Thomas Paine.

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

. (page 2 of 65)
Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


It was thus that Mr. Paine was drawn into the
company of Burke, and even a correspondence with
him on the affairs of France; and it was not until
Pitt saw the necessity of availing himself of the
avowed apostasy of Burke, and of getting him to
make a violent attack upon the French revolution,
that Mr. Paine discovered his mistake in the man,
It is beyond question that Burke's attack on the
French revolution had a most powerful effect in this
country, and kindled a hatred without shewing a
cause for it, but still as honest principle will always
outlive treachery it drew forth from Mr. Paine his
" Rights of Man," which will stand as a lesson to
all people in all future generations whose govern-
ment might require reformation. Vice can triumph


but for a moment, whilst the triumph of virtue is

The laws of England have been a great bar to the
propagation of sound principles and useful lessons
on Government, for whatever might have been the
disposition and abilities of authors, they have been
compelled to limit that disposition and those abilities,
to the disposition and abilities of the publisher.
Thus it has been difficult for a bold and honest man
to find a bold and honest publisher ; even in the
present day it continues to be the same, and the
only effectual way of going to work is, for every
author to turn printer and publisher as well. With-
out this measure every good work has to be mangled
according to the humour of the publisher employed.
It was thus Mr. Paine found great difficulty to
find a publisher even for his First Part of " Rights
of Man." It was thus the great and good Major
Cartwright found it necessary during the Suspension
of the Habeas Corpus to take a shop and sell his
own pamphlets. 1 do not mean to say that there is
a fault in publishers, the fault lays elsewhere, for it
is well known that as soon as a man finds himself
within the walls of a gaol for any patriotic act, those
outside trouble themselves but little about him. It
is the want of a due encouragement which the
nation should bestow on all useful and persecuted
publishers. I may be told that this last observation
has a selfish appearance, but let the general state-
ment be first contradicted, then I will plead guilty
to selfish views.

Mr. Paine had been particularly intimate with
Burke, and I have seen an original letter of Burke
to a friend, wherein he expressed the high gratifica-
tion and pleasure he felt at having dined at the
Duke of Portland's with Thomas Paine, the great
political writer of the United States, and the author
of t; Common Sense." Whether the English minis-


ters had formed any idea or desire to corrupt Paine'
by inviting him to their tables, it is difficult to say,
but not improbable; one thing is certain, that, if
ever they had formed the wish, they were foiled in
their design, for the price of 1000, which Chap-
man, the printer of the Second Part of " Rights of
Man," offered Mr. Paine for his copyright, is a
proof that he was incorruptible on this score. Mr.
Paine was evidently much pleased with his intimacy
with Burke, for it appears he took considerable pains
to furnish him with all the correspondence possible'
on the affairs of France, little thinking that he was
cherishing a viper, and a man that would hand those
documents over to the minister; but such was the
case, until Mr. Burke was compelled to display his
apostasy in the House of Commons, and to bid his
former associates beware of him.

Mr. Paine promised the friends of the French
Revolution, that he would answer Burke/s pamphlet,'
as soon as he saw it advertised ; and it would be
difficult to say, whether Burke's " Reflections on the
French Revolution," or Paine's " Rights of Man,"
had the more extensive circulation. One thing we
know, Burke^s book is buried with him, whilst the
" Rights of Man," still blazes and obtains an exten-
sive circulation yearly, since it has" been republished*
I have circulated near 5000 copies within the last
three years.

The publication of " Rights of Man/' formed as*
great an era in the politics of England, as 6C Common
Sense" had done in America: the difference is only
this, the latter had an opportunity of being acted
upon instantly, whilst the former has had to encoun-
ter corruption and persecution ; but that it will
finally form the base of the English Government, I
have neither fear or doubt. Its principles are so
self-evident, that they flash conviction on the most
unwilling mind that gives the work a calm perusal.
The First Part of " Rights of Man" passed unn<K


ticed, as to prosecution, neither did Burke venture a
reply. The proper principles of Government, where
the welfare of the community is the object of that
Government, as the case should always be, are so
correctly and forcibly laid down in " Rights of
Man," that the book will stand, as long as the Eng-
lish language is spoken, as a monument of political
wisdom and integrity.

