To His Excellency George Washington May 31, 1790

To His Excellency George Washington May 31, 1790

LONDON,

SIR:

By Mr. James Morris, who sailed in the May Packet, I transmitted you a letter from the Marquis de Lafayette, at the same time informing you that the Marquis had entrusted to my charge the key of the Bastille, and a drawing of that prison, as a present to your Excellency. Mr. J. Rutledge, jun'r, had intended coming in the ship Marquis de Lafayette, and I had chosen that opportunity for the purpose of transmitting the present; but, the ship not sailing at the time appointed, Mr. Rutledge takes his passage on the packet, and I have committed to his care that trophy of liberty which I know it will give you pleasure to receive. The French Revolution is not only complete but triumphant, and the envious despotism of this nation is compelled to own the magnanimity

with which it has been conducted.

The political hemisphere is again clouded by a dispute between England and Spain1, the circumstances of which you will hear before this letter can arrive. A messenger was sent from hence the 6th inst. To Madrid with very peremptory demands, and to wait there only forty- eight hours. His return has been expected for two or three days past. I was this morning at the Marquis del Campo's but nothing is yet arrived. Mr. Rutledge sets off at four o'clock this afternoon, but should any news arrive before the making up the mail on Wednesday June 2, I will forward it to you under cover.

The views of this court as well as of the nation, so far as they extend to South America, are not for the purpose of freedom, but conquest. They already talk of sending some of the young branches to reign over them, and to pay off their national debt with the produce of their mines. The bondage of those countries will, as far as I can perceive, be prolonged by what this court has in contemplation.

My bridge is arrived and I have engaged a place to erect it in. A little time will determine its fate, but I yet see no cause to doubt of its success, though it is very probable that a war, should it break out, will as in all new things, prevent its progress so far as regards profits.

In the partition in the box, which contains the key of the Bastille, I have put up half a dozen razors, manufactured from cast-steel made at the works where the bridge was constructed, which I request you to accept as a little token from a very grateful heart.

I received about a week ago a letter from Mr. G Clymer. It is dated the 4th February, but has been travelling ever since. I request you to acknowledge it for me and that I will answer it when my bridge is erected. With much affection to all my friends, and many wishes to see them again, I am,

Your much obliged and obedient humble servant,

THOMAS PAINE.2

Footnote:

  1. Paine is referring to the Nootka Sound controversy. A number of English merchants had established a settlement at Nootka Sound, off Vancouver's island, for trade in furs and ginseng with China. In April, 1789 one of their ships with cargo was seized by a Spanish frigate and others were seized soon after this incident. Satisfaction was demanded by the English government, which was refused by Spain on the ground that all lands on the West Coast of America as far as 60 north latitude were under the dominion of Spain, and that Nootka belonged to Spain, because it had been discovered and occupied by a Spanish captain four years before Captain Cook visited those coasts. The English claimed that the king's subjects had a right to navigate and fish in those waters and settle on unoccupied lands. Both countries prepared for war, but the controversy was finally settled peacefully on October 28, 1790 when a treaty was signed by which Spain yielded to the demands of the British and restored the disputed territory to England. At the root of the controversy was Spain's fear of English activities in trading with her Latin American colonies.

  2. Washington replied thanking Paine for his "three agreeable letters" (October 16, 1789, May 1, and 31, 1790), and for the key of the Bastille. The new government established under the Constitution, he added, "answers its purposes as well as could have been reasonably expected." He left it to Colonel David Humphreys, who was sent as special secret agent to obtain information for the American government during the Nootka Sound Controversy, to explain in detail what was happening in America. Washington Mss.Library of Congress.