… 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.