bible and “hear them with callous
indifference?” (AR, 537). And Paine was just as severe about the New
Testament—that “romantic book of schoolboy’s eloquence” based on
“the monstrous idea of a Son of God begotten by a ghost on the body
of a virgin” (AR, 553), and which he saw as a mere impious collage of
“fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the
Almighty ” (AR, 582-83, emphasis mine). It follows that the real
blasphemers are not those that people imagine; the real blasphemers
are those who project their own wickedness onto the Creator, and
make him in their own detestable image, so as to frighten masses of
men into superstitious obedience. From that point of view,
Christianity was, for Paine, the reverse of a genuine system of faith:
“It appears to me,” he said, “as a species of Atheism—a sort of
religious denial of God” (AR, 486).

It would be difficult to speak in plainer terms. But Paine was not

simply critical. He had something to propose—an alternative to the
“dangerous heresies” and “impious frauds” he denounced (AR, 597), a
system of faith which, because it was not man-made, could not easily
be diverted, distorted or corrupted by human impostors. His system he
called “the pure and moral religion of Deism” (AR, 537), the only
religion which, according to him, “has not been invented” (AR, 600)
and is not an insult to God. Paine’s profession of faith was simple
(some would say simplistic): “Yes,” he exclaimed, “there is a word of
God; there is a revelation. The word of God is the creation we behold”
(AR, 482)—a creation that is there, for all to see, for all to understand,
because it “speaketh a universal language” (AR, 483).17 Just as, in
Rights of Man, Paine had retraced the fountain of fundamental human
rights to the condition of Adam in the Garden, so, in The Age of

Paine’s view is here close to Voltaire’s (“There can be no clock without a
clockmaker’). In The Age of Reason, Paine resorts to an image which is almost a
replica of Voltaire’s: “When we see a watch, we have as positive evidence of the
existence of a watchmaker, as if we saw him” (FO 2: 798).
152 The Transatlantic Republican

Reason, he once again turned to the very moment of the Making of

Man in order to discover the origin of true religion: “If ever a
universal religion should prevail,” he predicts, “it will not be by
believing anything new, but in getting rid of redundancies, and
believing as man believed at first. Adam, if ever there was such a man,
was created a Deist” (AR, 512, emphasis mine).
Deism was the fashion with Enlightenment intellectuals and, as
total atheism was generally bad form in eighteenth-century society,
even among freethinkers, Deism often served as a mask in social life.
Because it was the lowest common denominator of all creeds, it
elegantly reconciled the public obligation of displaying some outward
expression of faith with the positivist demands of Reason. But, with
Paine, Deism had nothing to do with fashion or social convenience.
This particular creed had always dwelt in the back of his adamic mind:
it had sprung from his Quaker education; it had gained strength from
the study of Newtonian science, and it later formed the moral
substratum of all his political, social and religious ideas. Paine refused
to believe in the Trinity, which he regarded as a vestige of pagan
polytheism and which, he thought, reduced the Almighty to being a
mere dying mortal in the person of Jesus Christ or a homing pigeon in
that of the Holy Ghost. Paine’s disrespect for the so-called ‘sacred’
texts seems to have remained unparalleled. But such was his creed—
based on the idea that Deism was the only true and natural religion;
the only system of faith capable of uniting mankind instead of
dividing it; the only one that was not bound to bathe the world in
blood and that might safely be told to children; the only one also that
was actually respectful of the rights of God, amongst which are: the
right, for the Almighty, not to be conceived in the image of man; the
right to be protected from all those, sincere or insincere, well- or ill-
intentioned, who spend their lives trying to out-God God; the right not
to be made a trade or a business of; the right not to be exploited to
immoral ends or to be used as a means of scaring people into

The thing that Paine most sharply criticized in revealed religions was
that they implied a renunciation of reason; they even condemned
science, and held it “irreligious to study and contemplate the structure
of the universe that God had made” (AR, 495). Conceived in that way,
Paine’s Ultimate Challenge 153

religion could only be “an insult to the Creator and an injury to human
reason.”18 As we have seen, reason (which he sometimes spelled with
a capital R) was regarded by Paine as “the choicest gift of God to
man.” In his last written piece (“Predestination,” 1809), he even spoke
of “the divine reason that God has given to man.”19 It is therefore
legitimate to think that Reason was Paine’s real and only God, as is so
glaringly suggested by the most famous (or, for some people,
infamous) quotation from The Age of Reason: “My own mind is my
own church” (AR, 464). Contrary to Blaise Pascal, who recommended
that people should turn themselves into half-wits if they wanted to
meet the Divinity and have faith, Paine insisted that “it is only by the
exercise of reason that man can discover God” (AR, 484). The “age of
Reason” and “the age of God” were, for him, one and the same thing.
His life-long effort as a writer, his spiritual ascension from Common
Sense to Rights of Man to The Age of Reason, was a continuous
attempt at reconciling nature and progress, religion and science,
reason and faith, the divine powers of the creature and the
almightiness of the Creator.
In the opening pages of The Age of Reason, Paine, who was
aware that his book would scandalize most of his readers, if not all of
them, wrote: “I know that this bold investigation will alarm many, but
it would be paying too great a compliment to their credulity to forbear
it on that account; the times and the subject demand it to be done”
(AR, 472). Thus Paine, who was himself very tolerant in religious
matters and refused to “condemn those who believe otherwise” (AR,
464), courteously apologized to his public for the occasional brutality
of his discourse, but in no way did he solicit their leniency. The price
that he had to pay for his “bold investigation” is well known: two
centuries of irrational disdain and hateful oblivion.

Examination of the Prophecies (1807), FO 2: 871.
FO 2: 897 (emphasis mine).
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A Pioneer with a Difference:

Thomas Paine and Early ‘American Studies’

Based on a lecture given in 1999 at the University of Amsterdam, as part of a

conference organized by Professor Rob Kroes on “Predecessors: Intellectual
Lineages in American Studies.”

When did all begin? Where did it all come from?

As former chairman of the French Association for American
Studies, I was presumably expected—and even expected myself—at
this conference, to say something, if not everything, about how and
when, and through whose decisive action, the self-contained subject or
area known as “American Studies” appeared and developed in my
country: how, in the early phase of that development, the decline of
the British Empire and the emergence of the United States as a
dominant power continued to be viewed by French ‘Anglicists’ as a
peripheral phenomenon that could in no way dislodge English Studies
from their academic dominance; how, after World War II, “the United
States” nevertheless became the only subject studied, as far as
“English” went, during the final year of all French secondary schools;
how at university level the interests of students also shifted from Great
Britain to the United States, creating a need for specialized teachers as
well as for new books with new contents; how a few daring colleagues
supported by Sim Copans, director of the Institute of American
Studies in Paris, seceded from the French British Studies Association
(SAES, Société des anglicistes de l'enseignement supérieur), in which
they felt—and actually were—marginalized, when not looked upon as
eccentric or stray scholars; how they declared themselves
independent, held their first general meeting in 1967 (with only a few
dozen founding members attending), drafted their own constitution,
and started flying on their own wings—as “AFEA, Association
Française d’Études Américaines”—, then growing year after year in
number (with nowadays a membership of more than 600), launching
156 The Transatlantic Republican

