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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to an accommodation with England. In vain had the people been bound to
the new Government by the sacredness of oaths, and the influence of
religion. In vain had endeavors been used to convince them, that it
was impossible to treat safely with a country in which one parliament
might overturn what should have been established by another. In vain
had they been threatened with the eternal resentment of an exasperated
and vindictive enemy. It was possible that these distant troubles
might not be balanced by the weight of present evils.

"So thought the British ministry when they sent to the New World
public agents authorized to offer every thing except independence to
these very Americans, from whom they had two years before exacted an
unconditional submission. It is not improbable, but that by this plan
of conciliation, a few months sooner, some effect might have been
produced. But at the period at which it was proposed by the Court of
London, it was rejected with disdain, because this measure appeared
but as an argument of fear and weakness. The people were already
re-assured. The Congress, the Generals, the troops, the bold and
skilful men in each colony, had possessed themselves of the authority;
every thing had recovered its first spirit. _This was the effect of a
treaty of friendship and commerce between the United States and the
Court of Versailles, signed the 8th of February, 1778._"

On this passage of the Abbe's I cannot help remarking, that, to unite
time with circumstance, is a material nicety in history; the want of
which frequently throws it into endless confusion and mistake,
occasions a total separation between causes and consequences, and
connects them with others they are not immediately, and sometimes not
at all, related to.

The Abbe, in saying that the offers of the British ministry "were
rejected with disdain," is _right_ as to the _fact_, but _wrong_ as to
the _time_; and this error in the time, has occasioned him to be
mistaken in the cause.

The signing the treaty of Paris the 6th of February, 1778, could have
no effect on the mind or politics of America, until it was _known in
America_; and therefore, when the Abbe says, that the rejection of the
British offers was in consequence of the alliance, he must mean, that
it was in consequence of the alliance _being known_ in America; which
was not the case: and by this mistake he not only takes from her the
reputation, which her unshaken fortitude in that trying situation
deserves, but is likewise led very injuriously to suppose that had she
_not known_ of the treaty, the offers would probably have been
accepted; whereas she knew nothing of the treaty at the time of the
rejection, and consequently did not reject them on that ground.

The propositions or offers above-mentioned, were contained in two
bills brought into the British Parliament by Lord North, on the 17th
of February, 1778. Those bills were hurried through both houses with
unusual haste; and before they had gone through all the customary
forms of Parliament, copies of them were sent over to Lord Howe and
General Howe, then in Philadelphia, who were likewise Commissioners.
General Howe ordered them to be printed in Philadelphia, and sent
copies of them by a flag to General Washington, to be forwarded to
Congress at York-Town, where they arrived the 21st of April, 1778.
Thus much for the arrival of the bills in America.

Congress, as is their usual mode, appointed a committee from their own
body, to examine them, and report thereon. The report was brought in
the next day (the twenty-second,) was read, and unanimously agreed to,
entered on their journals, and published for the information of the
country. Now this report must be the rejection to which the Abbe
alludes, because Congress gave no other formal opinion on those bills
and propositions: and on a subsequent application from the British
Commissioners, dated the 27th of May, and received at York-Town the
6th of June, Congress immediately referred them for an answer, to
their printed resolves of the 22d of April. - Thus much for the
rejection of the offers.

On the 2d of May, that is, eleven days after the above rejection was
made, the treaty between the United States and France arrived at
York-Town; and until this moment Congress had not the least notice or
idea, that such a measure was in any train of execution. But lest this
declaration of mine should pass only for assertion, I shall support it
by proof, for it is material to the character and principle of the
revolution to shew, that no condition of America, since the
declaration of independence, however trying and severe, ever operated
to produce the most distant idea of yielding it up either by force,
distress, artifice, or persuasion. And this proof is the more
necessary, because it was the system of the British ministry at this
time, as well as before and since, to hold out to the European powers
that America was unfixt in her resolutions and policy; hoping by this
artifice to lessen her reputation in Europe, and weaken the confidence
which those powers, or any of them, might be inclined to place in her.

At the time these matters were transacting, I was Secretary to the
Foreign Department of Congress. All the political letters from the
American Commissioners rested in my hands, and all that were
officially written went from my office; and so far from Congress
knowing anything of the signing the treaty, at the time they rejected
the British offers, they had not received a line of information from
their Commissioners at Paris on any subject whatever for upwards of a
twelvemonth. Probably the loss of the port of Philadelphia, and the
navigation of the Delaware, together with the danger of the seas,
covered at this time with British cruizers, contributed to the

One packet, it is true, arrived at York-Town in January preceding,
which was about three months before the arrival of the treaty; but,
strange as it may appear, every letter had been taken out, before it
was put on board the vessel which brought it from France, and blank
white paper put in their stead.

