Tag Archives: Thomas Paine

What? Me, a fair weather friend? Never!

… My intention … was, to have some Conversation with you … you have not only shewn no disposition towards it, but have, in some measure, by a sort of shyness, as if you stood in fear of federal observation, precluded it. I am not the only one, who makes observations of this kind.
From Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson, January 12, 1803

… you have certainly misconcieved what you deem shyness. of that I have not had a thought towards you, but on the contrary have openly maintained in conversation the duty of shewing our respect to you and of defying federal calumny in this as in other cases, by doing what is right. as to fearing it, if I ever could have been weak enough for that, they have taken care to cure me of it thoroughly.
To Thomas Paine, January 13, 1803

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders can’t please all the people all the time, not even their friends.
In November, 1802, Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the British-born American patriot and author of the highly influential pro-revolution pamphlet Common Sense in 1776, delivered models of bridges and wheels to the President. He sought Jefferson’s comments, perhaps his support, and hoped to profit from his designs. Two months passed with no response. That prompted his letter of 1-12-03, suggesting Jefferson was shy about being associated with him and feared some guilt-by-association. Paine twisted the knife more by suggesting others felt the same way. (Paine’s anti-Christian writings had made him highly unpopular in many circles.)

Jefferson, always sensitive to criticism, replied immediately and returned Paine’s models. He was not shy in his friendship and had defended Paine publicly. He had no concern for what his political opponents might say. If he had ever been weak enough to be swayed by them, he had endured enough of their invective now to be immune to it.

As to Paine’s models and Jefferson’s lack of comment, he explained that his Presidential responsibilities were so pressing that he no longer had time to devote to personal interests, though he was complimentary in general about Paine’s ideas.

“We had Patrick Lee portray Thomas Jefferson [for our annual educational conference].
The presentation was well done and extremely well received by our attendees.”
Executive Director, Township Officials of Illinois
Mr. Jefferson will do well for your audience.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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“It was a dark and stormy night … ”

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

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