their own journal in April 1976 (Revue Française d’Études Améri-

caines), becoming an active member of the European Association for
American Studies, etc., etc.
Instead of that (the story being now pretty well known, and
probably similar to that of many other European countries), I have
chosen to go back in time to the very origin of our ‘discipline’
(American Studies), if only because, historically, France was directly
and repeatedly involved in it—at least through the four founding
figures whose relative merits in this matter I will try to examine.
Three of them were French—Crèvecoeur, Raynal and Tocqueville—
the fourth one, Thomas Paine, was English, American … and French.
My main point here will be that, for a variety of reasons, it was Paine
who, perhaps more than the other three, was the real originator of that
specific area of learning and teaching which all ‘Americanists’ now
identify with.
Thomas Paine has been wittily but rightfully described as “a champion
of freedom in three worlds—the Old, the New, and the Next.”1 But he
was above all a pioneer and a precursor. In Common Sense, for
instance, Paine was the first to advocate the establishment of an
independent and republican state. But six years later, in his dispute
with Raynal,2 he was also the first to delineate, in political terms and
from an international perspective, the uniqueness of the ongoing
American experience—the first, so to speak, to define American
identity “live.” As an active contributor to the Revolution and birth of
the United States, not only was Paine able to go further than the pre-
Revolutionary observations, however accurate, of Crèvecoeur and
other European travelers,3 but, as an actor-commentator-adviser
working in the field, he achieved more, in practical terms, and did
more for the advent of a specific area of intellectual investigation

Julian P. Boyd, quoting Richard Gimbel, in Whitfield J. Bell, The Bust of Thomas
Paine (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1974—printed for The Friends
of the Library), “Foreword,” 3.
Letter to the Abbé Raynal, on the Affairs of North America (Philadelphia, 1782).
On European travelers in the U.S., see, among many other works: Thomas D.
Clark, “The Great Visitation of American Democracy,” Mississippi Valley Historical
Review 44 (June 1957): 3-28; Peter Marshall, “Travelers and the Colonial Scene,”
British Association for American Studies Bulletin, New Series 7 (Dec. 1963): 5-28.
Early American Studies 157

dedicated to the United States, than did the post-Revolutionary

reflections of Tocqueville, however innovative they were from a
political science point of view.
Crèvecoeur was aware, to use his own well-known phrase, of the
“newness” of American colonial society, but he was horrified at the
prospect of its disintegration, and refused to take sides when the
necessity of independence and national self-assertion appeared. His
Letters from an American Farmer, published in 1782—but actually
written between 1769 and 1778—have been justly described as a
“requiem for the new nation as it [came] into being.”4 Two recent
biographers have even depicted Crèvecoeur as a “Janus, looking
toward the future and America when in France, and turned toward the
past and [monarchical] France when in America.”5 In a long-
unpublished text written during the Revolution (“The Man of
Sorrow”), Crèvecoeur, naturalized as a British subject as early as
1765, realized that he could not accept the Americanness of his own
American status if that meant ceasing to be British. In his famous
Letter entitled “What is an American?,” he had, some time before,
expressed his conviction that “a new man” was emerging in the New
World. But, in “The Man of Sorrow,” confronted as he was with the
violence and disruption of the Revolution, he made it clear that the
‘new democratic man’ ushered in by the “civil war” (as he called it)
was not something he could intellectually and politically accept:
The rage of civil discord hath advanced among us with an astonishing
rapidity; every opinion is changed, every prejudice is subverted; every ancient
principle is annihilated; every mode of organisation which linked us before as
men and as citizens are now altered, new ones are introduced; and who can
tell whether we shall be gainers by the exchange.6
Not only does he here reject every single change, every single
departure from the status quo, but he seems unable to grasp the radical
‘newness’ of what was going on:
You know from History the consequences of such wars; in every country, it

Susan Manning, “Introduction,” in Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American
Farmer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ”The World’s Classics,” 1997), viii.
Gay W. Allen and Roger Asselineau, St. John de Crèvecoeur: The Life of an
American Farmer (New York: Viking, 1987), 214.
Dennis D. Moore, ed., More Letters from the American Farmer: An Edition of the
Essays in English left unpublished by Crèvecoeur (Athens, Ga: The University of
Georgia Press, 1995), 325-26.
158 The Transatlantic Republican

has been a field pregnant with the most poisonous weeds, recriminations,
hatred, rapidly swelling to a higher degree of malice and implacability.7

In other words, when the idyllic newness of American colonial society

turned into actual political innovation, Crèvecoeur (just as Raynal,8 as
we shall now see) failed to understand the historical originality and
universal meaning of the American insurrection.

In August-September 1782, almost a year after the battle of Yorktown,
Thomas Paine published a long pamphlet (a one-hundred-page
manuscript) entitled Letter to the Abbé Raynal, on the Affairs of North
America: In which the Mistakes in the Abbé’s Account of the
Revolution of America are Corrected and Cleared Up. This letter,
John Keane writes, “was among the most eloquent, tightly argued, and
insightful of Paine’s essays . . . certainly the longest.”9 Paine himself
attached so much value to this document that he subsequently often
introduced himself as the author of “Common Sense and the Letter to
the Abbé Raynal.” Beyond its intrinsic interest, this rigorous piece of
writing marked a turning-point in Paine’s political thinking—a
transition from his early insular view of America to an international
conception of human society. As an American historian has put it (a
quote already referred to), he “actually ceased to think in nationalistic
terms and became a practical internationalist”10—more utopian, one
should say, than practical. His times, indeed, were not ripe for the
radical prophecies contained in the Letter—which included the
establishment of international free trade, the organization of peace on
a world-wide basis, a concerted limitation of armaments and a
federation of nations—but Paine’s singular merit was that of a
visionary who was able to raise himself and his thought above the
narrow configurations of his age.
Paine’s Letter was a reply to Raynal’s famous book (Tableau et
révolutions des colonies anglaises de l’Amérique septentrionale)

Ibid. (emphasis mine).
To whom, incidentally, Crèvecoeur’s Letters were dedicated.
John Keane, Tom Paine, 230.
See D. Abel, “The Significance of the Letter to the Abbé Raynal in the Progress
of Thomas Paine’s Thought,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
LXVI (April 1942): 176-90.
Early American Studies 159

published in Paris in 1781. Yet the text to which Paine refers is that of
an English translation based on a pirated version of the French book.
(An occasion for Paine to advocate—some time after Beaumarchais—
a universal legislation for the protection of intellectual property.)11
The translation (as well as a pirated version of the original)12 appeared
in London some six months before the authorized edition. A reprint of
that translation, entitled Observations on the Revolution in America,
was soon after published in Philadelphia and other American cities.
Paine read a copy he had borrowed from Robert Morris. His reply was
published ... at the author’s expense. Fifty copies were sent to George
Washington “for the use of the army”13; Paine received in return a
very warm letter of thanks. He also sent fifty copies to Robert R.
Livingston and Robert Morris, asking them to propagate his pamphlet
wherever they could in the West Indies and Europe, more particularly
in Britain and France.14
Refuting Raynal’s book had three different objects: (1)
preserving the image of Revolutionary America by dramatically
picking out Raynal’s factual errors and erroneous interpretations; (2)

