Exceedingly rare ALS, one page, 8 x 9, March 28, 1806. In full: “I am sorry I am obliged to renew again my solicitation for an answer to my letters. If you were in my place you would know and feel the propriety of this application. It is not a cold and formal request that I make.” Intersecting folds, expertly repaired paper loss to top edge, and scattered staining, otherwise fine condition. Accompanied by an unsigned engraved portrait of Paine.
The circumstances surrounding this letter suggest that it may have been sent to President Thomas Jefferson. Paine had been deeply involved in the French Revolution during the 1790s while at the same time making scores of enemies at home; he alienated George Washington and his supporters with vicious criticism and enraged the Christian population with attacks in The Age of Reason. He returned to America in 1802 at the invitation of President Jefferson, who by this time was one of his only friends. All of Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars, with the two key belligerents being United Kingdom and France. Although they would not come to fruition, peace talks between the two nations began to warm in early 1806. Given Paine’s intimate knowledge of both countries and international affairs at large, Paine considered himself an ideal candidate to be sent to Europe to help negotiate a treaty.
In two known letters to Jefferson from the period preceding this example, Paine makes similar complaints regarding the president’s unresponsiveness. Just as this one does, those letters open with “Dear Sir,” and close, “Yours in friendship.” The closest in date is from two weeks earlier, March 15, and holds essentially the same plea, requesting a response to his letter of ‘the last days of January’ and closing with the repeated wish ‘that you would not delay an answer as the want of it holds me in useless inactivity.’ In the January 30th letter he references, Paine had written at length on the situation between France and Britain and offered to be sent to Europe to facilitate peace negotiations. He also commented twice about not having received responses to other letters to Jefferson, closing with ‘As I think that letters from a friend and to a friend have some claim to an answer it will be agreeable to me to receive an answer to this.’ Jefferson actually did respond to Paine’s request of March 15th—declining his offer—but not until ten days later. Presumably, Paine would not yet have received Jefferson’s letter of the 25th when writing this one on the 28th. Paine is one of the rarest and most highly sought-after early American autographs, and the historical context of this example makes it all the more desirable. Pre-certified PSA/DNA.
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