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Settle the differences that should occasionally arise
in the neighbourhood of Nations. This certainly
might be done, if Courts were disposed to set ho-
nestly about it; or if Countries were enlightened
enough not to be made the dupes of Courts. The
people of America had been bred up in the same
prejudices against France, which at that time cha-
racterized the people of England ; but experience,
and an acquaintance with the French Nation, have
most effectually shewn to the Americans, the false-
hood of those prejudices ; and I do not believe that
a more cordial and confidential intercourse exists
between any two countries than between America
and France.

When I came to France, in the Spring of 1787,
the Archbishop of Thoulouse was then minister,
and at that time highly esteemed. I became much
acquainted with the private secretary of that minis-
ter, a man of an enlarged, benevolent heart ; and
found that his sentiments and my own perfectly


agreed with respect to the madness of war, and the
wretched impolicy of two Nations, like England
and France, continually worrying each other, to no
other end than that of a mutual increase of burdens
and taxes. That I might be assured I had not mis-
understood him, nor he me, I put the substance of
our opinions into writing, and sent it to him; sub-
joining a request, that if I should see among the
people of England any disposition to cultivate a
better understanding between the two Nations than
had hitherto prevailed, how far I might be autho-
rised to say, that the same disposition prevailed on
the part of France? He answered me by letter, in
the most unreserved manner, and that not for him-
self only, but for the minister, with whose know-
ledge the letter was declared to be written.

I put this letter into the hands of Mr. Burke,
almost three years ago ; and left it with him, where it
still remains ; hoping, and at the same time naturally
expecting, from the opinion I had conceived of him,
that he would find some opportunity of making a
good use of it, for the purpose of removing those
errors and prejudices, which two neighbouring
nations, from the want of knowing each other, had
entertained, to the injury of both.

When the French Revolution broke out, it cer-
tainly afforded to Mr. Burke an opportunity of
doing some good, had he been disposed to it: in-
stead of which, no sooner did he see the old preju-
dices wearing away, than he immediately began
sowing the seeds of a new inveteracy, as if he were


afraid that England and France would cease to be
enemies. That there are men, in all countries, who
get their living by war, and by keeping up the
quarrels of Nations, is as shocking as it is true ; but
when those who are concerned in the government
of a country, make it their study to sow discord,
and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes
the more unpardonable.

With respect to a paragraph in this work, allud-
ing to Mr. Burke's having a pension, the report has
been some time in circulation, at least two months ;
and as a person is often the last to hear what con-
cerns him the most to know, I have mentioned it
that Mr. Burke may have an opportunity of contra-
dicting the rumour if he thinks proper.


London, 179L





THE wonder and astonishment which the French
revolution has caused throughout the whole of
Europe, must be considered under two different
points of view ; first, in as much as that revolution
affects the inhabitants of foreign countries ; secondly,
in as much as it affects the governments of those
same countries.

The cause of the French people is that of all
Europe, or rather that of the whole world ; but the
governments of all those countries and different
states are, in no respect, in the least favourable to
them, and it is absolutely requisite we should never
lose sight of this distinction. We must never con-
found the people with their government, and parti-
cularly the English people with its government.

The government of England is no friend to the
revolution of France ; of which we have sufficient
proofs in the thanks and compliments which the


Elector of Hanover, or, as they sometimes style him,
the King of England, (a weak man without sense or
understanding) has made to Mr. Burke, for the
injuries and abuse with which he has loaded it in
his writings, and in the malevolent reflections of the
English minister, Mr. Pitt, in his different speeches
in Parliament.

Although the English government, in its official
correspondence with that of France, makes profes-
sion of the most sincere friendship, its conduct
belies all its declarations; and at the same time
makes us perceive that it is not a court in which
we can place the least confidence ; it is a court of
madness and folly, which plunges itself into all the
quarrels and intrigues of Europe, seeking of war to
satisfy its folly, and to favour its extravagance.

With regard to the English nation, on the con-
trary, it has the most favourable disposition towards
the French revolutioh, and to the unlimited progress
of liberty through the whole universe; and that
disposition will become more general in England,
in proportion as the intrigues and artifices of its
government become discovered, and the principles
of the French revolution shall be better under-
stood. It is necessary that the French should
know, that most of the English newspapers are
directly in the pay of its government, or other
ways, however indirectly, so connected with it, that
they are always obedient to its orders ; and that
those newspapers constantly disfigure, misrepresent,
and are attacking the French revolution for the sole


purpose of deceiving the nation ; but as it is impos-
sible long- to impede the operations of truth, the
falsities which those daily papers contain, no longer
produce their desired effect.

