A letter to Mr. Secretary Dundas. In answer to his speech on the late proclamation. By Thomas Paine — Letter to Mr. Henry Dundas
SIR,London, June 6, 1792.
AS you opened the debate in the Houſe of Commons, May 25th, on the Proclamation for ſuppreſſing Publications, which that Proclamation (without naming any) calls wicked and ſeditious, and as you applied thoſe opprobious epithets to the works entitled "RIGHTS OF MAN," I think it unneceſſary to offer any other reaſon for addreſſing this Letter to you.
I begin, then, at once, by declaring that I do not believe there are to be found in the writings of any author, ancient or modern, on the ſubject of Government, a ſpirit of greater benignity, and a ſtronger inculcation of moral principles than in [Page 4] thoſe which I have publiſhed. They come, Sir, from a man, who, by having lived in different countries, and under different ſyſtems of Government, and who, being intimate in the conſtruction of them, is a better judge of the ſubject than it is poſſible that you, from the want of thoſe opportunities, can be:—And, beſides this, they come from an heart that knows not how to beguile.
I will further ſay, that when that moment arrives in which the beſt conſolation that ſhall be left will be that of looking back on ſome paſt actions, more virtuous, more meritorious, than the reſt, I ſhall then with happineſs remember, among other things, I have written the RIGHTS OF MAN.— As to what Proclamations, or Proſecutions, or Place-men, or place-expectants—thoſe who poſſeſs, or thoſe who are gaping for office, may ſay or them, it will not alter their character, either with the world or with me.
Having, Sir, made this declaration, I ſhall proceed to remark, not particularly upon your own Speech on that occaſion, but on any other Speech to which your Motion on that day gave riſe; and I ſhall begin with that of Mr. ADAM.
Mr. ADAM, in his Speech, (ſee the Morning Chronicle of May 26,) ſays, ‘That he had well [Page 5] conſidered the ſubject of Conſtitutional Publications, and was by no means ready to ſay (but the contrary) that books of ſcience upon Government, though recommending a doctrine or ſyſtem different from the form of our Conſtitution, (meaning that of England) were fit objects of proſecution; that if he did, he muſt condemn (which he meant not to do) HARRINGTON for his Oceana, SIR THOMAS MORE for his Eutopia, and HUME for his idea of a perfect Common-wealth. But, (continued Mr. Adam,) the Publication of Mr. PAINE was very different; for it reviled what was moſt ſacred in the Conſtitution, deſtroyed every principle of ſubordination, and eſtabliſhed nothing in their room. ’
I readily perceive that Mr. ADAM had not read the Second Part of the Rights of Man, and I am put under the neceſſity, either of ſubmitting to an erroneous charge, or of juſtifying myſelf againſt it; and I certainly ſhall prefer the latter.—If, then, I ſhall prove to Mr. ADAM, that, in my reaſoning upon Syſtems of Government in the Second Part of Rights of Man, I have ſhewn as clearly, I think, as words can convey ideas, a certain ſyſtem of Government; and that not exiſting in theory only, but already in full and eſtabliſhed practice, and ſyſtematically and practically free from all the vices and defects of the Engliſh Government, and capable of producing more happineſs to the People, [Page 6] and that alſo with an eightieth part of the Taxes, which the preſent Syſtem of Engliſh Government conſumes; I hope he will do me the juſtice when he next goes to the Houſe, to get up and confeſs he had been miſtaken in ſaying, that I had eſtabliſhed nothing, and that I had deſtroyed every principle of ſubordination. Having thus opened the caſe, I now come to the point.
In the Firſt Part of Rights of Man, I have endeavoured to ſhew, and I challenge any man to refute it, that there does not exiſt a right to eſtabliſh Hereditary Government; or, in other words, Hereditary Governors; becauſe Hereditary Government always means a Government yet to come, and the caſe always is, that the People who are to live afterwards, have always the ſame right to chuſe a Government for themſelves, as the peohad who lived before them.
