Go on then in doing with your pen what in other times was done with the sword: shew that reformation is more practicable by operating on the mind than on the body of man, and be assured that it has not a more sincere votary [adherent] nor you a more ardent well-wisher than Yrs. &c.
To Thomas Paine, June 19, 1792
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Peaceful leaders encourage ideas over coercion.
Jefferson complimented Paine on his 1792 pamphlet, the Rights of Man, written in opposition to monarchies and anti-republican societies. Sixteen years earlier in 1776, Paine had written Common Sense, promoting American independence. In 1794, he wrote The Age of Reason, a dismissal of organized religion in favor of deism.
Jefferson always promoted peaceful change: education and the broad circulation, discussion and debate of ideas as essential for preserving the American republic. Far better to use the written word to convince than the sword to coerce.
Have you heard the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”? It was coined by English playwright and novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton for a 1839 play. The idea was not original with him, though this phrasing was. Others, including Jefferson in this letter nearly 50 years earlier, had expressed the same thought.
Why the title to this post? Just for fun. And because Edward Bulwer-Lytton, not only reinforced Jefferson’s idea of pen vs. sword, also wrote those well-worn words to open his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford.
“Your remarks … could not have been more impressive or appropriate … “
Interim Director, MO River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Nebraska City, NE
It will not be a dark and stormy night when Mr. Jefferson inspires your audience!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739