Rights of Man
Prefaces to the Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine
The Author's presentation of the treatise to George Washington
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I present you a small treatise in defence of those principles of freedom
which your exemplary virtue hath so eminently contributed to establish. That
the Rights of Man may become as universal as your benevolence can wish, and
that you may enjoy the happiness of seeing the New World regenerate the Old, is
the prayer of
Your much obliged, and
Obedient humble Servant,
The Author's preface to the English version
From the part Mr. Burke
took in the American Revolution, it was natural that I should consider him a
friend to mankind; and as our acquaintance commenced on that ground, it would
have been more agreeable to me to have had cause to continue in that opinion
than to change it.
At the time Mr. Burke made his violent speech last winter in the English
Parliament against the French Revolution and the National Assembly, I was in
Paris, and had written to him but a short time before to inform him how
prosperously matters were going on. Soon after this I saw his advertisement of
the Pamphlet he intended to publish: As the attack was to be made in a language
but little studied, and less understood in France, and as everything suffers by
translation, I promised some of the friends of the Revolution in that country
that whenever Mr. Burke's Pamphlet came forth, I would answer it. This appeared
to me the more necessary to be done, when I saw the flagrant misrepresentations
which Mr. Burke's Pamphlet contains; and that while it is an outrageous abuse
on the French Revolution, and the principles of Liberty, it is an imposition on
the rest of the world.
I am the more astonished and disappointed at this conduct in Mr. Burke, as
(from the circumstances I am going to mention) I had formed other expectations.
I had seen enough of the miseries of war, to wish it might never more have
existence in the world, and that some other mode might be found out to settle
the differences that should occasionally arise in the neighbourhood of nations.
This certainly might be done if Courts were disposed to set honesty about it,
or if countries were enlightened enough not to be made the dupes of Courts. The
people of America had been bred up in the same prejudices against France, which
at that time characterised the people of England; but experience and an
acquaintance with the French Nation have most effectually shown to the
Americans the falsehood of those prejudices; and I do not believe that a more
cordial and confidential intercourse exists between any two countries than
between America and France.
When I came to France, in the spring of 1787, the Archbishop of Thoulouse
was then Minister, and at that time highly esteemed. I became much acquainted
with the private Secretary of that Minister, a man of an enlarged benevolent
heart; and found that his sentiments and my own perfectly agreed with respect
to the madness of war, and the wretched impolicy of two nations, like England
and France, continually worrying each other, to no other end than that of a
mutual increase of burdens and taxes. That I might be assured I had not
misunderstood him, nor he me, I put the substance of our opinions into writing
and sent it to him; subjoining a request, that if I should see among the people
of England, any disposition to cultivate a better understanding between the two
nations than had hitherto prevailed, how far I might be authorised to say that
the same disposition prevailed on the part of France? He answered me by letter
in the most unreserved manner, and that not for himself only, but for the
Minister, with whose knowledge the letter was declared to be written.
I put this letter into the, hands of Mr. Burke almost three years ago, and
left it with him, where it still remains; hoping, and at the same time
naturally expecting, from the opinion I had conceived of him, that he would
find some opportunity of making good use of it, for the purpose of removing
those errors and prejudices which two neighbouring nations, from the want of
knowing each other, had entertained, to the injury of both.
When the French Revolution broke out, it certainly afforded to Mr. Burke an
opportunity of doing some good, had he been disposed to it; instead of which,
no sooner did he see the old prejudices wearing away, than he immediately began
sowing the seeds of a new inveteracy, as if he were afraid that England and
France would cease to be enemies. That there are men in all countries who get
their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations, is as shocking
as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country,
make it their study to sow discord and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it
becomes the more unpardonable.
With respect to a paragraph in this work alluding to Mr. Burke's having a
pension, the report has been some time in circulation, at least two months; and
as a person is often the last to hear what concerns him the most to know, I
have mentioned it, that Mr. Burke may have an opportunity of contradicting the
rumour, if he thinks proper.
The Author's preface to the French version (translated)
The astonishment which the French Revolution has caused
throughout Europe should be considered from two different points of view: first
as it affects foreign peoples, secondly as it affects their governments.
The cause of the French people is that of all Europe, or rather of the
whole world; but the governments of all those countries are by no means
favorable to it. It is important that we should never lose sight of this
distinction. We must not confuse the peoples with their governments; especially
not the English people with its government.
The government of England is no friend of the revolution of France. Of this
we have sufficient proofs in the thanks given by that weak and witless person,
the Elector of Hanover, sometimes called the King of England, to Mr. Burke for
the insults heaped on it in his book, and in the malevolent comments of the
English Minister, Pitt, in his speeches in Parliament.
