Tom Paine in France

Stuart Andrews shows how, in his person and in his writings, Tom Paine forms a link between the two great revolutions of the late eighteenth century - the American and the French.

Tom Paine died on June 8th, 1809, not in his native Norfolk but on the other side of the Atlantic – in New York State. The Quakers refused his request to be buried in their cemetery, and he was interred instead on his own farm at New Rochelle. The small group of mourners was led by a Frenchwoman, Madame Bonneville, and two of her three sons. Standing at one end of the grave, she told Benjamin to stand at the other. 'Oh! Mr Paine!' she exclaimed, 'my son stands here as the testimony of the gratitude of America, and I for France.'

The graveside scene is as symbolic of the interaction between the French and American Revolutions as the fact that the key of the Bastille hangs in the hallway of George Washington's house at Mount Vernon. When in 1790 Lafayette entrusted Paine with the key to deliver to Washington, Paine wrote in a covering letter:

The key is the symbol of the first ripe fruits of American principles translated into Europe... That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted and therefore the key comes to its right place.

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