In the Second Part of Rights of Man, I have not repeated thoſe arguments, becauſe they are irrefutable; but have confined myſelf to ſhew the defects of what is called Hereditary Government, or Hereditary Succeſſion; that it muſt, from the nature of it, throw Government into the hands of men totally unworthy of it, from want of principle, [Page 7] or unfitted for it from want of capacity.— James the IId is recorded as an inſtance of the firſt of theſe caſes; and inſtances are to be found almoſt all over Europe to prove the truth of the latter.
To ſhew the abſurdity of the Hereditary Syſtem ſtill more ſtrongly, I will now put the following caſe:—Take any fifty men promiſcuouſly, and it will be very extraordinary, if out of that number, one man ſhould be found, whoſe principles and talents taken together, (for ſome might have principles, and others have talents) would render him a perſon truly fitted to fill any very extraordinary office of National Truſt. If, then, ſuch a fitneſs of character could not be expected to be found in more than one perſon out of fifty, it would happen but once in a thouſand years to the eldeſt ſon of any one family, admitting each, on an average, to hold the office twenty years. Mr. Adam talks of ſomething in the Conſtitution which he calls moſt ſacred; but I hope he does not mean hereditary ſucceſſion, a thing which appears to me a violation of every order of nature, and of common ſenſe.
When I look into Hiſtory and ſee the multitudes of men, otherwiſe virtuous, who have died, and their families been ruined, in defence of knaves and fools, and which they would not have done, had they reaſoned at all upon the ſyſtem; I do not know a greater good that an individual can render to mankind, than to endeavour to [Page 8] break the chains of political ſuperſtition. Thoſe chains are now diſſolving faſt, and proclamations and proſecutions will ſerve but to haſten that diſſolution.
Having thus ſpoken of the Hereditary Syſtem as a bad ſyſtem, and ſubject to every poſſible defect; I now come to the Repreſentative Syſtem; and this Mr. ADAM will find ſtated in the Second Part of Rights of Man, not only as the beſt, but as the only Theory of Government under which the liberties of a people can be permanently ſecure.
But it is needleſs now to talk of mere Theory, ſince there is already a Government in full practice, eſtabliſhed upon that Theory, or in other words, upon the Rights of Man, and has been ſo for almoſt twenty years. Mr. Pitt, in a ſpeech of his ſome ſhort time ſince, ſaid, ‘That there never did, and never could exiſt a Government eſtabliſhed upon thoſe Rights, and that if it began at noon, it would end at night.’ Mr. Pitt is not yet arrived to the degree of a ſchool-boy in this ſpecies of knowledge. His practice has been confined to the means of extorting revenue, and his boaſt has been—how much? Whereas the boaſt of the Syſtem of Government that I am ſpeaking of, is not how much, but how little.
The Syſtem of Government purely repreſentative, unmixed with any thing of hereditary nonſenſe, began in America. I will now compare the [Page 9] effects of that ſyſtem of Government with the ſyſtem of Government in England, both during, and ſince the cloſe of the war.
So powerful is the Repreſentative Syſtem; firſt, by combining and conſolidating all the parts of a country together, however great the extent; and ſecondly, by admitting of none but men properly qualified into the Government, or diſmiſſing them if they prove to be otherwiſe, that America was enabled thereby totally to defeat and overthrow all the ſchemes and projects of the Hereditary Government of England againſt her. As the eſtabliſhment of the Revolution and Independence of America is a proof of this fact, it is needleſs to enlarge upon it.
America had internally ſuſtained the ravage of upwards of ſeven years of war, which England had not. England ſuſtained only the expence of the war; whereas America ſuſtained, not only the expence, but the deſtruction of property committed by both armies. Not a houſe was built during that period, and many thouſands were deſtroyed. The farms and plantations along the coaſt of the Country, for more than a thouſand miles, were laid waſte. Her commerce was annihilated. Her ſhips were either taken or had rotted within her own [Page 10] harbour. The credit of her funds had fallen upwards of ninety per cent. that is, an original hundred pounds would not ſell for ten pounds. In fine, ſhe was apparently put back an hundred years when the war cloſed; which was not the caſe with England.
