George Washington, 1732–1799

Edward Savage (1761–1817)
Mezzotint, 1793

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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Paine, in the fifth number of his Crisis essays (1778), had defended General Washington when he was being criticized in Congress and in danger of losing his command. In 1796, bitter that President Washington had done nothing to effect his release from prison, he taunted, “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.”

Washington made no response to Paine’s denunciatory pamphlet, but in a private letter he noted that his administration was being “knocked down” and his character “traduced as low as they are capable of sinking it.” As evidence, he enclosed “a letter of Mr. Paine to me, printed in this city and disseminated with great industry.”

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