Thomas Paine.

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

. (page 42 of 65)
Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 42 of 65)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

as the quantity of credit and paper currency is now greater
than they were at that time. Whenever such a circum-
stance shall happen, and the wisest men in the nation are,
and cannot avoid being impressed with the danger, it would
be looked upon a baseness in France, to make the distress
and misfortune of England a cause and opportunity for
making war upon her, yet this hideous infidelity is publicly
avowed in England. The bankruptcy of 1719, was pre-
cipitated by the great credit which the funds then had,
and the confidence which people placed in them. Is not
credit making infinitely greater strides now than it made
then? Is not confidence equally as blind now as at that
day? The people then supposed themselves as wise as they
do now, yet they were miserably deceived, and the deception
that has once happened will happen again from the same

Credit is not money, and therefore it is not pay, neither
can it be put in the place of money in the end. It is only
the means of getting into debt, not the means of getting o^-,
otherwise the national debt could not accumulate; and the
delusion which nations are under respecting the extension
of credit is exactly like that which every man feels respect-
ing life, the end is always nearer than was expected; and
we become bankrupts in time by the same delusions that
nations become bankrupts in property.

The little which nations know, or are sometimes willing
to know, of each other, serves to precipitate them into wars
which neither would have undertaken, had she fully known
the extent of the power and circumstances of the other; it
may therefore be of some use to place the circumstances of
England and France in a comparative point of view.

In order to do this the accidental circumstances of a
nation must be thrown out of the account. By accidental
circumstances is meant, those temporary disjointings and de-
rangements of its internal system which every nation in the


world is subject to, and which, like accidental fits of sick-
ness in the human body, prevents in the interim the full
exertion and exercise of its natural powers.

The substantial basis of the power of a nation arises out
of its population, its wealth and its revenues. To these may
be added the disposition of the people. Each of these will
be spoken to as we proceed.

Instances are not wanting to shew that a nation confiding
too much on its natural strength, is less inclined to be active
in its operations than one of less natural powers who is
obliged to supply that deficiency by increasing its exertions.
This has often been the case between England and France.
The activity of England arising from its fears, has some-
times exceeded the exertions of France reposing on its con-

But as this depends on the accidental disposition of a
peopje, it will not always be the same. It is a matter well
known to every man who has lately been in France, that a
very extraordinary change is working itself in the minds of
the people of that nation. A spirit that will render France
exceedingly formidable whenever its government shall em-
brace the fortunate opportunity of doubling its strength by
allying, if it may be so expressed (for it is difficult to ex-
press a new idea by old terms) the majesty of the sovereign
with the majesty of the nation ; for of all alliances that is
infinitely the strongest and the safest to be trusted to, be-
cause the interest so formed, and operating against external
ei^mies can never be divided.

It may be taken as a certain rule, that a subject of any
country attached to the government on the principles abote-
mentioned is of twice the value he was before. Freedom
in the subject is not a diminution, as was formerly believed,
of the power of government, but an increase of it. Yet the
progress by which changes of this kind are effected, requires
to be nicely attended to.

Were Governments to offer freedom to the people, or to
shew an anxiety for that purpose, the offer most probably
would be rejected. The purpose for which it was offered
might be mistrusted. Therefore, the desire must originate
with, and proceed from, the mass of the people, and when
the oppression becomes universal, and not before, is the im-
portant moment for the most effectual consolidation of na-
tional strength and greatness that can take place.

While this change is working, there will appear a kind


of chaos in the nation ; but the creation we enjoy arose out
of a chaos, and our greatest blessings appear to have a con-
fused beginning.

Therefore we may take it for granted, that what has at
this moment the appearance of disorder in France, is no
more than one of the great links in that great chain of cir-
cumstances by which nations acquire the summit of their
greatness. The provincial assemblies already begun in,
France, are as full, or rather a fuller representation of the
people than the Parliaments of England are.

The French, or, as they were formerly called, the Franks,
(from whence came the English word frank and free) were
once the freest people in Europe ; and as nations appear to
have their periodical revolutions, it is very probable they
will be so again. The change is already begun. The
people of France, as it is before observed, are beginning to
think for themselves, and the people of England resigning
up the prerogative of thinking.

We shall now proceed to compare the present condition
of England and France as to population, revenues, and
wealth, and to shew that neither is in a condition of going
to war, and that war can end in nothing but loss, and most
probably a temporary ruin to both nations.

To establish this point, so necessary for both nations to
be impressed with, a free investigation of all the matters
connected with it is indispensable : if, therefore, any thing
herein advanced shall be disagreeable, it must be justified
on the ground that it is better to be known, in order to pre-
vent ruin, than to be concealed, when such concealment
serves only to hasten the ruin.


