To Mr. Hulbert of Sheffield March 12, 1805
ONE OF THE MORTIFIED FEDERAL MEMBERS OF
THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE
Philip Foner's introduction:
Few Presidents in our history were subjected to the abuse and venom visited upon Thomas Jefferson by his political opponents. Reactionary Federalists literally frothed at the mouth at the mere mention of Jefferson's name. "The Federalists hated Jefferson," writes Henry Cabot Lodge, "with no common political hatred, but rather with the vindictiveness of men toward a deadly foe who, as they believed, sought the ruin of all they most prized and cherished." (Quoted in Philip S. Foner, editor, Thomas Jefferson: Selections from His Writings, p. 32.)
Having felt the whip of Federalist attacks himself, Paine was more than anxious to trade blows with the abusers of his friend. On July 9, 1805, he wrote to John Fellows: "There has been a great deal of anonymous abuse thrown out in the federal papers against Mr. Jefferson, but until some names could be got hold of it was fighting the air to take any notice of them. We have now got hold of two names, your townsman Hulbert, the hypocritical Infidel of Sheffield, and Thomas Turner of Virginia, his correspondent. . . ."
The following article was Paine's reply to Hulbert's attacks upon Jefferson. It appeared in William Duane's Philadelphia Aurora of March 12, 1805, and is now for the first time included in a collection of Paine's writings.
WHEN the poison-tooth of a rattlesnake is drawn, the bite and slaver of the reptile, like the slander and foam of Mr. Hulbert, become deprived of the power of injuring. The success of the republican ticket in Massachusetts has, at last, drawn the teeth of the rattlesnake of federalism, and reduced the mischievous animal to laughable in- significance. In this toothless and pitiless condition, the rattle in its tail, like the rattle of the legislator of Sheffield, is heard without alarm.
Slander belongs to the class of dastardly vices. It always acts under cover. It puts insinuation in the place of evidence, and tries to impose by pretending to believe. Its loudest language, when it speaks, is a whisper. At other times, it disguises itself in anonymous paragraphs, for which nobody is accountable. But it is a refinement on meanness when the slanderer covers himself with the privilege of a legislator speaking in his place. It requires no courage to tell a lie, insinuate a calumny, where the prerogative of the place protects him from punishment, and the absence of the person slandered precludes immediate detection, and this is what Hurlbert has done.
Mr. Jefferson, at the distance of six or seven hundred miles, and myself at the distance of almost four hundred miles, have both been attacked in the legislature of Massachusetts, by this toothless rattlesnake, the legislator of Sheffield. Mr. Jefferson, as president of the United States, has other matters to attend to than that of answering this successor of Callender, who finished his career of slander by putting an end to his existence; and as to myself, Mr. Hulbert may see by the reply I now make to him, that I hold him and his abuse in laughable derision.
One of his attacks on Mr. Jefferson is introduced in the following manner:
"Does any one doubt (said he) that Mr. Jefferson invited Thomas Paine to leave France and return to the United States. Let him read his letter and he will doubt no more." Here Hulbert read part of Mr. Jefferson's letter.
Any one unacquainted with the case would suppose, from the mystification with which the legislator of Sheffield brought forward the letter that he had made a discovery that had remained concealed from all the world beside, and been miraculously revealed to him for the salvation of the feds. Poor foolish impostor!
The whole of Mr. Jefferson's letter to me was published in my sixth letter to the citizens of the United States, the summer before last. The falling faction of the feds, feeling themselves sinking into the bottomless pit of public contempt, had been, for several months before, inventing and publishing falsehood upon falsehood with respect to the supposed contents of this letter, and when they had run their length (for only give such people rope enough and they will hang themselves), I published the letter to expose their falsehoods and put them to confusion. The letter when publicly known did honor to the writer of it, and the re-election of Mr. Jefferson, by a majority of one hundred and sixty-two votes, out of an hundred and seventy-six, confirms it to be a fact.
The part which this toothless rattlesnake, the aforesaid legislator of Sheffield, attacks is that, in which Mr. Jefferson, after he arrived at the presidency, looks back with generous and even grateful remembrance (a virtue which the ulcerated heart of federalism knows nothing of), on the long services of a former fellow laborer in the vineyard of independence. I was myself among the first that proposed independence, and it was Mr. Jefferson who drew up the declaration of it. Here follows the part which our graceless legislator read. It was in answer to a letter received from me:
"You express a wish (says the letter) to return to America by a national ship. Mr. Dawson is charged with orders to the captain of the Maryland to receive and accommodate you back, if you can be ready to depart at such a short notice. You will find us, in general, returned to sentiments worthy of former times. In these it will be your glory to have steadily labored and with as much effect as any man living. That you may live long to continue your useful labors, and reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations, is my sincere prayer. Accept the assurances of my high esteem and affectionate attachment."
