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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penetrate into the effect which measures of government will have upon
the mind. All the miscarriages of Britain have arisen from this
defect. The former Ministry acted as if they supposed mankind to be
_without a mind_; and the present Ministry, as if America was _without
a memory_. The one must have supposed we were incapable of feeling;
and the other that we could not remember injuries.

There is likewise another line in which politicians mistake, which is
that of not rightly calculating, or rather of misjudging, the
consequence which any given circumstance will produce. Nothing is more
frequent, as well in common as in political life, than to hear people
complain, that such or such means produced an event directly contrary
to their intentions. But the fault lies in their not judging rightly
what the event would be; for the means produced only its proper and
natural consequence.

It is very probable, that in a treaty of peace, Britain will contend
for some post or other in North America, perhaps Canada or Halifax, or
both; and I infer this from the known deficiency of her politics,
which have ever yet made use of means, whose natural event was against
both her interest and her expectation. But the question with her ought
to be, Whether it is worth her while to hold them, and what will be
the consequence?

Respecting Canada, one or other of the two following will take place,
viz. If Canada should people, it will revolt, and if it do not people,
it will not be worth the expense of holding. And the same may be said
of Halifax; and the country round it. But Canada _never will_ people;
neither is there any occasion for contrivances on one side or the
other, for nature alone will do the whole.

Britain may put herself to great expenses in sending settlers to
Canada; but the descendants of those settlers will be Americans, as
other descendants have been before them. They will look round and see
the neighbouring States sovereign and free, respected abroad, and
trading at large with the world; and the natural love of liberty, the
advantages of commerce, the blessings of independence and of a happier
climate, and a richer soil, will draw them southward; and the effect
will be, that Britain will sustain the expense, and America reap the

One would think that the experience which Britain has had of America,
would entirely sicken her of all thoughts of continental colonization,
and any part she might retain will only become to her a field of
jealousy and thorns, of debate and contention, forever struggling for
privileges, and meditating revolt. She may form new settlements, but
they will be for us; they will become part of the United States of
America; and that against all her contrivances to prevent it, or
without any endeavors of ours to promote it. In the first place she
cannot draw from them a revenue, until they are able to pay one, and
when they are so, they will be above subjection. Men soon become
attached to the soil they live upon, and incorporated with the
prosperity of the place; and it signifies but little what opinions
they come over with, for time, interest, and new connections, will
render them obsolete, and the next generations know nothing of them.

Were Britain truly wise, she would lay hold of the present opportunity
to disentangle herself from all continental embarrassments in North
America, and that not only to avoid future broils and troubles, but to
save expenses. For to speak explicitly on the matter, I would not,
were I an European power, have Canada, under the conditions that
Britain must retain it, could it be given to me. It is one of those
kind of dominions that is, and ever will be, a constant charge upon
any foreign holder.

As to Halifax, it will become useless to England after the present
war, and the loss of the United States. A harbour, when the dominion
is gone, for the purpose of which only it was wanted, can be attended
only with expense. There are, I doubt not, thousands of people in
England, who suppose, that these places are a profit to the nation,
whereas they are directly the contrary, and instead of producing any
revenue, a considerable part of the revenue of England is annually
drawn off, to support the expense of holding them.

Gibraltar is another instance of national ill-policy. A post which in
time of peace is not wanted, and in time of war is of no use, must at
all times be useless. Instead of affording protection to a navy, it
requires the aid of one to maintain it. To suppose that Gibraltar
commands the Mediterranean, or the pass into it, or the trade of it,
is to suppose a detected falsehood; because though Britain holds the
post, she has lost the other three, and every benefit she expected
from it. And to say that all this happens because it is besieged by
land and water, is to say nothing, for this will always be the case in
time of war, while France and Spain keep up superior fleets, and
Britain holds the place. - So that, though, as an impenetrable
inaccessible rock, it may be held by the one, it is always in the
power of the other to render it useless and excessively chargeable.

I should suppose that one of the principal objects of Spain in
besieging it, is to show to Britain, that though she may not take it,
she can command it, that is, she can shut it up, and prevent its being
used as a harbour, though not as a garrison. - But the short way to
reduce Gibraltar is to attack the British fleet; for Gibraltar is as
dependent on a fleet for support, as a bird is on its wing for food,
and when wounded there it starves.

There is another circumstance which the people of England have not
only not attended to, but seem to be utterly ignorant of, and that is,
the difference between permanent power and accidental power,
considered in a national sense.

By permanent power, I mean, a natural inherent, and perpetual ability
in a nation, which though always in being, may not be always in
action, or not always advantageously directed; and by accidental
power, I mean, a fortunate or accidental disposition or exercise of
national strength, in whole or in part.

There undoubtedly was a time when any one European nation, with only
eight or ten ships of war, equal to the present ships of the line,
could have carried terror to all others, who had not begun to build a
navy, however great their natural ability might be for that purpose:
but this can be considered only as accidental, and not as a standard
to compare permanent power by, and could last no longer than until
those powers built as many or more ships than the former. After this a
larger fleet was necessary, in order to be superior; and a still
larger would again supersede it. And thus mankind have gone on
building fleet upon fleet, as occasion or situation dictated. And this
reduces it to an original question, which is: Which power can build
and man the largest number of ships? The natural answer to which is,
That power which has the largest revenue and the greatest number of
inhabitants, provided its situation of coast affords sufficient

France being a nation on the continent of Europe, and Britain an
island in its neighbourhood, each of them derived different ideas from
their different situations. The inhabitants of Britain could carry on
no foreign trade, nor stir from the spot they dwelt upon, without the
assistance of shipping; but this was not the case with France. The
idea therefore of a navy did not arise to France from the same
original and immediate necessity which produced to England. But the
question is, that when both of them turn their attention, and employ
their revenues the same way, which can be superior?