In spite of the professions of sincerest friendship found in the official
correspondence of the English government with that of France, its conduct gives
the lie to all its declarations, and shows us clearly that it is not a court to
be trusted, but an insane court, plunging in all the quarrels and intrigues of
Europe, in quest of a war to satisfy its folly and countenance its
The English nation, on the contrary, is very favorably disposed towards the
French Revolution, and to the progress of liberty in the whole world; and this
feeling will become more general in England as the intrigues and artifices of
its government are better known, and the principles of the revolution better
understood. The French should know that most English newspapers are directly in
the pay of government, or, if indirectly connected with it, always under its
orders; and that those papers constantly distort and attack the revolution in
France in order to deceive the nation. But, as it is impossible long to prevent
the prevalence of truth, the daily falsehoods of those papers no longer have
the desired effect.
To be convinced that the voice of truth has been stifled in England, the
world needs only to be told that the government regards and prosecutes as a
libel that which it should protect. This outrage on morality is called
law, and judges are found wicked enough to inflict penalties on truth.
The English government presents, just now, a curious phenomenon. Seeing
that the French and English nations are getting rid of the prejudices and false
notions formerly entertained against each other, and which have cost them so
much money, that government seems to be placarding its need of a foe; for
unless it finds one somewhere, no pretext exists for the enormous revenue and
taxation now deemed necessary.
Therefore it seeks in Russia the enemy it has lost in France, and appears
to say to the universe, or to say to itself. "If nobody will be so kind as
to become my foe, I shall need no more fleets nor armies, and shall be forced
to reduce my taxes. The American war enabled me to double the taxes; the Dutch
business to add more; the Nootka humbug gave me a pretext for raising three
millions sterling more; but unless I can make an enemy of Russia the harvest
from wars will end. I was the first to incite Turk against Russian, and now I
hope to reap a fresh crop of taxes."
If the miseries of war, and the flood of evils it spreads over a country,
did not check all inclination to mirth, and turn laughter into grief, the
frantic conduct of the government of England would only excite ridicule. But it
is impossible to banish from one's mind the images of suffering which the
contemplation of such vicious policy presents. To reason with governments, as
they have existed for ages, is to argue with brutes. It is only from the
nations themselves that reforms can be expected. There ought not now to exist
any doubt that the peoples of France, England, and America, enlightened and
enlightening each other, shall henceforth be able, not merely to give the world
an example of good government, but by their united influence enforce its
Part The First
Being An Answer To Mr. Burke's Attack On The French Revolution
Among the incivilities by which nations or individuals provoke and irritate
each other, Mr. Burke's
pamphlet on the French Revolution is an
extraordinary instance. Neither the People of France, nor the National
Assembly, were troubling themselves about the affairs of England, or the
English Parliament; and that Mr. Burke should commence an unprovoked attack
upon them, both in Parliament and in public, is a conduct that cannot be
pardoned on the score of manners, nor justified on that of policy.
There is scarcely an epithet of abuse to be found in the English language,
with which Mr. Burke has not loaded the French Nation and the National
Assembly. Everything which rancour, prejudice, ignorance or knowledge could
suggest, is poured forth in the copious fury of near four hundred pages. In the
strain and on the plan Mr. Burke was writing, he might have written on to as
many thousands. When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a frenzy of passion,
it is the man, and not the subject, that becomes exhausted.
Hitherto Mr. Burke has been mistaken and disappointed in the opinions he
had formed of the affairs of France; but such is the ingenuity of his hope, or
the malignancy of his despair, that it furnishes him with new pretences to go
on. There was a time when it was impossible to make Mr. Burke believe there
would be any Revolution in France. His opinion then was, that the French had
neither spirit to undertake it nor fortitude to support it; and now that there
is one, he seeks an escape by condemning it.
Not sufficiently content with abusing the National Assembly, a great part
of his work is taken up with abusing Dr. Price (one of the best-hearted men
that lives) and the two societies in England known by the name of the
Revolution Society and the Society for Constitutional Information.
Dr. Price had preached a sermon on the 4th of November, 1789, being the
anniversary of what is called in England the Revolution, which took place 1688.
Mr. Burke, speaking of this sermon, says: "The political Divine proceeds
dogmatically to assert, that by the principles of the Revolution, the people of
England have acquired three fundamental rights:
- To choose our own governors.
- To cashier them for misconduct.
- To frame a government for ourselves."
Dr. Price does not say that the right to do these things exists in this or
in that person, or in this or in that description of persons, but that it
exists in the whole; that it is a right resident in the nation. Mr. Burke, on
the contrary, denies that such a right exists in the nation, either in whole or
in part, or that it exists anywhere; and, what is still more strange and
marvellous, he says: "that the people of England utterly disclaim such a
right, and that they will resist the practical assertion of it with their lives
and fortunes." That men should take up arms and spend their lives and
fortunes, not to maintain their rights, but to maintain they have not rights,
is an entirely new species of discovery, and suited to the paradoxical genius
of Mr. Burke.