To convince the whole universe that truth is
stifled in England, it ,is requisite only to inform
them, that the English government looks upon and
pursues it as a most atrocious libel * ; that govern-
ment above all others which ought to protect it.
This outrage on morality is constituted and called
law, and there have been found rascally judges
wicked enough to punish it as such.

The English government presents us, however, a
curious phenomenon. Seeing that the French and
English nations are rapidly disengaging themselves
and shaking off the prejudices and those false
notions which they had formerly imbibed against
each other, and which had cost them such conside-
rable sums, it seems (that is, the government) has at
present fixed up posting bills, signifying it is in
want of an enemy; for unless it finds one some-
where, it has no longer any pretext for the revenue,
and the excessive imposts and taxes which are ac-
tually necessary to it.

It seeks then in Russia the enemy it has lost in
France, and appears to say to the world, or to say to
itself: if no one will have the complaisance to

* The judges* principal and uniform maxim is, that the greater
truth, the greater the libel.


become my enemy, I shall no longer have any oc-
casion for navy or armies, and shall be forced to
diminish my taxes. The war with America alone
obliged me to double the taxes ; the affair of Holland
to add something more; the folly of Nootka fur-
nished me with a pretext to raise above three mil-
lions sterling; but, unless I make an enemy of
Russia, the harvest of wars will be terminated. It
was me who first excited the Turks against the
Russians ; and now I hope to gather a fresh harvest
of taxes.

If the miseries of war, and the deluge of evils,
which spread over a country, checked not the desire
of pleasantry, or did not change the desire of laugh-
ter into grief, the frenzied and mad government of
England would only excite ridicule. But it is
impossible to banish from the mind those images of
misery which the contemplation of such a vicious
policy presents to our view. To reason with the
governments, such as they have existed for ages
past, is to argue and reason with brutes; and it is
only from the nations themselves that we can expect
any reform. There ought not, however, at this
time to exist the least doubt that the people of
France, England, and America, enlightened and
enlightening each other? cannot not only give to
the world a full and clear example of a good go-
vernment, but even by their united influence enforce
the practice.


AMONG the incivilities by which Nations or individuals pro-
voke and irritate each other, Mr. Burke's pamphlet on the
French Revolution is an extraordinary instance. Neither
the people of France, nor the National Assembly, were
troubling themselves about the affairs of England, or the
English Parliament; and that Mr. Burke should commence
an unprovoked attack upon them, both in parliament and
in public, is a conduct that cannot be pardoned 011 the score
of manners, nor justified on that of policy.

There is scarcely an epithet of abuse to be found in the
English language, with which Mr. Burke has not loaded the
French Nation, and the National Assembly. Every thing
which rancour, prejudice, ignorance, or knowledge could
suggest, is poured forth in the copious fury of near four
hundred pages. In the strain and on the plan Mr. Burke
was 'writing, he might have written on to as many thou-
sands. When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a frenzy
of passion, it is the man, and not the subject, that becomes

Hitherto Mr. Burke has been mistaken and disappointed
in the opinions he had formed of the affairs of France; but
such is the ingenuity of his hope, or the malignancy of his
despair, that it furnishes him with new pretences to go on.
There was a time when it was impossible to make Mr.
Burke believe there would be any revolution in France. His
opinion then was, that the French had neither spirit to
undertake it, nor fortitude to support it; and now that there
is one, he seeks an escape, by condemning it.

Not sufficiently content with abusing the National As-
sembly, a great part of his work is taken up with abusing
Dr. Price (one of the best hearted men that lives), and the
two societies in England, known by the name of the Revo-
lution Society, and the Society for Constitutional Infor-


Dr. Price had preached a sermon on the 4th of November,
1789, being the anniversary of what is called in England,
the Revolution which took place 1688. Mr. Burke, speak-
ing of this sermon, says, " The Political Divine proceeds
dogmatically to assert, that by the principles of the Revolu-
tion, the people of England have acquired three fundamen-
tal rights :

1. To choose our own governors.

2. To cashier them for misconduct.

3. To frame a government for ourselves."

Dr. Price does not say that the right to do these things
exists in this or in that person, or in this or in that descrip-
tion of persons, but that it exists in the whole ; that it is a
right resident in the Nation. Mr. Burke, on the contrary,
denies that such a right exists in the Nation, either in whole
or in part, or that it exists any where : and, what is still
more strange and marvellous, he says," that the people of
England utterly disclaim such right, and that they will
resist the practical assertion of it with their lives and fortunes."
That men should take up arms, and spend their lives and
fortunes, not to maintain their rights, but to maintain they
have not rights, is an entirely new species of discovery, and
suited to the paradoxical genius of Mr. Burke.

