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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be good. But the Abbe sets out upon such an extended scale, that he
overlooks the degrees by which it is measured, and rejects the
beginning of good, because the end comes not at once.

It is true that bad motives may in some degree be brought to support a
good cause or prosecute a good object; but it never continues long,
which is not the case with France; for either the object will reform
the mind, or the mind corrupt the object, or else not being able,
either way, to get into unison, they will separate in disgust: And
this natural, though unperceived progress of association or contention
between the mind and the object, is the secret cause of fidelity or
defection. Every object a man pursues is, for the time, a kind of
mistress to his mind: if both are good or bad, the union is natural;
but if they are in reverse, and neither can seduce nor yet reform the
other, the opposition grows into dislike, and a separation follows.

When the cause of America first made her appearance on the stage of
the universe, there were many who, in the style of adventurers and
fortune-hunters, were dangling in her train, and making their court to
her with every profession of honour and attachment. They were loud in
her praise, and ostentatious in her service. Every place echoed with
their ardour or their anger, and they seemed like men in love. - But,
alas, they were fortune-hunters. Their expectations were excited, but
their minds were unimpressed; and finding her not to the purpose, nor
themselves reformed by her influence, they ceased their suit, and in
some instances deserted and betrayed her.

There were others, who at first beheld her with indifference, and
unacquainted with her character, were cautious of her company. They
treated her as one, who, under the fair name of liberty, might conceal
the hideous figure of anarchy, or the gloomy monster of tyranny. They
knew not what she was. If fair, she was fair indeed. But still she was
suspected, and though born among us, appeared to be a stranger.

Accident, with some, and curiosity with others, brought on a distant
acquaintance. They ventured to look at her. They felt an inclination
to speak to her. One intimacy led to another, till the suspicion wore
away, and a change of sentiment stole gradually upon the mind; and
having no self-interest to serve, no passion of dishonour to gratify,
they became enamoured of her innocence, and unaltered by misfortune or
uninflamed by success, shared with fidelity in the varieties of her

This declaration of the Abbe's, respecting motives, has led me
unintendedly into a train of metaphysical reasoning; but there was no
other avenue by which it could so properly be approached. To place
presumption against presumption, assertion against assertion, is a
mode of opposition that has no effect; and therefore the more eligible
method was, to shew that the declaration does not correspond with the
natural progress of the mind, and the influence it has upon our
conduct. - I shall now quit this part, and proceed to what I have
before stated, namely, that it is not so properly the motives which
produced the alliance, as the consequences to be produced from it,
that mark out the field of philosophical reflections.

It is an observation I have already made in some former publication,
that the circle of civilization is yet incomplete. A mutuality of
wants have formed the individuals of each country into a kind of
national society, and here the progress of civilization has stopt.
For it is easy to see, that nations with regard to each other
(notwithstanding the ideal civil law, which every one explains as it
suits him) are like individuals in a state of nature. They are
regulated by no fixt principle, governed by no compulsive law, and
each does independently what it pleases, or what it can.

Were it possible we could have known the world when in a state of
barbarism, we might have concluded, that it never could be brought
into the order we now see it. The untamed mind was then as hard, if
not harder to work upon in its individual state, than the national
mind is in its present one. Yet we have seen the accomplishment of the
one, why then should we doubt that of the other?

There is a greater fitness in mankind to extend and complete the
civilization of nations with each other at this day, than there was to
begin it with the unconnected individuals at first; in the same manner
that it is somewhat easier to put together the materials of a machine
after they are formed, than it was to form them from original matter.
The present condition of the world, differing so exceedingly from what
it formerly was, has given a new cast to the mind of man, more than
what he appears to be sensible of. The wants of the individual, which
first produced the idea of society, are now augmented into the wants
of the nation, and he is obliged to seek from another country what
before he sought from the next person.

Letters, the tongue of the world, have in some measure brought all
mankind acquainted, and, by an extension of their uses, are every day
promoting some new friendship. Through them distant nations became
capable of conversation, and losing by degrees the awkwardness of
strangers, and the moroseness of suspicion, they learn to know and
understand each other. Science, the partizan of no country, but the
beneficent patroness of all, has liberally opened a temple where all
may meet. Her influence on the mind, like the sun on the chilled
earth, has long been preparing it for higher cultivation and further
improvement. The philosopher of one country sees not an enemy in the
philosopher of another: he takes his seat in the temple of science,
and asks not who sits beside him.

This was not the condition of the barbarian world. Then the wants of
man were few, and the objects within his reach. While he could acquire
these, he lived in a state of individual independence; the consequence
of which was, there were as many nations as persons, each contending
with the other, to secure something which he had, or to obtain
something which he had not. The world had then no business to follow,
no studies to exercise the mind. Their time was divided between sloth
and fatigue. Hunting and war were their chief occupations; sleep and
food their principal enjoyments.