The method which Mr. Burke takes to prove that the people of England have
no such rights, and that such rights do not now exist in the nation, either in
whole or in part, or anywhere at all, is of the same marvellous and monstrous
kind with what he has already said; for his arguments are that the persons, or
the generation of persons, in whom they did exist, are dead, and with them the
right is dead also. To prove this, he quotes a declaration made by Parliament
about a hundred years ago, to William and Mary, in these words: "The Lords
Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do, in the name of the people
aforesaid" (meaning the people of England then living) "most humbly
and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities, for EVER."
He quotes a clause of another Act of Parliament made in the same reign, the
terms of which he says, "bind us" (meaning the people of their day),
"our heirs and our posterity, to them, their heirs and posterity, to the
end of time."
Mr. Burke conceives his point sufficiently established by producing those
clauses, which he enforces by saying that they exclude the right of the nation
for ever. And not yet content with making such declarations, repeated over and
over again, he farther says, "that if the people of England possessed such
a right before the Revolution" (which he acknowledges to have been the
case, not only in England, but throughout Europe, at an early period),
"yet that the English Nation did, at the time of the Revolution, most
solemnly renounce and abdicate it, for themselves, and for all their posterity,
As Mr. Burke occasionally applies the poison drawn from his horrid
principles, not only to the English nation, but to the French Revolution and
the National Assembly, and charges that august, illuminated and illuminating
body of men with the epithet of usurpers, I shall, sans ceremonie, place
another system of principles in opposition to his.
The English Parliament of 1688 did a certain thing, which, for themselves
and their constituents, they had a right to do, and which it appeared right
should be done. But, in addition to this right, which they possessed by
delegation, they set up another right by assumption, that of binding and
controlling posterity to the end of time. The case, therefore, divides itself
into two parts; the right which they possessed by delegation, and the right
which they set up by assumption. The first is admitted; but with respect to the
second, I reply —
There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament,
or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed
of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the "end
of time," or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or
who shall govern it; and therefore all such clauses, acts or declarations by
which the makers of them attempt to do what they have neither the right nor the
power to do, nor the power to execute, are in themselves null and void. Every
age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the age
and generations which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing
beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies. Man has
no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations
which are to follow. The Parliament or the people of 1688, or of any other
period, had no more right to dispose of the people of the present day, or to
bind or to control them in any shape whatever, than the parliament or the
people of the present day have to dispose of, bind or control those who are to
live a hundred or a thousand years hence. Every generation is, and must be,
competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living,
and not the dead, that are to be accommodated. When man ceases to be, his power
and his wants cease with him; and having no longer any participation in the
concerns of this world, he has no longer any authority in directing who shall
be its governors, or how its government shall be organised, or how
I am not contending for nor against any form of government, nor for nor
against any party, here or elsewhere. That which a whole nation chooses to do
it has a right to do. Mr. Burke says, No. Where, then, does the right exist? I
am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away
and controlled and contracted for by the manuscript assumed authority of the
dead, and Mr. Burke is contending for the authority of the dead over the rights
and freedom of the living. There was a time when kings disposed of their crowns
by will upon their death-beds, and consigned the people, like beasts of the
field, to whatever successor they appointed. This is now so exploded as
scarcely to be remembered, and so monstrous as hardly to be believed. But the
Parliamentary clauses upon which Mr. Burke builds his political church are of
the same nature.
The laws of every country must be analogous to some common principle. In
England no parent or master, nor all the authority of Parliament, omnipotent as
it has called itself, can bind or control the personal freedom even of an
individual beyond the age of twenty-one years. On what ground of right, then,
could the Parliament of 1688, or any other Parliament, bind all posterity for
Those who have quitted the world, and those who have not yet arrived at it,
are as remote from each other as the utmost stretch of mortal imagination can
conceive. What possible obligation, then, can exist between them — what
rule or principle can be laid down that of two nonentities, the one out of
existence and the other not in, and who never can meet in this world, the one
should control the other to the end of time?
In England it is said that money cannot be taken out of the pockets of the
people without their consent. But who authorised, or who could authorise, the
Parliament of 1688 to control and take away the freedom of posterity (who were
not in existence to give or to withhold their consent) and limit and confine
their right of acting in certain cases for ever?
