Front Page Titles (by Subject) VIII.: TO MR. SECRETARY DUNDAS. - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. III (1791-1804)
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VIII.: TO MR. SECRETARY DUNDAS. - 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 MR. SECRETARY DUNDAS.
Sept. 15, 1792.
I conceive it necessary to make you acquainted with the following circumstance:—The department of Calais having elected me a member of the National Convention of France, I set off from London the 13th instant, in company with Mr. Frost, of Spring Garden, and Mr. Audibert, one of the municipal officers of Calais, who brought me the certificate of my being elected. We had not arrived more, I believe, than five minutes at the York Hotel, at Dover, when the train of circumstances began that I am going to relate. We had taken our baggage out of the carriage, and put it into a room, into which we went. Mr. Frost, having occasion to go out, was stopped in the passage by a gentleman, who told him he must return into the room, which he did, and the gentleman came in with him, and shut the door. I had remained in the room; Mr. Audibert was gone to inquire when the packet was to sail. The gentleman then said, that he was collector of the customs, and had an information against us, and must examine our baggage for prohibited articles. He produced his commission as Collector. Mr. Frost demanded to see the information, which the Collector refused to shew, and continued to refuse, on every demand that we made. The Collector then called in several other officers, and began first to search our pockets. He took from Mr. Audibert, who was then returned into the room, every thing he found in his pocket, and laid it on the table. He then searched Mr. Frost in the same manner, (who, among other things, had the keys of the trunks in his pocket,) and then did the same by me. Mr. Frost wanting to go out, mentioned it, and was going towards the door; on which the Collector placed himself against the door, and said, nobody should depart the room. After the keys had been taken from Mr. Frost, (for I had given him the keys of my trunks beforehand, for the purpose of his attending the baggage to the customs, if it should be necessary,) the Collector asked us to open the trunks, presenting us the keys for that purpose; this we declined to do, unless he would produce his information, which he again refused. The Collector then opened the trunks himself, and took out every paper and letter, sealed or unsealed. On our remonstrating with him on the bad policy, as well as the illegality, of Custom-House officers seizing papers and letters, which were things that did not come under their cognizance, he replied, that the Proclamation gave him the authority.
Among the letters which he took out of my trunk, were two sealed letters, given into my charge by the American Minister in London [Pinckney], one of which was directed to the American Minister at Paris [Gouverneur Morris], the other to a private gentleman; a letter from the President of the United States, and a letter from the Secretary of State in America, both directed to me, and which I had received from the American Minister, now in London, and were private letters of friendship; a letter from the electoral body of the Department of Calais, containing the notification of my being elected to the National Convention; and a letter from the President of the National Assembly, informing me of my being also elected for the Department of the Oise.
As we found that all remonstrances with the Collector, on the bad policy and illegality of seizing papers and letters, and retaining our persons by force, under the pretence of searching for prohibited articles, were vain, (for he justified himself on the Proclamation, and on the information which he refused to shew,) we contented ourselves with assuring him, that what he was then doing, he would afterwards have to answer for, and left it to himself to do as he pleased.
It appeared to us that the Collector was acting under the direction of some other person or persons, then in the hotel, but whom he did not choose we should see, or who did not choose to be seen by us; for the Collector went several times out of the room for a few minutes, and was also called out several times.
When the Collector had taken what papers and letters he pleased out of the trunks, he proceeded to read them. The first letter he took up for this purpose was that from the President of the United States to me. While he was doing this, I said, that it was very extraordinary that General Washington could not write a letter of private friendship to me, without its being subject to be read by a custom-house officer. Upon this Mr. Frost laid his hand over the face of the letter, and told the Collector that he should not read it, and took it from him. Mr. Frost then, casting his eyes on the concluding paragraph of the letter, said, I will read this part to you, which he did; of which the following is an exact transcript—
“And as no one can feel a greater interest in the happiness of mankind than I do, it is the first wish of my heart, that the enlightened policy of the present age may diffuse to all men those blessings to which they are entitled, and lay the foundation of happiness for future generations.”1
As all the other letters and papers lay then on the table, the Collector took them up, and was going out of the room with them. During the transactions already stated, I contented myself with observing what passed, and spoke but little; but on seeing the Collector going out of the room with the letters, I told him that the papers and letters then in his hand were either belonging to me, or entrusted to my charge, and that as I could not permit them to be out of my sight, I must insist on going with him.
The Collector then made a list of the letters and papers, and went out of the room, giving the letters and papers into the charge of one of the officers. He returned in a short time, and, after some trifling conversation, chiefly about the Proclamation, told us, that he saw the Proclamation was ill-founded, and asked if we chose to put the letters and papers into the trunks ourselves, which, as we had not taken them out, we declined doing, and he did it himself, and returned us the keys.
In stating to you these matters, I make no complaint against the personal conduct of the Collector, or of any of the officers. Their manner was as civil as such an extraordinary piece of business could admit of.
My chief motive in writing to you on this subject is, that you may take measures for preventing the like in future, not only as it concerns private individuals, but in order to prevent a renewal of those unpleasant consequences that have heretofore arisen between nations from circumstances equally as insignificant. I mention this only for myself; but as the interruption extended to two other gentlemen, it is probable that they, as individuals, will take some more effectual mode for redress.
I am, Sir, yours, &c.
P. S. Among the papers seized, was a copy of the Attorney-General’s information against me for publishing the Rights of Man, and a printed proof copy of my Letter to the Addressers, which will soon be published.
Washington’s letter is dated 6 May, 1792. See my Life of Paine, vol. i., p. 302.—Editor.