The annual revenue of France is nearly double that of England, and her
number of inhabitants nearly twice as many. Each of them has the same
length of ground on the Channel; besides which, France has several
hundred miles extent on the Bay of Biscay, and an opening on the
Mediterranean: and every day proves that practice and exercise make
sailors, as well as soldiers, in one country as well as another.

If then Britain can maintain a hundred ships of the line, France can
as well support a hundred and fifty, because her revenue and her
population are as equal to the one as those of England are to the
other. And the only reason why she has not done it is because she has
not till very lately attended to it. But when she sees, as she now
sees, that a navy is the first engine of power, she can easily
accomplish it.

England very falsely, and ruinously for herself, infers, that because
she had the advantage of France, while France had the smaller navy,
that for that reason it is always to be so. Whereas it may be clearly
seen that the strength of France has never yet been tried on a navy,
and that she is able to be as superior to England in the extent of a
navy, as she is in the extent of her revenues and her population. And
England may lament the day, when, by her insolence and injustice, she
provoked in France a maritime disposition.

It is in the power of the combined fleets to conquer every island in
the West Indies, and reduce all the British Navy in those places. For
were France and Spain to send their whole naval force in Europe to
those islands, it would not be in the power of Britain to follow them
with an equal force. She would still be twenty or thirty ships
inferior, were she to send every vessel she had; and in the meantime
all the foreign trade of England would lay exposed to the Dutch.

It is a maxim which, I am persuaded, will ever hold good, and more
especially in naval operations, that a great power ought never to move
in detachments, if it can possibly be avoided; but to go with its
whole force to some important object, the reduction of which shall
have a decisive effect upon the war. Had the whole of the French and
Spanish fleets in Europe come last spring to the West Indies, every
island had been their own, Rodney their prisoner, and his fleet their
prize. From the United States the combined fleets can be supplied with
provisions, without the necessity of drawing them from Europe, which
is not the case with England.

Accident has thrown some advantages in the way of England, which, from
the inferiority of her navy, she had not a right to expect. For though
she had been obliged to fly before the combined fleets, yet Rodney has
twice had the fortune to fall in with detached squadrons, to which he
was superior in numbers: The first off Cape St. Vincent, where he had
nearly two to one, and the other in the West Indies, where he had a
majority of six ships. Victories of this kind almost produce
themselves. They are won without honour, and suffered without
disgrace; and are ascribable to the chance of meeting, not to the
superiority of fighting: For the same Admiral, under whom they were
obtained, was unable, in three former engagements, to make the least
impression on a fleet consisting of an equal number of ships with his
own, and compounded for the events by declining the actions.[4]

To conclude: if it may be said that Britain has numerous enemies, it
likewise proves that she has given numerous offenses. Insolence is
sure to provoke hatred, whether in a nation or an individual. That
want of manners in the British Court may be seen even in its
birth-days and new-years odes, which are calculated to infatuate the
vulgar, and disgust the man of refinement; and her former overbearing
rudeness, and insufferable injustice on the seas, have made every
commercial nation her foe. Her fleets were employed as engines of
prey; and acted on the surface of the deep the character which the
shark does beneath it. - On the other hand, the Combined Powers are
taking a popular part, and will render their reputation immortal, by
establishing the perfect freedom of the ocean, to which all countries
have a right, and are interested in accomplishing. The sea is the
world's highway; and he who arrogates a prerogative over it
transgresses the right, and justly brings on himself the chastisement
of nations.

Perhaps it might be of some service to the future tranquillity of
mankind, were an article were introduced into the next general peace,
that no one nation should, in time of peace, exceed a certain number
of ships of war. Something of this kind seems necessary; for,
according to the present fashion, half of the world will get upon the
water, and there appears to be no end to the extent to which navies
may be carried. Another reason is that navies add nothing to the
manners or morals of a people. The sequestered life which attends the
service, prevents the opportunities of society, and is too apt to
occasion a coarseness of ideas and of language, and that more in ships
of war than in the commercial employ; because in the latter they mix
more with the world, and are nearer related to it. I mention this
remark as a general one, and not applied to anyone country more than
to another.

Britain has now had the trial of above seven years, with an expense of
nearly a hundred million pounds sterling; and every month in which she
delays to conclude a peace, costs her another million sterling, over
and above her ordinary expenses of government, which are a million
more; so that her total _monthly_ expense is two million pounds
sterling, which is equal to the whole _yearly_ expenses of America,
all charges included. Judge then who is best able to continue it.

She has likewise many atonements to make to an injured world, as well
in one quarter as in another. And instead of pursuing that temper of
arrogance, which serves only to sink her in the esteem, and entail on
her the dislike, of all nations, she would do well to reform her
manners, and retrench her expenses, live peaceably with he neighbours,
and think of war no more.

_Philadelphia, August 21, 1782._


[4] _See the accounts, either English or French, of the actions in the
West-Indies between Count de Guichen and Admiral Rodney, in 1780._


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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 6 of 6)