Thomas Paine.

A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal, on the Affairs of North America, in Which the Mistakes in the Abbe's Account of the Revolution of America Are Corrected and Cleared Up online

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Online LibraryThomas PaineA Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal, on the Affairs of North America, in Which the Mistakes in the Abbe's Account of the Revolution of America Are Corrected and Cleared Up → online text (page 1 of 6)
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M,DCC,XII. [_sic_, actually 1792]


A London translation of an original work in French, by the Abbe
Raynal, which treats of the Revolution of North America, having been
reprinted in Philadelphia and other parts of the continent, and as the
distance at which the Abbe is placed from the American theatre of war
and politics, has occasioned him to mistake several facts, or
misconceive the causes or principles by which they were produced; the
following tract, therefore, is published with a view to rectify them,
and prevent even accidental errors intermixing with history, under the
sanction of time and silence.

The Editor of the London edition has entitled it, "The Revolution of
America, by the Abbe Raynal," and the American printers have followed
the example. But I have understood, and I believe my information just,
that the piece, which is more properly reflections on the revolution,
was unfairly purloined from the printer which the Abbe employed, or
from the manuscript copy, and is only part of a larger work then in
the press, or preparing for it. The person who procured it appears to
have been an Englishman; and though, in an advertisement prefixt to
the London edition, he has endeavoured to gloss over the embezzlement
with professions of patriotism, and to soften it with high encomiums
on the author, yet the action, in any view in which it can be placed,
is illiberal and unpardonable.

"In the course of his travels," says he, "the translator happily
succeeded in obtaining a copy of this exquisite little piece, which
has not yet made its appearance from any press. He publishes a French
edition, in favour of those who will feel its eloquent reasoning more
forcibly in its native language, at the same time with the following
translation of it; in which he has been desirous, perhaps in vain,
that all the warmth, the grace, the strength, the dignity of the
original should not be lost. And he flatters himself, that the
indulgence of the illustrious historian will not be wanting to a man,
who, of his own motion, has taken the liberty to give this composition
to the public, only from a strong persuasion, that this momentous
argument will be useful, in a critical conjecture, to that country
which he loves with an ardour that can be exceeded only by the nobler
flame which burns in the bosom of the philanthropic author, for the
freedom and happiness of all the countries upon earth."

This plausibility of setting off a dishonourable action, may pass for
patriotism and sound principles with those who do not enter into its
demerits, and whose interest is not injured, nor their happiness
affected thereby. But it is more than probable, notwithstanding the
declarations it contains, that the copy was obtained for the sake of
profiting by the sale of a new and popular work, and that the
professions are but a garb to the fraud.

It may with propriety be remarked, that in all countries where
literature is protected, and it never can flourish where it is not,
the works of an author are his legal property; and to treat letters in
any other light than this, is to banish them from the country, or
strangle them in the birth. - The embezzlement from the Abbe Raynal
was, it is true, committed by one country upon another, and therefore
shews no defect in the laws of either. But it is nevertheless a breach
of civil manners and literary justice; neither can it be any apology,
that because the countries are at war, literature shall be entitled
to depredation.[1]

But the forestalling the Abbe's publication by London editions, both
in French and English, and thereby not only defrauding him, and
throwing an expensive publication on his hands, by anticipating the
sale, are only the smaller injuries which such conduct may occasion. A
man's opinions, whether written or in thought, are his own until he
pleases to publish them himself; and it is adding cruelty to injustice
to make him the author of what future reflection or better information
might occasion him to suppress or amend. There are declarations and
sentiments in the Abbe's piece, which, for my own part, I did not
expect to find, and such as himself, on a revisal, might have seen
occasion to change, but the anticipated piracy effectually prevented
him the opportunity, and precipitated him into difficulties, which,
had it not been for such ungenerous fraud, might not have happened.

This mode of making an author appear before his time, will appear
still more ungenerous, when we consider how exceedingly few men there
are in any country who can at once, and without the aid of reflection
and revisal, combine warm passions with a cool temper, and the full
expansion of imagination with the natural and necessary gravity of
judgment, so as to be rightly balanced within themselves, and to make
a reader feel, and understand justly at the same time. To call three
powers of the mind into action at once, in a manner that neither shall
interrupt, and that each shall aid and vigorate the other, is a talent
very rarely possessed.

It often happens, that the weight of an argument is lost by the wit of
setting it off, or the judgment disordered by an intemperate
irritation of the passions: yet a certain degree of animation must be
felt by the writer, and raised in the reader, in order to interest the
attention; and a sufficient scope given to the imagination, to enable
it to create in the mind a sight of the persons, characters, and
circumstances of the subject; for without these, the judgment will
feel little or no excitement to office, and its determinations will be
cold, sluggish, and imperfect. But if either or both of the two former
are raised too high, or heated too much, the judgment will be jostled
from his seat, and the whole matter, however important in itself, will
diminish into a pantomime of the mind, in which we create images that
promote no other purpose than amusement.

