Copyright
Thomas Paine.

The political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) online

. (page 18 of 65)
Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and governed by a reed. Their suspicion was quick and
penetrating, but their attachment to Britain was obstinate,
and it was, at that time, a kind of treason to speak against
it. They disliked the Ministry, but they esteemed the na-
tion. Their idea of grievance operated without resentment,
and their single object was reconciliation. Bad as I believed
the Ministry to be, I never conceived them capable of a
measure so rash and wicked as the commencing of hostili-
ties ; much less did I imagine the nation would encourage
it. I viewed the dispute as a kind of law-suit, in which I
supposed the parties would find a way either to decide or
settle it. I had no thoughts of independence, or of arms.
The world could not then have persuaded me, that i should
be either a soldier or an author. If I had any talents for
either, they were buried in me, and might ever have con-
tinued so, had not the necessity of the times dragged and
driven them into action. I had formed my plan of life, and
conceiving myself happy, wished every body else so. But
when the country into which I. had just put my foot, was
set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time
for every man to stir. ,- Those who had been long settled,
had something to defend; those who had just come. had
something to pursue ; and the call and the concern was
equal and universal. For in a country where all men were



AMERICAN CRISIS. 95

once adventurers, the difference of a few years hi their arri-
val could make none in their right.

The breaking out of hostilities opened a new suspicion
in the politics of America, which, though at that time very
rare, has since been proved to be very right. What I allude
to, is, " A secret and fixed determination in the British cabi-
net to annex America to the Crown of England as a con-
quered country." If this be taken as the object, then the
whole line of conduct pursued by the Ministry, though rash
in its origin, and ruinous in its consequences, is nevertheless
uniform arid consistent in its parts. It applies to every case,
and resolves every difficulty. But if taxation, or any thing
else be taken in its room, then there is no proportion between
the object and the charge. Nothing but the whole soil and
property of the country can be placed as a possible equiva-
lent against the millions which the Ministry expended. No
taxes raised in America could possibly repay it. A revenue
of two millions sterling a year, would not discharge the sum
and interest accumulated thereon in twenty years.

Reconciliation never appears to have been the wish or the
object of Administration, they looked on conquest as certain
and infallible, and under that persuasion, sought to drive
the Americans into what they might style a general rebel-
lion, and then crushing them with arms in their hands, reap
the rich harvest of a general confiscation, and silence them
for ever. The dependants at Court were too numerous to be
provided for in England. The market for plunder in the
East Indies was over ; and the profligacy of Government
required that a new mine should be opened, and that mine
could be no other than America conquered and forfeited.
They had no where else to go. Every other channel was
drained; and extravagance, with the thirst of a drunkard,
was gaping for supplies.

If the Ministry deny this to have been their plan, it be-
comes them to explain what was their plan. For either
they have abused us in coveting property they never la-
boured for, or they have abused you in expending an
amazing sum upon an incompetent object. Taxation, as I
mentioned before, could never be worth the charge of
obtaining it by arms ; and any kind of formal obedience
which America could have made, would have weighed with
the lightness of a laugh against such a load of expence.
It is, therefore, most probable, that the Ministry will at last
justify their policy by their dishonesty, and openly declare,
that their original design was conquest. And, in this case,



96 AMERICAN CRISIS.

it well becomes the people of England, to consider how far
the nation would have been benefited by the success.

In a general view, there are few conquests that repay the
charge of making them, and mankind are pretty well con-
vinced, that it can never be worth their while to go to war
for profit sake. If they are made war upon, their country
invaded, or their existence at stake, it is their duty to defend
and preserve themselves ; but in every other light, and from
every other cause, is war inglorious and detestable. But to
return to the case in question.

