J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Friday, November 19, 2021

“Some people talk of impeaching John Adams”

In 1802, Thomas Paine returned to the U.S. of A. after nearly a decade and a half in Europe.

Paine had spent the previous several years in France, some of them in prison. Before that he had built bridges in Britain and then burned them metaphorically with his books on religion and revolutionary politics.

Paine had also started a one-sided feud with President George Washington, who he thought hadn’t done enough to get him out of that French prison. But an invitation from President Thomas Jefferson convinced Paine that at least some Americans would be glad to see him return.

Paine wasted no time in going back to arguing about American politics. From a temporary base in Washington, he started to issue public letters to the citizens of his newly readopted country. The second one, dated 19 Nov 1802, included this passage:
Some of John Adams’s loyal subjects, I see, have been to present him with an address on his birthday; but the language they use is too tame for the occasion. Birthday addresses, like birthday odes, should not creep along like mildrops down a cabbage leaf, but roll in a torrent of poetical metaphor.

I will give them a specimen for the next year. Here it is:

When an ant, in traveling over the globe, lifts up its foot, and puts it again on the ground, it shakes the earth to its center: but when YOU, the mighty Ant of the East, was born, etc., etc., etc., the center jumped upon the surface.

This, gentlemen, is the proper style of addresses from well-bred ants to the monarch of the ant hills; and as I never take pay for preaching, praying, politics, or poetry, I make you a present of it.

Some people talk of impeaching John Adams; but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of. He will then answer one of the ends for which he was born, and he ought to be thankful that I am arrived to take his part.
It’s not hard to see how Paine made so many enemies.

See Jett B. Conner’s John Adams vs. Thomas Paine: Rival Plans for the Early Republic for more on the fraught relationship between those two advocates for independence.

No comments: