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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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 po-
litics, has occasioned him to mistake several facts, or mis-
conceive the causes or principles by which they were pro-
duced ; the following tract, therefore, is published with a
view to rectify them, and prevent even accidental errors inter-
mixing 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 to bejust, 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 English-
man ; and though, in an advertisement prefixed to the Lon-^
don edition, he has endeavoured to gloss over the embez-
zlement 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 na-
tive language, at the same time with the following transla-
tion of it; in which he bas been desirous, perhaps, in vain.



that all the warmth, the grace, the strength, the dignity of
the original, should uot be lost. And he flatters himself,
that the indulgence of the illustrious historian will not be
\vauting to a man who, of his own motion, has taken the
liberty to give this composition to the public, " only from a
strong persuation, that this momentous argument will be
useful, in a critical conjecture, to that country which he
loves with an ajrdour that can be exceeded only by the no-
bkr 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 con-
tains, that the copy was obtained for the sake of profiting
by the sale of a new and popular work, and that the profes-
sions 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 proper-
ty ; 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 beany apology, that because the countries are at war,
literature shall be entitled to depredation.*

* The state of literature in America must one day become a
subject of legislative consideration. Hitherto it hath been a dis-
interested volunteer in the service of the Revolution, and no man
thought of profits ; but when peace shall give time and opportu-
nity for study, the country will deprive itself of the honour and
service of letters, and the improvement of science, unless sufficient


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 in-
juries which such conduct mny 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 injus-
tice 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 op-
portunity, arid precipitated him into difficulties, which, had
it not been for such ungenerous fraud, might not have hap-

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 nny 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 judg-
ment, so as to be rightly balanced within themselves, and to
make a reader feel, fancy, 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 de-

laws are made to prevent depredation on literary property. It is
well worth remarking, that Russia, who, but a few years ago, was
scarcely known ia Europe, owes a large share of her present great-
ness to the close attention she has paid, and the wise encourage-
ment she has given to every brunch of science and learning : and
we have almost the same instance in France, in the re'gn of Lewis


gree of animation must be felt by the writer, and raised in
the reader, in order to interest the attention; and a suffi-
cient scope given to the imagination, to enable it to create
in the mind a sight of the persons, characters, and circum-
stances of the subject; for without these, the judgment will
feel little or no excitement to office, and its determinations
wtSl 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 its seat, and the whole
matter, however important in itself, will diminish into a pan-
tomime of the mind, in which we create images that pro-
mote 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 indivi-
duals in a state of war. The least misinformation or miscon-
ception leads to some wrong conclusion, and an error believ-
ed becomes the progenitor of others. Audits the Abbe has
suffered some inconveniences in France, by mis-stating 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 unge-
nerous enemy.


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 com-
plimental 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 Revolu-
tion; and whoever attempts it precipitately, will unavoid-
ably 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 miscon-
ceived and mis-stated 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 Na-
tions, had there been the sport of ridicule. Arbitrary
power had not there torn any inhabitant from the arms of
his family and his 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 he 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 1753, and they all existed before
1776; consequently, as there was a time when they did tiat,
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 decla-
ration, as it now appears, uaccompanied by time, has an
effect in holding out to the world, that there was no real
cause for the Revolution, because it denies the existence of
all those causes which are supposed to be justifiable, and
which the Abbe styles energetic.

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 the
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 antece-


dent 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 vvitli
nothing, and at variance with every thing.

The Stamp Act, it is true, was repealed in two years after
it was passed ; but it was immediately followed by one of
infinitely more mischievous magnitude, I mean the Decla-
ratory Act, which asserted the right, as it was styled, of the
British Parliament, " to hind Americain all cases whatsoever''

If, then, the Stamp Act was an " usurpation of the Ame-
ricans' 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 that ever existed in the
world. It placed America not only in the lowest, but in
the basest state of vassalage ; because it demanded an un-
conditional submission in every thins, or, as the Act ex-
presses 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, it may be said, that the tender
mercies of the uicked are cruel.

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 stopped no
where. It went to every thing. 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 obe-
dience, 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 bus
been established by law. It is an audacious outrage upon


Civil Government, and cannot be too much exposed, in order
to be sufficiently detected.

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 its < xpiration 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 Ame-
rica, respecting this extraordinary act, they must suppose
all election and expiration in that country to cease for ever,
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 oi 'suck
a Parliament to bind them in all cases whatsover? For this
word whatsoever would go as effectually to their Magna
Ckarta, Bill of Rig/its, Trial by Juries, &c. as it went to "the
charters and ibrms of Government in America.

I am persuaded, that the Gentleman to whom I address
these remarks, will not, after, the passing this act, say,
*' That the principles of administration h?d 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 abso-
lute domination established in its stead.

The Abbe likewise states the case exceedingly wrong and
injuriously, when he says, " that the wlwle. 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." Tins was not thetchole 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.

T!-i' tax on tea, which is the tax here alluded to, was
neither vnore or less than an experiment to establish the
practice of the Declaratory Law upon; modelled into the
more fashionable phrase of the universal supremacy of Par-


liament. 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 open-
ing of the dispute, was, shall we be bound in all cases what-
soever by the British Parliament, or shall we not? For
submission to the tea or tax act, implied an acknowledge-
ment of the Declaratory Act, or, in other words, to the
universal supremacy of Parliament, which, us they nevei
intended to do, it was necessary they should oppose it, iu
its first stage of execution.

It is probable, the Abbe has been led into this mistake
by perusing detached pieces in ?of!ieof the American news-
papers; for, in a case where all were interested, every one
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
offences, was, in the worse sense of the words, to tear them,
It/ /he arbitrary power of Parliament from the arms of their
families and friends, and drag them not only to dreary, but
<li<l.(int 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

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 per-
sonality \vas incorporated with their cause. They started


even-banded with each other, and went no faster into the
several stages ot'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 have
seen 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 1770, their honour, their interest, their every
thing, called loudly on them to maintain it; and that glow
of thought, and energy of heart, which even a distant pros-
pect of Independence inspires, gave confidence to their
hopes and resolution to their conduct, which a state of de-
pendence could never have reached. They Igoked forward
to happier days and scenes of rest, and qualified the hard-
ships of the campaign by contemplating the establishment
of their new-born system.

If on the other hand, we take a review of what part
Britain has acted, we shall find every thing which ought to
make a Nation blush. The most vulgar abuse, accompa-
nied 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 origi-
nated in caprice, or generated in ambition; but here, the
most unoffending humility was tortured into rage, and the
infancy of existence made to weep.

An 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 com-
parison, 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, aie
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; mixed in
the mass of general matters they occupy but a common


page ; and while the chief of the successful partisans stepped
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 Revolution 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 an his-
tory, 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 first determination of the
British Cabinet to quarrel with America at nil events.

They, (the members who compose the Cabinet) had no
doubt of success, if they could once^ring it to the issue of
a battle; and they expected from a conquest what they
could neither propose with decency, nor hope for by nego-
ciation. The Charters and Constitutions of the colonies were
become to them matters of oifence, and their rapid progress
in property and population were disgustingly beheld as the
growing and natural means of independence. They saw no

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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)