It should be observed, that Mr. Paine never sought
profit from his writings, and when he found that
" Rights of Man" had obtained a peculiar attrac-
tion he gave up the copyright to whomsoever would
print it, although he had had so high an offer for
the Second Part of it. He would always say that
they were works of principle, written solely to ame-
liorate the condition of mankind, and as soon as
published they were common property to any one
that thought proper to circulate them. I do not
concur in the propriety of Mr. Paine's conduct
on this occasion, because, as he was the Author, he
might as well have put the Author's profit into his
pocket, as to let the bookseller pocket the profit of
both. His pamphlets were never sold the cheaper
for his neglecting to take his profit as an Author ;
but, it is now evident that Mr. Paine, by neglecting
that affluence which he might have honestly and
honourably possessed, deprived himself in the last
dozen years of his life of the power of doing much
good. It is not to-be denied that property is the
stamina of action and influence, and is looked up to
by the mass of mankind in preference to principle
in poverty. But there comes another danger and
objection, that is, that the holders of much property
are but seldom found to trouble themselves about
principle. Their principle seldom goes a step be-
yond profession : but where principle and property
does unite, the individual becomes a host.

The First Part of " u Rights of Man," has not that
methodical arrangement which is to be found in the


Second Part, but an apology arises for it, and that
is, that Mr. Paine had to tread the "wilderness of
rhapsodies," that Burke had prepared for him. The
part is, however, interspersed with such delightful
ornaments, and such immutable principles, that the
path does not become tedious. Perhaps no other
volume whatever has so well defined the causes of
the French Revolution, and the advantages that
would have arisen from them had France been free
from the corrupting influence of foreign powers.
But I must recollect that my business here is to
sketch the Life of Mr. Paine, 1 wish to avoid any
thing in the shape of quotation from his writings,
as I am of opinion, that the reader will glean their
beauties from the proper source with more satisfac-
tion; and no Life of Paine that can be compiled will
ever express half so much of the man, as his own
writings, as a whole, speak for themselves, and almost
seem to say " the hand that made us is divine."

After some difficulty a publisher was found for
" Rights of Man" in Mr. Jordan, late of 166, Fleet
Street. The First Part appeared on the 13th of March,
1791, and the Second Part on the 16th of February
in the following year. The Government was para-
lyzed at the rapid sale of the First Part, and the ap-
pearance of the Second. The attempt to pur-
chase having failed, the agents of the Government
next set to work to ridicule it, and to call it a con-
temptible work. Whig and Tory members in both
Houses of Parliament affected to sneer at it, and to
laud our glorious constitution as a something im-
pregnable to the assaults of such a book. However,
Whig and Tory members had just began to be
known, and their affected contempt of u Rights of
Man," served but as advertisements, and greatly ac-
celerated its sale. In the month of May, 1792, the
King issued his proclamation, and the King's Devil
his ex officio information, on the very same day,
against " Rights of Man." This in some measure


impeded its sale, or occasioned it to be sold in a
private manner; through which means it is impossi-
ble to give effectual circulation to any publication.
One part of the community is afraid to sell and
another afraid to purchase under such conditions.
It is not too much to say, that if " Rights of Man"
had obtained two or three years free circulation in
England and Scotland, it would have produced a
similar effect to what " Common Sense" did in the
United States of America. The French Revolution
had set the people of England and Scotland to think,
and " Rights of Man" was just the book to furnish
materials for thinking. About this time he also
wrote his " Letter to the Addressers," and several
letters to the Chairmen of different County Meetings,
a* which those addresses were voted*