But ſuch was the event, that the ſame Repreſentative Syſtem of Government, though ſince better organized, which enabled her to conquer, enabled her alſo to recover; and ſhe now preſents a more flouriſhing condition, and a more happy and harmonized ſociety under that ſyſtem of Government, than any country in the world can boaſt under any other. Her towns are rebuilt, much better than before; her farms and plantations are in higher improvement than ever; her commerce is ſpread over the world, and her funds have riſen from leſs than ten pounds the hundred to upwards of one hundred and twenty. Mr. Pitt, and his colleagues, talk of the things that have happened in his boyiſh Adminiſtration, without knowing what greater things have happened elſewhere, and under other ſyſtems of Government.
I next come to ſtate the expence of the two ſyſtems, as they now ſtand in each of the countries; but it may firſt be proper to obſerve, that Government in America is what it ought to be, a matter of honour and truſt, and not made a trade of for the purpoſe of lucre.
[Page 11] The whole amount of the nett taxes in England (excluſive of the expence of collection, of drawbacks, of ſeizures and condemnations, of fines and penalties, of fees of office, of litigations and informers, which are ſome of the bleſſed means of enforcing them) is, ſeventeen millions. Of this ſum, about nine millions go for the payment of the intereſt of the National Debt, and the remainder, being about eight millions, is for the current annual expences. Thus much for one ſide of the caſe. I now come to the other.
The expence of all the ſeveral departments of the general Repreſentative Government of the United States of America, extending over a ſpace of country nearly ten times larger than England, is two hundred and ninety-four thouſand, five hundred and fifty-eight dollars, which, at 4s. 6d. per dollar, is 66,275l. 11s. ſterling, and is thus apportioned.
On account of the incurſions of the Indians on the back ſettlements, Congreſs is, at this time, obliged to keep ſix thouſand militia in pay, in addition to a regiment of foot, and a battalion of artillery, which it always keeps; and this increaſes the expence of the War Department to 390,000 dollars, which is 87,795l. ſterling, but when Peace ſhall be concluded with the Indians, the greateſt part of this expence will ceaſe, and the total amount of the expence of Government, including that of the army, will not amount to one hundred [Page 13] thouſand pounds ſterling, which, as has been already ſtated, is but an eightieth part of the expences of the Engliſh Government.
I requeſt Mr. Adam and Mr. Dundas, and all thoſe who are talking of Conſtitutions, and bleſſings, and Kings, and Lords, and the Lord knows what, to look at this ſtatement. Here is a form and ſyſtem of Government, that is better organized and better adminiſtered than any Government in the world, and that for leſs than one hundred thouſand pounds per annum, and yet every Member of Congreſs receives, as a compenſation for his time and attendance on public buſineſs, one pound ſeven ſhillings per day, which is at the rate of nearly five hundred pounds a year.
This is a Government that has nothing to fear. It needs no proclamations to deter people from writing and reading. It needs no political ſuperſtition to ſupport it. It was by encouraging diſcuſſion, and rendering the preſs free upon all ſubjects of Government, that the principles of Government became underſtood in America, and the people are now enjoying the preſent bleſſings under it. You hear of no riots, tumults, and diſorders in that country; becauſe there exiſts no cauſe to produce them. Thoſe things are never the effect of Freedom, but of reſtraint, oppreſſion, and exceſſive taxation.
In America there is not that claſs of poor and [Page 14] wretched people that are ſo numerouſly diſperſed all over England, and who are to be told by a Proclamation, that they are happy; and this is in a great meaſure to be accounted for, not by the difference of Proclamations, but by the difference of Governments and the difference of Taxes between that country and this. What the labouring people of that country earn they apply to their own uſe, and to the education of their children, and do not pay it away in Taxes as faſt as they earn it, to ſupport Court extravagance, and a long enormous liſt of Place-men and Penſioners; and beſides this, they have learned the manly doctrine of reverencing themſelves, and conſequently of reſpecting each other; and they laugh at thoſe imaginary beings called Kings and Lords, and all the fraudulent trumpery of Courts.