When conquests are made of foreign countries, it is sup-
posed that the COMMERCE and DOMINION of the
country which made them are extended. But this could
neither be the object nor the consequence of the present
war. You enjoyed the whole commerce before. It could
receive no possible addition by a conquest, but on the con-
trary, must diminish as the inhabitants were reduced in
numbers and wealth. You had the DOMINION over the
country which you used to have, and had no complaint to
make against her for breach of any part of the compact be-
tween you and her, or contending against any established
custom, commercial, political, or territorial. The country
and commerce were both your own, when you BEGAN to con-
quer, in the same manner and form as they had been your own
an hundred years before. Nations have sometimes been in-
duced to make conquests for the sake only of reducing the
power of their enemies, or bringing it to a balance with their
own. But this could be no part of your plan. No foreign
authority was claimed here, neither was any such authority
suspected by you, or acknowledged, or imagined by us. What
then, in the name of Heaven, could you go to war for? or what
chance could you possibly have in the event, but either to
hold the same country which you held before, and that in a
much worse condition, or to lose with an amazing expence
what you might have retained without a farthing charges.

War never can be the interest of a trading nation, any
more than quarrelling can be profitable to a man in business.
But to make war with those who trade with us, is like
setting a bull-dog upon a customer at the shop-door. The
least degree of common sense shews the madness of the
latter, and it will apply with the same force of conviction
to the former. Piratical nations, having neither commerce
or commodities of their own to lose, may make war upon
all the world, and lucratively find their account in it. But
it is quite otherwise with Britain. For, besides the stoppage
of trade in time of war, she exposes more of her own pro*



AMERICAN CRISIS. 97

perty to be lost, than she has the chance of taking from others.
Some Ministerial gentlemen in Parliament have mentioned
the greatness of her trade, as an apology for the greatness of
her loss. This is miserable politics indeed! because it ought
to have been given as a reason for her not engaging in a war
at first. The coast of America commands the West India
trade, almost as effectually as the coast of Africa does that
of the Streights, and England can no more carry to the for-
mer, without the consent of America, than she caa the latter,
without a Mediterranean pass.

In whatever light the war with America is considered
upon commercial principles, it is evidently the interest of
the people of England not to support it; and why it has
been supported so long against the clearest demonstrations
of truth and national advantage, is to me, and must be to
ail the reasonable world, a matter of astonishment. Per-
haps it may be said, that I live ia America, and write this
from interest. To this I reply, that my principles are uni-
versal. My attachment is to all the world, aud not to any
particular part: and, if what I advance is right, no matter
where, or who it comes from. We have given the Procla-
mation of your Commissioners a currency in our news-
papers, and I have no doubt but you will give this a place in
yours. To oblige and be obliged is fair.

Before I dismiss this part of my address, I shall mention
one more circumstance in which I think the people of Eng-
land have been equally mistaken ; and then proceed to other
matter.

There is such an idea existing ia the world, as that of
NATIONAL HONOUR, and this, falsely understood, is
oftentimes the cause of war, In a Christian and philoso-
phical sense, mankind seem to have stood still at individual
civilization, and to retain, as nations, all the original rudeness
of nature. Peace by treaty, is only a cessation of violence,
for a reformation of sentiment. It is a substitute for a prin-
ciple that is wanting, and ever will be wanting till the idea
of NATIONAL HONOUR be rightly understood. As
individuals, we profess ourselves Christians, but as nations,
we are heathens, Romans, and what not. I remember the
late Admiral Saunders declaring in the House of Commons,
and that in the time of peace, " That the city of Madrid
laid in ashes, was not a sufficient atonement for the Spa-
niards taking off the rudder of an English sloop of war."
J do not ask whether this is Christianity or morality, I ask
whether it is decency? whether it is proper language for a






98 AMERICAN CRISIS.

nation to use? In private life we should call it by the plain
name of bullying, and the elevation of rank cannot alter its
character. It is, I think, exceedingly easy to define, wimt
ought to be understood by national honour, for that which
is the best character for an individual, is the best character
for a nation ; and wherever the latter exceeds or falls be-
neath the former, there is a departure from the line of true
greatness.