There is one thing, of which Mr. Hulbert may be assured, which is, that it is impossible for any man, whether president or private, to write such a letter to him, without telling a lie in every line.
Our legislator (who is now acting the part of a slanderer and also of a hypocrite as I shall show), having read this extract, proceeds with his remarks thereupon:
"Is this, said he, the language of cold indifference? Is it the language of ordinary civility? No (said he), it is the ardent expression of high esteem and affectionate attachment to one of the most unprincipled and abandoned of the human race"-Well done thou herald of old Satan- thou shalt sit at his right hand.
In the next paragraph our legislator goes a step further, for lying has no limit.
It has been said, continues Hulbert, that the writings of Thomas Paine were useful to this country at the commencement of our revolution; so, said he, were the exertions of Benedict Arnold. Both were once useful men. Both turned traitors to their country.
As it is totally unnecessary to contradict that which all the world knows to be a lie, I republish it to proclaim the ingratitude and baseness of its inventor.
In the volcano of his abuse he next involves France, without knowing any thing of the subject he speaks of, except what one lying impostor of his own class had told to another.
"It is true, said he (he ought to have said it is a lie) that by a national decree, all religion had been banished in France-the idea of a God discarded-and it had been, said he, impiously inscribed over the entrance of all the burying places in France, that death was an eternal sleep!'
It would, perhaps, be happy for such unprincipled impostors as Hulbert, if it was true, that death was an eternal sleep, for he has much to answer for. But it is false to say, that such an inscription was put up by a national decree, or by any other decree or order whatever or that it was put up any where.
It is also false that all religion in France was abolished by a decree. The national assembly passed a decree to banish the refractory priests, those who took the oath of fidelity to the republic, performed their worship as before, except they were prohibited making public processions in the streets with their crucifixes, images of the Virgin Mary, saints etc., and as to the Protestant church in the Rue St. Thomas, at Paris, the service in it was never interrupted.
It is also false that all idea of a God was discarded by a decree or by any authority whatever. The only decree that was passed by the convention, on the subject of creeds, is directly the reverse of what this imposter says. The decree was, (<the French people recognize the Supreme Being'/ that is, acknowledge and declare their belief in him; and this decree was inserted in the French language, on several of the churches where the constitutional priests officiated.
There was also another inscription put up in the time of Robespierre in front of the building where the national convention sat, which, though it does honor to the French with respect to humanity, stands as a contradiction to this licentious libeller. The inscription was, "The Divinity condemns tyrants; the French people execute the decree!
The religious society of the Theophilanthropistism a word compounded of three Greek words, and meaning, adorers of God and lovers of man, was established in the time of the directory, and Ravelliere la Peaux, one of the five directors, was one of its principled founders. It professed two articles as its creed, the belief of a God, and a state of future existence. Its moral dogmas were exceedingly good.
Having now detected Hulbert in his falsehoods not by mere assertions, as he deals in, but by the evidence of fact, I go to show that he is an impostor and a hypocrite, for notwithstanding his clamor about religion, he does not believe the Christian religion himself, nor holds it to be true.
It is neither his belief nor his disbelief that I trouble myself about. Every man must answer for the truth or falsehood of his creed at the tribunal of his creator, and not to that of man, nor of one man to another. It is Hulbert's hypocrisy only that I expose.
If Mr. Hulbert, or the speaker of the house of representatives, who heard his nonsense, will write to John Fellows, Water Street, New York, he will be informed of the evidence that will prove the hypocrisy of Hulbert.
Slander and hypocrisy are class mates in the school of vice. They are the necessary aids of each other. The same cowardly depravity of heart that leads to the one conducts to the other, and Hulbert has made the tour of both.
Had not Hulbert profaned the sanctuary of legislation, and covered himself with the privilege of a legislator, to pour forth his abuse, his slander and his falsehoods, he would have drawn no reply from me. I should have let him pass, unnoticed, among the group of nameless and indiscriminate libellers who have wasted their venom and their invention in vain.