Letter to the Abbé Raynal: “The state of literature in America must one day
become a subject of legislative consideration . . . When peace shall give time and
opportunity for study, the country will deprive itself of the honor and service of letters
and the improvement of science, unless sufficient laws are made to prevent
depredations on literary property . . . A man’s opinions, whether written or in thought,
are his own” (FO 2: 213n, 214). On Beaumatchais’s earlier initiative, see Chapter 5,
note 8.
“Révolution de l’Amérique par M. l’abbé Raynal, Lockyer Davis, Londres,
Keane, Tom Paine, 232.
“Unsurprisingly,” John Keane writes, Paine’s “pro-American Letter to the Abbé
Raynal was greeted respectfully in America. A half-dollar second edition soon
appeared in Philadelphia, and a cheaper edition was reprinted by Benjamin Edes and
Sons in Boston . . . Robert Morris sent copies of the ‘excellent Pamphlet’ to contacts
such as Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Maryland’s superintendent of revenue, while
Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, was forwarded thirteen dozen ‘to be sent as
occasion might offer to the several governments’ . . . The international reception of
the pamphlet was boosted by Paine’s distribution of free copies. He admitted at the
time to giving away nearly five hundred copies . . . Paine’s hopes were bolstered by
news that reprints of the pamphlet were soon to appear in London and Dublin and that
it was receiving excellent reviews in France, where two translations were published
during 1783. ‘I have lately travelled much,’ reported an American touring that
country, ‘and find him everywhere. His letter to the Abbé Raynal has sealed his
fame’” (John Keane, Tom Paine, 232-33).
160 The Transatlantic Republican

seizing the opportunity to fulfill, at least in part, his old dream of

writing a short analytic history of the American Revolution; (3)
enhancing his own literary fame in Europe. From that point of view,
he was fully satisfied, if only because the publication of his Letter in
England coincided with the opening of the peace negotiations with
rebellious America and, therefore, received locally quite of lot of
attention. In October 1783, Paine publicly rejoiced in the “reception
and success which [the Letter] has met with in England, and the new
light which . . . ha[s] been thrown on the affairs of America by that
publication.”15 He had, moreover, been well-advised to send, or to ask
certain friends to send, copies of his pamphlet to Paris. Four
translations were immediately printed there, which proved to be as
successful with the general public as with the Court. La Luzerne, then
French minister to the U.S., wrote Paine an official letter which
expressed the satisfaction of France—and enclosed a gift of fifty
guineas intended to cover part of the original printing costs.16
Paine’s letter to the Abbé could be described as a “defense and
illustration” of the universal dimension of the American Revolution
against the belittling interpretations of Raynal. But Paine, who was a
good rhetorician, begins his ‘lecture in American studies’ by paying a
somewhat overdone tribute to Raynal as a writer—yet immediately
adding that, although the Abbé
is a master of style and language, he seems not to pay equal attention to the
office of an historian. His facts are coldly and carelessly stated. They neither
inform the reader nor interest him. Many of them are erroneous, and most of
them are defective and obscure. It is undoubtedly both an ornament and a
useful addition to history, to accompany it with maxims and reflections
. . . but it is absolutely necessary that the root from whence they spring, or the
foundation on which they are raised, should be well attended to, which in this
work is not.17
The “root,” the “foundation,” the very origin and nature of the facts
and events reported: we are at the heart of the controversy over what
the emerging new nation was all about.
This initial observation being made, Paine then undertakes to
demolish an argument which, as he saw it, rested on various false
data, this resulting in part from the fact that Raynal—like so many

FO 2: 1232-33.
See Keane, Tom Paine, 580n.64.
FO 2: 221-22.
Early American Studies 161

alleged ‘travelers’ of his time, or so-called ‘observers’ of the New

World—had never set foot in America, and consequently did not
really know what he was writing about. Hence the regrettable fact that
“in the course of his work, [he] has, in some instances, extolled
without a reason, and wounded without a cause.”18 But the three main
points to which Paine applies both his verve and criticism have to do
with the causes of the War of Independence, the historic significance
of the Franco-American alliance, and the character—local or
universal, banal or exceptional—of the American Revolution.
For Raynal, what characterized the anti-British rebellion was the
triviality of the causes by which it had been brought about. On the eve
of the Revolution, he argued, colonial America did not suffer from
any of the evils that traditionally justify popular upheavals:
None of those energetic causes, which have produced so many revolutions
upon the globe, existed in North America. Neither religion nor laws had there
been outraged. The blood of martyrs or patriots had not there streamed from
scaffolds. Morals had not there been insulted. Manners, customs, habits, no
object dear to nations, had there been the sport of ridicule. Arbitrary power
had not there torn any inhabitant from the arms of his family and friends, to
drag him to a dreary dungeon [no doubt an allusion to the French ‘lettres de
cachet’]. Public order had not been there inverted. The principles of
administration had not been changed there; and the maxims of government
had there always remained the same.19
Since minor causes can sometimes produce major consequences, a
mere trifle might then be sufficient to set off the whole process, and,
in fact, Raynal argued, “ the whole question was reduced to the
knowing whether the mother country had, or had not, a right to lay,
directly or indirectly, a slight tax upon the colonies.”20
Paine’s reply concerning the objective causes of the rebellion
denied by Raynal was the following: “They did not exist in 1763, and
they all existed before 1776,”21 and therefore the insurrection did have
a political and moral foundation. Its real cause was to be sought not in
the far-from-glorious rejection of a tax on sugar or tea, but in the
tyrannical power of the British Parliament and its Declaratory Act of
1766 which asserted the right of the Commons “to bind America in all

Ibid., 215.
Abbé Raynal, The Revolution in America (London: Lockyer Davis, 1781), 126-
FO 2: 216.
162 The Transatlantic Republican

cases whatsoever.”22 The American colonies thereby found

themselves “not only in the lowest, but in the basest state of
vassalage,”23 and the abuses and usurpations which subsequently
punctuated their history were nothing but modalities of that most
intolerable act. Thus, Paine concludes, “the whole question with
America, in the opening of the dispute, was, shall we be bound in all
cases whatsoever by the British Parliament, or shall we not?”—a
Parliament, he goes on to say, which, “with respect to America was
not septennial but perpetual.”24 The causes of the Revolution were
profound and could not be described as mere whims or fits of temper.
Yet detecting and criticizing Raynal’s factual errors was not
enough.25 Paine felt the need to go one step further and expose the
shortcomings of the Abbé’s “philosophical reflection”26 as well as the
inadequacies of his vision of history as applied to the circumstances of
America. No, he argues, not only is it not true that the American
Revolution was generated by trivial disputes or mediocre claims, but it
is futile to measure it by the yardstick of ordinary rebellions, or “to
look for precedents among the revolutions of former ages.”27 The
American insurrection, as Paine saw it, was unique in human history,
and the values it carried—“the value and quality of liberty, the nature
of government [of republican government, that is], and the dignity of