Now it is otherwise. A change in the mode of life has made it
necessary to be busy; and man finds a thousand things to do now which
before he did not. Instead of placing his ideas of greatness in the
rude achievements of the savage, he studies arts, science,
agriculture, and commerce, the refinements of the gentleman, the
principles of society, and the knowledge of the philosopher.

There are many things which in themselves are morally neither good nor
bad, but they are productive of consequences, which are strongly
marked with one or other of these characters. Thus commerce, though in
itself a moral nullity, has had a considerable influence in tempering
the human mind. It was the want of objects in the ancient world, which
occasioned in them such a rude and perpetual turn for war. Their time
hung upon their hands without the means of employment. The indolence
they lived in afforded leisure for mischief, and being all idle at
once, and equal in their circumstances, they were easily provoked or
induced to action.

But the introduction of commerce furnished the world with objects,
which in their extent, reach every man, and give him something to
think about and something to do; by these his attention his [_sic_]
mechanically drawn from the pursuits which a state of indolence and an
unemployed mind occasioned, and he trades with the same countries,
which former ages, tempted by their productions, and too indolent to
purchase them, would have gone to war with.

Thus, as I have already observed, the condition of the world being
materially changed by the influence of science and commerce, it is put
into a fitness not only to admit of, but to desire an extension of
civilization. The principal and almost only remaining enemy it now has
to encounter, is _prejudice_; for it is evidently the interest of
mankind to agree and make the best of life. The world has undergone
its divisions of empire, the several boundaries of which are known and
settled. The idea of conquering countries, like the Greeks and Romans,
does not now exist; and experience has exploded the notion of going to
war for the sake of profit. In short, the objects for war are
exceedingly diminished, and there is now left scarcely any thing to
quarrel about, but what arises from that demon of society, prejudice,
and the consequent sullenness and untractableness of the temper.

There is something exceedingly curious in the constitution and
operation of prejudice. It has the singular ability of accommodating
itself to all the possible varieties of the human mind. Some passions
and vices are but thinly scattered among mankind, and find only here
and there a fitness of reception. But prejudice, like the spider,
makes every where its home. It has neither taste nor choice of place,
and all that it requires is room. There is scarcely a situation,
except fire or water, in which a spider will not live. So, let the
mind be as naked as the walls of an empty and forsaken tenement,
gloomy as a dungeon, or ornamented with the richest abilities of
thinking; let it be hot, cold, dark, or light, lonely or inhabited,
still prejudice, if undisturbed, will fill it with cobwebs, and live,
like the spider, where there seems nothing to live on. If the one
prepares her food by poisoning it to her palate and her use, the other
does the same; and as several of our passions are strongly charactered
by the animal world, prejudice may be denominated the spider of the

Perhaps no two events ever united so intimately and forceably to
combat and expel prejudice, as the Revolution of America, and the
Alliance with France. Their effects are felt, and their influence
already extends as well to the old world as the new. Our style and
manner of thinking have undergone a revolution, more extraordinary
than the political revolution of the country. We see with other eyes;
we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we
formerly used. We can look back on our own prejudices, as if they had
been the prejudices of other people. We now see and know they were
prejudices, and nothing else; and relieved from their shackles, enjoy
a freedom of mind we felt not before. It was not all the argument,
however powerful, nor all the reasoning, however elegant, that could
have produced this change, so necessary to the extension of the mind
and the cordiality of the world, without the two circumstances of the
Revolution and the Alliance.

Had America dropt quietly from Britain, no material change in
sentiment had taken place. The same notions, prejudices, and conceits,
would have governed in both countries, as governed them before; and,
still the slaves of error and education, they would have travelled on
in the beaten tract of vulgar and habitual thinking. But brought about
by the means it has been, both with regard to ourselves, to France,
and to England, every corner of the mind is swept of its cobwebs,
poison, and dust, and made fit for the reception of general happiness.

Perhaps there never was an alliance on a broader basis, than that
between America and France, and the progress of it is worth attending
to. The countries had been enemies, not properly of themselves, but
through the medium of England. They, originally, had no quarrel with
each other, nor any cause for one, but what arose from the interest of
England, and her arming America against France. At the same time, the
Americans, at a distance from and unacquainted with the world, and
tutored in all the prejudices which governed those who governed them,
conceived it their duty to act as they were taught. In doing this
they expended their substance to make conquests, not for themselves,
but for their masters, who in return, treated them as slaves.