When Place-men and Penſioners, or thoſe who expect to be ſuch, are laviſh in praiſe of a Government, it is not a ſign of its being a good one. The penſion liſt alone, in England, (ſee Sir John Sinclair's Hiſtory of the Revenue, page 6 of the Appendix,) is One Hundred and Seven Thouſand Four Hundred and Four Pounds, which is more than the expences of the whole Government of America amount to. And I am now more convinced than before, that the offer that was made to me of a Thouſand Pounds, for the copy-right of the Second Part of the Rights of Man, together with the [Page 15] remaining copy-right of the Firſt Part, was to have effected, by a quick ſuppreſſion, what is now attempted to be done by a Proſecution. The connection which the perſon who made that offer has with the King's Printing Office, may furniſh part of the means of enquiring into this affair, when the Miniſtry ſhould pleaſe to bring their Proſecution to iſſue. But to return to my ſubject—
I have ſaid, in the Second Part of Rights of Man, and I repeat it here, that the ſervice of any man, whether called King, Preſident, Senator, Legiſlator, or any thing elſe, cannot be worth more to any country, in the regular routine of office, than Ten Thouſand Pounds per annum. We have a better man in America, and more of a Gentleman than any King I ever knew of, who does not occaſion even half that expence; for, though the ſalary is fixed at Five Thouſand Six hundred and Twenty-Five Pounds, he does not accept it, and it is only the incidental expences that are paid out of it. The name by which a man is called is, of itſelf, but an empty thing. It is worth and character alone which can render him valuable, for without theſe, Kings, and Lords, and Preſidents, are but jingling names.
If then an allowance, at the rate of five hundred pounds per ann. be made for every Repreſentative, deducting for non-attendance the expence, if the whole number attended ſix months each year, would be — 75,000
If a Nation choſe, it might deduct four per cent from all the offices, and make one of twenty thouſand pounds per annum, and ſtile the perſon who ſhould fill it, King, or Majeſty, or Madjeſty, or give him any other title.
Taking, however, this ſum of one million and an half, as an abundant ſupply for all the expences of Government under any form whatever, there will remain a ſurplus of nearly ſix million and a half out of the preſent Taxes, after paying the intereſt of the National Debt; and I have ſhewn in the Second Part of Rights of Man, what appears to me, the beſt mode of applying the ſurplus money; for I am now ſpeaking of expences and ſavings, and not of ſyſtems of Government.
I have in the firſt place, eſtimated the poor-rates at two millions annually, and ſhewn that the firſt effectual ſtep would be to aboliſh the poor-rates [Page 18] entirely, (which would be a ſaving of two millions to the houſe-keepers,) and to remit four millions out of the ſurplus taxes to the poor to be paid to them in money in proportion to the number of children in each family, and the number of aged perſons.
|Seventy thouſand perſons at 6l. per ann.||420,000|
|Seventy thouſand perſons at 10l. per ann.||700,000|
The whole number of families in England, lotting five ſouls to each family, is one million four hundred thouſand, of which I take one third, viz. 466,666 to be poor families who now pay four million of taxes, and that the pooreſt pays at leaſt four guineas a year; and that the other thirteen millions are paid by the other two-thirds. The plan, therefore, as ſtated in the work is, firſt, to remit or repay, as is already ſtated, this ſum of four millions to the poor, becauſe it is impoſſible to ſeparate them from the others in the preſent mode of collecting taxes on articles of conſumption; and, ſecondly, to aboliſh the poor-rates, the houſe and window light tax, and to change the Commutation Tax into a progreſſive Tax on large eſtates, the particulars of all which are ſet forth in the work, and to which I deſire Mr. ADAM to refer for particulars. I ſhall here content myſelf with ſaying, that to a town of the population of Mancheſter, it will make a difference in its favour, compared with the preſent ſtate of things, of upwards of fifty thouſand pounds annually, and ſo in proportion to all other places throughout the nation. This certainly is of more conſequence, than that the ſame ſums ſhould be collected to be afterwards ſpent by riotous and [Page 20] profligate courtiers, and in nightly revels at the Star and Garter Tavern, Pall Mall.
