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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thinking, and has a tendency to prevent that humanity of reflection
which the criminal conduct of Britain enjoins on her as a duty. - It is
a laudanum to courtly iniquity. - It keeps in intoxicated sleep the
conscience of a nation; and more mischief is effected by wrapping up
guilt in splendid excuse, than by directly patronizing it.

Britain is now the only country which holds the world in disturbance
and war; and instead of paying compliments to the excess of her
crimes, the Abbe would have appeared much more in character, had he
put to her, or to her monarch, this serious question -

Are there not miseries enough in the world, too difficult to be
encountered and too pointed to be borne, without studying to enlarge
the list and arming it with new destruction? Is life so very long,
that it is necessary, nay even a duty, to shake the sand, and hasten
out the period of duration? Is the path so elegantly smooth, so decked
on every side, and carpeted with joys, that wretchedness is wanting to
enrich it as a soil? Go ask thine aching heart, when sorrow from a
thousand causes wounds it, go, ask thy sickened self when every
medicine fails, whether this be the case or not?

Quitting my remarks on this head, I proceed to another, in which the
Abbe has let loose a vein of ill-nature, and, what is still worse, of

After caviling at the treaty, he goes on to characterize the several
parties combined in the war. - "Is it possible," says the Abbe, "that a
strict union should long subsist amongst confederates of characters so
opposite as the hasty, light, disdainful Frenchman, the jealous,
haughty, sly, slow, circumspect Spaniard, and the American, who is
secretly snatching looks at the mother country, and would rejoice,
were they compatible with his independence, at the disasters of his

To draw foolish portraits of each other, is a mode of attack and
reprisal, which the greater part of mankind are fond of indulging. The
serious philosopher should be above it, more especially in cases from
which no possible good can arise, and mischief may, and where no
received provocation can palliate the offense. - The Abbe might have
invented a difference of character for every country in the world, and
they in return might find others for him, till in the war of wit all
real character is lost. The pleasantry of one nation or the gravity of
another may, by a little penciling, be distorted into whimsical
features, and the painter becomes so much laughed at as the painting.

But why did not the Abbe look a little deeper, and bring forth the
excellencies of the several parties? Why did he not dwell with
pleasure on that greatness of character, that superiority of heart,
which has marked the conduct of France in her conquests, and which has
forced an acknowledgment even from Britain.

There is one line, at least (and many others might be discovered), in
which the confederates unite; which is, that of a rival eminence in
their treatment of their enemies. Spain, in her conquest of Minorca
and the Bahama Islands, confirms this remark. America has been
invariable in her lenity from the beginning of the war,
notwithstanding the high provocations she has experienced? It is
England only who has been insolent and cruel.

But why must America be charged with a crime undeserved by her
conduct, more so by her principles, and which, if a fact, would be
fatal to her honour? I mean the want of attachment to her allies, or
rejoicing in their disasters. She, it is true, has been assiduous in
showing to the world that she was not the aggressor toward England;
and that the quarrel was not of her seeking, or, at that time, even of
her wishing. But to draw inferences from her justification, to stab
her character by, and I see nothing else from which they can be
supposed to be drawn, is unkind and unjust.

Does her rejection of the British propositions in 1778, before she
knew of any alliance with France, correspond with the Abbe's
description of her mind? Does a single instance of her conduct since
that time justify it? - But there is a still better evidence to apply
to, which is, that of all the mails which at different times have been
way-laid on the road, in divers parts of America, and taken and
carried into New-York, and from which the most secret and confidential
private letters, as well as those from authority, have been published,
not one of them, I repeat it, not a single one of them, gives
countenance to such a charge.

This is not a country where men are under government restraint in
speaking; and if there is any kind of restraint, it arises from a fear
of popular resentment. Now, if nothing in her private or public
correspondence favours such a suggestion, and if the general
disposition of the country is such as to make it unsafe for a man to
shew an appearance of joy at any disaster to her ally; on what
grounds, I ask, can the accusation stand? What company the Abbe may
have kept in France, we cannot know; but this we know, that the
account he gives does not apply to America.

Had the Abbe been in America at the time the news arrived of the
disaster of the fleet under Count de Grasse, in the West-Indies, he
would have seen his vast mistake. Neither do I remember any instance,
except the loss of Charlestown, in which the public mind suffered more
severe and pungent concern, or underwent more agitations of hope and
apprehension, as to the truth or falsehood of the report. Had the loss
been all our own, it could not have had a deeper effect; yet it was
not one of those cases which reached to the independence of America.