Ibid., 217.
Ibid., 218.
It must in all fairness be added here that Raynal was far from being entirely
negative about the future of the United States as a great nation. In his Revolution in
America, he admitted that “this part of the new world cannot fail of becoming one of
the most flourishing countries upon the globe. Nay, it has been even supposed, that
there is cause to fear lest Europe should one day find her masters in her children”
(174). But, in his comments on the ongoing Revolution, he seemed to have much less
confidence in the American population than in the country itself: “No sooner would
the liberty of this vast continent be established, than it would become the asylum of
all the offscouring amongst us, of men of intriguing, seditious spirits, blasted
characters, or ruined fortunes.” (169) Raynal was quite aware that his criticisms were
going against the tide, but he refused to give in to fashion: “Let us dare to stem the
torrent of public opinion, and that of public enthusiasm” (174). In the conclusion of
his book, he was nevertheless ‘a good sport’ with the American people, wishing them
well, although not without some qualification: “May your duration, if it possible,
equal the duration of the world” (181). If it is possible ...
FO 2: 235.
Ibid., 220.
Early American Studies 163

man”28—were both national and universal values which concerned

mankind as a whole as well as each individual citizen or community.
No, the upheaval of Americans was not a parochial event brought
about by their being allergic to taxes or by their love of tea; it was an
unprecedented political revolution, a profound disruption that affected
our way of being in the world:
Our style and manner of thinking have undergone a revolution more
extraordinary than the political revolution of the country. We see with other
eyes; we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we
formerly used. We can look back on our own prejudices, as if they had been
the prejudices of other people.29
The main asset of revolutionary America, its exceptional character, its
peculiar genius, all of this stemmed from the fact that it possessed
precisely what Great Britain and the Old World did not have: “an
expanded mind—a heart which embraces the universe.”30
Written with “the ardor of a universal citizen,” the Letter ends
with a flamboyant call—both political and philosophical—on behalf
of “an extension of civilization.”31 When mankind was “in a state of
barbarism,”32 Paine explains, “there were as many nations as persons,”
but, driven by necessity, men got together and formed distinct
societies and nations. The trouble is that they then went no further,
and that therefore “the cycle of civilization is yet incomplete.” The
great lesson, therefore, that mankind must draw from the American
revolutionary experience—from the internal union of its thirteen states
and the external alliance established with Spain, the Netherlands, and
above all France (“an alliance not formed for the mere purpose of a
day, but on just and generous grounds, and with equal and mutual
advantages . . . an alliance not of courts only, but of countries”)33—
yes, the great lesson was that a new era had begun, based on “the
extension of the mind and the cordiality of the world”34: an era, Paine
argued with both naïve fervor and prophetic foresight, which would
see civilization move one step further toward its accomplishment, and

Ibid., 219.
Ibid., 243.
Ibid., 255.
Ibid., 242
Ibid., 240.
Ibid., 244.
Ibid., 243.
164 The Transatlantic Republican

a society of nations at long last emerge and form an international

cordon sanitaire against warfare.
Unlike Crèvecoeur and Paine, Tocqueville visited the United States
after the event.35 His purpose was not to participate in the making of
an object (“America”) that already existed, but to observe the
functioning of the new nation, not so much for its own sake as with a
view to compare it with other emerging (or potential) democratic
systems and, on that basis, to depict “the general traits of democratic
societies.”36 In that sense, he was the inventor of a new approach to
history, a new way of drawing from the American “laboratory” he
observed general lessons that might elsewhere serve as a source of
reflection and inspiration. A witness of the American system at work,
an actor on the French political scene, an aristocrat infatuated with
both real and ‘virtual’ democracy, Tocqueville can certainly be seen as
a sociologist studying the present or an historian-philosopher
analyzing the past, but his main concern was with what would happen
next. He thought about the past or present in terms of his own
conception of a better society for the generations to come; instead of
becoming engrossed in the American present, he, in his own words,
chose “to consider the whole future.”37
John Stuart Mill was certainly right when he said that
Tocqueville had “opened up a new era in the scientific study of

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont—both of them judges
at the Versailles court of justice—received permission to travel to the U.S. for the
purpose of studying the U.S. prison system. They were also intrigued with the notion
of American democracy and eager to see the country. So Tocqueville, then only 25,
and Beaumont, 28, spent nine months traveling throughout the U.S. in search of
America’s ‘essence.’ They ventured as far west as Michigan where guides led them
through the unspoiled wilderness. They headed south to New Orleans, risking their
lives to travel during the worst winter in years. But the majority of their time was
spent in Boston, New York and Philadelphia; they were warmly received by the elite
and had little difficulty arranging meetings with some of the most prominent and
influential American intellectuals of the early 19th century. For a full and detailed
account, see, among other biographies, John Wilson Pierson, Tocqueville in America
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).
Letter to John Stuart Mill, quoted in De la démocratie en Amérique: les grands
thèmes, ed. J.- P Mayer (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), 12.
Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America, translated by George Lawrence
(New York: Harper, 1988), 20.
Early American Studies 165

politics,”38 and it is only fair that Tocqueville be regarded as the

forefather and founder, if not of sociology, at least of modern political
science; but he was not as instrumental as Paine in the early historical
recognition of an American ‘specificity’ and in the marking out of a
radically new field of intellectual investigation worthy of being
studied for its own sake. In that sense, Paine was an ‘Americanist,’ as
were, to a lesser degree, Crèvecoeur and Raynal; and Tocqueville was
not. He was the student of a more general subject, and America was
only a ‘pretext’ or a convenient ‘teaching (or rather learning) aid’:
No novelty in the United Sates struck me more vividly during my stay than
the equality of condition . . . The more I studied American society, the more
clearly I saw equality of condition as the creative element from which each
particular fact derived . . . Later, when I came to consider our own side of the
Atlantic, I thought I could detect something analogous to what I had noticed in
the New World. I saw an equality of condition which, though it had not there
reached the extreme limit found in the United States, was daily drawing closer
thereto; and that same democracy which prevailed over the societies of
America seemed to me to be advancing rapidly toward power in Europe.
It was at that moment that I conceived the idea of this book.39
Wherever one looks, one finds the same revolution taking place throughout
the Christian world.40
I admit that I saw in America more than America; it was the shape of
democracy itself which I sought . . . to know what we have to fear or hope
Or again:
America was my framework, démocratie was the subject.42
These words clearly indicate what Tocqueville was and what he was
not; what he was concerned with (the future of democracy in the
Western world) and what he was not primarily interested in (the
United States). Contrary to Paine or Crèvecoeur, he was not a ‘foreign
observer in residence,’ but instead a traveler visiting the New World

Quoted in J.-P. Mayer, ed., De la démocratie en Amérique: les grands thèmes,
Ibid., 9.
Ibid., 11.
Ibid., 19.
Letter to John Stuart Mill, quoted in John Wilson Pierson, Tocqueville in
America, 748.
166 The Transatlantic Republican

in search of background material for his work on “democracy” and

contemplating his own political philosophy in the promising mirror of
American society.
To some extent, the four authors I have compared—Crèvecoeur,
Paine, Raynal and Tocqueville—were all ‘predecessors’ in the sense
that they all studied America long before we did or before ‘American
Studies’ even existed as a recognized academic subject. But it seems
to me that, through Common Sense and his Letter to the Abbé Raynal,
only Thomas Paine stands out as a real pioneer or founder of what we
now call ‘American Studies.’ Thanks to his ground-breaking
pamphlet, not only did Paine suddenly rise to his new status—that of a
citizen of the world—but also to the status of an ‘Americanist’ trained
in the field rather than in the intellectual salons of Europe. By the
same token, America rose, through him, to the status of an object for
serious study and exchange between intellectuals from various cultural
backgrounds. As teachers or researchers in the field of American
studies, we are certainly indebted to Crèvecoeur, Raynal, Tocqueville
and a few others, but we are all the children of Thomas Paine; and, in
that respect, I suggest that a statue of gold be erected—not in every
city of the universe, as Bonaparte once suggested43—but in each and
every American Studies department of the world.

“A statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe”: this is
what Bonaparte is reported to have said to Paine during an unexpected visit to his
small apartment on rue de l’Odéon (then rue de l’Ancienne Comédie) in the fall of
1797. See W. E. Woodward, Tom Paine: America’s Godfather, 1737-1809 (London:
Secker & Warburg, 1946), 301.

