Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV. - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779)
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IV. - Thomas Paine, The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779) 
The Writings of Thomas Paine, Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894). Vol. 1.
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Whoever will take the trouble of attending to the progress and changeability of times and things, and the conduct of mankind thereon, will find, that extraordinary circumstances do sometimes arise before us, of a species, either so purely natural or so perfectly original, that none but the man of nature can understand them. When precedents fail to spirit us, we must return to the first principles of things for information; and think, as if we were the first men that thought. And this is the true reason that, in the present state of affairs, the wise are become foolish, and the foolish wise. I am led to this reflexion by not being able to account for the conduct of the Quakers on any other: for although they do not seem to perceive it themselves, yet it is amazing to hear with what unanswerable ignorance many of that body, wise in other matters, will discourse on the present one. Did they hold places or commissions under the King, were they Governors of provinces, or had they any interest apparently distinct from us, the mystery would cease; but as they have not, their folly is best attributed to that superabundance of worldly knowledge which in original matters is too cunning to be wise. Back to the first plain path of nature, friends, and begin anew: for in this business your first footsteps were wrong. You have now travelled to the summit of inconsistency, and that with such accelerated rapidity as to acquire autumnal ripeness by the first of May. Now your resting time comes on. You have done your utmost and must abide the consequences. Yet who can reflect on such conduct without feeling concern! Who can look, unaffected, on a body of thoughtful men, undoing in one rash hour the labour of seventy years: Or what can be said in their excuse, more, than that they have arrived at their second childhood, the infancy of threescore and ten.∗
But my chief design, in this letter, is to set forth the inconsistency, partiality, and injustice of the dependant faction,1 and like an honest man, who courts no favor, to shew to them the dangerous ground they stand upon; in order to do which, I must refer to the business, event, and probable consequences of the late election.
The business of that day was to do what? Why, to elect four burgesses to assist those already elected, in conducting the military proceedings of this province, against the power of that crown by whose authority they pretend to sit: and those gentlemen when elected, are according to the rules of that House (as the rest have done) to take an oath of allegiance to serve the same King against whom this province, with themselves at the head thereof, are at war: and a necessary qualification required of many voters was, that they likewise should swear allegiance to the same King against whose power the same house of assembly had just before obliged them either to fine or take up arms. Did ever national hypocrisy arise to such a pitch as this! Under the pretence of moderation we are running into the most damnable sins. It is now the duty of every man from the pulpit and from the press, in his family and in the street to cry out against it. Good God! Have we no remembrance of duty left to the King of Heaven! No conscientious awe to restrain this sacrifice of sacred things? Is this our chartered privilege? This our boasted constitution, that we can sin and feel it not? The clergy of the English church, of which I profess myself a member, complain of their situation, and wish relief; in short, every thinking man must feel distress. Yet, to the credit of the people be it spoken, the sin lies not at their door. We can trace the iniquity in this province to the fountain head, and see by what delusions it has imposed on others. The guilt centres in a few, and flows from the same source, that a few years ago avariciously suffered the frontiers of this province to be deluged in blood; and though the vengeance of Heaven hath slept since, it may awake too soon for their repose.