A greater absurdity cannot present itself to the understanding of man than
what Mr. Burke offers to his readers. He tells them, and he tells the world to
come, that a certain body of men who existed a hundred years ago made a law,
and that there does not exist in the nation, nor ever will, nor ever can, a
power to alter it. Under how many subtilties or absurdities has the divine
right to govern been imposed on the credulity of mankind? Mr. Burke has
discovered a new one, and he has shortened his journey to Rome by appealing to
the power of this infallible Parliament of former days, and he produces what it
has done as of divine authority, for that power must certainly be more than
human which no human power to the end of time can alter.
But Mr. Burke has done some service — not to his cause, but to his
country — by bringing those clauses into public view. They serve to
demonstrate how necessary it is at all times to watch against the attempted
encroachment of power, and to prevent its running to excess. It is somewhat
extraordinary that the offence for which James II. was expelled, that of
setting up power by assumption, should be re-acted, under another shape and
form, by the Parliament that expelled him. It shows that the Rights of Man were
but imperfectly understood at the Revolution, for certain it is that the right
which that Parliament set up by assumption (for by the delegation it had not,
and could not have it, because none could give it) over the persons and freedom
of posterity for ever was of the same tyrannical unfounded kind which James
attempted to set up over the Parliament and the nation, and for which he was
expelled. The only difference is (for in principle they differ not) that the
one was an usurper over living, and the other over the unborn; and as the one
has no better authority to stand upon than the other, both of them must be
equally null and void, and of no effect.
From what, or from whence, does Mr. Burke prove the right of any human
power to bind posterity for ever? He has produced his clauses, but he must
produce also his proofs that such a right existed, and show how it existed. If
it ever existed it must now exist, for whatever appertains to the nature of man
cannot be annihilated by man. It is the nature of man to die, and he will
continue to die as long as he continues to be born. But Mr. Burke has set up a
sort of political Adam, in whom all posterity are bound for ever. He must,
therefore, prove that his Adam possessed such a power, or such a right.
The weaker any cord is, the less will it bear to be stretched, and the
worse is the policy to stretch it, unless it is intended to break it. Had
anyone proposed the overthrow of Mr. Burke's positions, he would have proceeded
as Mr. Burke has done. He would have magnified the authorities, on purpose to
have called the right of them into question; and the instant the question of
right was started, the authorities must have been given up.
It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive that although
laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding
generations, yet they continue to derive their force from the consent of the
living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot be
repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for
But Mr. Burke's clauses have not even this qualification in their favour.
They become null, by attempting to become immortal. The nature of them
precludes consent. They destroy the right which they might have, by grounding
it on a right which they cannot have. Immortal power is not a human right, and
therefore cannot be a right of Parliament. The Parliament of 1688 might as well
have passed an act to have authorised themselves to live for ever, as to make
their authority live for ever. All, therefore, that can be said of those
clauses is that they are a formality of words, of as much import as if those
who used them had addressed a congratulation to themselves, and in the oriental
style of antiquity had said: O Parliament, live for ever!
The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions
of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead,
it is the living only that has any right in it. That which may be thought right
and found convenient in one age may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in
another. In such cases, who is to decide, the living or the dead?
As almost one hundred pages of Mr. Burke's book are employed upon these
clauses, it will consequently follow that if the clauses themselves, so far as
they set up an assumed usurped dominion over posterity for ever, are
unauthoritative, and in their nature null and void; that all his voluminous
inferences, and declamation drawn therefrom, or founded thereon, are null and
void also; and on this ground I rest the matter.
We now come more particularly to the affairs of France. Mr. Burke's book
has the appearance of being written as instruction to the French nation; but if
I may permit myself the use of an extravagant metaphor, suited to the
extravagance of the case, it is darkness attempting to illuminate light.
While I am writing this there are accidentally before me some proposals for
a declaration of rights by the Marquis de la Fayette (I ask his pardon for
using his former address, and do it only for distinction's sake) to the
National Assembly, on the 11th of July, 1789, three days before the taking of
the Bastille, and I cannot but remark with astonishment how opposite the
sources are from which that gentleman and Mr. Burke draw their principles.
Instead of referring to musty records and mouldy parchments to prove that the
rights of the living are lost, "renounced and abdicated for ever," by
those who are now no more, as Mr. Burke has done, M. de la Fayette applies to
the living world, and emphatically says: "Call to mind the sentiments
which nature has engraved on the heart of every citizen, and which take a new
force when they are solemnly recognised by all: — For a nation to love
liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient
that she wills it." How dry, barren, and obscure is the source from which
Mr. Burke labors! and how ineffectual, though gay with flowers, are all his
declamation and his arguments compared with these clear, concise, and
soul-animating sentiments! Few and short as they are, they lead on to a vast
field of generous and manly thinking, and do not finish, like Mr. Burke's
periods, with music in the ear, and nothing in the heart.