In the geographical account which the Abbe gives of the Thirteen
States, he is so exceedingly erroneous, that to attempt a particular
refutation, would exceed the limits I have prescribed to myself. And
as it is a matter neither political, historical, nor sentimental, and
which can always be contradicted by the extent and natural
circumstances of the country, I shall pass it over; with this
additional remark, that I never yet saw an European description of
America that was true, neither can any person gain a just idea of it,
but by coming to it.

Though I have already extended this letter beyond what I at first
proposed, I am, nevertheless, obliged to omit many observations I
originally designed to have made. I wish there had been no occasion
for making any. But the wrong ideas which the Abbe's work had a
tendency to excite, and the prejudicial impressions they might make,
must be an apology for my remarks, and the freedom with which they are

I observe the Abbe has made a sort of epitome of a considerable part
of the pamphlet Common Sense, and introduced it in that form into his
publication. But there are other places where the Abbe has borrowed
freely from the said pamphlet without acknowledging it. The difference
between society and government, with which the pamphlet opens, is
taken from it, and in some expressions almost literally, into the
Abbe's work, as if originally his own; and through the whole of the
Abbe's remarks on this head, the idea in Common Sense is so closely
copied and pursued, that the difference is only in words, and in the
arrangement of the thoughts, and not in the thoughts themselves.[3]



"Some writers have so confounded "Care must be taken not to confound
society With government, as to leave together society with government.
little or no distinction between them; That they may be known distinctly,
whereas they are not only different, their origin should be considered.
but have different origins.

"Society is produced by our wants, "Society originates in the wants of
and governments by our wickedness; men, government in their vices.
the former promotes our happiness Society tends always to good; government
_positively_, by uniting our affections; ought always to tend to the
the latter _negatively_, by restraining repressing of evil."
our vices."

_In the following paragraphs there is less likeness in the language, but
the ideas in the one are evidently copied from the other_.

"In order to gain a clear and just "Man, thrown, as it were by
idea of the design and end of government, chance upon the globe, surrounded
let us suppose a small number by all the evils of nature, obliged
of persons, meeting in some frequented continually to defend and protect his
part of the earth, unconnected life against the storms and tempests
with the rest; they will then represent of the air, against the inundations of
the peopling of any country or water, against the fire of volcanoes,
of the world. In this state of natural against the intemperance of frigid
liberty, society will be our first and torrid zones, against the sterility
thought. A thousand motives will of the earth which, refuses him aliment,
excite them thereto. The strength of or its baneful fecundity, which
one man is so unequal to his wants, makes poison spring up beneath his
and his mind so unfitted for perpetual feet; in short against the claws and
solitude, that he is soon obliged to teeth of savage beasts, who dispute
seek assistance of another, who, in with him his habitation and his prey,
his turn, requires the same. Four or and attacking his person, seem resolved
five united would be able to raise to render themselves rulers of
a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a this globe, of which he thinks himself
wilderness; but _one_ man might to be the master. Man, in this
labour out the common period of life, state, alone and abandoned to himself,
without accomplishing any thing; could do nothing for his preservation.
when he has felled his timber, he It was necessary, therefore,
could not remove it, nor erect it after that he should unite himself, and associate
it was removed; hunger, in the with his like, in order to
mean time would, urge him from his bring together their strength and intelligence
work, and every different want call in common stock. It is
him a different way. Disease, nay by this union that he has triumphed
even misfortune would be death; over so many evils, that he has
for though neither might be immediately fashioned this globe to his use, restrained
mortal, yet either of them the rivers, subjugated the
would disable him from living, and seas, insured his subsistence, conquered
reduce him to a state in which he apart of the animals in obliging
might rather be said to perish than to them to serve him, and driven others
die. - Thus necessity, like a gravitating far from his empire, to the depths of
power, would form our newly deserts or of woods, where their
arrived emigrants into society, the number diminishes from age to age.
reciprocal benefits of which would What a man alone would not have
supersede and render the obligations been able to effect, men have executed
of law and government unnecessary, in concert; and altogether they
while they remained perfectly just preserve their work. - Such is the
to each other. But as nothing but origin, such the advantages, and the
heaven is impregnable to vice, it will end of society. - Government owes
unavoidably happen, that in proportion its birth to the necessity of preventing
as they surmount the first and repressing the injuries which
difficulties of emigration which bound the associated individuals had to fear
them together in a common cause, from one another. It is the sentinel
they will begin to relax in their duty who watches, in order that the common
and attachment to each other, and this labourers be not disturbed."
remissness will point out the necessity
of establishing some form of
moral virtue."

But as it is time that I should come to the end of my letter, I shall
forbear all further observations on the Abbe's work, and take a
concise view of the state of public affairs, since the time in which
that performance was published.