I. Collected Works of Thomas Paine1

Conway, Moncure D. The Writings of Thomas Paine, 4 vols. New York: Putnam,
1894-1896 [reprints: New York: AMS Press, 1967; New York: Burt Franklin,
Foner, Eric. Thomas Paine: Collected Writings. New York: Library of America, 1995.
Foner, Philip S. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. New York: Citadel
Press: 1945. Reprint, New York: Freethought Press Assoc., 1954.
Foot, Michael and Isaac Kramnick. The Thomas Paine Reader. Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1987.
Van der Weyde, William M. Life and Works of Thomas Paine, 10 vols. New
Rochelle: Thomas Paine National Historical Association, 1925.

II. Biographical Books or Essays

Aldridge, Alfred Owen. Man of Reason: The Life of Thomas Paine. New York,
Lippincott, 1959.
Ayer, A. J. Thomas Paine. London: Secker & Warburg, 1988.
Brinton, Crane. “Thomas Paine.” Dictionary of American Biography, vol. XIV,
Chalmers, George (Francis Oldys). Life of Thomas Pain: The Author of Rights of Men
[sic], with a Defence of His Writings. London, 1791.
—. Life of Thomas Pain, the Author of the Seditious Writings, entitled Rights of Man.
London: 1793.
Cheetham, James. The Life of Thomas Paine. New York: 1809. Reprint, Scholars
Facsimiles & Reprints, 1989.
Conway, Moncure D. The Life of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. New York: Putnam, 1892.
Translated into French by Félix Rabbe as Thomas Paine (1737-1809) et la
Révolution dans les deux mondes. Paris: Plon, 1900 (contains facts and
documents not to be found in the original).

Paine’s three main works are separately available in the following editions:
Common Sense, ed. Isaac Kramnick (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982); Rights of Man,
ed. Henry Collins Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982 (also: ed. Gregory Claeys.
Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992); The Age of Reason, ed. Philip S. Foner. Secaucus, NJ:
Citadel Press, 1974. No (complete) British edition of The Age of Reason is currently
available; The Thomas Paine Reader, ed. Michael Foot and Isaac Kramnick
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987) contains only Part 1. Most of Paine’s works can be
accessed on the Web, in particular at: http://www.thomaspaine.org/contents.html
168 The Transatlantic Republican

Foner, Eric. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1976.
Fruchtman, Jack. Thomas Paine: Apostle of Freedom. New York: Four Walls Eight
Windows, 1994.
Hawke, David Freeman. Paine. New York: Harper, 1974; Norton: 1992.
Joulin, Malou. Le temps de Thomas Paine. Bruxelles: Complexe, 2004.
Keane, John. Tom Paine: A Political Life. Boston, New York, Toronto, London:
Little, Brown & Co, 1995.
Lessay, Jean. L’Américain de la Convention: Thomas Paine. Paris: Perrin, 1987.
Oldys, Francis. See Chalmers, George.
Powell, David. Tom Paine: The Greatest Exile. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
Rabbe, Félix. See Conway, Moncure D.
Rickman, Thomas. Clio, Life of Thomas Paine. London, 1819.
Sherwin, Thomas. Memoirs of the Life of Thomas Paine. London, 1819.
Smith, Frank. Thomas Paine, Liberator. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1938.
Stephen, Leslie. “Thomas Paine.” Dictionary of National Biography, vol. XLIII,
Vale, Gilbert. The Life of Thomas Paine. New York: 1841.
Vincent, Bernard. Thomas Paine ou la religion de la liberté. Paris: Aubier-Montaigne,
Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine, His Life, Work and Times. London: Allen &
Unwin, 1973.
Wilson, Jerome D. and William F. Ricketson. Thomas Paine. New York: Twayne,
Woodward, William E. Tom Paine: America’s Godfather. London: Secker &
Warburg, 1946.

III. Critical Studies

Abel, Darrel. “The Significance of the ‘Letter to the Abbé Raynal’ in the Progress of
Thomas Paine’s Thought.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 66
(April 1942): 176-90.
Aldridge, Alfred Owen. Thomas Paine’s American Ideology. Newark: University of
Delaware Press, 1984.
—. “La signification historique, diplomatique et littéraire de la lettre adressée à l’abbé
Raynal par Thomas Paine.” Études anglaises 8 (1955): 223-32.
—. “The Influence of Thomas Paine in the United States, England, France, Germany,
and South America.” In Werner P. Friedrich, ed., Comparative Literature:
Proceedings of the Second Congress of the International Comparative Literature
Association, 2 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959, 2:
—. “Thomas Paine in Latin America.” Early American Literature 3 (winter 1968-
1969): 139-47.
—. “Thomas Paine’s Plan for a Descent on England.” William and Mary Quarterly,
3rd Series, 14 (January 1957): 74-84.
Berthold, S. M. Thomas Paine: America’s First Liberal. Boston: Meador, 1938.
Caron, Nathalie. Thomas Paine contre l’imposture des prêtres. Paris: L’Harmattan,
Bibliography 169

Claeys, Gregory. Thomas Paine: Social and Political Thought. Boston: Unwin
Hyman, 1989.
Copeland, Thomas W. “Burke, Paine and Jefferson.” In Our Eminent Friend Edmund
Burke: Six Essays. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949, 146-89.
Davidson, Edward H. and William J. Scheick. Paine, Scripture, and Authority: “The
Age of Reason “as Religious and Political Idea. Bethlehem: Lehigh University
Press, 1994.
Dorfman, Joseph. “The Economic Philosophy of Thomas Paine.” Political Science
Quarterly 53 (1938): 372-86.
Dyck, Ian. Citizen of the World: Essays on Thomas Paine. New York: St. Martin’s
Press, 1988.
Falk, Robert P. “Thomas Paine and the Attitude of the Quakers to the American
Revolution.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 63
(1939): 302-10.
Fennessy, R. R. Burke, Paine and the Rights of Man: A Difference in Political
Opinion. The Hague: Martuus Nijhoff, 1963.
Fruchtman, Jack. Thomas Paine and the Religion of Nature. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1993.
Gimbel, Richard. Thomas Paine: A Bibliographical Checklist of “Common Sense”
with an Account of its Publication. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.
Kaminski, John P., ed. Citizen Paine: Thomas Paine’s Thoughts on Man,
Government, Society and Religion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
Kantin Georges, ed. Thomas Paine, citoyen du monde. Paris: Créaphys, 1990.
King, Arnold Kinsey. “Thomas Paine in America, 1774-1787.” Ph.D. diss., University
of Chicago, 1951.
Kramnick, Isaac. “Tom Paine: Radical Democrat.” Democracy 1 (January 1981): 127-
Le Moal, Paul. “La doctrine de Thomas Paine. Genèse – Evolution et expression
d’une pensée.” Thèse d’Etat (Ph.D. diss.), Université de Paris, 1971.
Meng, John J. “The Constitutional Theories of Thomas Paine.” Review of Politics 8
(1946): 283-306.
Palmer, Robert R. “Tom Paine, Victim of the Rights of Man.” Pennsylvania
Magazine of History and Biography 66 (1942): 161-75.
Pütz, Manfred and Jon-K Adams. A Concordance to Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense
“and “The American Crisis.” New York: Garland, 1989.
Sykes, Norman. “Thomas Paine.” In F. J. C. Hearnshaw, ed., The Social and Political
Ideas of the Revolutionary Era. London: Harrap, 1931, 100-40.
Thompson, Ann. “Thomas Paine and the United Irishmen.” Études irlandaises 16
(June 1991): 109-19.
Vincent, Bernard. “La stratégie du temps dans Common Sense.” In Autre temps, autre
espace: essais sur l’Amérique pré-industrielle, ed. Élise Marienstras and Barbara
Karsky. Nancy: Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1986.
—. “Thomas Paine, Freemasonry and the American Revolution.” Bulletin of the
Thomas Paine Society 1 (spring 1988): 3-18.
—. “Cinq inédits de Thomas Paine.” Revue Française d’Études Américaines 40 (April
—. “Thomas Paine and the French Revolution.” Huguenot-Thomas Paine Historical
Association “Pamphlet” (summer-fall 1989 and winter-spring 1990).
170 The Transatlantic Republican

