The Thomas Paine collection of Col. Richard Gimbel includes manuscripts, books, newspapers, and prints relating to Thomas Paine and his ideas. The books in this case are two of Paine’s most well-known and influential works. The prints displayed here are typical of the political cartoons of the 1790s and of the Gimbel Collection, nearly all of which reflect the hysteria that Paine's radical vision of republican equality managed to inspire in his opponents.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776)
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense argued the need for a republican form of government with a written constitution, rallied American support for independence, and became one of the most influential political texts of all time. The American Philosophical Society owns two copies of the very first edition published by Richard Bell in Philadelphia, first pubished on January 10, 1776, both of which are too fragile to be displayed at this time. Paine’s pamphlet proved so popular that an expanded edition was first published on February 14, 1776 and Common Sense would go on to sell 500,000 copies in its first year alone.
Common Sense, Printed by Richard Bell Richard Bell, Philadelphia, 1776.
Common Sense, first British edition, J Almon, London, 1776.
Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (1791)
In Rights of Man, a response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, Paine eloquently defended the revolution prior to Louis XVI’s execution, which he opposed. The several volumes shown here include copies not only in English, but it French, German and Swedish. This small sample of non-English printings demonstrates the far-reaching interest in Paine’s ideas.
Rights of Man, fourth American edition, I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews, Boston, 1791.
Droits de L’Homme, first French edition, F. Buisson, Paris, May, 1791.
Menniskans Rättigheter, first known Swedish printing, C.G. Cronland, Stockholm, July 11, 1792.
Die Rechte Des Menchen, first German printing, Boffifchen Buchhandlung, Berlin, 1792.
“A Sure Cure for all Paines,” unknown publisher, c. 1792.
“Tom Paine’s Nightly Pest,” H. Hamphrey, December 10, 1792.
“Wha Wants Me,” J.W. Forey, Dember 26, 1792.
The three cartoons in this case were all originally published in 1792, in the midst of the French Revolution, which Paine ardently supported. Clearly, the publishers of these images did not share in Paine’s support of democratic reforms. The first two cartoons listed show Paine in various forms of discomfort or danger due to his beliefs, while the third highlights the danger of his beliefs.
The first image, “A Sure Cure for all Paines,” shows Paine in a noose, with the caption, “The Rights of Man has got his Rights,” an allusion to the title of Paine’s famous 1791 pamphlet.
The second cartoon, “Tom Paine’s Nightly Pest,” printed in response to Paine’s flight to France to escape prosecution in England, depicts a sleeping Paine clutching a copy of Common Sense and shows a heavenly court passing judgment on Paine for his beliefs. Ominously perched behind the tribunal are gallows and stocks, while lists of punishments, charges and pleas hang before them. Above Paine’s head, images of controversial English political theorists Charles James Fox and Joseph Priestley appear in the form of guardian angels. Escaping out the window is an imp, dropping the music to a French revolutionary song as he flees. The pink banner, from which the scales of justice hang, reads, “The scourge inexorable, and the torturing hour awaits thee!” The caption above the middle judge reads:
Know Villain, when such paltry slaves presume
To mix in Treason, if the Plot succeeds
They’re thrown neglected by, but if it fails
They’re sure to die like dogs as you shall do…
The final image, “Wha Wants Me,” depicts Paine and his ideas as dangerously radical and revolutionary. In addition to the threatening brace of weapons on his back, and the dagger in his hand, Paine is shown trampling on the high ideals of the English ruling class, including industry, inheritance, justice, religion and loyalty, among others. Emanating from Paine’s head are many of severe consequences that the English felt would accompany Paine’s desired reforms, including “equality madness,” treason, anarchy, atheism, famine, misery and national ruin. This cartoon is an excellent example of harsh anti-Paine sentiment, and the lengths many publishers went to publicly lash out at his beliefs.
The caption at the bottom of the cartoon reads, “I am Ready & Willing to offer my Services to any Nation or People under heaven who are Desirous of Liberty & Equality.”