The population of France being upwards of twenty-four
millions, is more than double that of Great Britain and Ire-
land ; besides which, France recruits more soldiers in Swit-
zerland than England does in Scotland and Ireland. To this
may likewise be added, that England and Ireland are not on
the best terms. The suspicion that England governs Ire-
land for the purpose of keeping her low to prevent her be-
coming a rival in trade and manufactures, will always ope-
rate to hold Ireland in a state of sentimental hostilities with


: The, revenues of France are twenty-four millions sterling.


The revenues of England are fifteen millions and an half.
The taxes per head in France are twenty shillings sterling;
the taxes per head in England are two pounds four shillings
and two-pence. The national debt in France including the
life annuities (which are two-fifths of the whole debt, and
are annually expiring) at eleven years' purchase, is one hun-
dred and forty-two millions sterling. The national debt of
England, the whole of which is on perpetual interest, is
two hundred and forty-five millions. The national debt of
France contains a power of annihilating itself without any
new taxes for that purpose ; because it needs no more than
to apply the life-annuities as they expire to the purchase of
the other two-fifths, which are on perpetual interest. But
the national debt of England has not this advantage, and
therefore the million a year that is to be applied toward re-
ducing it is so much additional tax upon the people, over and
above the current service.


This is an important investigation, it ought therefore to be
heard with patience, and judged of without prejudice.

Nothing is mor<* common than for people to mistake
one thing for another. Do not those who are crying up the
wealth of the nation mistake a paper currency for riches?
To ascertain this point may be one of the means of pre-
venting that ruin which cannot fail to follow by persisting
in the mistake.

The highest estimation that is made of the quantity of
gold and silver in Britain at this present day is twenty
millions: and those who are most conversant with money
transactions, believe it to be considerably below that sum.
Yet this is no more money than what the nation possessed
twenty years ago, and therefore, whatever her trade may
be, it has produced to her no profit. Certainly no man can
be so unwise as to suppose that increasing the quantity of
Bank notes, which is done with as little trouble as printing
of newspapers, is national wealth.

The quantity of money in the nation was very well as-
certained in the years 1773, 74, and 76, by calling in the
light gold coin.

There were upwards of fifteen millions and a half of gold
coin then called in, which, with upwards of two millions of
heavy guineas that remained out, and the silver coin, made
about twenty millions, which is more than there is at this


day. There is an amazing increase in the circulation of
Bank paper, which is no more national wealth than news-
papers are; because an increase of promissory notes, the
capital remaining unincreasing in the s r *me proportion, is no
increase of wealth. It serves to raise false ideas which
the judicious soon discover, and the ignorant experience to
their cost.

Out of twenty millions sterling, the present quantity of
real money in the nation, it would be too great an allow-
ance to say that one-fourth of that sum, which is five mil-
lions, was in London. But even admitting this to be the
case, it would require no very conjuring powers to ascertain
pretty nearly what proportion of that sum of five millions
could be in the bank. It would be ridiculous to suppose it
could be less than half a million, and extravagant to suppose
it could be two millions.

It likewise requires no very extraordinary discernment to
ascertain how immense the quantity of bank notes, com-
pared to its capital in the bank must be, when it is consi-
dered, that the national taxes are paid in bank notes, that
all great tran3actions are done in bank notes, and that were
a loan for twenty millions to be opened at the meeting of
Parliament, it would most probably be subscribed in a few
days: yet all men must know the loan could not be paid in
money, because it is at least four times greater than all the
money in London, including the bankers and the bank
amount too. In short, every thing shews, that the rage
that over-run America, for paper money, or paper currency,
has reached to England under another name. There it was
called continental money, and here it is called bank notes.
But it signifies not what name it bears, if the capital is not
equal to the redemption.

There is likewise another circumstance that cannot fail to
strike with some force when it is mentioned, because every
man that has any thing to do with money transactions, will
feel the truth of it, though he may not before have reflected
upon it. It is the embarrassed condition into which the
gold coin is thrown by the necessity of weighing it, and by
refusing guineas that are even standing weight, and there
appears to be but very few heavy ones. Whether this is
intended to force the paper currency into circulation, is not
hf're attempted to be asserted, but it certainly has that
effect to a very great degree, because people, rather than
submit to the trouble and hazard of weighing, will take


paper in preference to money. This was once the case ia

The natural effect of increasing and continuing to increase
paper currencies is that of banishing the real money. The
shadow takes place of the substance till the country is left
with only shadows in its hands.

A trade that does not increase the quantity of real money
in a country, cannot be stiled a profitable trade: yet this is
certainly the case with England: and as to credit, of which
so much has been said, it may be founded on ignorance or a
false belief, as well as on real ability.