I have thrown out this observation with a design of ap-
plying it to Great Britain. Her idea of national honour
seems devoid of that benevolence of heart, that universal
expansion of philanthrophy, and that triumph over the rage
of vulgar prejudice, without which, man is inferior to him-
self, and a companion of common animals. To know whom
she shall regard or dislike, she asks what country they are of,
what religion they profess, and what property they enjoy.
Her idea of national honour seems to consist in national in-
sult, and that to be a great people, is to be neither a Chris-
tian, a philosopher, or a gentleman, but to threaten with the
rudeness of a bear, and to devour with the ferocity of a
lion. This, perhaps, may sound harsh and uncourtly, but it
is too true, and the more is the pity.

I mention this only as her general character. But to-
wards America she has observed no character at all, and
destroyed by her conduct what she assumed in her title.
She set out with the title of Parent or Mother Country.
The association of ideas which naturally accompanies this
expression, are filled with every thing that is fond, tender,
and forbearing. They have an energy particular to them-
selves, and overlooking the accidental attachment of com-
mon affections, apply with peculiar softness to the first feel-
ings of the heart. It is a political term which every mother
can feel the force of, and every child can judge of. It needs
no painting of mine to set it off, for nature only can do it
justice.

JBut has any part of your conduct to America corres-
ponded with the title you set up? If in your general na-
tional character you are unpolished and severe, in this you
are inconsistent and unnatural ; and you must have exceed-
ing false notions of national honour, to suppose that the
world can admire a want of humanity, or that national ho-
nour depends on the violence of resentment, the inflexibility
of temper, or the vengeance of execution.

I would willingly convince you, and that with as much tem-
per as the times will suffer me to do, that as you opposed
your own interest by quarrelling with us, so likewise your



AMERICAN CRISIS. 99

national honour, rightly conceived and understood, was no
way called upon to enter into a war with America. Had
you studied true greatness of heart, the first and fairest or-
nament of mankind, you would have acted directly con-
trary to ail that you have done, and the world would have
ascribed it to a generous cause ; besides which, you had
(though with the assistance of this country) secured a power-
ful name by the last war. You were known and dreaded
abroad ; and it would have been wise in you to have suffer-
ed the world to have slept undisturbed under that idea. It
was to you a force existing without expence. It produced
to you all the advantages of real power, and you were
stronger through the universality of that charm than any
future fleets and armies may probably make you. Your
greatness was so secured and interwoven with your silence,
that you ought never to have awakened mankind, and had
nothing to do but to be quiet. Had you been true politi-
cians, you would have seen all this, and continued to draw
from the magic of a name, the force and authority of a nation.

Unwise as you were in breaking the charm, you were still
more unwise in the manner of doing of it. Sampson only
told the secret, but you have performed the operation:
you have shaven your own head, and wantonly thrown
away the locks. America was the hair from which the charm
was drawn that infatuated the world. You ought to have
quarrelled with no power ; but with her upon no account.
You had nothing to fear from any condescension you might
make. You might have humoured her, even if there had
been no justice in her claims, without any risk to your re-
putation ; for Europe, fascinated by your fame, would have
ascribed it to your benevolence, and America, intoxicated
by the great, would have slumbered in her fetters.

But this method of studying the progress of the passions,
in order to ascertain the probable conduct of mankind, is a
philosophy in politics, which those who preside at St.
James's have no conception of. They know no other in-
fluence than corruption, and reckon all their probabilities
from precedent. A new case, is to them a new world, and
while they are seeking for a parallel, they get lost. The
talents of Lord Mansfield can be estimated, at best, no higher
than those of a sophist. He understands the subtleties, but
not the elegance of nature ; and by continually viewing
mankind through the cold medium of the law, never thinks of
penetrating into the warmer region of the mind. As for Lord
North, it is his happiness to have in him more philosophy



100 AMERICAN CRISIS.

than sentiment, for he bears flogging like a (op, and sleeps
the better for it. His punishment becomes his support, for
while he suffers the lash for his sins, he keeps himself up by
twirling about. In politics he is a good arithmetician, and
in every thing else, nothing at all.