A mind habituated to actions of meanness and injustice, commits them
without reflection, or with a very partial one; for on what other
ground than this, can we account for the declaration of war against
the Dutch? To gain an idea of the politics which actuated the British
Ministry to this measure, we must enter into the opinion which they,
and the English in general, had formed of the temper of the Dutch
nation; and from thence infer what their expectation of the
consequences would be.

Could they have imagined that Holland would have seriously made a
common cause with France, Spain and America, the British Ministry
would never have dared to provoke them. It would have been a madness
in politics to have done so; unless their views were to hasten on a
period of such emphatic distress, as should justify the concessions
which they saw they must one day or other make to the world, and for
which they wanted an apology to themselves. - There is a temper in some
men which seeks a pretense for submission. Like a ship disabled in
action, and unfitted to continue it, it waits the approach of a still
larger one to strike to, and feels relief at the opportunity. Whether
this is greatness or littleness of mind, I am not enquiring into. I
should suppose it to be the latter, because it proceeds from the want
of knowing how to bear misfortune in its original state.

But the subsequent conduct of the British cabinet has shown that this
was not their plan of politics, and consequently their motives must be
sought for in another line.

The truth is, that the British had formed a very humble opinion of the
Dutch nation. They looked on them as a people who would submit to any
thing; that they might insult them as they liked, plunder them as they
pleased, and still the Dutch dared not to be provoked.

If this be taken as the opinion of the British cabinet, the measure
is easily accounted for, because it goes on the supposition, that
when, by a declaration of hostilities, they had robbed the Dutch of
some millions sterling (and to rob them was popular), they could make
peace with them again whenever they pleased, and on almost any terms
the British ministry should propose. And no sooner was the plundering
committed, than the accommodation was set on foot, and failed.

When once the mind loses the sense of its own dignity, it loses,
likewise, the ability of judging of it in another. And the American
war has thrown Britain into such a variety of absurd situations, that,
arguing from herself, she sees not in what conduct national dignity
consists in other countries. From Holland she expected duplicity and
submission, and this mistake from her having acted, in a number of
instances during the present war, the same character herself.

To be allied to, or connected with Britain, seems to be an unsafe and
impolitic situation. Holland and America are instances of the reality
of this remark. Make those countries the allies of France or Spain,
and Britain will court them with civility and treat them with respect;
make them her own allies, and she will insult and plunder them. In the
first case, she feels some apprehensions at offending them, because
they have support at hand; in the latter, those apprehensions do not
exist. Such, however, has hitherto been her conduct.

Another measure which has taken place since the publication of the
Abbe's work, and likewise since the time of my beginning this letter,
is the change in the British Ministry. What line the new cabinet will
pursue respecting America, is at this time unknown; neither is it very
material, unless they are seriously disposed to a general and
honourable peace.

Repeated experience has shown, not only the impracticability of
conquering America, but the still higher impossibility of conquering
her mind, or recalling her back to her former condition of thinking.
Since the commencement of the war, which is now approaching to eight
years, thousands and tens of thousands have advanced, and are daily
advancing into the first state of manhood, who know nothing of Britain
but as a barbarous enemy, and to whom the independence of America
appears as much the natural and established government of the country,
as that of England does to an Englishman. And on the other hand,
thousands of the aged, who had British ideas, have dropped and are
daily dropping, from the stage of business and life. - The natural
progress of generation and decay operates every hour to the
disadvantage of Britain. Time and death, hard enemies to contend with,
fight constantly against her interest; and the bills of mortality, in
every part of America, are the thermometers of her decline. The
children in the streets are from their cradle bred to consider her as
their only foe. They hear of her cruelties; of their fathers, uncles,
and kindred killed; they see the remains of burned and destroyed
houses, and the common tradition of the school they go to, tells them,
_those things were done by the British._

These are circumstances which the mere English state politician, who
considers man only in a state of manhood, does not attend to. He gets
entangled with parties coeval or equal with himself at home, and
thinks not how fast the rising generation in America is growing beyond
his knowledge of them, or they of him. In a few years all personal
remembrance will be lost, and who is king or minister in England, will
be but little known and scarcely inquired after.

The new British administration is composed of persons who have ever
been against the war, and who have constantly reprobated all the
violent measures of the former one. They considered the American war
as destructive to themselves, and opposed it on that ground. But what
are these things to America? She has nothing to do with English
parties. The ins and the outs are nothing to her. It is the whole
country she is at war with, or must be at peace with.

Were every minister in England a _Chatham_, it would now weigh little
or nothing in the scale of American politics. Death has preserved to
the memory of this statesman _that fame_, which he by living, would
have lost. His plans and opinions, towards the latter part of his
life, would have been attended with as many evil consequences, and as
much reprobated here, as those of Lord North; and considering him a
wise man, they abound with inconsistencies amounting to absurdities.