A long succession of insolent severity, and the separation finally
occasioned by the commencement of hostilities at Lexington, on the
19th of April, 1775, naturally produced a new disposition of thinking.
As the mind closed itself towards England, it opened itself toward the
world; and our prejudices, like our oppressions, underwent, though
less observed, a mental examination; until we found the former as
inconsistent with reason and benevolence, as the latter were repugnant
to our civil and political rights.

While we were thus advancing by degrees into the wide field of
extended humanity, the alliance with France was concluded; an alliance
not formed for the mere purpose of a day, but on just and generous
grounds, and with equal and mutual advantages; and the easy
affectionate manner in which the parties have since communicated, has
made it an alliance, not of courts only, but of countries. There is
now an union of mind as well as of interest; and our hearts as well as
our prosperity, call on us to support it.

The people of England not having experienced this change, had likewise
no ideas of it, they were hugging to their bosoms the same prejudices
we were trampling beneath our feet; and they expected to keep a hold
upon America, by that narrowness of thinking which America disdained.
What they were proud of, we despised: and this is a principal cause
why all their negotiations, constructed on this ground, have failed.
We are now really another people, and cannot again go back to
ignorance and prejudice. The mind once enlightened cannot again become
dark. There is no possibility, neither is there any term to express
the supposition by, of the mind unknowing any thing it already knows;
and therefore all attempts on the part of England, fitted to the
former habit of America, and on the expectation of their applying now,
will be like persuading a seeing man to become blind, and a sensible
one to turn an idiot. The first of which is unnatural and the other

As to the remark which the Abbe makes on the one country being a
monarchy and the other a republic, it can have no essential meaning.
Forms of government have nothing to do with treaties. The former are
the internal police of the countries severally; the latter their
external police jointly: and so long as each performs its part, we
have no more right or business to know how the one or the other
conducts its domestic affairs, than we have to inquire into the
private concerns of a family.

But had the Abbe reflected for a moment, he would have seen that
courts, or the governing powers of all countries, be their forms what
they may, are relatively republics with each other. It is the first
and true principle of alliancing. Antiquity may have given precedence,
and power will naturally create importance, but their equal right is
never disputed. It may likewise be worthy of remarking, that a
monarchical country can suffer nothing in its popular happiness by an
alliance with a republican one; and republican governments have never
been destroyed by their external connections, but by some internal
convulsion or contrivance. France has been in alliance with the
republic of Switzerland for more than two hundred years, and still
Switzerland retains her original form as entire as if she had allied
with a republic like herself; therefore this remark of the Abbe should
go for nothing. - Besides, it is best mankind should mix. There is ever
something to learn, either of manners or principle; and it is by a
free communication, without regard to domestic matters, that
friendship is to be extended, and prejudice destroyed all over the

But notwithstanding the Abbe's high professions in favour of liberty,
he appears sometimes to forget himself, or that his theory is rather
the child of his fancy than of his judgment: for in almost the same
instant that he censures the alliance, as not originally or
sufficiently calculated for the happiness of mankind, he, by a figure
of implication, accuses France for having acted so generously and
unreservedly in concluding it. "Why did they (says he, meaning the
Court of France) tie themselves down by an inconsiderate treaty to
conditions with the Congress, which they might themselves have held in
dependence by ample and regular supplies."

When an author undertakes to treat of public happiness, he ought to be
certain that he does not mistake passion for right, nor imagination
for principle. Principle, like truth, needs no contrivance. It will
ever tell its own tale, and tell it the same way. But where this is
not the case, every page must be watched, recollected, and compared
like an invented story.

I am surprised at this passage of the Abbe. It means nothing or it
means ill; and in any case it shows the great difference between
speculative and practical knowledge. A treaty according to the Abbe's
language would have neither duration nor affection; it might have
lasted to the end of the war, and then expired with it. - But France,
by acting in a style superior to the little politics of narrow
thinking, has established a generous fame, and won the love of a
country she was before a stranger to. She had to treat with a people
who thought as nature taught them; and, on her own part, she wisely
saw there was no present advantage to be obtained by unequal terms,
which could balance the more lasting ones that might flow from a kind
and generous beginning.

From this part the Abbe advances into the secret transactions of the
two Cabinets of Versailles and Madrid, respecting the independence of
America, through which I mean not to follow him. It is a circumstance
sufficiently striking, without being commented on, that the former
union of America with Britain, produced a power, which, in her hands,
had was becoming dangerous to the world: and there is no improbability
in supposing, that had the latter known as much of the strength of
former, before she began the quarrel, as she has known since, that
instead of attempting to reduce her to unconditional submission, would
have proposed to her the conquest of Mexico. But from the countries
separately, Spain has nothing to apprehend, though from their union,
she had more to fear than any other power in Europe.

The part which I shall more particularly confine myself to, is that,
wherein the Abbe takes an opportunity of complimenting the British
Ministry with high encomiums of admiration, on their rejecting the
offered mediation of the Court of Madrid, in 1779.