The Abbe's writings bear evident marks of that extension and rapidness
of thinking and quickness of sensation which of all others require
revisal, and the more particularly so when applied to the living
characters of nations or individuals in a state of war. The least
misinformation or misconception leads to some wrong conclusion and an
error believed becomes the progenitor of others. And as the Abbe has
suffered some inconveniences in France, by mistating certain
circumstances of the war and the characters of the parties therein, it
becomes some apology for him, that those errors were precipitated into
the world by the avarice of an ungenerous enemy.


[1] The state of literature in America must one day become a subject
of legislative consideration. Hitherto it hath been a disinterested
volunteer in the service of the revolution, and no man thought of
profits: but when peace shall give time and opportunity for study, the
country will deprive itself of the honour and service of letters and
the improvement of science, unless sufficient laws are made to prevent
depredations on literary property. It is well worth remarking that
Russia, who but a few years ago was scarcely known in Europe, owes a
large share of her present greatness to the close attention she has
paid, and the wise encouragement she has given to science and
learning, and we have almost the same instance in France, in the reign
of Lewis XIV.


To an author of such distinguished reputation as the Abbe Raynal, it
might very well become me to apologize for the present undertaking;
but as _to be right_ is the first wish of philosophy, and the first
principle of history, he will, I presume, accept from me a declaration
of my motives, which are those of doing justice, in preference to any
complimental apology, I might otherwise make. The Abbe, in the course
of his work, has, in some instances extolled, without a reason, and
wounded without a cause. He has given fame where it was not deserved,
and withheld it where it was justly due; and appears to be so
frequently in and out of temper with his subjects and parties, that
few or none of them are decisively and uniformly marked.

It is yet too soon to write the history of the revolution; and whoever
attempts it precipitately, will unavoidably mistake characters and
circumstances, and involve himself in error and difficulty. Things
like men are seldom understood rightly at first sight. But the Abbe is
wrong even in the foundation of his work; that is, he has misconceived
and misstated the causes which produced the rupture between England
and her then colonies, and which led on, step by step, unstudied and
uncontrived on the part of America, to a revolution, which has engaged
the attention, and affected the interest of Europe.

To prove this, I shall bring forward a passage, which, though placed
towards the latter part of the Abbe's work, is more intimately
connected with the beginning: and in which, speaking of the original
cause of the dispute, he declares himself in the following manner -

"None," says he, "of those energetic causes, which have produced so
many revolutions upon the globe, existed in North-America. Neither
religion nor laws had there been outraged. The blood of martyrs or
patriots had not there streamed from scaffolds. Morals had not there
been insulted. Manners, customs, habits, no object dear to nations,
had there been the sport of ridicule. Arbitrary power had not there
torn any inhabitant from the arms of his family and friends, to drag
him to a dreary dungeon. Public order had not been there inverted. The
principles of administration had not been changed there; and the
maxims of government had there always remained the same. The whole
question was reduced to the knowing whether the mother country had,
or, had not a right to lay, directly or indirectly, a slight tax upon
the colonies."

On this extraordinary passage, it may not be improper, in general
terms, to remark, that none can feel like those who suffer; and that
for a man to be a competent judge of the provocative, or, as the Abbe
styles them, the energetic causes of the revolution, he must have
resided in America.

The Abbe, in saying that the several particulars he has enumerated did
not exist in America, and neglecting to point out the particular
period in which the means they did not exist, reduces thereby his
declaration to a nullity, by taking away all meaning from the passage.

They did not exist in 1763, and they all existed before 1776;
consequently as there was a time when they did _not_, and another when
they _did_ exist, the _time when_ constitutes the essence of the fact;
and not to give it, is to withhold the only evidence which proves the
declaration right or wrong, and on which it must stand or fall. But
the declaration as it now appears, unaccompanied by time, has an
effect in holding out to the world, that there was no real cause for
the revolution, because it denied the existence of all those causes
which are supposed to be justifiable, and which the Abbe styles

I confess myself exceedingly at a loss to find out the time to which
the Abbe alludes; because, in another part of the work, in speaking of
the stamp act, which was passed in 1764, he styles it "An _usurpation_
of the Americans' _most precious and sacred rights_." Consequently he
here admits the most energetic of all causes, that is, _an usurpation
of their most precious and sacred rights_, to have existed in America
twelve years before the declaration of independence, and ten years
before the breaking out of hostilities. The time, therefore, in which
the paragraph is true, must be antecedent to the stamp act, but as at
that time there was no revolution, nor any idea of one, it
consequently applies without a meaning; and as it cannot, on the
Abbe's own principle, be applied to any time _after_ the stamp act, it
is therefore a wandering, solitary paragraph connected with nothing,
and at variance with every thing.