It has apparently been the fault of many in the late minority, to
suppose that America would agree to certain terms with them, were they
in place, which she would not ever listen to, from the then
administration. This idea can answer no other purpose than to prolong
the war; and Britain may, at the expense of many more millions, learn
the fatality of such mistakes. If the new ministry wisely avoid this
hopeless policy, they will prove themselves better pilots and wiser
men than they are conceived to be; for it is every day expected to see
their bark strike upon some hidden rock, and go to pieces.

But there is a line in which they may be great. A more brilliant
opening needs not to present itself; and it is such an one as true
magnanimity would improve, and humanity rejoice in.

A total reformation is wanted in England. She wants an expanded
mind, - an heart which embraces the universe. Instead of shutting
herself up in an island, and quarreling with the world, she would
derive more lasting happiness, and acquire more real riches by
generously mixing with it, and bravely saying, I am the enemy of none.
It is not now the time for little contrivances, or artful politics.
The European world is too experienced to be imposed upon, and America
too wise to be duped. It must be something new and masterly that must
succeed. The idea of seducing America from her independence, or of
corrupting her from her alliance is a thought too little for a great
mind, and impossible for any honest one, to attempt. When ever
politics are applied to debauch mankind from their integrity, and
dissolve the virtues of human nature, they become detestables and to
be a statesman on this plan, is to be a commissioned villain. He who
aims at it, leaves a vacancy in his character, which may be filled up
with the worst of epithets.

If the disposition of England should be such, as not to agree to a
general and honourable peace, and the war must at all events, continue
longer, I cannot help wishing that the alliances which America has or
may enter into, may become the only objects of the war. She wants an
opportunity of shewing to the world that she holds her honour as dear
and sacred as her independence, and that she will in no situation
forsake those, whom no negotiations could induce to forsake her.
Peace, to every reflective mind is a desirable object; but that peace
which is accompanied with a ruined character, becomes a crime to the
seducer, and a curse upon the seduced.

But where is the impossibility or even the great difficulty of England
forming a friendship with France and Spain, and making it a national
virtue to renounce for ever those prejudiced inveteracies it has been
her custom to cherish; and which, while they serve to sink her with an
increasing enormity of debt, by involving her in fruitless wars,
become likewise the bane of her repose, and the destruction of her
manners. We had once the fetters that she has now, but experience has
shewn us the mistake, and thinking justly, has set us right.

The true idea of a great nation is that, which extends and promotes
the principles of universal society. Whose mind rises above the
Atmospheres of local thoughts, and considers mankind, of whatever
nation or profession they may be, as the work of one Creator. The rage
for conquest has had its fashion, and its day. Why may not the amiable
virtues have the same? The Alexanders and Cæsars of antiquity have
left behind them their monuments of destruction, and are remembered
with hatred; while those more exalted characters, who first taught
society and science, are blessed with the gratitude of every age and
country. Of more use was one philosopher, though a heathen, to the
world, than all the heathen conquerors that ever existed.

Should the present revolution be distinguished by opening a new system
of extended civilization, it will receive from heaven the highest
evidence of approbation; and as this is a subject to which the Abbe's
powers are so eminently suited, I recommend it to his attention, with
the affection of a friend, and the ardour of a universal citizen.

* * * * *


Since closing the foregoing letter some intimations respecting a
general peace, have made their way to America. On what authority or
foundation they stand, or how near or remote such an event may be, are
circumstances I am not enquiring into. But as the subject must sooner
or later, become a matter of serious attention, it may not be
improper, even at this early period, candidly to investigate some
points that are connected with it, or lead towards it.

The independence of America is at this moment as firmly established as
that of any other country in a state of war. It is not length of time,
but power that gives stability. Nations at war know nothing of each
other on the score of antiquity. It is their present and immediate
strength, together with their connections, that must support them. To
which we may add, that a right which originated to-day, is as much a
right, as if it had the sanction of a thousand years; and therefore
the independence and present government of America are in no more
danger of being subverted, because they are modern, than that of
England is secure, because it is ancient.

The politics of Britain, so far as respected America, were originally
conceived in idiotism, and acted in madness. There is not a step which
bears the smallest trace of rationality. In her management of the war,
she has laboured to be wretched, and studied to be hated; and in all
her former propositions for accommodation, she has discovered a total
ignorance of mankind, and of those natural and unalterable sensations
by which they are so generally governed. How she may conduct herself
in the present or future business of negotiating a peace is yet to be

He is a weak politician who does not understand human nature, and

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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 5 of 6)