The method which Mr. Burke takes to prove that the
people of England have no 'such rights, and that such
rights do not now exist in the Nation, either in whole or in
part, or any where at all, is of the same marvellous and
monstrous kind with what he has already said ; for his argu-
ments are, that the persons, or the generation of persons, in
whom they did exist, are dead, and with them the right is
dead also. To prove this, he quotes a declaration made by
parliament about a hundred years ago, to William and Mary,
in these words: " The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and
Commons, do, in the name of the people aforesaid," (mean-
ing the people of England, then living,) " most humbly and
faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities, for


He also quotes a clause of another Act of Parliament made
in the same reign, the terms of which, he says, " bind us,"
(meaning the people of that day,) " our heirs, and our pos-
terity, to them, their lieirs and posterity, TO THE END OF

Mr. Burke conceives his point sufficiently established by
producing those clauses, which he enforces by saying that


they exclude the Right of the Nation for ever: and not yet
content with making such declarations, repeated over and
over again, he further says, " that if the people of England
possessed such a right before the Revolution, (which he ac-
knowledges to have been the case, not only in England, but
throughout Europe, at an early period), yet that the English
Nation did, at the time of the Revolution, most solemnly
renounce and abdicate it, for themselves, and for all all their
posterity for ever!"

As Mr. Burke occasionally applies the poison drawn from
his horrid principles, (if it is not a profanation to call them
by the name principles), not only to the English Nation, but
to the French Revolution and the National Assembly, and
charges that august, illuminated, and illuminating body of
men, with the epithet of usurpers, I shall, sans ceremonie,
place another system of principles in opposition to his.

The English Parliament of 1088 did a certain thing, which,
for themselves and their constituents, they had a right to do,
and which appeared right should be done; but, in addi-
tion to this right, which they possessed by delegation, they
set up another right by assumption., that of binding and con-
trolling posterity to the end of time. .The case, therefore,
divides itself into two parts ; the right which they possessed
by delegation ; and the right which they set up by assump-
tion. The first is admitted ; but, with respect to the second,
I reply

There never did, there never will, and there never can
exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any gene-
ration of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the
power of binding and controlling posterity to the " endjqf
time," or of commanding for ever how the world shall be
governed, or who shall govern it; and therefore, all such
clauses, acts, or declarations, by which the makers of them
attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the
power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves
uull and void.

Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself,
in all cases, as the ages and generations which preceded it.
The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave,
is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies, Man has
no property in man : neither has any generation a property
in the generations which are to follow.

The parliament, or the people of 1688, or of any other
period, had no more right to dispose of the people of the
present day, or to bind, or control them in any shape


whatever, than the parliament or the people of the present
day have to dispose of, bind, or control those who are to
live a hundred or a thousand years hence.

Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the
purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and
not the dead, that are to be accommodated. When man
ceases to be, his power and his wants cease with him ; and
having no longer any participation in the concerns of this
world, he has no longer any authority in directing who shall
be its governors, or how its government shall be organized,
or how administered.

I am not contending for nor against any form of Govern-
ment, nor for nor against any party here or elsewhere. That
which a whole nation chooses to do, it has a right to do. Mr.
Burke says, No. Where then does the right exist ? lam
contending for the rights of the living, and against their being
willed away, controlled and contracted for, by the manu-
script, assumed authority of the dead ; and Mr. Burke is
contending for the authority of the dead, over the rights and
freedom of the living.

There was a time when kings disposed of their crowns by
will upon their death-beds, and consigned the people, like
beasts of the field, to whatever successor they appointed.
This is now so exploded as scarcely to be remembered, and
so monstrous as hardly to be believed: but the parliamentary
clauses upon which Mr. Burke builds his political church,
are of the same nature.

The laws of every country must be analogous to some com-
mon principle. In England, no parent, or master, nor all
the authority of Parliament, omnipotent as it has called itself,
can bind or control the personal freedom even of an indi-
vidual beyond the age of twenty-one years : on what ground
of right, then, could the Parliament of 1688, or any other
Parliament, bind all posterity for ever?

Those who have quitted the world, and those who are not
yet arrived at it, are as remote from each other as the utmost
stretch of mortal imagination can conceive. What possible
obligation then can exist between them ? What rule or prin-
ciple can be laid down, that of two nonentities, the one out of
existence, and the other not in, and who never can meet in
this world, the one should control the other to the end of

In England it is said that money cannot be taken out
of the pockets of the people without their consent: but
who authorized, aud who could authorize the Parliament


of 1688, to control and take away the freedom of posterity, and
limit and confine the rights of acting in certain cases for ever,
who were not in existence to give or withhold their consent ?

A greater absurdity cannot present itself to the under-
standing of man, than what Mr. Burke offers to his readers.
He tells them, and he tells the world to come, that a cer-
tain body of men, who existed a hundred years ago, made
a law ; and that there does not now exist in the nation, nor
ever will, nor ever can, a power to alter it.

