In 1796, Thomas Paine, the patriotic author of Common Sense – the pamphlet some claim started the Revolutionary War – wrote a letter to a colleague that was filled with scathing and accusatory criticism. In fact, the words to his friend were just as cutting as the words he’d used against the tyrannical English government a few years earlier.
The recipient of that letter may surprise you.
In the opening line of his letter, Paine tells his rival he’s in for, well, pain.
As censure is but awkwardly softened by apology, I shall offer to you no apology for this letter. The eventful crisis to which your double politics have conducted the affairs of your country, requires an investigation uncramped by ceremony.
Just a few paragraphs latter, Paine levels his full condemnation toward his political rival.
I also declare myself opposed to almost the whole of your administration; for I know it to have been deceitful. I know also that had it not been for the aid received from France, in men, money and ships, that your cold and unmilitary conduct (as I shall show in the course of this letter) would in all probability have lost America; at least she would not have been the independent nation she now is. You slept away your time in the field, till the finances of the country were completely exhausted, and you have but little share in the glory of the final event. It is time, Sir, to speak the undisguised language of historical truth.
As harsh as his words had been, Paine still wasn’t finished. He continues his complaints by saying:
As to you, sir, treacherous in private friendship…and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide, whether you are an apostate or an imposter; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.
Thomas Paine sent this letter to President George Washington, the man who often gets credited with establishing America’s independence. Fortunately, Washington had learned what every great leader knows: regardless of how well you do your job, you will be criticized by others.
Letter from Thomas Paine to George Washington by Thomas Paine. US Government, August 1796.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)