I will conclude this part of my letter with an extract from the Second Part of Rights of Man, which Mr. Dundas (a man rolling in luxury at the expence of the nation) has branded with the epithet of "wicked."
‘By the operation of this plan, the poor laws, thoſe inſtruments of civil torture, will be ſuperſeded, and the waſteful expence of litigation prevented. The hearts of the humane will not be ſhocked by ragged and hungry children, and perſons of ſeventy and eighty years of age begging for bread. The dying poor will not be dragged from place to place, to breathe their laſt, as a repriſal of pariſh upon pariſh. Widows will have a maintenance for their children, and not be carted away, on the death of their huſbands, like culprits and criminals, and children will no longer be conſidered as increaſing the diſtreſſes of their parents. The haunts of the wretched will be known, becauſe it will be to their advantage, and the number of petty crimes, the offspring of poverty and diſtreſs, will be leſſened. The poor, as well as the rich, will then be intereſted in the ſupport of Government, and the cauſe and apprehenſion of riots and tumults will ceaſe.—Ye who ſit in eaſe, and ſolace yourſelves in plenty, and ſuch [Page 21] there are in Turkey and Ruſſia as well as in England, and who ſay to yourſelves, are we not well off? have ye thought of theſe things? When ye do, ye will ceaſe to ſpeak and feel for yourſelves alone.’—Rights of Man, Part II. page 136.
[Page 22] The limits to which it is proper to confine this Letter, will not admit of my entering into further particulars. I addreſs it to Mr. Dundas becauſe he took the lead in the debate, and he wiſhes, I ſuppoſe, to appear conſpicuous; but the purport of it is to juſtify myſelf from the charge which Mr. Adam has made.
This Gentleman, as has been obſerved in the beginning of this Letter, conſiders the writings of Harrington, Moore, and Hume, as juſtifiable and legal Publications, becauſe they reaſoned by compariſon, though, in ſo doing, they ſhewed plans and ſyſtems of Government, not only different from, but preferable to, that of England; and he accuſes me of endeavouring to confuſe, inſtead of producing a ſyſtem in the room of that which I have reaſoned againſt; whereas the fact is, that I have not only reaſoned by compariſon of the Repreſentative ſyſtem againſt the Hereditary ſyſtem, but I have gone further; for I have produced an inſtance of a Government eſtabliſhed entirely on the Repreſentative ſyſtem, under which much greater happineſs is enjoyed, much fewer Taxes required, and much higher credit is eſtabliſhed, than under the ſyſtem of Government in England. The funds in England have riſen ſince the war only from 54l. to 97l. and they have been down, ſince the Proclamation, to 87l. whereas the Funds in America roſe in the mean time from 10l. to 120l.
‘Formerly, when diviſions aroſe reſpecting Governments, recourſe was had to the ſword, and a civil war enſued. That ſavage cuſtom is exploded by the new ſyſtem, and recourſe is had to a National Convention. Diſcuſſion, and the general will, arbitrates the queſtion, and to this private opinion yields with a good grace, and order is preſerved uninterrupted.—’ Rights of Man, Part II. p. 173.
That two different charges ſhould be brought at the ſame time, the one by a Member of the Legiſlature for not doing a certain thing, and the other by the Attorney General for doing it, is a ſtrange jumble of contradictions. I have now juſtified myſelf, or the work rather, againſt the firſt, by ſtating the caſe in this letter, and the juſtification of the other will be undertaken in its proper place. But in any caſe the work will go on.
I ſhall now conclude this Letter, with ſaying, that the only objection I found againſt the plan, and principles contained in the Second Part of Rights of Man when I had written the book, was, that they would beneficially intereſt at leaſt ninety-nine perſons out of every hundred throughout the nation, and therefore would not leave ſufficient [Page 24] room for men to act from the direct and diſintereſted principle of honour; but the proſecution now commenced has fortunately removed that objection, and the approvers and protectors of that work now feel the immediate impulſe of honour, added to that of National Intereſt.
Copied from the Paper entitled "THE ARGUS," June 9.
I am, Mr. Dundas, Not your obedient humble Servant, But the contrary, THOMAS PAINE.