Having thus stated the time when the proposals from the British
Commissioners were first received, and likewise the time when the
treaty of alliance arrived, and shewn that the rejection of the former
was eleven days prior to the arrival of the latter, and without the
least knowledge of such circumstance having taken place, or being
about to take place; the rejection, therefore, must, and ought to be
attributed to the fixt, unvaried sentiments of America respecting the
enemy she is at war with, and her determination to support her
independence to the last possible effort, and not to any new
circumstance in her favour, which at that time she did not, and could
not, know of.

Besides, there is a vigor of determination and spirit of defiance in
the language of the rejection (which I here subjoin), which derive
their greatest glory by appearing before the treaty was known; for
that, which is bravery in distress, becomes insult in prosperity: And
the treaty placed America on such a strong foundation, that had she
then known it, the answer which she gave would have appeared rather as
an air of triumph, than as the glowing serenity of fortitude.

Upon the whole, the Abbe appears to have entirely mistaken the matter;
for instead of attributing the rejection of the propositions to our
knowledge of the treaty of alliance; he should have attributed the
origin of them in the British cabinet, to their knowledge of that
event. And then the reason why they were hurried over to America in
the state of bills, that is, before they were passed into acts, is
easily accounted for, which is that they might have the chance of
reaching America before any knowledge of the treaty should arrive,
which they were lucky enough to do, and there met the fate they so
richly merited. That these bills were brought into the British
Parliament after the treaty with France was signed, is proved from the
dates: the treaty being on the 6th and the bills the 17th of February.
And that the signing the treaty was known in Parliament, when the
bills were brought in, is likewise proved by a speech of Mr. Charles
Fox, on the said 17th of February, who, in reply to Lord North,
informed the House of the treaty being signed, and challenged the
Minister's knowledge of the same fact.

In CONGRESS, April 22d, 1778.

"The Committee to whom was referred the General's Letter of the 18th,
containing a certain printed paper sent from Philadelphia, purporting
to be the draught of a Bill for declaring the _intentions_ of the
Parliament of Great Britain, as to the _exercise_ of what they are
pleased to term their _right_ of imposing taxes within these United
States; and also the draft of a Bill to enable the King of
Great-Britain to appoint Commissioners, with powers to treat, consult,
and agree upon the means of quieting certain disorders within the said
States, beg leave to observe,

"That the said paper being industriously circulated by emissaries of
the enemy, in a partial and secret manner, the same ought to be
forthwith printed for the public information.

"The Committee cannot ascertain whether the contents of the said paper
have been framed in Philadelphia or in Great Britain, much less
whether the same are really and truly intended to be brought into the
Parliament of that kingdom, or whether the said Parliament will confer
thereon the usual solemnities of their laws. But are inclined to
believe this will happen, for the following reasons:

"1st. Because their General hath made divers feeble efforts to set on
foot some kind of treaty during the last winter, though either from a
mistaken idea of his own dignity and importance, the want of
information, or some other cause, he hath not made application to
those who are invested with a proper authority.

"2dly. Because they suppose that the fallacious idea of a cessation of
hostilities will render these States remiss in their preparations for

"3dly. Because believing the Americans wearied with war, they suppose
we will accede to the terms for the sake of peace.

"4thly. Because they suppose that our negotiations may be subject to a
like corrupt influence with their debates.

"5thly. Because they expect from this step the same effects they did
from what one of their ministers thought proper to call his
_conciliatory motion_, viz. that it will prevent foreign powers from
giving aid to these States; that it will lead their own subjects to
continue a little longer the present war; and that it will detach some
weak men in America from the cause of freedom and virtue.

"6thly. Because their King, from his own shewing hath reason to
apprehend that his fleets and armies, instead of being employed
against the territories of these States, will be necessary for the
defence of his own dominions. And,

"7thly. Because the impracticability of subjugating this country,
being every day more and more manifest, it is their interest to
extricate themselves from the war upon any terms.

"The Committee beg leave further to observe, That, upon a supposition,
the matters contained in the said paper will really go into the
British Statute Book, they serve to shew, in a clear point of view,
the weakness and wickedness of the enemy.


"1st. Because they formerly declared, not only that they had a right
to bind the inhabitants of these States in all cases whatsoever, but
also that the said inhabitants should _absolutely_ and
_unconditionally_ submit to the exercise of that right. And this
submission they have endeavored to exact by the sword. Receding from
this claim, therefore, under the present circumstances, shews their
inability to enforce it.

"2dly. Because their Prince had heretofore rejected the humblest
petitions of the Representatives of America, praying to be considered
as subjects, and protected in the enjoyment of peace, liberty, and
safety; and hath waged a most cruel war against them, and employed the
savages to butcher innocent women and children. But now the same
Prince pretends to treat with those very Representatives, and grant
to the _arms_ of America what he refused to her _prayers_.

