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Of all wrath, fanatical wrath is the most intense; nor can it be matter of surprise that Mr. Paine received from great numbers in America an unwelcome reception, and was treated with neglect and illiberality.
It is true on his return to that country in 1802, he received great attention from many of those who remembered the mighty influence of his writings in the gloomy period of the Revolution; and from others who had since embraced his principles; but these attentions were not, by many, long continued.
Thousands, who had formerly looked up to Mr. Paine as the principal founder of the Republic, had imbibed a strong dislike to him on account of his religious principles; and thousands more, who were opposed to his political principles, seized hold of the mean and dastardly expedient of attacking those principles thro the religious feelings and prejudices of the people. The vilest calumnies were constantly vented against him in the public papers, and the weak minded were afraid to encounter the popular prejudice.
The letter he wrote to General Washington also estranged him from many of his old friends, and has been to his adversaries a fruitful theme of virulent accusation, and a foundation on which to erect a charge of ingratitude and intemperance. It must certainly be confessed that his naturally warm feelings, which could ill brook any slight, particularly where he was conscious he so little deserved it, appear to have led him to form a somewhat precipitate judgment of the conduct of the American president, with regard to his (Mr. Paine's) imprisonment in France, and to attribute to design and wilful neglect what was probably only the result of inattention or perhaps misinformation; and under the influence of this incorrect impression he seems to have indulged, rather too hastily, suspicions of Washington's political conduct with respect to England. But surely some little allowance should be made for the circumstances under which he wrote; just
escaped from the horrors of a prison where he had been for several months confined under the sanguinary reign of Robespierre, when death strode incessantly through its cells, and the guillotine floated in the blood of its wretched inhabitants; and if, with the recollection of these scenes of terror fresh in his memory, and impressed with the idea that it was by Washington's neglect that his life had been thus endangered, he may have been betrayed into a style of severity which was perhaps not quite warranted, we can only lament, without attaching blame to either, that any thing jarring should have occurred between two men who were both staunch supporters of the cause of freedom, and thus have given the enemies of liberty occasion to triumph because its advocates were not more than mortal.
The dark and troublous years of the revolution having past away, and a government being firmly established, wealth possessed more influence than patriotism; and, a large portion of the people consisting of dissenters, fanaticism was more predominant than toleration, candour and charity.
These causes produced the shameful and ungrateful neglect of Mr. Paine in the evening of his days; of that Paine who by his long, faithful, and disinterested services in the Revolution, and afterwards by inculcating and enforcing correct principles, deserved, above all other men, the most kind and unremitting attention from, and to be held in the highest estimation by, the American people.
There were indeed a chosen and enlightened few, who, like himself "bold enough to be honest and honest enough to be bold," feeling his value, continued to be his friends to his last hour.
Paine was not one of the great men who live amid great events, and forward and share their splendour; he created them; and, in this point of view, he was a very superior character to Washington.
Far be it from me to derogate from the value of that great man; but it is presumed that he is more justly appreciated in the following epitaph, than in some longer essays towards characterizing him:
Important periods raark'd thy splendid life,
Mr. Paine having ever in his mind the services he had rendered the United States, of whose independence he was the principal author and means, it cannot be matter of wonder that he was deeply hurt and affected at not being recognized and treated by the Americans as he deserved, and as his labours for their benefit merited.
Shunned where he ought to have been caressed, coldly neglected where he ought to have been cherished, thrown into the back