A motion was sometime ago made to elect a convention to take into consideration the state of the province. A more judicious proposal could not be thought of. Our present condition is alarming. We are worse off then other provinces, and such an enquiry is highly necessary. The House of Assembly in its present form is disqualified for such business, because it is a branch from that power against whom we are contending. Besides, they are in intercourse with the King’s representative, and the members which compose the house have, as members thereof taken an oath to discover to the King of England the very business which, in that inquiry, would unavoidably come before them. Their minds too are warped and prejudiced by the provincial instructions they have arbitrarily and without right issued forth. They are again improper because the enquiry would necessarily extend to them as a body, to see how far it is proper to trust men with such unlimited power as they have lately assumed. In times like these, we must trace to the root and origin of things; It being the only way to become right, when we are got systematically wrong. The motion for a Convention alarmed the crown and proprietary dependants;1 but, to every man of reflexion, it had a cordial and restorative quality. The case is, first, we are got wrong—Secondly, how shall we get right? Not by a House of Assembly; because they cannot sit as Judges, in a case, where their own existence under their present form and authority is to be judged of. However, the objectors found out a way, as they thought, to supercede the necessity of a Convention, by promoting a bill for augmenting the number of representatives; not perceiving at the same time that such an augmentation would encrease the necessity of a Convention; because, the more any power is augmented, which derives it’s authority from our enemies, the more unsafe and dangerous it becomes to us. Far be it from the writer of this to censure the individuals which compose that House; his aim being only against the chartered authority under which it acts. However, the bill passed into a law, (which shews, that in Pennsylvania, as well as in England, there is no constitution, but only a temporary form of government.∗ ) While, in order to show the inconsistency of the House in its present state, the motion for a convention was postponed, and four conscientious independent gentlemen were proposed as candidates, on the augmentation, who, had they been elected would not have taken the oaths necessary to admit a person as member of that Assembly. And in that case, the house would have had neither one kind of authority or another, while the old part remained sworn to divulge to the King what the new part thought it their duty to declare against him. Thus matters stood on the morning of election.
On our side we had to sustain the loss of those good citizens who are now before the walls of Quebec, and other parts of the continent; while the tories by never stirring out remain at home to take the advantage of elections; and this evil prevails more or less from the Congress down to the Committees. A numerous body of Germans of property, zealots in the cause of freedom, were likewise excluded for non-allegiance. Notwithstanding which, the tory non-conformists, that is those who are advertised as enemies to their country, were admitted to vote on the other side. A strange contradiction indeed! To which were added the testimonizing Quakers, who, after suffering themselves to be duped by the meanest of all passions, religious spleen, endeavour in a vague uncharitable manner to possess the Roman Catholics of the same disease. These parties, with such others as they could influence, were headed by the proprietary dependants to support the British and Proprietary power against the public. They had pompously given out that nine tenths of the people were on their side. A vast majority truly! But it so happened that, notwithstanding the disadvantages we laid under of having many of our votes rejected, others disqualified for non-allegiance, with the great loss sustained by absentees, the manœuvre of shutting up the doors between seven and eight o’clock, and circulating the report of adjourning, and finishing the next morning, by which several were deceived,—it so happened, I say, that on casting up the tickets, the first in numbers on the dependant side, and the first on the independant side, viz. Clymer and Allen, were a tye: 923 each.∗
To the description which I have already given of those who are against us, I may add, that they have neither associated nor assisted, or but very few of them; that they are a collection of different bodies blended by accident, having no natural relation to each other; that they have agreed rather out of spite than right; and that, as they met by chance, they will dissolve away again for the want of a cement.
On our side, our object was single, our cause was one; wherefore, we cannot separate, neither will we separate. We have stood the experiment of the election, for the sake of knowing the men who were against us. Alas, what are they? One half of them ought to be now asking public pardon for their former offences; and the other half may think themselves well off that they are let alone. When the enemy enters the country, can they defend themselves? Or will they defend themselves? And if not, are they so foolish as to think that, in times like these, when it is our duty to search the corrupted wound to the bottom, that we, with ten times their strength and number (if the question were put to the people at large) will submit to be governed by cowards and tories?
He that is wise will reflect, that the safest asylum, especially in times of general convulsion when no settled form of government prevails, is, the love of the people. All property is safe under their protection. Even in countries where the lowest and most licentious of them have risen into outrage they have never departed from the path of natural honor. Volunteers unto death in defence of the person or fortune of those who had served or defended them, division of property never entered the mind of the populace. It is incompatible with that spirit which impels them into action. An avaricious mob was never heard of; nay, even a miser pausing in the midst of them, and catching their spirit, would from that instant cease to be covetous.