Mr. Paine had resolved to defend the publication
of " Rights of Man" in person, but in the month of
September, a deputation from the inhabitants of
Calais waited upon him to say, that they had elected
him their deputy to the National Convention of
France. This was an affair of more importance
than supporting " Rights of Man," before a political
judge and a packed jury, and, accordingly, Mr.
Paine set off for France with the deputation, but
not without being exposed to much insult at Dover;
where the Government spies had apprized the Cus-
tom House Officers of his arrival, and some of those
spies were present to overhaul all his papers. It
was said, that Mr. Paine had scarcely embarked
twenty minutes before a warrant came to Dover,
from the Home Department, to arrest him. Be this
as it may, Mr. Paine had more important scenes al-
lotted him. On reaching the opposite shore the
name of Paine was no sooner announced than the
beach was crowded; all the soldiers on duty were
drawn up ; the officer of the guard embraced him
on landing, and presented him with the national
cockade, which a handsome young woman, who wa*


standing by, begged the honour of fixing in his hat,
and returned it to him, expressing a hope that he
would continue his exertions in the behalf of Liberty,
France, and the Rights of Man. A salute was then
fired from the battery, to announce the arrival of
their new representative. This ceremony being
over, he walked to Deissein's, in the Rue de PEga-
lite (formerly Rue de Roi), the men, women, and
children crowding around him, and calling out
" Vive THOMAS PAINE !" He was then conducted
to the Town Hall, and there presented to the Muni-
cipality, who with the greatest affection embraced
their representative. The Mayor addressed him in
a short speech, which was interpreted to him by his
friend and conductor, M. Audibert, to which Mr.
Paine laying his hand on his heart, replied, that his
life should be devoted to their service.

At the inn, he was waited upon by the different
persons in authority, and by the President of the
Constitutional Society, who desired he would attend
their meeting of that night: he cheerfully complied
with the request, and the whole town would have
been there, had there been room : the hall of the
' Minimes* was so crowded that it was with the
greatest difficulty they made way for Mr. Paine to
the side of the President. Over the chair he sat in,
was placed the bust of Mirabeau, and the colours of
France, England, and America united. A speaker
acquainted him from the tribune with his election,
amidst the plaudits of the people. For some minutes
after this ceremony, nothing was heard but " Vive
la Nation! Vive THOMAS PAINE" in voices male
and female.

On the following day, an extra meeting was ap-
pointed to be held in the church in honour of their
new Deputy to the Convention, the Minimes being
found quite suffocating from the vast concourse of
people which had assembled on the previous occa-
sion, A play was performed at the theatre on the


evening after his arrival, and a box was specifically
reserved " for the Author of the c Rights of Man/
the object of the English Proclamation."

Mr, Paine was likewise elected as deputy for
Abbeville, Beauvais, and Versailles, as well as for
the department of Calais, but the latter having been
the first in their choice, he preferred being their

On reaching Paris, Mr. Paine addressed a letter
to the English Attorney General, apprizing him of
the circumstances of his departure from England,
and hinting to him, that any further prosecution of
*' Rights of Man/' would form a proof that the
Author was not altogether the object, but the book,
and the people of England who should approve its
sentiments. A hint was also thrown out that the
events of France ought to form a lesson to the En-
glish Government, on its attempt to arrest the pro-
gress of correct principles and wholesome truths
This letter was in some measure due to the Attorney
General, as Mr. Paine had writen to him in England
on the commencement of the prosecution, assuring
him, that he should defend the work in person.
Notwithstanding the departure of Mr. Paine, as a
member of the French National Convention, the in-
formation against " Rights of Man" was laid before
a jury, on the 2d of December in the same year, and
the Government, and its agents, were obliged to
content themselves with outlawing Mr. Paine, and
punishing him, in effigy, throughout the country.
Many a faggot have I gathered in my youth to burn
old Tom Paine! In the West of England, his name
became quite a substitute for that of Guy Fau,x.
Prejudice, so aptly termed by Mr. Paine, the spider
of the mind, was never before carried to such a
height against any other individual ; and what will
future ages think of the corrupt influence of the
English Government at the close of the eighteenth
century, when it could excite the rancour of a ma-


jority of the nation against such a man as Thomas
Paine !