—. “Thomas Paine: quelles révolutions pour demain.” In Thomas Paine, citoyen du

monde, ed. G. Kantin. Paris: Créaphys, 1990, 81-87. (English version: “Thomas
Paine: What Revolutions for Tomorrow?” – same pages.)
—. “Thomas Paine, républicain de l’univers.” In Le Siècle de l’avènement
républicain, ed. François Furet and Mona Ozouf. Paris: Gallimard, 1992, 101-26.
—. “Thomas Paine, the Louisiana Purchase and the Rights of Man.” Plantation
Society 3, no. 2 (1993): 63-72 (French version in Thomas Paine ou la République
sans frontières. See below).
—. “Thomas Paine: les ambiguïtés de la référence américaine.” In Révolution et
République: l’exception française, ed. Michel Vovelle. Paris: Kimé, 1994, 99-
—. “A National Hero in Transit: The Problem of Thomas Paine’s American
Citizenship.” Prospero (Rivista di culture anglo-germaniche) 2 (1995): 56-62.
—. “Thomas Paine and the Issue of Universal Suffrage.” Qwerty (October 1995):
—. “Thomas Paine’s Agrarian Justice: A Prophecy for our Times.” Sources 6 (fall
1998): 143-52.
—. “A Pioneer with a Difference: Thomas Paine and Early American Studies.” In
Predecessors: Intellectual Lineages in American Studies, ed. Rob Kroes.
Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1999, 236-65.
—. Vincent, Bernard, ed. Thomas Paine ou la République sans frontières. Nancy:
Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1993. [Ann Thomson, “Thomas Christie, Paine
et la Révolution française”; Alain Ruiz, “Pour Paine contre ‘Burke et Cie’: un
héraut allemand des Droits de l'Homme, Karl Friedrich Cramer”; Jean-Paul de
Lagrave, “Thomas Paine et les Condorcet”; Sophie Wahnich, “Identité et altérité:
Thomas Paine dans la Révolution française”; Yannick Bosc, “Thomas Paine et
les Constitutions de 1793 et 1795: critique de la république formelle”; B.
Vincent, “Les Américains à Paris sous la Révolution: mythes et réalités”; Denis
Lacorne, “À propos d’un crime de lèse-révolution: la Lettre à l'abbé Raynal de
Thomas Paine (1782)”; Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, “Modernité de la république:
Paine, Jefferson et l’impact de la Révolution française en Amérique”; B. Vincent,
“Thomas Paine et la ‘républicanisation’ de la Louisiane”; John Keane,
“Démocratie républicaine, nation, nationalisme: repenser les Droits de l’Homme
de Thomas Paine”; Florence Gauthier, “Paine et le républicanisme
cosmopolitique”; Marcel Dorigny, “Un autre cosmopolitisme: Nicolas de
Bonneville et le Cercle social”; B. Vincent, “Le républicanisme comme
instrument de paix.”]
Whale, John C. “Literal and Symbolic Representation: Burke, Paine, and the French
Revolution.” History of Ruropean Ideas 16 (January 1993): 343-49.
Wilson, David A. Paine and Cobbett: The Transatlantic Connection. Kingston and
Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988.
Wöll, Walter. Thomas Paine: Motives for Rebellion. European University Studies
Series XIV, Anglo-Saxon Language and Literature, vol. 248, (Frankfurt: Peter
Lang, 1992).

IV. On Paine’s Language and Style

Boulton, James T. The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke. London:
Bibliography 171

Routledge & K. Paul, 1963. Republished in 1975 by Greenwood Press.

Furniss, Tom. “Rhetoric in Revolution: The Role of Language in Paine’s Critique of
Burke.” In Revolution and English Romanticism: Politics and Rhetoric, ed. Keith
Hanley and Raman Selden. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
Smith, Olivia. The Politics of Language, 1799-1819. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.
Woodcock, Bruce. “Writing the Revolution: Aspects of Thomas Paine’s Prose.” Prose
Studies 15 (August 1992): 171-186.

V. Fictionalized Accounts
Elias, Jacob T., Young Thomas Paine. New York: Xlibris Corporation, 2000.
Fast, Howard, Citizen Tom Paine. New York: The Modern Library, 1943.

VI. Theater
Foster, Paul, Tom Paine: A Play in Two Parts. New York: Grove Press, 1967.
Foxall, Vince, Tom Paine Live. Performed in London at the Islington “Red Lion
Theatre,” Sept. 24 – Oct. 12, 1985.
Lewis, Joseph, The Tragic Patriot: A Drama of Historical Significance in Five Acts
and Twenty-Five Scenes. New York: The Freethought Press, 1954.
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Adams, Abigail, 124 Bonneville, Marguerite de, 112

Adams, John, 12, 39, 46, 124 Bonneville, Nicolas de, 36, 37, 75,
Adams, Samuel, 45, 46 90, 91, 112, 125
Adet, Pierre-Auguste, 52 Boothby, Brooke, 5
Aldridge, Alfred Owen, 107 Bouilly, Jean Nicolas, 82
Alengry, Franck, 37 Boulton, James, 4, 5
Allen, Ethan, 47 Boyden, William, 40
Allen,William, 48 Bradford, Thomas, 36
Anderson, James, 42, 55n.63 Bradford, William, 36
Arnold, Benedict, 47 Brant, Joseph, 48
Association Française d’Études Breckenridge, John, 97, 102
Américaines (AFEA), 155 Brissot (de Warville), 36, 37, 38,
Aude, Joseph, 80 52n.53, 74, 75, 76, 87, 91
Brunoy, Marquise de, 68
Babeuf, Gracchus, 127-28 Buffon, Comte de, 70
Bache, Richard, 36 Burke, Edmund, 3, 4-8, 12, 25, 49,
Bailyn, Bernard, 8 50, 86, 92, 114, 147-48, 150
Barère (de Vieuzac), Bertrand, 87 Burr, Aaron, 46, 47n.37
Barlow, Joel, 36, 67, 68, 83, 110, 111,
113 Cadoudal, Georges de, 73
Barnave, Antoine, 38 Capet, Louis. See Louis XVI
Barruel, Abbé, 51 Caron, Nathalie, 15
Bates, Stephen, 42 “Cato”. See Smith, William,
Bayard, Ferdinand, 76 Reverend
Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron Cercle Social, 125
de, 99n.8, 159 Chamfort, Sébastien-Roch-Nicolas,
Beaumont, Gustave de, 164n.35 79
Bellamy, Edward, 133, 134 Charles X, 37
Bentham, Jeremy, 95 Chastellux, Marquis de, 76
Bishop of Llandaff. See Watson, Chateaubriand, François-René de, 76
Richard Chatham, Earl of. See Pitt, William,
Bizardel, Yvon, 66, 69 Chaussard, Pierre-Jean-Baptiste, 81
Blake, William, 133 Chinard, Gilbert, 77
Blanc, Louis, 133 Church, Edward, 68
Blanchard, Jean-Pierre, 7 Claeys, Gregory, 118, 130, 131
Boizot, Louis-Simon, 72 Clark, George Rogers, 47
Bonaparte, Napoléon, 94, 99-100, Clavière, Étienne, 65
141, 166 Clay, Henry, 58n.70
Bonnet, Abbé, 76 Clinton, George, 47, 109, 110, 113
174 The Transatlantic Republican