I shall conclude this letter with remarking, that the English fleet and army have of late gone upon a different plan of operation to what they first set out with; for instead of going against those Colonies where independence prevails most, they go against those only where they suppose it prevails least. They have quitted Massachusetts-Bay and gone to North-Carolina, supposing they had many friends there. Why are they expected at New-York? But because they imagine the inhabitants are not generally independents, (yet that province hath a large share of virtue, notwithstanding the odium which its House of Assembly brought upon it.) From which I argue that the electing the King’s Attorney for a Burgess of this city, is a fair invitation for them to come here; and in that case, will those who have invited them turn out to repulse them? I suppose not, for in their 923 votes there will not be found more than sixty armed men, perhaps not so many. Wherefore, should such an event happen, which probably will, I here give my first vote to levy the expence attending the expedition against them, on the estates of those who have invited them.
Between the GHOST of General MONTGOMERY just arrived fom the Elysian Fields; and an American DELEGATE, in a wood near PHILADELPHIA.
Delegate. Welcome to this retreat, my good friend. If I mistake not, I now see the ghost of the brave General Montgomery.
General Montgomery. I am glad to see you. I still love liberty and America, and the contemplation of the future greatness of this Continent now forms a large share of my present happiness. I am here upon an important errand, to warn you against listening to terms of accommodation from the court of Britain.
Del. I shall be happy in receiving instruction from you in the present trying exigency of our public affairs. But suppose the terms you speak of should be just and honorable?
Gen. Mont. How can you expect these, after the King has proclaimed you rebels from the throne, and after both houses of parliament have resolved to support him in carrying on a war against you? No, I see no offers from Great Britain but of PARDON. The very word is an insult upon our cause. To whom is pardon offered?—to virtuous freemen. For what?—for flying to arms in defence of the rights of humanity: And from whom do these offers come?—From a ROYAL CRIMINAL. You have furnished me with a new reason for triumphing in my death, for I had rather have it said that I died by his vengeance, than lived by his mercy.
Del. But you think nothing of the destructive consequences of war. How many cities must be reduced to ashes! how many families must be ruined! and how many widows and orphans must be made, should the present war be continued any longer with Great Britain.
Gen. Mont. I think of nothing but the destructive consequences of slavery. The calamities of war are transitory and confined in their effects. But the calamities of slavery are extensive and lasting in their operation. I love mankind as well as you, and I could never restrain a tear when my love of justice has obliged me to shed the blood of a fellow creature. It is my humanity that makes me urge you against a reconciliation with Great Britain, for if this takes place, nothing can prevent the American Colonies from being the seat of war as often as the King of Great Britain renews his quarrels with any of the Colonies, or with any of the belligerent powers of Europe.
Del. I tremble at the doctrine you have advanced. I see you are for the independence of the Colonies on Great Britain.
Gen. Mont. I am for permanent liberty, peace, and security to the American Colonies.
Del. These can only be maintained by placing the Colonies in the situation they were in the year 1763.
Gen. Mont. And is no satisfaction to be made to the Colonies for the blood and treasure they have expended in resisting the arms of Great Britain? Who can soften the prejudices of the King—the parliament—and the nation, each of whom will be averse to maintain a peace with you in proportion to the advantages you have gained over them? Who shall make restitution to the widows—the mothers—and the children of the men who have been slain by their arms? Can no hand wield the sceptre of government in America except that which has been stained with the blood of your countrymen? For my part if I thought this Continent would ever acknowledge the sovereignty of the Crown of Britain again, I should forever lament the day in which I offered up my life for its salvation.
Del. You should distinguish between the King and his ministers.
Gen. Mont. I live in a world where all political superstition is done away. The King is the author of all the measures carried on against America. The influence of bad ministers is no better apology for these measures, than the influences of bad company is for a murderer, who expiates his crimes under a gallows. You all complain of the corruption of the parliament, and of the venality of the nation, and yet you forget that the Crown is the source of them both. You shun the streams, and yet you are willing to sit down at the very fountain of corruption and venality.