As I have introduced M. de la Fayette, I will take the liberty of adding an
anecdote respecting his farewell address to the Congress of America in 1783,
and which occurred fresh to my mind, when I saw Mr. Burke's thundering attack
on the French Revolution. M. de la Fayette went to America at the early period
of the war, and continued a volunteer in her service to the end. His conduct
through the whole of that enterprise is one of the most extraordinary that is
to be found in the history of a young man, scarcely twenty years of age.
Situated in a country that was like the lap of sensual pleasure, and with the
means of enjoying it, how few are there to be found who would exchange such a
scene for the woods and wildernesses of America, and pass the flowery years of
youth in unprofitable danger and hardship! but such is the fact. When the war
ended, and he was on the point of taking his final departure, he presented
himself to Congress, and contemplating in his affectionate farewell the
Revolution he had seen, expressed himself in these words: "May this great
monument raised to liberty serve as a lesson to the oppressor, and an example
to the oppressed!" When this address came to the hands of Dr. Franklin,
who was then in France, he applied to Count Vergennes to have it inserted in
the French Gazette, but never could obtain his consent. The fact was that Count
Vergennes was an aristocratical despot at home, and dreaded the example of the
American Revolution in France, as certain other persons now dread the example
of the French Revolution in England, and Mr. Burke's tribute of fear (for in
this light his book must be considered) runs parallel with Count Vergennes'
refusal. But to return more particularly to his work.
"We have seen," says Mr. Burke, "the French rebel against a
mild and lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than any people
has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most sanguinary
tyrant." This is one among a thousand other instances, in which Mr. Burke
shows that he is ignorant of the springs and principles of the French
It was not against Louis XVI. but against the despotic principles of the
Government, that the nation revolted. These principles had not their origin in
him, but in the original establishment, many centuries back: and they were
become too deeply rooted to be removed, and the Augean stables of parasites and
plunderers too abominably filthy to be cleansed by anything short of a complete
and universal Revolution. When it becomes necessary to do anything, the whole
heart and soul should go into the measure, or not attempt it. That crisis was
then arrived, and there remained no choice but to act with determined vigor, or
not to act at all. The king was known to be the friend of the nation, and this
circumstance was favorable to the enterprise. Perhaps no man bred up in the
style of an absolute king, ever possessed a heart so little disposed to the
exercise of that species of power as the present King of France. But the
principles of the Government itself still remained the same. The Monarch and
the Monarchy were distinct and separate things; and it was against the
established despotism of the latter, and not against the person or principles
of the former, that the revolt commenced, and the Revolution has been carried.
Mr. Burke does not attend to the distinction between men and principles,
and, therefore, he does not see that a revolt may take place against the
despotism of the latter, while there lies no charge of despotism against the
The natural moderation of Louis XVI. contributed nothing to alter the
hereditary despotism of the monarchy. All the tyrannies of former reigns, acted
under that hereditary despotism, were still liable to be revived in the hands
of a successor. It was not the respite of a reign that would satisfy France,
enlightened as she was then become. A casual discontinuance of the practice of
despotism, is not a discontinuance of its principles: the former depends on the
virtue of the individual who is in immediate possession of the power; the
latter, on the virtue and fortitude of the nation. In the case of Charles I.
and James II. of England, the revolt was against the personal despotism of the
men; whereas in France, it was against the hereditary despotism of the
established Government. But men who can consign over the rights of posterity
for ever on the authority of a mouldy parchment, like Mr. Burke, are not
qualified to judge of this Revolution. It takes in a field too vast for their
views to explore, and proceeds with a mightiness of reason they cannot keep
But there are many points of view in which this Revolution may be
considered. When despotism has established itself for ages in a country, as in
France, it is not in the person of the king only that it resides. It has the
appearance of being so in show, and in nominal authority; but it is not so in
practice and in fact. It has its standard everywhere. Every office and
department has its despotism, founded upon custom and usage. Every place has
its Bastille, and every Bastille its despot. The original hereditary despotism
resident in the person of the king, divides and sub-divides itself into a
thousand shapes and forms, till at last the whole of it is acted by deputation.
This was the case in France; and against this species of despotism, proceeding
on through an endless labyrinth of office till the source of it is scarcely
perceptible, there is no mode of redress. It strengthens itself by assuming the
appearance of duty, and tyrannies under the pretence of obeying.
When a man reflects on the condition which France was in from the nature of
her government, he will see other causes for revolt than those which
immediately connect themselves with the person or character of Louis XVI. There
were, if I may so express it, a thousand despotisms to be reformed in France,
which had grown up under the hereditary despotism of the monarchy, and became
so rooted as to be in a great measure independent of it. Between the Monarchy,
the Parliament, and the Church there was a rivalship of despotism; besides the
feudal despotism operating locally, and the ministerial despotism operating
everywhere. But Mr. Burke, by considering the king as the only possible object
of a revolt, speaks as if France was a village, in which everything that passed
must be known to its commanding officer, and no oppression could be acted but
what he could immediately control. Mr. Burke might have been in the Bastille
his whole life, as well under Louis XVI. as Louis XIV., and neither the one nor
the other have known that such a man as Burke existed. The despotic principles
of the government were the same in both reigns, though the dispositions of the
men were as remote as tyranny and benevolence.