Cloots, Anacharsis, 65, 66, 72, 88 36, 39, 42, 46n.34, 50, 56, 69, 70-
Cobbett, William, 114 74, 79, 80, 81, 82, 96, 114
Cochin, Augustin, 50, 53 Freud, Sigmund, 9
Codman, Richard, 68 Furet, François, 53
Coil, Henry Wilson, 40, 43n.23
Condorcet, Marquis de, 36, 67, 87, Gallatin, Albert, 52, 106
91, 111, 122 Gandhi, Mahatma, 137
Copans, Sim, 155 George III, 148
Cornwallis, Charles (general), 47 George IV, 37
Cortés, Hernando, 79 George, Henry, 1133
Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John de, 70, Gibbon, Edward, 114
77, 156-58 Goodman, Paul, 134
Cumberland, Duke of, 37 Goodman, Percival, 134
Grafton, Dukes of, 2
Danton, Georges-Jacques, 36, 37, 87, Grasse, Admiral de, 47
88 Greene, Nathanael, 36, 47, 86
Deane, Silas,12, 50 Grégoire, Abbé, 75
Declaratory Act (1766), 161 Griffith, Thomas, 68
Defoe, Daniel, 9 Grimshaw, William, 40
Deforgues, François, Louis, Michel, Guillotin, Ignace, 37
Chemin, 111
Dejaure, Jean-Élie, 80 Hall, Prince, 56-57
De Kalb, Johann, 47 Hamilton, Alexander, 46, 47, 83
Delisle de la Drevetière, Louis- Hancock, John, 45
François, 78 Haskins, William, 68
Denslow, William, 41 Heaton, Ronald, 40, 47n.35, 47n.36
Dermott, Lawrence, 43 Henry, Patrick, 47
Desfontaines, Pierre-François, 81 Hérault de Séchelles, Marie Jean, 88
Desmoulins, Camille, 88 Hobbes, Thomas, 95
Devoe, Frederick, 112 Hooper, William, 47
Dickinson, John, 47 Houdetot, Mme d’, 72
Duchâtelet, Achille, 36, 91 Howe, William (general), 28, 146
Dumenil, Lynn, 57 Howe, Lord Richard (admiral), 23, 48
Dwight, Theodore, 52, 57 Hume, David, 114
Dwight, Timothy, 51, 52 Hunt, Isaac, 3
Hunt, Leigh, 3
Echeverria, Durand, 83
Edes, Benjamin, and Sons, 159n.14 Illich, Ivan, 134
Erskine, Thomas, 143, 149
Estaing, Admiral d’, 47 Jackson, Major William, 68
Eustace, John Skey, 67 Jaurès, Jean, 133
Jay, John, 47
Fabre d’Églantine, Philippe, 88 Jefferson, Thomas, 1, 3, 15, 27, 36,
Fauchet, Abbé, 38, 75 37, 46, 50, 52, 69, 82, 86, 90, 94,
Faÿ, Bernard, 35, 37 96, 97, 98, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104,
Fox, Charles, 6 105
Fragonard, Jean-Honoré, 71 Jeffries, John, 7
Franklin, Benjamin, 1, 11, 12, 15, 35, Jenifer, Daniel of St. Thomas,
Index 175

157n.14 May, Henry, 55

Johnson, John, 48 Mayer, Charles de, 79
Jones, John Paul, 47 Mazzei, Philip, 67
McKee, Kenneth, 81, 82
Keane, John, 2, 11, 13, 132, 158, McLuhan, Marshall, 17
159n.14 McWilliams, Wilson, 58
King John, 148 Mercer, Hugh, 47
“King’s Speech in Parliament,” 21 Mercer, John Francis, 41
Knox, Henry, 47 Mill, John Stuart, 145n.42, 164n.36,
Kroes, Rob, 155 164
Mirabeau, Comte de, 38, 52n.53, 76,
La Luzerne, Chevalier de, 160 80
La Rochefoucauld, Duc de, 36, 38, Miranda, Francisco de, 4
67 Monroe, James, 36, 69, 89, 97, 101,
Lafayette, Marquis de, 36, 38, 47, 110, 125
52n.53, 67, 68, 69, 85 Montesquieu, Baron de La Brède et
Langborn, William, 67 de, 77, 78, 127
Lansdowne, Marquis of, 95 Montgomery, Richard, 47
Laurens, John, 86 Morgan, William, 57
Laurens, Henry, 36, 47 Morris, Gouverneur, 69, 88, 89, 101,
Le Bihan, Alain, 37 109-11, 112
Le Blanc du Guillet, Antoine, 79 Morris, Robert, 36, 47, 159
Le Forestier, R., 38 Morse, Jedidiah, 51, 52, 54, 57
Leavenworth, Mark, 68 Morse, Sidney, 45, 47n.37
Ledyard, John, 67 “Mr. Guelph,” 148
Lee brothers (Arthur and Francis Mulhenberg, Frederick, 36
Lightfoot), 36 Muraskin, William, 57
Lee, Charles (general), 1
Lee, Richard Henry, 47 Necker, Jacques, 38, 65
Lehrbach, Count, 38 Nogaret, Félix, 72
Leib, Michael, 98 Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg),
Leigh, Egerton, 48 11
Lincoln, Benjamin, 47
Lipson, Dorothy Ann, 48, 49, 54, 55 Orléans, Duc d’, 38
Livingston, Robert R., 447, 100, 159 Oswald, Eleazar, 67
Locke, John, 95 Otis, James, 45
Louis XVI, 76, 87-88, 144 Owen, Robert, 133

Mably, Gabriel Bonnot de, 127 Paine, Robert Treat, 47

Madison, James, 41, 42, 46, 83, 109, Paine, Thomas: revolutionary style, 1-
110, 113 17; first poem, 2; the Bastille of
Maier, Pauline, 91 words, 3; imagery, 4-5, 6-10;
Malone, Dumas, 101 circulation of CS, 11-12; of RM,
Marat, Jean-Paul, 76 12-13; of AR, 14-15; reception of
Marie-Antoinette, 4 RM in Britain, 5-6; success of TP’s
Marshall, John, 47 books in Europe, 12, 14, 107; in
Marsillac, Jean de, 74, 77 Latin America, 12, 107; royalties
Mathias, J. T., 4 given away, 12, 14; “replies” to
176 The Transatlantic Republican