There is one circumstance which comes so much within
Lord North's province as a financier, that I am surprised it
should escape him, which is, the different abilities of the
two countries in supporting the expence; for, strange as it
may seem, England is not a match for America in this
particular. By a curious kind of revolution in accounts,
the people of England seem to mistake their poverty for
their riches : that is, they reckon their national debt as
part of their national wealth. They make the same kind
of error, which a man would do, who, after mortgaging
his estate, should add the money borrowed to the full va-
lue on the estate, in order to count up his worth, and, in
this case, he would conceit that he got rich by running
into debt. Just thus it is with England. The Govern-
ment owed, at the beginning of this war, one hundred and
thirty-five millions sterling ; and though the individuals to
whom it was due had a right to reckon their shares as so
much private property, yet to the nation, collectively, it
was so much poverty. There are as effectual limits to public
debts, as to private ones ; for when once the money bor-
rowed is so great as to require the whole yearly revenue to
discharge the interest thereon, there is an end to a farther
borrowing ; in the same manner as when the interest of a
man's debts amounts to the yearly income of his estate, there
is an end to his credit. This is nearly the case with Eng-
land, the interest of her present debt being, at least equal to
one half of her yearly revenue, so that out of ten millions,
annually collected by taxes, she has but five she can call her
own.

The very reverse of this was the case with America;
she began the war without any debt upon her, and in order
to carry it on, she neither raised money by taxes, nor bor-
rowed it upon interest, but created it ; and her situation at
this time, continues so much the reverse of yours, that tax-
ing would make her rich, whereas it would make you poor.
When we shall have sunk the sum which we have created,
we shall then be out of debt; be just as rich as when
we began ; and all the while we are doing it, shall feel no
difference, because the value will rise as the quantity de<-
creases.



AMERICAN CRISIS. 101

There was not a country in the world so capable of bear-
ing* the expence of a war as America; not only because she
was not in debt when she began, but because the country is
young, and capable of infinite improvement, and has an
almost boundless tract of new lands in store; whereas,
England has got to her extent of age and growth, and has
no unoccupied land, or property in reserve. The one is like
a young heir, coming to a large improveable estate, the other
like an old man, whose chances are over, and his estate
mortgaged for half its worth.

In the second number of the Crisis, which, I find, has
been re-published in England, I endeavoured to set forth the
impracticability of conquering America. I stated every
case, that I conceived could possibly happen, and ventured
to predict its consequence. As my conclusions were drawn
not artfully, but naturally, they have all proved to be true.
I was upon the spot; knew the politics of America, her
strength, and resources; and by a train of services, the best
in my power to render, was honoured with the friendship of
the Congress, the army, and the people. I considered the
cause a just one. I know, arid feel it a just one, and under
that confidence, never made my own profit or loss an
object. My endeavour was, to have the matter well under-
stood on both sides; and I conceived myself tendering a
general service, by setting forth to the one the impossibility
of being conquered, and to the other, the impossibility of
conquering. Most of the arguments made use of by the
Ministry, for supporting the war, are the very arguments
that ought to have been used against supporting it; and the
plans by which they thought to conquer, are the very plans,
in which they were sure to be defeated. They have taken
every thing up at the wrong end. Their ignorance is asto-
nishing, and were you in my situation you would see it.
They may, perhaps, have your confidence; but I am per-
suaded, they would make very indifferent members of
Congress. I know what England is, and what America is;
and, from the compound of knowledge, am better enabled
to judge of the issue, than what the King, or any of his
Ministers can be.

In this number, I have endeavoured to shew the ill policy
and disadvantages of the war. I believe many of my re-
marks are new. Those which are not so, I have studied to
improve, and place in a manner that may be clear and
striking. Your failure is, [ am persuaded, as certain as
fate. America is above your reach. She is, at least, your



AMERICAN CRISIS.

equal in the world, and her independence, neither rests upon
your consent, or can be prevented by your arms. In short,
you spend your substance in vain, and impoverish yourself
without a hope.