In Amsterdam, the money deposited in the bank is never
taken out again. The depositors, when they have debts to
pay, transfer their right to the persons to whom they are
indebted, and those again proceed by the same practice, and
the transfer of the right goes for payment ; now could all
the money deposited in the bank of Amsterdam be privately
removed away, and the matter be kept a secret, the igno-
rance, or the belief that the money was still there, would
give the same credit as if it had not been removed. In
short, credit is often no more than an opinion, and the dif-
ference between credit and money is that money requires no
opinion to support it.

All the countries in Europe annually increase in their
quantity of gold and silver except England. By the regis-
ters kept at Lisbon and Cadiz, the two ports into which the
gold and silver from South America are imported, it appears
that above eighty millions sterling have been imported
within twenty years.* This has spread itself over Europe,
and increased the quantity in all the countries on the Conti-
nent, yet twenty years ago there was as much gold and
silver in England as there is at this time.

The value of the silver imported into Europe exceeds
that of the gold, yet every one can see there is no increase
of silver coin in England ; very little silver coin appearing
except what are called Birmingham shillings, which have a
faint impression of King William on one side, and are
smooth on the other.

In what is the profits of trade to shew itself but by in-

* From 1763 to 1777, a period of fifteen years of peace, the
registered importations of gold and silver into Lisbon and Cadiz,
were seventy millions sterling, besides what was privately landed.


creasing the quantity of that which is the object of trade,
money ? An increase of paper is not an increase of national
profit, any more than it is an increase of national money,
and the confounding paper and money together, or not at-
tending to the distinction, is a rock that the nation will one
day split upon.

Whether the payment of interest to foreigners, or the
trade to the East Indies, or the nation embroiling itself in
foreign wars, or whether the amount of all the trade which
England carries on with different parts of the world, col-
lectively taken, balances itself without profit ; whether one
or all of these is the cause, why the quantity of money doed
not increase in England is not, in this place, the object of
inquiry. It is the fact and not the cause that is the matter
here treated of.

Men immersed in trade and the concerns of a compting-
house, are not the most speculative in national affairs, or
always the best judges of them. Accustomed to run risks
in trade, they are habitually prepared to run risks with Go-
vernment, and though they are the first to suffer, they are
often the last to foresee an evil.

Let us now cast a look towards the manufactures. A
great deal has been said of their flourishing condition, and
perhaps a great deal too much, for it may again be asked,
where is the profit if there is no increase of money in the

The woollen manufacture is the staple manufacture of
England, and this is evidently on the decline, in some, if not
in all, its branches. The city of Norwich, one of the most
populous cities in England, and wholly dependant on the
woollen manufacture, is, at this day, in a very impoverished
condition, owing to the decline of its trade.

But not to rest the matter on a general assertion, or em-
barrass it with numerous statements, we will produce a
circumstance by which the whole progress of the trade may
be ascertained.

So long as thirty years ago the price paid to the spinners
of wool was one shilling for twenty-four skains, each skain
containing five hundred and sixty yards. This, according
to the term of the trade, was giving a shilling for a shil-
ling. A good hand would spin twelve skains, which was
sixpence a day.

According to the increase of taxes, and the increased
price of all the articles of life, they certainly ought now to
get at least fifteen-pence, for what thirty years ago they got



one shilling. But such is the declin^ of the trade, that the
case is directly the contrary. They now get but ninepence
for the shilling, that is, they get but ninepence for what
thirty years ago they got one shilling. Can these people cry
out for war, when they are already half ruined by the decline
of trade, and half devoured by the increase of taxes ?

But this not the whole of the misfortunes which that
part of the country suffers, and which will extend to others.
The Norfolk farmers were the first who went into the prac-
tice of manuring their land with marl : but time has shewn,
that though it gave a vigour to the land for some years, it
operated in the end to exhaust its stamina ; that the lands in
many parts are worse than before they began to marl, and
that it will not answer to marl a second time.

The manufactures of Manchester, Birmingham and
Sheffield have had of late a considerable spring, but this
appears to be rather on speculation than certainty. The
speculations on the American market have failed, and that
on Russia is becoming very precarious. Experience like-
wise was wanting to ascertain the quantity which the treaty
of commerce with France would give sale to, and it is most
probable the estimations have been too high, more espe-
cially as English goods will now become unpopular in
France, which was not the case before the present injudicious

But in the best state which manufactures can be in, they
are very unstable sources of national wealth. The reasons
are, that they seldom continue long in one stay. The market
for them depends upon the caprice of fashions, and some-
times of politics in foreign countries, and they are at all
times exposed to rivalship as well as to change. The
Americans have already several manufactures amongst them,
which they prefer to the English, such as axes, scythes,
hoes, planes, nails, &c. Window glass, which was once a
considerable article of exportation from England to America,
the Americans now procure from other countries, nearly as
good as the English crown glass, and but little dearer than
the common green window glass.