"3dly. Because they have uniformly laboured to conquer this Continent,
rejecting every idea of accommodation proposed to them, from a
confidence in their own strength. Wherefore it is evident, from the
change in their mode of attack, that they have lost this confidence.

"4thly. Because the constant language, spoken not only by their
Ministers, but by the most public and authentic acts of the nation,
hath been, that it is incompatible with their dignity to treat with
the Americans while they have arms in their hands. Notwithstanding
which, an offer is now about to be made for treaty.

"The wickedness and insincerity of the enemy appear from the following

"1st. Either the _Bills_ now to be passed contain a direct or indirect
cession of a part of their former claims, or they do not. If they do,
then it is acknowledged that they have sacrificed many brave men in an
unjust quarrel. If they do not, then they are calculated to deceive
America into terms, to which neither argument before the war, nor
force since, could procure her assent.

"2dly. The first of these _Bills_ appears, from the title, to be a
declaration of the _intentions_ of the British Parliament concerning
the exercise of the _right of imposing taxes_ within these States.
Wherefore, should these States treat under the said Bill, they would
indirectly acknowledge that right, to obtain which acknowledgment the
present war has been avowedly undertaken and prosecuted, on the part
of Great Britain.

"3dly. Should such pretended right be so acquiesced in, then of
consequence the same might be exercised whenever the British
Parliament should find themselves in a different _temper_ and
_disposition_; since it must depend upon those, and such like
contingencies, how far men will act according to their former

"4thly. The said first Bill, in the body thereof, containeth no new
matter, but is precisely the same with the motion before mentioned,
and liable to all the objections which lay against the said motion,
excepting the following particular, viz. that _by the motion_, actual
taxation was to be suspended, so long as America should give as much
as the said Parliament might think proper: whereas, _by the proposed
Bill_, it is to be suspended as long as future Parliaments continue of
the same mind with the present.

"5thly. From the second Bill it appears, that the British King may, if
he pleases, appoint Commissioners to _treat_ and _agree_ with those,
whom they please, about a variety of things therein mentioned. But
such treaties and agreements are to be of no validity without the
concurrence of the said Parliament, except so far as they relate to
the suspension of hostilities, and of certain of their acts, the
granting of pardons, and the appointment of Governors to these
sovereign, free, and independent States. Wherefore, the said
Parliament have reserved to themselves, in _express words_, the power
of setting aside any such treaty, and taking the advantages of any
circumstances which may arise to subject this Continent to their

"6thly, The said Bill, by holding forth a tender of pardon, implies a
criminality in our justifiable resistance, and consequently, to treat
under it, would be an implied acknowledgment, that the inhabitants of
these States were, what Britain had declared them to be, _Rebels_.

"7thly. The inhabitants of these States being claimed by them as
subjects, they may infer, from the nature of the negotiation now
pretended to be set on foot, that the said inhabitants would of right
be afterwards bound by such laws as they should make. Wherefore, any
agreement entered into on such negociation might at any future time be
repealed. And,

"8thly. Because the said Bill purports, that the Commissioners therein
mentioned may treat with private individuals; a measure highly
derogatory to the dignity of the national character.

"From all which it appears evident to your Committee, that the said
Bills are intended to operate upon the hopes and fears of the good
people of these States, so as to create divisions among them, and a
defection from the common cause, now by the blessing of Divine
Providence drawing near to a favourable issue. That they are the
sequel of that insidious plan, which from the days of the Stamp-act
down to the present time, hath involved this country in contention and
bloodshed. And that, as in other cases so in this, although
circumstances may force them at times to recede from the unjustifiable
claims, there can be no doubt but they will as heretofore, upon the
first favourable occasion, again display that lust of domination,
which hath rent in twain the mighty empire of Britain.

"Upon the whole matter, the Committee beg leave to report it as their
opinion, that as the Americans united in this arduous contest upon
principles of common interest, for the defence of common rights and
privileges, which union hath been cemented by common calamities, and
by mutual good offices and and [_sic_] affection, so the great cause
for which they contend, and in which all mankind are interested, must
derive its success from the continuance of that union. Wherefore any
man or body of men, who should presume to make any seperate or partial
convention or agreement with Commissioners under the Crown of Great
Britain, or any of them, ought to be considered and treated as open
and avowed enemies of these United States.

"And further your Committee beg leave to report it as their opinion,
That these united States cannot, with propriety, hold any conference
or treaty with _any_ Commissioners on the part of Great Britain,
unless they shall, as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their
fleets and admirals, or else, in positive and express terms,
acknowledge the Independence of the said States.

"And inasmuch as it appears to be the design of the enemies of these
States to lull them into a fatal security - to the end that they may
act with a, becoming weight and importance, it is the opinion of your
Committee That the several States be called upon to use the most
strenuous exertions to have their respective quotas of continental
troops in the field as soon as possible, and that all the militia of
the said States be held in readiness, to act as occasion may require."