It must be remembered, that before Spain joined France in the War, she
undertook the office of a mediator, and made proposals to the British
King and Ministry so exceedingly favourable to their interest, that
had they been accepted, would have become inconvenient, if not
inadmissible to America. These proposals were nevertheless rejected by
the British Cabinet: on which the Abbe says, -

"It is in such a circumstance as this, it is in the time when noble
pride elevates the soul superior to all terror; when nothing is seen
more dreadful than the shame of receiving the law, and when there is
no doubt or hesitation which to chuse, between ruin and dishonour; it
is then, that the greatness of a nation is displayed. I acknowledge,
however, that men accustomed to judge of things by the event, call
great and perilous resolutions, heroism or madness, according to the
good or bad success with which they have been attended. If then I
should be asked, what is the name which shall in years to come be
given to the firmness, which was in this moment exhibited by the
English, I shall answer, that I do not know. But that which it
deserves I know. I know that the annals of the world hold out to us
but rarely the august and majestic spectacle of a nation, which chuses
rather to renounce its duration than its glory."

In this paragraph the conception is lofty, and the expression elegant;
but the colouring is too high for the original, and the likeness fails
through an excess of graces. To fit the powers of thinking and the
turn of language to the subject, so as to bring out a clear conclusion
that shall hit the point in question, and nothing else, is the true
criterion of writing. But the greater part of the Abbe's writings (if
he will pardon me the remark) appear to me uncentral and burthened
with variety. They represent a beautiful wilderness without paths; in
which the eye is diverted by every thing, without being particularly
directed to any thing: and in which it is agreeable to be lost, and
difficult to find the way out.

Before I offer any other remark oh the spirit and composition of the
above passage, I shall compare it with the circumstance it alludes to.

The circumstance, then, does not deserve the encomium. The rejection
was not prompted by her fortitude but her vanity. She did not view it
as a case of despair or even of extreme danger, and consequently the
determination to renounce her duration rather than her glory, cannot
apply to the condition of her mind. She had then high expectations of
subjugating America, and had no other naval force against her than
France; neither was she certain that rejecting the mediation of Spain
would combine that power with France. New mediations might arise more
favourable than those she had refused. But if they should not, and
Spain should join, she still saw that it would only bring out her
naval force against France and Spain, which was wanted and could not
be employed against America, and habits of thinking had taught her to
believe herself superior to both.

But in any case to which the consequence might point, there was
nothing to impress her with the idea of renouncing her duration. It is
not the policy of Europe to suffer the extinction of any power, but
only to lop off, or prevent its dangerous encrease. She was likewise
freed by situation from the internal and immediate horrors of
invasion; was rolling in dissipation, and looking for conquests; and
though she suffered nothing but the expense of war, she still had a
greedy eye to magnificent reimbursement.

But if the Abbe is delighted with high and striking singularities of
character he might, in America, have found ample field for encomium.
Here was a people, who could not know what part the world would take
for, or against them; and who were venturing on an untried scheme, in
opposition to a power, against which more formidable nations had
failed. They had every thing to learn but the principles which
supported them, and every thing to procure that was necessary for
their defense. They have at times seen themselves as low as distress
could make them, without showing the least stagger in their fortitude;
and been raised again by the most unexpected events, without
discovering an unmanly discomposure of joy. To hesitate or to despair
are conditions equally unknown in America. Her mind was prepared for
every thing; because her original and final resolution of succeeding
or perishing included all possible circumstances.

The rejection of the British propositions in the year 1778,
circumstanced as America was at that time, is a far greater instance
of unshaken fortitude than the refusal of the Spanish mediation by the
Court of London: and other historians, besides the Abbe, struck with
the vastness of her conduct therein, have, like himself, attributed it
to a circumstance which was then unknown, the alliance with France.
Their error shows their idea of its greatness; because, in order to
account for it, they have sought a cause suited to its magnitude,
without knowing that the cause existed in the principles of the


[2] Extract from, "_A short Review of the present Reign_," in England.
_Page 45, in the New Annual Register for the year 1780_.

"_THE Commissioners, who, in consequence of Lord North's
conciliatory bills, went over to America, to propose terms of
peace to the colonies, were wholly unsuccessful. The concessions
which formerly would have been received with the utmost
gratitude, were rejected with disdain. Now was the time of
American pride and haughtiness. It is probable, however, that it
was not pride and haughtiness alone that dictated the
Resolutions of Congress, but a distrust of the sincerity of the
offers of Britain, a determination not to give up their

But this passionate encomium of the Abbe is deservedly subject to
moral and philosophical objections. It is the effusion of wild

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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 4 of 6)