Del. Our distance and charters will protect us from the influence of the crown.
Gen. Mont. Your distance will only render your danger more imminent, and your ruin more irretrievable. Charters are no restraints against the lust of power. The only reason why you have escaped so long is, because the treasure of the nation has been employed for these fifty years in buying up the virtue of Britain and Ireland. Hereafter the reduction of the representatives of the people of America will be the only aim of administration should you continue to be connected with them.
Del. But I foresee many evils from the independence of the Colonies. Our trade will be ruined from the want of a navy to protect it. Each Colony will put in its claim for superiority, and we shall have domestic wars without end.
Gen. Mont. As I now know that Divine Providence intends this country to be the asylum of persecuted virtue from every quarter of the globe, so I think your trade will be the vehicle that will convey it to you. Heaven has furnished you with greater resources for a navy than any nation in the world. Nothing but an ignorance of your strength could have led you to sacrifice your trade for the protection of a foreign navy. A freedom from the restraints of the acts of navigation I foresee will produce such immense additions to the wealth of this country that posterity will wonder that ever you thought your present trade worth its protection. As to the supposed contentions between sister colonies, they have no foundation in truth. But supposing they have, will delaying the independance of the Colonies 50 years prevent them? No—the weakness of the Colonies, which at first produced their union, will always preserve it, ‘till it shall be their interest to be separated. Had the Colony of Massachuset’s-bay been possessed of the military resources which it would probably have had 50 years hence, would she have held out the signal of distress to her sister colonies, upon the news of the Boston port-bill! No—she would have withstood all the power of Britain alone, and afterwards the neutral colonies might have shared the fate of the colony of Canada. Moreover, had the connection with Great-Britain been continued 50 years longer, the progress of British laws, customs and manners (now totally corrupted) would have been such that the Colonies would have been prepared to welcome slavery. But had it been otherwise, they must have asserted their independance with arms. This is nearly done already. It will be cruel to bequeath another contest to your posterity.
Del. But I dread all innovations in governments. They are very dangerous things.
Gen. Mont. The revolution, which gave a temporary stability to the liberties of Britain, was an innovation in government, and yet no ill consequences have arisen from it. Innovations are dangerous only as they shake the prejudices of a people; but there are now, I believe, but few prejudices to be found in this country, in favor of the old connection with Great-Britain. I except those men only who are under the influence of their passions and offices.
Del. But is it not most natural for us to wish for a connection with a people who speak the same language with us, and possess the same laws, religion, and forms of government with ourselves.
Gen. Mont. The immortal Montesquieu says, that nations should form alliances with those nations only which are as unlike to themselves as possible in religion, laws and manners, if they mean to preserve their own constitutions. Your dependance upon the crown is no advantage, but rather an injury to the people of Britain, as it increases the power and influence of the King. The people are benefited only by your trade, and this they may have after you are independant of the crown. Should you be disposed to forgive the King and the nation for attempting to enslave you, they will never forgive you for having baffled them in the attempt.
Del. But we have many friends in both Houses of Parliament.
Gen. Mont. You mean the ministry have many enemies in Parliament who connect the cause of America with their clamours at the door of administration. Lord Chatham’s conciliatory bill would have ruined you more effectually than Lord North’s motion. The Marquis of Rockingham was the author of the declaratory bill.1 Mr. Wilkes has added infamy to the weakness of your cause, and the Duke of Grafton and Lord Lyttleton have rendered the minority junto, if possible, more contemptible than ever.
Del. But if we become independant we shall become a commonwealth.
Gen. Mont. I maintain that it is your interest to be independant of Great Britain, but I do not recommend any new form of government to you. I should think it strange that a people who have virtue enough to defend themselves against the most powerful nation in the world should want wisdom to contrive a perfect and free form of government. You have been kept in subjection to the crown of Britain by a miracle. Your liberties have hitherto been suspended by a thread. Your connection with Great-Britain is unnatural and unnecessary. All the wheels of a government should move within itself. I would only beg leave to observe to you, that monarchy and aristocracy have in all ages been the vehicles of slavery.