AR, 15-16; strategic timing of CS, the world, 1107, 114, 166; placed
21-33; TP corset-maker, 22, 35; TP in the Hall of Fame, 96; on and for
Excise Officer, 22, 35; the three universal suffrage, 117-24; against
forms of time in CS, 27-30, 31; on property qualifications, 119-20; on
the necessity of a “Continental “the people,” 120; on the “nation,”
Charter,” 99n.9, 118; TP and 120-21; on property, 122, 129-32;
Freemasonry, 35-39; Illuminati, 38, on the vote of Black people, 124;
51, 52; TP’s bridge on the Thames, on the vote of women, 124; TP and
67, 85; made a French citizen, 69, Quakerism, 10, 74, 76, 104, 137-
83, 87, 95, 111, 144; elected deputy 38, 145, 152; not a pacifist, 137,
of the Convention, 87; drafts (with 138; advocates an Unarmed Assoc-
Condorcet) the Constitution of iation of Nations, 90, 139; a
Year 1, 87, 122; speaks for Louis concerted limitation of armaments,
XVI, 87-88; jailed in the Luxem- 139; a federation of nations, 139,
bourg prison, 36, 69, 82, 87n.3, 88, 158; a European Confederacy, 99;
89, 93, 109, 110, 125, 144, 145; criticism of the Bible, 14, 15, 149-
escapes the guillotine, 88, 144; 51; of revealed religions, 125, 132,
criticizes George Washington, 89; 140; quotes the Bible for rhetorical
completes AR in James Monroe’s purposes, 10, 145-46; TP and
house, 89; writes Maritime Deism, 15, 16, 38, 89, 93, 143,
Compact, 80, 138; out of phase 151-52; Genesis as source of
with French Revolution, 91-93; human rights, 147-48; Adamism,
unable to speak French, 87; works 27, 121, 146, 148, 149, 151-52;
with the Theophilanthropists, 93; condemnation of the ‘usurpers of
criticizes the French Revolution, the Word of God,’ 150-52; TP’s
93-94; invited by Jefferson to faith in reason, 4, 5, 9, 23, 24, 25,
return to America, 94; unsuc- 28, 29, 31, 38, 143, 152; tolerant of
cessfully tries to return to America all other creeds, 153; TP compared
(1797), 125; plans (with Bonaparte) to Crèvecoeur, 157-58; to Raynal,
an invasion of England, 94, 138, 158-64; to Tocqueville, 164-66.
141; mentioned as a future member
of the “English Directory”, 95; Main works cited :
criticizes the Constitution of Year Address “To the French Inhabitants
III, 123, 126; against Babeuf’s of Louisiana,” 106
communism, 127-28; advocates Agrarian Justice, 93, 123, 125-35
taxation on land, 129-30, 131; An Essay on the Origin of Free-
proposes various allowances, 130; masonry, 36
and the creation of a national fund, “A Serious Address to the People of
130; impact of Agrarian Justice, Pennsylvania,” 119
132-35; returns to America (1802), Common Sense, 1, 5, 8-12, 14, 16, 17,
97, 123; on the Louisiana Purchase, 21-33, 86, 91, 93, 99n.9, 107, 110,
97-107; TP as “farmer of thoughts” 117-18
and prophet, 26, 30, 99, 107, 124, Dissertation on First Principles of
135, 137; advocates international Government, 92n.12, 93, 123
copyright, 99, 159; problem of his Dissertation on Government; the
citizenship, 109-14; criticizes Gou- affairs of the Bank; and Paper
verneur Morris, 101, 110; TP Money, 120
disenfranchised, 109-12; citizen of “Epitaph” for a pet crow, 2
Index 177

Examination of the Prophecies, Reigny, Beffroi de, 80

149n.15 Révauger, Marie-Cécile, 50
Forester’s Letters, 118, 119 Revere, Paul, 45, 46n.34
Letter Addressed to the Revue Française d’Études
Addressers,121-22 Américaines, 156
Letter to George Washington, 89, 90, Riker (attorney), 113
109 Rittenhouse, David, 36, 47
Letter to the Abbé Raynal, 99, 139, Roberdeau, General, 36
140, 158-64, 158, 160, 166 Roberts, J. M., 51
Letter to the Citizens of Pennsylvania, Robespierre, Maximilien, 72, 81, 88,
120 92
Letters to the Citizens of the United Robinet, Dr., 37
States, 101 Robison, John, 51
Maritime Compact, 90-91, 138-39 Rochambeau, General, 47
“Predestination,” 143n.1, 153 Roosevelt, Theodore, 16
Public Good, 86 Roth, Philip A., 40
Rights of Man, 1-2, 3, 4-6, 8, 11, 12- Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 5, 72, 78, 80,
14, 15, 16, 17, 25, 26, 28, 29,86, 141
87, 96, 107, 112, 126, 128, 129, Rumsey, James, 67
133, 141, 142, 143, 147-49, 151, Rush, Benjamin, 16, 36, 47, 85
The Age of Reason, 11, 14-16, 17, 39, Saint-Simon, Comte de, 68
89-90, 93, 94, 96, 98, 99, 107, 109, Sauvigny, Guillaume de Berthier de,
129, 143, 144, 145, 149-53 79, 81
The American Crisis, 5, 22, 23, 146 Scoble, Thomas, 112n.13, 113
Scott, Walter, 13
Palmer, R. R., 50 Sérieys, Antoine, 81
Parsons, Samuel, 47 Sharp, William, 95
Pascal, Blaise, 153 Sherman, Roger, 47
Paul I (Emperor of Russia), 99, 139 Short, William, 69, 106
Pauw, Cornelius de, 70 Sieyès, Emmanuel-Joseph, 36
Penn, William, 73, 74, 76 Smith, Adam, 128
Philippe-Égalité, 37 Smith, Olivia, 6
Philips, Edith, 73 Smith, William (Reverend), 6
Piron, Alexis, 78 Spence, Thomas, 133
Pitt, William, 50, 132 Spencer, Herbert, 133
Price, Henry, 43 Steiner, Hillel, 133
Sullivan, John, 47
Quakers and Quakerism, 10, 73-77, Swift, Jonathan, 9
79, 80, 81, 82, 104, 137, 138, 145,
152 Tappan, David, 51, 57
Thelwall, John, 95
Rameau, Jean-Philippe, 78 Thomson, Charles, 159n.14
Randolph, Edmund, 47, 110 Tocqueville, Alexis de, 156, 157,
Randolph, John, 106 164-66
Randolph, Peyton, 47n.34, 47 Todd, Dolley Payne, 42
Raynal, Abbé, 70, 71, 76, 86, 99, 139, Toland, John, 119
140, 141, 156, 158-64 Tooke, Horne, 95
178 The Transatlantic Republican

Toussaint-Louverture, 106
Trumbull, John, 67
Turgot, Anne-Robert-Jacques, 71

Van Parijs, Philippe, 133

Vanderlyn, John, 67
Vernon, William Henry, 69
Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), 35,
72, 73, 74, 78, 80, 114, 151n.17

Walkes, Joseph, 56
Walpole, Horace, 3
Walras, Léon, 133
Ward, Elisha, 109
Warren, Joseph, 45, 46n.34
Washington, George, 1, 11, 23, 36,
40, 46, 47, 50, 54, 55, 56, 81, 83,
85, 88, 89, 94, 96, 98, 109, 110,
Watson, Richard, 16, 126
Wayne, Anthony, 47
Webster, Daniel, 44
Weishaupt, Adam, 38, 51
Whipple, Abraham, 45
Wilkes, John, 50
William of Normandy, 148
William of Orange, 148
Williams, Thomas, 125, 143
Wirt, William, 57n.70
Witherspoon, John, 36, 47
Wollstonecraft, Mary, 124
Wright, Joseph, 67
Wright, Patience, 67

Yorke, Henry Redhead, 93