What Mr. Burke considers as a reproach to the French Revolution (that of
bringing it forward under a reign more mild than the preceding ones) is one of
its highest honors. The Revolutions that have taken place in other European
countries, have been excited by personal hatred. The rage was against the man,
and he became the victim. But, in the instance of France we see a Revolution
generated in the rational contemplation of the Rights of Man, and
distinguishing from the beginning between persons and principles.
But Mr. Burke appears to have no idea of principles when he is
contemplating Governments. "Ten years ago," says he, "I could
have felicitated France on her having a Government, without inquiring what the
nature of that Government was, or how it was administered." Is this the
language of a rational man? Is it the language of a heart feeling as it ought
to feel for the rights and happiness of the human race? On this ground, Mr.
Burke must compliment all the Governments in the world, while the victims who
suffer under them, whether sold into slavery, or tortured out of existence, are
wholly forgotten. It is power, and not principles, that Mr. Burke venerates;
and under this abominable depravity he is disqualified to judge between them.
Thus much for his opinion as to the occasions of the French Revolution. I now
proceed to other considerations.
I know a place in America called Point-no-Point, because as you proceed
along the shore, gay and flowery as Mr. Burke's language, it continually
recedes and presents itself at a distance before you; but when you have got as
far as you can go, there is no point at all. Just thus it is with Mr. Burke's
three hundred and sixty-six pages. It is therefore difficult to reply to him.
But as the points he wishes to establish may be inferred from what he abuses,
it is in his paradoxes that we must look for his arguments.
As to the tragic paintings by which Mr. Burke has outraged his own
imagination, and seeks to work upon that of his readers, they are very well
calculated for theatrical representation, where facts are manufactured for the
sake of show, and accommodated to produce, through the weakness of sympathy, a
weeping effect. But Mr. Burke should recollect that he is writing history, and
not plays, and that his readers will expect truth, and not the spouting rant of
When we see a man dramatically lamenting in a publication intended to be
believed that "The age of chivalry is gone! that The glory of Europe is
extinguished for ever! that The unbought grace of life (if anyone knows what it
is), the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic
enterprise is gone!" and all this because the Quixot age of chivalry
nonsense is gone, what opinion can we form of his judgment, or what regard can
we pay to his facts? In the rhapsody of his imagination he has discovered a
world of wind mills, and his sorrows are that there are no Quixots to attack
them. But if the age of aristocracy, like that of chivalry, should fall (and
they had originally some connection) Mr. Burke, the trumpeter of the Order, may
continue his parody to the end, and finish with exclaiming: "Othello's
Notwithstanding Mr. Burke's horrid paintings, when the French Revolution is
compared with the Revolutions of other countries, the astonishment will be that
it is marked with so few sacrifices; but this astonishment will cease when we
reflect that principles, and not persons, were the meditated objects of
destruction. The mind of the nation was acted upon by a higher stimulus than
what the consideration of persons could inspire, and sought a higher conquest
than could be produced by the downfall of an enemy. Among the few who fell
there do not appear to be any that were intentionally singled out. They all of
them had their fate in the circumstances of the moment, and were not pursued
with that long, cold-blooded unabated revenge which pursued the unfortunate
Scotch in the affair of 1745.
Through the whole of Mr. Burke's book I do not observe that the Bastille is
mentioned more than once, and that with a kind of implication as if he were
sorry it was pulled down, and wished it were built up again. "We have
rebuilt Newgate," says he, "and tenanted the mansion; and we have
prisons almost as strong as the Bastille for those who dare to libel the queens
of France." As to what
a madman like the person called Lord George Gordon might say, and to whom
Newgate is rather a bedlam than a prison, it is unworthy a rational
consideration. It was a madman that libelled, and that is sufficient apology;
and it afforded an opportunity for confining him, which was the thing that was
wished for. But certain it is that Mr. Burke, who does not call himself a
madman (whatever other people may do), has libelled in the most unprovoked
manner, and in the grossest style of the most vulgar abuse, the whole
representative authority of France, and yet Mr. Burke takes his seat in the
British House of Commons! From his violence and his grief, his silence on some
points and his excess on others, it is difficult not to believe that Mr. Burke
is sorry, extremely sorry, that arbitrary power, the power of the Pope and the
Bastille, are pulled down.