We now find Mr. Paine engaged in new and
still more important scenes. His first effort as a
member of the National Convention, was to lay the
basis of a self-renovating constitution, and to repair
the defects of that which had been previously adopt-
ed : but a circumstance very soon occurred, which
baffled all his good intentions, and brought him to a
narrow escape from the guillotine. It was his hu-
mane and strenuous opposition to the putting Louis
the XVIth to death. The famous or infamous
manifesto issued by the Duke of Brunswick, in July
1792, had roused such a spirit of hatred towards the
Royal Family of France, and all other Royal Fami-
lies, that nothing short of their utter destruction
could appease the majority of the French nation.
Mr. Paine willingly voted for the trial of Louis, as
a necessary exposure of Court intrigue and corrup-
tion ; but when he found a disposition to destroy
him at once, in preference to banishment, he ex-
posed the safety of his own person in his endeavour
to save the life of Louis. Mr. Paine was perfectly
a humane man, he deprecated the punishment of
death on any occasion whatever. His object was to
destroy the monarchy, but not the man who had
filled the office of monarch.

The following anecdote is another unparalleled
instance of humanity and the moral precept of re-
turning good for evil. Mr. Paine happened to be
dining one day with about twenty friends at a Coffee
House in the Palais Egalite, now the Palais Royal,
when unfortunately for the harmony of the company,
a Captain in the English service contrived to intro-
duce himself as one of the party. The military gen-
tleman was a strenuous supporter of the constitution
in church and state, and a decided enemy of the
French Revolution. After the cloth was drawn, the
conversation chiefly turned on the state of affairs in


England, and the means which had been adopted
by the government to check the increase of political
knowledge. Mr. Paine delivered his opinion very
freely, and much to the satisfaction of every one
present, with the exception of Captain Grimstone,
who returned his arguments by calling him a traitor
to his country, with a variety of terms equally op-
probrious. Mr. Paine treated his abuse with much
good humour, which rendered the Captain so furious,
that he walked up to the part of the room where
Mr. Paine was sitting, and struck him a violent
blow, which nearly knocked him off his seat. The
cowardice of this behaviour from a stout young man
towards a person of Mr. Paine's age (he being then
upwards of sixty) is not the least disgraceful part of
the transaction. There was, however, no time for
reflections of this sort ; an alarm was instantly given,
that the Captain had struck a Citizen Deputy, of the
Convention, which was considered an insult to the
nation at large ; the offender was hurried into cus-
tody, and it was with the greatest difficulty that Mr.
Paine prevented him from being executed on the spot.

It ought to be observed, that an act of the Con-
vention had awarded the punishment of death to
any one who should be convicted of striking a de-
puty ; Mr. Paine was therefore placed in a very
unpleasant situation. He immediately applied to
Barrere, at that time President of the Committee of
Public Safety, for a passport for his imprudent ad-
versary, who after much hesitation complied with
his request. It likewise occasioned Mr. Paine con T
siderable personal inconvenience to procure his libe-
ration ; but even this was not sufficient; the Captain
was without friends, and pennyless, and Mr. Paine
generously supplied him with money to defray his
travelling expences.

Louis fell under the guillotine, and Mr. Paine's
deprecation of that act brought down upon him the
liatred of the whole Robespierrean party. The


reign of terror now commenced in France ; every
public man who breathed a sigh for the fate of Louis
was denounced as a traitor to the nation, and as such
was put to death. Every man who complained of
the despotism and violence of the party in power,
was hurried to a prison, or before the Revolutionary
Tribunal and to immediate execution. Mr. Paine,
although a Member of the Convention, was first ex-
cluded on the ground of being a foreigner, and then
thrown into prison because he had been born in
England ! His place of confinement was the Luxem-
bourg ; the time, about eleven months, during which
he was seized with a most violent fever, that render-
ed him insensible to all that was passing, and to
which circumstance he attributes his escape from the

