Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV.: TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL. - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. III (1791-1804)
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IV.: TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL. - Thomas Paine, The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. III (1791-1804) 
The Writings of Thomas Paine, Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894). Vol. 3.
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TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL.
[Undated, but probably late in May, 1792.]
Though I have some reason for believing that you were not the original promoter or encourager of the prosecution commenced against the work entitled “Rights of Man,” either as that prosecution is intended to affect the author, the publisher, or the public; yet as you appear the official person therein, I address this letter to you, not as Sir Archibald Macdonald, but as Attorney General.
You began by a prosecution against the publisher Jordan, and the reason assigned by Mr. Secretary Dundas, in the House of Commons, in the debate on the Proclamation, May 25, for taking that measure, was, he said, because Mr. Paine could not be found, or words to that effect. Mr. Paine, sir, so far from secreting himself, never went a step out of his way, nor in the least instance varied from his usual conduct, to avoid any measure you might choose to adopt with respect to him. It is on the purity of his heart, and the universal utility of the principles and plans which his writings contain, that he rests the issue; and he will not dishonour it by any kind of subterfuge. The apartments which he occupied at the time of writing the work last winter, he has continued to occupy to the present hour, and the solicitors of the prosecution knew where to find him; of which there is a proof in their own office, as far back as the 21st of May, and also in the office of my own Attorney.1
But admitting, for the sake of the case, that the reason for proceeding against the publisher was, as Mr. Dundas stated, that Mr. Paine could not be found, that reason can now exist no longer.
The instant that I was informed that an information was preparing to be filed against me, as the author of, I believe, one of the most useful and benevolent books ever offered to mankind, I directed my Attorney to put in an appearance; and as I shall meet the prosecution fully and fairly, and with a good and upright conscience, I have a right to expect that no act of littleness will be made use of on the part of the prosecution towards influencing the future issue with respect to the author. This expression may, perhaps, appear obscure to you, but I am in the possession of some matters which serve to shew that the action against the publisher is not intended to be a real action. If, therefore, any persons concerned in the prosecution have found their cause so weak, as to make it appear convenient to them to enter into a negociation with the publisher, whether for the purpose of his submitting to a verdict, and to make use of the verdict so obtained as a circumstance, by way of precedent, on a future trial against myself; or for any other purpose not fully made known to me; if, I say, I have cause to suspect this to be the case, I shall most certainly withdraw the defence I should otherwise have made, or promoted on his (the publisher’s) behalf, and leave the negociators to themselves, and shall reserve the whole of the defence for the real trial.1
But, sir, for the purpose of conducting this matter with at least the appearance of fairness and openness, that shall justify itself before the public, whose cause it really is, (for it is the right of public discussion and investigation that is questioned,) I have to propose to you to cease the prosecution against the publisher; and as the reason or pretext can no longer exist for continuing it against him because Mr. Paine could not be found, that you would direct the whole process against me, with whom the prosecuting party will not find it possible to enter into any private negociation.
I will do the cause full justice, as well for the sake of the nation, as for my own reputation.
Another reason for discontinuing the process against the publisher is, because it can amount to nothing. First, because a jury in London cannot decide upon the fact of publishing beyond the limits of the jurisdiction of London, and therefore the work may be republished over and over again in every county in the nation, and every case must have a separate process; and by the time that three or four hundred prosecutions have been had, the eyes of the nation will then be fully open to see that the work in question contains a plan the best calculated to root out all the abuses of government, and to lessen the taxes of the nation upwards of six millions annually.
Secondly, Because though the gentlemen of London may be very expert in understanding their particular professions and occupations, and how to make business contracts with government beneficial to themselves as individuals, the rest of the nation may not be disposed to consider them sufficiently qualified nor authorized to determine for the whole Nation on plans of reform, and on systems and principles of Government. This would be in effect to erect a jury into a National Convention, instead of electing a Convention, and to lay a precedent for the probable tyranny of juries, under the pretence of supporting their rights.
That the possibility always exists of packing juries will not be denied; and, therefore, in all cases, where Government is the prosecutor, more especially in those where the right of public discussion and investigation of principles and systems of Government is attempted to be suppressed by a verdict, or in those where the object of the work that is prosecuted is the reform of abuse and the abolition of sinecure places and pensions, in all these cases the verdict of a jury will itself become a subject of discussion; and therefore, it furnishes an additional reason for discontinuing the prosecution against the publisher, more especially as it is not a secret that there has been a negociation with him for secret purposes, and for proceeding against me only. I shall make a much stronger defence than what I believe the Treasury Solicitor’s agreement with him will permit him to do.
I believe that Mr. Burke, finding himself defeated, and not being able to make any answer to the Rights of Man, has been one of the promoters of this prosecution; and I shall return the compliment to him by shewing, in a future publication, that he has been a masked pensioner at 1500l. per annum for about ten years.
Thus it is that the public money is wasted, and the dread of public investigation is produced.
I am, sir, Your obedient humble servant,
Paine was residing at the house of one of his publishers, Thomas Rickman, 7 Upper Marylebone Street, London. His Attorney was the Hon. Thomas Erskine.—Editor.
A detailed account of the proceedings with regard to the publisher will be found infra, in ix., Letter to the Addressers.—Editor.
Paine’s case was set down for June 8th, and on that day he appeared in court; but, much to his disappointment, the trial was adjourned to December 18th, at which time he was in his place in the National Convention at Paris.—Editor.