Not one glance of compassion, not one commiserating reflection that I can
find throughout his book, has he bestowed on those who lingered out the most
wretched of lives, a life without hope in the most miserable of prisons. It is
painful to behold a man employing his talents to corrupt himself. Nature has
been kinder to Mr. Burke than he is to her. He is not affected by the reality
of distress touching his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it striking his
imagination. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird. Accustomed to
kiss the aristocratical hand that hath purloined him from himself, he
degenerates into a composition of art, and the genuine soul of nature forsakes
him. His hero or his heroine must be a tragedy-victim expiring in show, and not
the real prisoner of misery, sliding into death in the silence of a dungeon.
As Mr. Burke has passed over the whole transaction of the Bastille (and his
silence is nothing in his favour), and has entertained his readers with
refections on supposed facts distorted into real falsehoods, I will give, since
he has not, some account of the circumstances which preceded that transaction.
They will serve to show that less mischief could scarcely have accompanied such
an event when considered with the treacherous and hostile aggravations of the
enemies of the Revolution.
The mind can hardly picture to itself a more tremendous scene than what the
city of Paris exhibited at the time of taking the Bastille, and for two days
before and after, nor perceive the possibility of its quieting so soon. At a
distance this transaction has appeared only as an act of heroism standing on
itself, and the close political connection it had with the Revolution is lost
in the brilliancy of the achievement. But we are to consider it as the strength
of the parties brought man to man, and contending for the issue. The Bastille
was to be either the prize or the prison of the assailants. The downfall of it
included the idea of the downfall of despotism, and this compounded image was
become as figuratively united as Bunyan's Doubting Castle and Giant Despair.
The National Assembly, before and at the time of taking the Bastille, was
sitting at Versailles, twelve miles distant from Paris. About a week before the
rising of the Partisans, and their taking the Bastille, it was discovered that
a plot was forming, at the head of which was the Count D'Artois, the king's
youngest brother, for demolishing the National Assembly, seizing its members,
and thereby crushing, by a coup de main, all hopes and prospects of forming a
free government. For the sake of humanity, as well as freedom, it is well this
plan did not succeed. Examples are. not wanting to show how dreadfully
vindictive and cruel are all old governments, when they are successful against
what they call a revolt.
This plan must have been some time in contemplation; because, in order to
carry it into execution, it was necessary to collect a large military force
round Paris, and cut off the communication between that city and the National
Assembly at Versailles. The troops destined for this service were chiefly the
foreign troops in the pay of France, and who, for this particular purpose, were
drawn from the distant provinces where they were then stationed. When they were
collected to the amount of between twenty-five and thirty thousand, it was
judged time to put the plan into execution. The ministry who were then in
office, and who were friendly to the Revolution, were instantly dismissed and a
new ministry formed of those who had concerted the project, among whom was
Count de Broglio, and to his share was given the command of those troops. The
character of this man as described to me in a letter which I communicated to
Mr. Burke before he began to write his book, and from an authority which Mr.
Burke well knows was good, was that of "a high-flying aristocrat, cool,
and capable of every mischief."
While these matters were agitating, the National Assembly stood in the most
perilous and critical situation that a body of men can be supposed to act in.
They were the devoted victims, and they knew it. They had the hearts and wishes
of their country on their side, but military authority they had none. The
guards of Broglio surrounded the hall where the Assembly sat, ready, at the
word of command, to seize their persons, as had been done the year before to
the Parliament of Paris. Had the National Assembly deserted their trust, or had
they exhibited signs of weakness or fear, their enemies had been encouraged and
their country depressed. When the situation they stood in, the cause they were
engaged in, and the crisis then ready to burst, which should determine their
personal and political fate and that of their country, and probably of Europe,
are taken into one view, none but a heart callous with prejudice or corrupted
by dependence can avoid interesting itself in their success.
The Archbishop of Vienne was at this time President of the National
Assembly — a person too old to undergo the scene that a few days or a few
hours might bring forth. A man of more activity and bolder fortitude was
necessary, and the National Assembly chose (under the form of a Vice-President,
for the Presidency still resided in the Archbishop) M. de la Fayette; and this
is the only instance of a Vice-President being chosen. It was at the moment
that this storm was pending (July 11th) that a declaration of rights was
brought forward by M. de la Fayette, and is the same which is alluded to
earlier. It was hastily drawn up, and makes only a part of the more extensive
declaration of rights agreed upon and adopted afterwards by the National
Assembly. The particular reason for bringing it forward at this moment (M. de
la Fayette has since informed me) was that, if the National Assembly should
fall in the threatened destruction that then surrounded it, some trace of its
principles might have the chance of surviving the wreck.
Everything now was drawing to a crisis. The event was freedom or slavery.