Under how many subtilties, or absurdities, has the divine
right to govern been imposed on the credulity of mankind?
Mr. Burke has discovered a new one, and he has shortened
his journey to Rome, by appealing to the power of this in-
fallible Parliament of former days; and he produces what
it has done, as of divine authority ; for that power must cer-
tainly be more than human, which no human power to the
end of time can alter.

But Mr Burke has done some service, not to his cau. c e,
but to his country, by bringing those clauses into public
view. They serve to demonstrate how necessary it is, at
all times, to watch against the attempted encroachment
of power, and to prevent its running to excess.

It is somewhat extraordinary, that the offence for which
James II. was expelled, that of setting up power by assump-
tion, should be re-acted, under another shape and form, by the
Parliament that expelled him. It shews, that the Rights of
Man were but imperfectly understood at the Revolution ; for,
certain it is, that the right which that Parliament set up by
assumption (for by delegation it had not, and could not have
it, because none could give it) over the persons and freedom
of posterity for ever, was of the same tyrannical, unfounded
kind, which James attempted to set up over the Parliament
and the nation, and for which he was expelled. The only
difference is, (for in principle they differ not), that the one
was an usurper over the living, and the other over the un-
born; and as the one has no better authority to stand upon
than the other, both of them must be equally null and void,
and of no effect.

From what, or from whence, does Mr. Burke prove the
right of any human power to bind posterity for ever? He
has produced his clauses ; but he must produce also his
proofs that such a right existed, andshew how it existed. If
it ever existed, it must now exist ; for whatever appertains
to the nature of man, cannot be annihilated by man. It is
the nature of man to die, and he will continue to die as long



as he continues to be born. But Mr. Burke has set up a sort
of political Adam, in whom all posterity are bound for ever ;
he must therefore prove that his Adam possessed such a
power, or such a right.

The weaker any cord is, the less will it bear to be stretched,
and the worse is the policy to stretch it, unless it is intended
to break it. Had a person contemplated the overthrow of
Mr. Burke's petitions, he would have proceeded as Mr.
Burke has done ; he would have magnified the authorities on
purpose to have called the right of them into question ; and
the instant the question of RIGHT was started, the authorities
must have been given up.

It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive
that although laws made in one generation often continue
in force through succeeding generations, yet that they con-
tinue to derive their force from the consent of the living. A
law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot
be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-
repealing passes for consent.

But Mr. Burke's clauses have not even this qualification
in their favour. They become null by attempting to become
immortal. The nature of them precludes consent. They
destroy the right which they might have by grounding it
on a right which they cannot have. Immortal power is
not a human right, and therefore cannot be a right of parlia-

The parliament of 1688 might as well have passed an act
to have authorised themselves to live for ever, as to make
their authority live for ever. All, therefore, that can be said
of them is, that they are a formality of words, of as much
import as if those who used them had addressed a congratu-
lation to themselves, and, in the oriental style of antiquity,
had said, O Parliament, live for ever!

The circumstances of the world are continually changing,
and the opinions of men change also; and as government is
for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that
have any right in it. That which may be thought right, and
found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong, and
found inconvenient in another. In such cases, who is to de-
cide, the living or the dead ?

As almost one hundred pages of Mr. Burke's book are em-
ployed upon these clauses, it will consequently follow, that
if the clauses themselves, so far as they set up an assumed
usurped dominion over posterity for ever, are unauthoritative,
and in their nature null and void ; that all his voluminous


inferences and declamation, drawn therefrom, OP founded there-
on, arenulland voidalso; and on this ground 1 rest the matter.

We now rome more particularly to the affairs of France.
Mr. Burke's book has the appearance of being written as
instruction to the French nation ; but if 1 may permit myself
the use of an extravagant metaphor, (suited to the extravagance
of the case,) it is darkness attempting to illuminate light.

While I am writing this, there are accidently before me
some proposals for a declaration of rights by the Marquis
de laFayette, (I ask his pardon for using his former address,
and do it only for distinction's sake) to the National Assem-
bly, on the llth of July, 1789, three days before taking of
the Bastille ; and I cannot but remark with astonishment how
opposite the sources are from which that gentleman and Mr.
Burke draw their principles. Instead of referring to musty
records, and mouldy parchments, to prove that the rights of
the living are lost, " renounced, and abdicated for ever," by
those who are now no more, as Mr. Burke has done, M. de la
Fayette applies to the living world, and emphatically says,
** Call to mind the sentiments which Nature has engraven on
the heart of every citizen, and which take a new force when
they are solemnly recognized by all : For a Nation to love
liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it : and to be free, it is
sufficient that she wills it." How dry, barren, and obscure
is the source from which Mr. Burke labours I and how in-
effectual, though gay with flowers, are all his declamation and

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 44 of 65)