The stamp act, it is true, was repealed two years after it was passed;
but it was immediately followed by one of infinitely more mischievous
magnitude, I mean the declaratory act, which asserted the right, as it
was styled, of the British Parliament, "_to bind America in all cases

If then, the stamp act was an usurpation of the Americans' most
precious and sacred rights, the declaratory Act left them no rights at
all; and contained the full grown seeds of the most despotic
government ever exercised in the world. It placed America not only in
the lowest, but in the basest state of vassalage; because it demanded
an unconditional submission in everything, or, as the act expressed
it, _in all cases whatsoever_: and what renders this act the more
offensive, is, that it appears to have been passed as an act of mercy;
truly then may it be said, that _the tender mercies of the wicked are

All the original charters from the Crown of England, under the faith
of which, the adventurers from the old world settled in the new, were
by this act displaced from their foundations; because, contrary to the
nature of them, which was that of a compact, they were now made
subject to repeal or alteration at the mere will of one party only.
The whole condition of America was thus put into the hands of the
Parliament or the Ministry, without leaving to her the least right in
any case whatsoever.

There is no despotism to which this iniquitous law did not extend; and
though it might have been convenient in the execution of it, to have
consulted manners and habits, the principle of the act made all
tyranny legal. It stopt no where. It went to everything. It took in
with it the whole life of a man, or, if I may so express it, an
eternity of circumstances. It is the nature of law to require
obedience, but this demanded servitude; and the condition of an
American, under the operation of it, was not that of a subject, but a
vassal. Tyranny has often been established _without_ law, and
sometimes _against_ it, but the history of mankind does not produce
another instance, in which it has been established _by_ law. It is an
audacious outrage upon civil government, and cannot be too much
exposed, in order to be sufficiently detested.

Neither could it be said after this, that the legislature of that
country any longer made laws for this, but that it gave out commands;
for wherein differed an act of Parliament constructed on this
principle, and operating in this manner, over an unrepresented people,
from the orders of a military establishment?

The Parliament of England, with respect to America, was not septennial
but _perpetual_. It appeared to the latter a body always in being. Its
election or expiration were to her the same, as if its members
succeeded by inheritance, or went out by death, or lived for ever, or
were appointed to it as a matter of office. Therefore, for the people
of England to have any just conception of the mind of America,
respecting this extraordinary act, they must suppose all election and
expiration in that country to cease forever, and the present
Parliament, its heirs, &c., to be perpetual; in this case, I ask, what
would the most clamorous of them think, were an act to be passed,
declaring the right of _such a Parliament_ to bind _them_ in all cases
whatsoever? For this word _whatsoever_ would go as effectually to
their _Magna Charta, Bill of Rights, trial by Juries_, &c. as it went
to the charters and forms of government in America.

I am persuaded, that the Gentleman to whom I address these remarks
will not, after the passing of this act, say, "That the _principles_
of administration had not been _changed_ in America, and that the
maxims of government had there been _always the same_." For here is,
in principle, a total overthrow of the whole; and not a subversion
only, but an annihilation of the foundation of liberty and absolute
dominion established in its stead.

The Abbe likewise states the case exceedingly wrong and injuriously,
when he says, "that that _the whole_ question was reduced to the
knowing whether the mother country had, or had not, a right to lay,
directly or indirectly, a _slight_ tax upon the colonies." This was
_not the whole_ of the question; neither was the _quantity_ of the tax
the object, either to the Ministry, or to the Americans. It was the
principle, of which the tax made but a part, and the quantity still
less, that formed the ground on which America opposed.

The tax on tea, which is the tax here alluded to, was neither more or
less than an experiment to establish the practice of a declaratory law
upon; modelled into the more fashionable phrase _of the universal
supremacy of Parliament_. For until this time the declaratory law had
lain dormant, and the framers of it had contented themselves with
barely declaring an opinion.

Therefore the _whole_ question with America, in the opening of the
dispute, was, Shall we be bound in all cases whatsoever by the British
Parliament, or shall we not? For submission to the tea or tax act,
implied an acknowledgment of the declaratory act, or, in other words,
of the universal supremacy of Parliament, which as they never intended
to do, it was necessary they should oppose it, in its first stage of

It is probable, the Abbe has been led into this mistake by perusing
detached pieces in some of the American newspapers; for, in a case
where all were interested, everyone had a right to give his opinion;
and there were many who, with the best intentions, did not chuse the
best, nor indeed the true ground, to defend their cause upon. They
felt themselves right by a general impulse, without being able to
separate, analyze, and arrange the parts.