But suppose you had conquered America, what advan-
tage, collectively or individually, as merchants, manufac-
turers, or conquerors, could you have looked for? This is
an object you seem never to have attended to. Listening
for the sound of victory, and led away by the phrensy of
arms, you neglected to reckon either the cost, or the conse-
quences. You must all pay towards the expence; the
poorest among you must bear his share, and it is both your
right and duty to weigh seriously the matter. Had America
been conquered, she might have been parcelled out in
grants to the favourites at Court, but no share of it would
have fallen to you. Your taxes would not have been less-
ened, because, she would have been in no condition to have
paid any towards your relief. We are rich by a contrivance
of our own, which would have ceased, as soon as you became
masters. Our paper money will be of no use in England,
and silver and gold we have none. In the last war you
made many conquests ; but were any of your taxes lessened
thereby? On the contrary, were you not taxed to pay for
the charge of making them, and have not the same been the
case in every war?

To the Parliament, I beg to address myself in a particular
manner. They appear to have supposed themselves part-
ners in the chase, and to have hunted with the lion from an
expectation of a right in the booty ; but in this, it is most
probable they would, as legislators, have been disappointed.
The case is quite a new one, and many unforeseen difficul-
ties would have arisen thereon. The Parliament claimed a
legislative right over America, and the war originated from
that pretence. But the army is supposed to belong to the
Crown, and if America had been conquered through their
means, the claims of the Legislature would have been suffo-
cated in the conquest. Ceded, or conquered countries, are
supposed to be out of the authority of Parliament. Taxa-
tion is exercised over them by prerogative, and not by law.
It was attempted to be done in the Grenades a few years
ago, and the only reason why it was not done, was, because
the Crown had made a prior relinquishment of its claim.
Therefore, Parliament have been all this while supporting
measures for the establishment of their authority, in the issue
of which, they would have been triumphed over by pre-



AMERICAN CRISIS. 103

rogative. This might have opened a new and interesting
opposition between the Parliament and the Crown. The
Crown would have said that it conquered for itself, and that
to conquer for Parliament was an unknown case. The Par-
liament might have replied, that America, not being a
foreign country, but a country in rebellion, could not be said
to be conquered, but reduced ; and thus continued their
claim, by disowning the term. The Crown might have re-
joined, that, however America might be considered at first,
she became foreign at last, by a declaration of independence,
and a treaty with France ; and that her case being, by that
treaty, put within the law of Nations, was out of the law
of Parliament. The Parliament might have maintained,
that as their claim over America had never been surrender-
ed, so, neither, could it be taken away. The Crown might
have insisted, that though the claim of Parliament could not
be taken away, yet being an inferior, might be superseded ;
and that, whether the claim was withdrawn from the object,
or the object taken from the claim, the same separation en-
sued ; and that America being subdued after a treaty with
France, was, to all intents and purposes, a regal conquest,
and, of course, the sole property of the King. The Parlia-
ment, as the legal delegates of the people, might have con-
tended against the term " inferior," and rested the case upon
the antiquity of power ; and this would have brought on a
set of very interesting and rational questions.

First, What is the original fountain of power and honour
in any country ?

Secondly, Whether the prerogative does not belong to the
people?

Thirdly, Whether there is any such thing as the English
Constitution ?

Fourthly, Of what use is the crown to the people?

Fifthly, Whether he who invented a crown was not an
enemy to mankind ?

Sixthly, Whether it is not a shame for a man to spend a
million a year, and do no good for it, and whether the mo-
ney might not be better applied ?

Seventhly, Whether such a man is not better dead than
alive ?

Eighthly, Whether a Congress constituted like that of
America, is not the most happy and consistent form of Go-
vernment in the world? With a number of others of the
same import.

In short, the contention about the dividend might have



J04 AMERICAN CRISI.

distracted the nation; for nothing is more common than to
agree in the conquest, and quarrel for the prize ; therefore it
is, perhaps, a happy circumstance, that our successes have
prevented the dispute.



Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 18 of 65)