Thomas Paine (17371809). The Writings of Thomas Paine. 1906.
Address and Declaration
At a select Meeting of the Friends of Universal Peace and Liberty, held at the Thatched House Tavern, St. Jamess Street, August 20, 1791, the following Address and Declaration to our Fellow Citizens was agreed on and ordered to be published.
FRIENDS AND FELLOW CITIZENS, AT a moment like the present, when wilful misrepresentations are industriously spread by the partizans of arbitrary power, and the advocates of passive obedience and court government, we think it incumbent on us to declare to the world our principles, and the motives of our conduct.
As men we rejoice in the freedom of twenty-five millions of our fellow men. We rejoice in the prospect which such a magnificent example opens to the world. We congratulate the French nation for having laid the axe to the root of tyranny, and for erecting government on the sacred hereditary rights of manRights which appertain to ALL, and not to any one more than to another. We know of no human authority superior to that of a whole nation; and we profess and proclaim it as our principle that every nation has at all times an inherent indefeasible right to constitute and establish such government for itself as best accords with its disposition, interest, and happiness.
Without enquiring into the justice on either side of the reproachful charges of intrigue and ambition, which the English and French Courts have constantly made on each other, we confine ourselves to this observation:That if the Court of France only was in fault, and the numerous wars which have distressed both countries, are chargeable to her alone, that Court now exists no longer; and the cause and the consequence must cease together. The French, therefore, by the revolution they have made, have conquered for us as well as for themselves; if it be true that their Court only was in fault, and ours never.
On this state of the case, the French Revolution concerns us immediately. We are oppressed with a heavy national debt, a burthen of taxes, and an expensive administration of government, beyond those of any people in the world. We have also a very numerous poor; and we hold that the moral obligation of providing for old age, helpless infancy, and poverty, is far superior to that of supplying the invented wants of courtly extravagance, ambition, and intrigue.
As it has always been held out by all administrations that the restless ambition of the Court of France rendered this expense necessary to us for our own defence, we consequently rejoice as men deeply interested in the French Revolution, for that Court, as we have already said, exists no longer; and consequently the same enormous expenses need not continue to us.
Thus rejoicing, as we sincerely do, both as men and Englishmen, as lovers of universal peace and freedom, and as friends to our own national prosperity, and a reduction of our public expenses, we cannot but express our astonishment that any part, or any members of our own government, should reprobate the extinction of that very power in France, or wish to see it restored, to whose influence they formerly attributed (whilst they appeared to lament) the enormous increase of our own burthens and taxes. What, then, are they sorry that the pretence for new oppressive taxes, and the occasion for continuing many of the old taxes, will be at an end? If so, and if it is the policy of courts and of court governments, to prefer enemies to friends, and a system of war to that of peace, as affording more pretences for places, offices, pensions, revenue, and taxation, it is high time for the people of every nation to look with circumspection to their own interests.
Those who pay the expense, and not those who participate in the emoluments arising from it, are the persons immediately interested in inquiries of this kind. We are a part of that national body, on whom this annual expense of seventeen millions falls; and we consider the present opportunity of the French Revolution as a most happy one for lessening the enormous load under which this nation groans. If this be not done, we shall then have reason to conclude, that the cry of intrigue and ambition against other courts, is no more than the common cant of all courts.
We think it also necessary to express our astonishment that a government, desirous of being called FREE, should prefer connection with the most despotic and arbitrary powers in Europe. We know of none more deserving this description than those of Turkey and Prussia, and the whole combination of German despots. Separated as we happily are by nature, from the tumults of the Continent, we reprobate all systems and intrigues which sacrifice (and that too at a great expense) the blessings of our natural situation. Such systems cannot have a national origin.
If we are asked, what government is?We hold it to be nothing more than a NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, and we hold that to be the best which secures to every man his rights, and promotes the greatest quantity of happiness with the least expence.
Among the blessings which the French Revolution has produced to that nation, we enumerate the abolition of the feudal system of injustice and tyranny on the 4th of August, 1789. Beneath the feudal system all Europe has long groaned, and from it England is not yet free. Game laws, borough tenures, and tyrannical monopolies of numerous kinds, still remain amongst us; but rejoicing as we sincerely do, in the freedom of others, till we shall happily accomplish our own, we intended to commemorate this prelude to the universal extirpation of the feudal system, by meeting on the anniversary of that day (the 4th of August) at the Crown and Anchor. From this meeting we were prevented by the interference of certain unnamed and skulking persons with the master of the Tavern, who informed us, that on their representations he could not receive us. Let those who live by, or countenance feudal oppressions, take the reproach of this ineffectual meanness and cowardice to themselves. They cannot stifle the public declaration of our honest, open, and avowed opinions.
These are our principles, and these our sentiments. They embrace the interest and happiness of the great body of the nation of which we are a part. As to riots and tumults, let those answer for them, who, by wilful misrepresentations, endeavor to excite and promote them; or who seek to stun the sense of the nation, and to lose the great cause of public good in the outrages of a misinformed mob. We take our ground on principles that require no such riotous aid. We have nothing to apprehend from the poor; for we are pleading their cause. And we fear not proud oppression, for we have truth on our side. We say, and we repeat it, that the French Revolution opens to the world an opportunity in which all good citizens must rejoicethat of promoting the general happiness of man. And that it moreover offers to this country in particular, an opportunity of reducing our enormous taxes.