_The following is the answer of Congress to the second application of
the Commissioners._


_York-Town, June 6, 1778._

"I HAVE had the honour of laying your letter of the 3d instant,
with the acts of the British Parliament which came inclosed,
before Congress; and I am instructed to acquaint you, Sir, that
they have already expressed their sentiments upon bills, not
essentially different from those acts, in a publication of the
22d of April last.

"Be assured, Sir, when the King of Great Britain shall be
seriously disposed to put an end to the unprovoked and cruel war
waged against these United States, Congress will readily attend
to such terms of peace, as may consist with the honour of
independent nations, the interest of their constituents, and the
sacred regard they mean to pay to treaties. I have the honour to
be, Sir,

_Your most obedient, and
most humble servant_,
_President of Congress_."

_His Excellency,
Sir Henry Clinton, K.B., Philad_.

Though I am not surprised to see the Abbe mistaken in matters of
history, acted at so great a distance from his sphere of immediate
observation, yet I am more than surprised to find him wrong, (or at
least what appears so to me) in the well-enlightened field of
philosophical reflection. Here the materials are his own; created by
himself; and the error, therefore, is an act of the mind. Hitherto my
remarks have been confined to circumstances: the order in which they
arose, and the events they produced. In these, my information being
better than the Abbe's, my task was easy. How I may succeed in
controverting matters of sentiment and opinion, with one whom years,
experience, and long established reputation have placed in a superior
line, I am less confident in; but as they fall within the scope of my
observations, it would be improper to pass them over.

From this part of the Abbe's work to the latter end, I find several
expressions which appear to me to start, with a cynical complexion,
from the path of liberal thinking, or at least they are so involved as
to lose many of the beauties which distinguish other parts of the

The Abbe having brought his work to the period when the treaty of
alliance between France and the United States commenced, proceeds to
make some remarks thereon.

"In short," says he, "philosophy, whose first sentiment is the desire
to see all governments just, and all people happy, in casting her eyes
upon this alliance of a monarchy, with a people who are defending
their liberty, _is curious to know its motive. She sees at once too
clearly, that the happiness of mankind has no part in it_."

Whatever train of thinking or of temper the Abbe might be in, when he
penned this expression, matters not. They will neither qualify the
sentiment, nor add to its defect. If right, it needs no apology; if
wrong, it merits no excuse. It is sent to the world as an opinion of
philosophy, and may be examined without regard to the author.

It seems to be a defect, connected with ingenuity, that it often
employs itself more in matters of curiosity than usefulness. Man must
be the privy councillor of fate, or something is not right. He must
know the springs, the whys, and wherefores of every thing, or he sits
down unsatisfied. Whether this be a crime, or only a caprice of
humanity, I am not enquiring into. I shall take the passage as I find
it, and place my objections against it.

It is not so properly the _motives_ which _produced_ the alliance, as
the _consequences_ which are to be _produced from it_, that mark out
the field of philosophical reflection. In the one we only penetrate
into the barren cave of secrecy, where little can be known, and every
thing may be misconceived; in the other, the mind is presented with a
wide extended prospect, of vegetative good, and sees a thousand
blessings budding into existence.

But the expression, even within the compass of the Abbe's meaning,
sets out with an error, because it is made to declare that, which no
man has authority to declare. Who can say that the happiness of
mankind made _no part of the motives_ which produced the alliance? To
be able to declare this, a man must be possessed of the mind of all
the parties concerned, and know that their motives were something

In proportion as the independence of America became contemplated and
understood, the local advantages of it to the immediate actors, and
the numerous benefits it promised to mankind, appear to be every day
encreasing, and we saw not a temporary good for the present race only,
but a continued good to all posterity; these motives, therefore, added
to those which preceded them, became the motives, on the part of
America, which led her to propose and agree to the treaty of alliance,
as the best effectual method of extending and securing happiness; and
therefore, with respect to us, the Abbe is wrong.

France, on the other hand, was situated very differently to America.
She was not acted upon by necessity to seek a friend, and therefore
her motive in becoming one, has the strongest evidence of being good,
and that which is so, must have some happiness for its object. With
regard to herself she saw a train of conveniencies worthy her
attention. By lessening the power of an enemy, whom, at the same
time, she sought neither to destroy nor distress, she gained an
advantage without doing an evil, and created to herself a new friend
by associating with a country in misfortune. The springs of thought
that lead to actions of this kind, however political they may be, are
nevertheless naturally beneficent; for in all causes, good or bad, it
is necessary there should be a fitness in the mind, to enable it to
act in character with the object: Therefore, as a bad cause cannot be
prosecuted with a good motive, so neither can a good cause be long
supported by a bad one, as no man acts without a motive; therefore, in
the present instance, as they cannot be bad, they must be admitted to

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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 3 of 6)