About this period Mr. Paine wrote his first and
second part of Age of Reason. The first part was
written before he went to the Luxembourg, as in his
passage thither he deposited the manuscript with
Joel Barlow. The second part he wrote during his
confinement, and at a moment when he could not
calculate on the preservation of his life for twenty-
four hours : a circumstance which forms the best
proof of his sincerity, and his conviction of the
fallacy and imposture of all established religions.
Throughout this work he has also trod the path
of nature, and has laid down some of the best
arguments to shew the existence of an Omnipotent
Being, that ever were penned. Those who are in
the habit of running down every thing that does not
tally with their antiquated opinions, or the prejudices
in which they have been educated, have decried
Paine as an Atheist ! Of all the men who ever
wrote, Paine was the most remote from Atheism, and
has advanced stronger arguments against the belief of
no God, than any who have gone before him, or have
lived since. If there be any chance of the failure of
Paine's theological writings as a standard work, it


wiH be on the ground of their being more supersti-
tious than otherwise. However, their beauties, I
doubt not, will at all times be a sufficient apology for
a few trifling defects. Mr. Paine has been taxed
with inconsistency in his theological opinions, be-
cause that in his Common Sense, and other political
writings, he has had recourse to Bible phrases and
arguments to illustrate some of his positions. But
this can be no proof of hypocrisy, because his Com-
mon Sense, and his other political writings, were in-
tended as a vehicle for political principles only, and
they were addressed to the most superstitious people
in the world. If Mr. Paine had published any of
his Deistical opinions in Common Sense or the
Crisis, he would have defeated the very purpose for
which he wrote. The Bible is a most convenient
book to afford precedents ; and any man might sup-
port any opinion or any assertion by quotations from
it. Mr. Paine tells us in his first Crisis that he has
no superstition about him, which was a pretty broad
hint of what his opinions on that score were at that
time, but it would have been the height of madness
to have urged any religious dissension among the
inhabitants of the United States during their hostile
struggle for independence. Such is not a time to
think about making converts to religious opinions.
Mr. Paine has certainly made use of the common
hack term, " Christian this" and " Christian that,"
in many parts of his political writings ; but let it be
recollected to whom he addressed himself, and the
object he had in view, before a charge of incon-
sistency be made. He first published his Age of
Reason in France, where all compulsive systems of
religion had been abolished, and here, certainly, he
cannot be charged with being a disturber of reli-
gious opinions, because his work was translated and
reprinted in the English language. He could have
no objection to see it published in England, but it
was by no means his owu act, and he has expressly


stated that he wrote it purposely for the French
nation and the United States. But Truth will not
be confined to a nation, nor to a continent, and there
can never bean inconsistency in proceeding from
wrong to right, although there must naturally be a

After the fall of Robespierre and his faction, and
the arrival of Mr. Monroe, a new minister from
America, Mr. Paine was liberated from his most
painful imprisonment, and again solicited to take
his seat in the Convention, which he accordingly
did. Again his utmost efforts were used to establish
a constitution on correct principles and universal
liberty, united with security both for person and
property. He wrote his " Dissertation on the First
Principles of Government," and presented it to the
Convention, accompanied with a speech, pointing
out the defects of the then existing constitution.
Intrigue is the natural characteristic of Frenchmen,
and they never appeared to relish any thing in the
shape of purity or simplicity of principle. Their
intrigue being always attended with an impetuosity,
has J3een aptly compared by Voltaire to the joint
qualities of the monkey and the tiger. Of all coun-
tries on the face of the earth, perhaps France was
the least qualified to receive a pure Republican
Government. The French nation had been so long
dazzled with the false splendours of its grand mo-
narch, that a Court seemed the only atmosphere in
which the real character of Frenchmen could dis-
play itself. At least, the Court had assimilated the
character of the whole nation to itself. The French
Revolution was altogether financial, and not the
effect of good triumphing over bad principles. At
various periods the people assumed various attitudes,
but they were by no means prepared for a Republi-
can form of Government. Political information had
made no progress among the mass of the people, as
is the case in Britain at this moment. There were


but few Frenchmen amongst the literate part of the
community who had any notion of a representative
system of Government. The United States had
scarcely presented any thing like correct representa-
tion-, and the boasted constitution of England is al-

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 65)