Letter of Thomas Paine, to the people of France: Published and distributed gratis by the London Corresponding Society. — Lettre de Thomas Paine au peuple françois. English
I RECEIVE, with affectionate gratitude, the honour which the late National Aſſembly has conferred upon me, by adopting me a Citizen of France; and the additional honour of being elected by my Fellow-Citizens a Member of the National Convention. Happily impreſſed, as I am, by thoſe teſtimonies of reſpect ſhewn towards me as an individual, I feel my felicity encreaſed by ſeeing the barrier broken down that divided Patriotiſm by ſpots of earth, and limited Citizenſhip to the ſoil, like vegetation.
Had thoſe honours been conferred in an hour of national tranquillity, they would have afforded no other means of ſhewing my affection, than to have accepted and enjoyed them; but they come accompanied with circumſtances that give me the honourable opportunity of commencing my Citizenſhip in the ſtormy hour of difficulties. I come not to [Page 4] enjoy repoſe. Convinced that the cauſe of France is the cauſe of all mankind, and that as liberty cannot be purchaſed by a wiſh, I gladly ſhare with you the dangers and honours neceſſary to ſucceſs.
I am well aware that the moment of any great change, ſuch as that accompliſhed on the 10th of Auguſt, is unavoidably the moment of terror and confuſion. The mind, highly agitated by hope, ſuſpicion, and apprehenſion, continues without reſt till the change be accompliſhed. But let us now look calmy and confidentially forward, and ſucceſs is certain. It is no longer the paltry cauſe of Kings, or of this, or of that individual, that calls France and her armies into action. It is the great cauſe of ALL. It is the eſtabliſhment of a new aera, that ſhall blot Deſpotiſm from the earth, and fix, on the laſting principles of Peace and Citizenſhip, the great Republic of Man.
It has been my fate to have borne a ſhare in the commencement and complete eſtabliſhment of one Revolution (I mean the Revolution of America). The ſucceſs and events of that Revolution are encouraging to us. The proſperity and happineſs that have ſince flowed [Page 5] to that country, have amply rewarded her for all the hardſhips ſhe endured, and for all the dangers ſhe encountered.
The principles on which that Revolution began, have extended themſelve to Europe; and an over-ruling Providence is regenerating the Old World by the principles of the New. The diſtance of America from all the other parts of the globe, did not admit of her carrying thoſe principles beyond her own ſituation. It is to the peculiar honour of France, that ſhe now raiſes the ſtandard of Liberty for all nations; and in fighting her own battles, contends for the rights of all mankind.
The ſame ſpirit of fortitude that inſured ſucceſs to America, will inſure it to France; for it is impoſſible to conquer a nation determined to be free! The military circumſtances that now unite themſelves to France, are ſuch as the Deſpots of the earth know nothing of, and can form no calculation upon. They know not what it is to fight againſt a nation. They have only been accuſtomed to make war upon each other, and they know from ſyſtem and practice, how to calculate the probable ſucceſs of deſpot againſt deſpot; and [Page 6] here their knowledge and their experience end.
But in a conteſt like the preſent, a new and boundleſs variety of circumſtances ariſes, that deranges all ſuch cuſtomary calculations. When a whole nation acts as an army, the deſpot knows not the extent of the power againſt which he contends. New armies riſe againſt him with the neceſſity of the moment. It is then that the difficulties of an invading enemy multiply, as in the former caſe they diminiſhed; and he finds them at their height when he expected them to end.
The only war that has any ſimilarity of circumſtances with the preſent, is the late Revolution-war in America. On her part, as it now is in France, it was a war of the whole nation.—There it was that the enemy, by beginning to conquer, put himſelf in a condition of being conquered. His firſt victories prepared him for defeat. He advanced till he could not retreat, and found himſelf in the midſt of a nation of armies.
Were it now to be propoſed to the Auſtrians and Pruſſians to eſcort them into the middle of France, and there leave them to make the moſt of ſuch a ſituation, they would [Page 7] ſee too much into the dangers of it to accept the offer, and the ſame dangers would attend them could they arive there by any other means. Where then is the military policy of their attempting to obtain by force, that which they would refuſe by choice. But to reaſon with deſpots is throwing reaſon away. The beſt of arguments is a vigorous preparation.
Man is ever a ſtranger to the ways by which Providence regulates the order of things. The interference of foreign Deſpots may ſerve to introduce into their own enſlaved countries the principles they come to oppoſe. Liberty and Equality are bleſſings too great to be the inheritance of France alone. It is honour to her to be their firſt champion; and ſhe may now ſay to her enemies, with a mighty voice, "O! ye Auſtrians, ye Pruſſians! ye who now turn your bayonets againſt us; it is for all Europe; it is for all mankind, and not for France alone, that ſhe raiſes the ſtandard of Liberty and Equality!"
The public cauſe has hitherto ſuffered from the contradictions contained in the Conſtitution of the former Conſtituent Aſſembly. Thoſe contradictions have ſerved to divide the opinions of individuals at home, and to obſcure [Page 8] the great principles of the Revolution in other countries. But when thoſe contradictions ſhall be removed, and the Conſtitution be made conformable to the Declaration of Rights; when the bagatelles of monarchy, royalty, regency, and hereditary ſucceſſion, ſhall be expoſed, with all their abſurdities, a new ray of light will be thrown over the world, and the Revolution will derive new ſtrength by being univerſally underſtood.
The ſcene that now opens itſelf to France extends far beyond the boundaries of her own dominions. Every Nation is becoming her colleague, and every Court is become her enemy. It is now the cauſe of all nations againſt the cauſe of all Courts. The terror that deſpotiſm felt, clandeſtinely begot a confederation of Deſpots; and their attack upon France was produced by their fears at home.
In entering on this great ſcene, greater than any nation has yet been called to act in, let us ſay to the agitated mind, be calm. Let us puniſh by inſtructing, rather than by revenge. Let us begin the new aera by a greatneſs of friendſhip, and hail the approach of union and ſucceſs.
"Your Fellow Citizen, "THOMAS PAINE."