I am somewhat unwilling to examine too minutely into the whole of this
extraordinary passage of the Abbe, lest I should appear to treat it
with severity; otherwise I could shew, that not a single declaration
is justly founded; for instance, the reviving an obsolete act of the
reign of Henry the Eighth, and fitting it to the Americans, by
authority of which they were to be seized and brought from America to
England, and there imprisoned and tried for any supposed offenses,
was, in the worse sense of the words, _to tear them by the arbitrary
power of Parliament, from the arms of their families and friends, and
drag them not only to dreary but distant dungeons_. Yet this act was
contrived some years before the breaking out of hostilities. And
again, though the blood of martyrs and patriots had not streamed on
the scaffolds, it streamed in the streets, in the massacre of the
inhabitants of Boston, by the British soldiery in the year 1770.

Had the Abbe said that the causes which produced the revolution in
America were originally _different_ from those which produced
revolutions in other parts of the globe, he had been right. Here the
value and quality of liberty, the nature of government, and the
dignity of man, were known and understood, and the attachment of the
Americans to these principles produced the revolution, as a natural
and almost unavoidable consequence. They had no particular family to
set up or pull down. Nothing of personality was incorporated with
their cause. They started even-handed with each other, and went no
faster into the several stages of it, than they were driven by the
unrelenting and imperious conduct of Britain. Nay, in the last act,
the declaration of independence, they had nearly been too late; for
had it not been declared at the exact time it was, I saw no period in
their affairs since, in which it could have been declared with the
same effect, and probably not at all.

But the object being formed before the reverse of fortune took place,
that is, before the operations of the gloomy campaign of 1776, their
honour, their interest, their everything, called loudly on them to
maintain it; and that glow of thought and energy of heart, which even
distant prospect of independence inspires, gave confidence to their
hopes, and resolution to their conduct, which a state of dependence
could never have reached. They looked forward to happier days and
scenes of rest, and qualified the hardships of the campaign by
contemplating the establishment of their new-born system.

If, on the other hand, we take a review of what part great Britain has
acted, we shall find every thing which ought to make a nation blush.
The most vulgar abuse, accompanied by that species of haughtiness
which distinguishes the hero of a mob from the character of a
gentleman; it was equally as much from her manners as from her
injustice that she lost the colonies. By the latter she provoked their
principles, by the former she wore out their temper; and it ought to
be held out as an example to the world, to shew how necessary it is to
conduct the business of government with civility. In short, other
revolutions may have originated in caprice, or generated in ambition,
but here, the most unoffending humility was tortured into rage, and
the infancy of existence made to weep.

A union so extensive, continued and determined, suffering with
patience, and never in despair, could not have been produced by common
causes. It must be something capable of reaching the whole soul of man
and arming it with perpetual energy. In vain it is to look for
precedents among the revolutions of former ages, to find out, by
comparison, the causes of this. The spring, the progress, the object,
the consequences, nay the men, their habits of thinking, and all the
circumstances of the country, are different. Those of other nations
are, in general, little more than the history of their quarrels. They
are marked by no important character in the annals of events; mixt in
the mass of general matters, they occupy but a common page; and while
the chief of the successful partizans stept into power, the plundered
multitude sat down and sorrowed. Few, very few of them are accompanied
with reformation, either in government or manners; many of them with
the most consummate profligacy. - Triumph on the one side, and misery
on the other, were the only events. Pains, punishments, torture, and
death, were made the business of mankind, until compassion, the
fairest associate of the heart, was driven from its place; and the
eye, accustomed to continual cruelty, could behold it without offence.

But as the principles of the present resolution differed from those
which preceded it, so likewise has the conduct of America, both in
government and war. Neither the foul finger of disgrace, nor the
bloody hand of vengeance has hitherto put a blot upon her fame. Her
victories have received lustre from a greatness of lenity; and her
laws been permitted to slumber, where they might justly have awakened
to punish. War, so much the trade of the world, has here been only the
business of necessity; and when the necessity shall cease, her very
enemies must confess, that as she drew the sword in her just defence,
she used it without cruelty, and sheathed it without revenge.

As it is not my design to extend these remarks to a history, I shall
now take my leave of this passage of the Abbe, with an observation,
which, until something unfolds itself to convince me otherwise, I
cannot avoid believing to be true; - which is, that it was the fixt
determination of the British Cabinet to quarrel with America at all

They (the members who compose the cabinet) had no doubt of success, if
they could once bring it to the issue of a battle; and they expected
from a conquest, what they could neither propose with decency, nor
hope for by negociation. The charters and constitutions of the
colonies were become to them matters of offence, and their rapid
progress in property and population were disgustingly beheld as the
growing and natural means of independence. They saw no way to retain
them long but by reducing them time. A conquest would at once have
made them both lords and landlords, and put them in the possession
both of the revenue and the rental. The whole trouble of government

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Online LibraryThomas PaineA Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal, on the Affairs of North America, in Which the Mistakes in the Abbe's Account of the Revolution of America Are Corrected and Cleared Up → online text (page 1 of 6)