It is somewhat remarkable that so many pens have been
displayed to shew what is called the increase of the com-
merce of England, and yet all of them have stopped short of
the grand point, that is, they have gone no farther than to
shew that a larger number of shipping, and a greater
quantity of tonnage have been employed of late years than
formerly. But this is no more than what is happening in other


parts of Europe. The present fashion of the world is com-
merce, and the quantity increases in France as well as in

But the object of all trade is profit, and profit shews
itself, not by an increase of paper currency, for that may be
nationally had without the trouble of trade, but by an in-
crease of real money: therefore the estimation should have
ended, not in the comparative quantity of shipping and
tonnage, but in the comparative quantity of gold and silver.

Had the quantity of gold and silver increased in England,
the ministerial writers would not have stopped short at
shipping and tonnage ; but if they know any thing of the
matter, they must know that it does not increase, and that
the deception is occasioned by the increase of paper money,
and that as paper continues to increase, gold and silver will
diminish. Poorer in wealth, and richer in delusion.

Something is radically wrong, and time will discover it
to be putting paper in the room of money.

Out of one hundred millions sterling of gold and silver,
which must have been imported into Europe from South
America since the commencement of the peace before last,
it does not appear that England has derived or retains any
portion of it.

M. Neckar states the annual increase of gold and silver
in France, that is } the proportion which France draws of
annual importation into Europe, to be upwards of one
million sterling. But England, in the space of twenty
years, does not appear to have increased in any thing but
paper currency.

Credulity is wealth while credulity lasts, and credit is, i*
a thousand instances, the child of credulity. It requires m*
more faith to believe paper to be money, than to believe a
man could go into a quart bottle ; and the nation whose
credulity can be imposed upon by bottle-conjuring, can, for
a time, be imposed upon by paper-conjuring.

From these matters we pass on to make some observa-
tions on the national debt, which is another species of
paper currency.

In short, to whatever point the eye is directed, whether
to the money, the paper, the manufactures, the taxes, or
the debt, the inability of supporting a war is evident, un-
less it is in tended to carry it on by fleecing the skin over
people's ears by taxes; and therefore the endangering the
nation in a war'for the sake of the Stadlholder of Holland,
or the King of Prussia, or any other foreign affairs, from



which England can derive no possible advantage, is an
absurd and ruinous system of politics.

France perhaps is not in a better situation, and, there-
fore, a war where both must lose, and wherein they could
only act the part of seconds, must historically have been
denominated a boyish, foolish, unnecessary quarrel.

But before we enter on the subject of the national debt,
it will be proper to make a general review of the different
manner of carrying on war since the Revolution to what was
the practice before.

Before the Revolution the intervals of peace and war
always found means to pay off the expeuce, and leave the
nation clear of incumbrance at the commencement of any
succeeding war; and even for some years after the Revolu-
tion this practice was continued.

From the year 1688, (the era of the Revolution) to the
year 1702, a period of fourteen years, the sums borrowed by
Government at different times amounted to forty-four mil-
lions ; yet this sum was paid off almost as fast as it was
borrowed ; thirty-four millions being paid off at the com-
mencement of the year 1702. This was a greater exertion
than the nation has ever made since, for exertion is not in
borrowing but in paying.

From that time wars have been carried on by borrowing
and funding the capital on a perpetual interest, instead of
paying it off, and thereby continually carrying forward and
accumulating the weight and expence of every war into the
next. By this means that which was light at first becomes
immensely heavy at last. The nation has now on its
shoulders the weight of all the wars from the time of Queen
Anne. This practice is exactly like that of loading a horse
with a feather at a time till you break his back.

The national debt exhibits at this day a striking novelty.
It has travelled on in a circular progression till the amount
of the annual interest has exactly overtaken, or become
equal to, the first capital of the national debt, NINE MIL-
LIONS. Here begins the evidence of the predictions so long
foretold by the ablest calculators in the nation. The inte-
rest will in succession overtake all the succeeding capitals,
and that with the proportioned rapidity with which those
capitals accumulated ; because by continuing the practice
n<st only higher and higher premiums must be given for
loans, but the money, or rather the paper, will not go so far
as it formerly did, and therefore the debt will increase w r ith
a continual increasing velocity.


The expence of every war, since the national debt began,
has, upon an average, been double the expence of the war
preceding it: the expence therefore of the next war will be
at least two hundred millions, which will increase the annual
interest to at least seventeen millions, and consequently the
taxes in the same proportion ; the following war will in-
crease the interest to thirty-three millions, and a third war
will mount up the interest to sixty-five millions. This is not
going on in the spirit of prediction, but taking what has
already been as a rule for what will yet be, and therefore
the nation has but a miserable prospect to look at. The
weight of accumulating interest is not much felt till after

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 42 of 65)