Del. Our governments will want force and authority if we become independant of Great-Britain.
Gen. Mont. I beg leave to contradict that assertion. No royal edicts or acts of assembly have ever been more faithfully or universally obeyed than the resolves of the Congress. I admire the virtue of the colonies, and did not some of them still hang upon the haggard breasts of Great-Britain, I should think the time now come in which they had virtue enough to be happy under any form of government. Remember that it is in a commonwealth only that you can expect to find every man a patriot or a hero. Aristides, Epaminondas, Pericles, Scipio, Camillus, and a thousand other illustrious Grecian and Roman heroes, would never have astonished the world with their names, had they lived under royal governments.
Del. Will not a declaration of independance lessen the number of our friends, and increase the rage of our enemies in Britain?
Gen. Mont. Your friends (as you call them) are too few—too divided—and too interested to help you. And as for your enemies, they have done their worst. They have called upon Russians—Hanoverians—Hessians—Canadians—Savages and Negroes to assist them in burning your towns—desolating your country—and in butchering your wives and children. You have nothing further to fear from them. Go, then, and awaken the Congress to a sense of their importance; you have no time to lose. France waits for nothing but a declaration of your independance to revenge the injuries they sustained from Britain in the last war. But I forbear to reason any further with you. The decree is finally gone forth. Britain and America are now distinct empires. Your country teems with patriots—heroes—and legislators, who are impatient to burst forth into light and importance. Hereafter your achievements shall no more swell the page of British history. God did not excite the attention of all Europe—of the whole world—nay of angels themselves to the present controversy for nothing. The inhabitants of Heaven long to see the ark finished, in which all the liberty and true religion of the world are to be deposited. The day in which the Colonies declare their independance will be a jubilee to Hampden—Sidney—Russell—Warren—Gardiner—Macpherson—Cheeseman, and all the other heroes who have offered themselves as sacrifices upon the altar of liberty. It was no small mortification to me when I fell upon the Plains of Abraham, to reflect that I did not expire like the brave General Wolfe, in the arms of victory. But I now no longer envy him his glory. I would rather die in attempting to obtain permanent freedom for a handful of people, than survive a conquest which would serve only to extend the empire of despotism. A band of heroes now beckon to me. I can only add that America is the theatre where human nature will soon receive its greatest military, civil, and literary honours.
THE AMERICAN CRISIS.
[∗]The Quakers in 1704 who then made up the whole house of assembly [in Pennsylvania] zealously guarded their own and the people’s rights against the encroaching power of the Proprietor, who nevertheless submitted them by finding means to abolish the original charter and introduce another, of which they complained in the following words. “And then by a subtle contrivance and artifice, ‘of thine,’ laid deeper than the capacities of some could fathom, or the circumstances of many could admit time to consider of, a way was found out to lay the first charter aside and introduce another.”—Query. Would these men have elected the proprietary persons which you have done?—Author.
Opponents of American Independence.—Editor.
Opponents of American Independence.—Editor.
[∗]This distinction will be more fully explained in some future letter.—Author.
[∗]Mr. Samuel Howell, though in their ticket, was never considered by us a proprietary dependant.—Author.
Printed in pamphlet form about the time of the appointment by Congress of a Committee to draft a Declaration of Independence.—Editor.
The Act of February, 1766, declaratory of the right of Parliament “to bind America in all cases whatsoever.” In a letter of George III. to Lord North (February 5, 1778) he remarks that Lord George Germaine “said this day unto me that the Declaratory Act, though but waste paper, was what galled them (the Americans) most.” (Donne, ii. p. 131.) It was indeed the costliest bit of waste paper known to history.—Editor.