On one side, an army of nearly thirty thousand men; on the other, an unarmed
body of citizens — for the citizens of Paris, on whom the National
Assembly must then immediately depend, were as unarmed and as undisciplined as
the citizens of London are now. The French guards had given strong symptoms of
their being attached to the national cause; but their numbers were small, not a
tenth part of the force that Broglio commanded, and their officers were in the
interest of Broglio.
Matters being now ripe for execution, the new ministry made their
appearance in office. The reader will carry in his mind that the Bastille was
taken the 14th July; the point of time I am now speaking of is the 12th.
Immediately on the news of the change of ministry reaching Paris, in the
afternoon, all the playhouses and places of entertainment, shops and houses,
were shut up. The change of ministry was considered as the prelude of
hostilities, and the opinion was rightly founded.
The foreign troops began to advance towards the city. The Prince de
Lambesc, who commanded a body of German cavalry, approached by the Place of
Louis XV., which connects itself with some of the streets. In his march, he
insulted and struck an old man with a sword. The French are remarkable for
their respect to old age; and the insolence with which it appeared to be done,
uniting with the general fermentation they were in, produced a powerful effect,
and a cry of "To arms! to arms!" spread itself in a moment over the
Arms they had none, nor scarcely anyone who knew the use of them; but
desperate resolution, when every hope is at stake, supplies, for a while, the
want of arms. Near where the Prince de Lambesc was drawn up, were large piles
of stones collected for building the new bridge, and with these the people
attacked the cavalry. A party of French guards upon hearing the firing, rushed
from their quarters and joined the people; and night coming on, the cavalry
The streets of Paris, being narrow, are favourable for defence, and the
loftiness of the houses, consisting of many stories, from which great annoyance
might be given, secured them against nocturnal enterprises; and the night was
spent in providing themselves with every sort of weapon they could make or
procure: guns, swords, blacksmiths' hammers, carpenters' axes, iron crows,
pikes, halberts, pitchforks, spits, clubs, etc., etc. The incredible numbers in
which they assembled the next morning, and the still more incredible resolution
they exhibited, embarrassed and astonished their enemies. Little did the new
ministry expect such a salute. Accustomed to slavery themselves, they had no
idea that liberty was capable of such inspiration, or that a body of unarmed
citizens would dare to face the military force of thirty thousand men. Every
moment of this day was employed in collecting arms, concerting plans, and
arranging themselves into the best order which such an instantaneous movement
could afford. Broglio continued lying round the city, but made no further
advances this day, and the succeeding night passed with as much tranquility as
such a scene could possibly produce.
But defence only was not the object of the citizens. They had a cause at
stake, on which depended their freedom or their slavery. They every moment
expected an attack, or to hear of one made on the National Assembly; and in
such a situation, the most prompt measures are sometimes the best. The object
that now presented itself was the Bastille; and the eclat of carrying such a
fortress in the face of such an army, could not fail to strike terror into the
new ministry, who had scarcely yet had time to meet. By some intercepted
correspondence this morning, it was discovered that the Mayor of Paris, M.
Defflesselles, who appeared to be in the interest of the citizens, was
betraying them; and from this discovery, there remained no doubt that Broglio
would reinforce the Bastille the ensuing evening. It was therefore necessary to
attack it that day; but before this could be done, it was first necessary to
procure a better supply of arms than they were then possessed of.
There was, adjoining to the city a large magazine of arms deposited at the
Hospital of the Invalids, which the citizens summoned to surrender; and as the
place was neither defensible, nor attempted much defence, they soon succeeded.
Thus supplied, they marched to attack the Bastille; a vast mixed multitude of
all ages, and of all degrees, armed with all sorts of weapons. Imagination
would fail in describing to itself the appearance of such a procession, and of
the anxiety of the events which a few hours or a few minutes might produce.
What plans the ministry were forming, were as unknown to the people within the
city, as what the citizens were doing was unknown to the ministry; and what
movements Broglio might make for the support or relief of the place, were to
the citizens equally as unknown. All was mystery and hazard.
That the Bastille was attacked with an enthusiasm of heroism, such only as
the highest animation of liberty could inspire, and carried in the space of a
few hours, is an event which the world is fully possessed of. I am not
undertaking the detail of the attack, but bringing into view the conspiracy
against the nation which provoked it, and which fell with the Bastille. The
prison to which the new ministry were dooming the National Assembly, in
addition to its being the high altar and castle of despotism, became the proper
object to begin with. This enterprise broke up the new ministry, who began now
to fly from the ruin they had prepared for others. The troops of Broglio
dispersed, and himself fled also.
Mr. Burke has spoken a great deal about plots, but he has never once spoken
of this plot against the National Assembly, and the liberties of the nation;
and that he might not, he has passed over all the circumstances that might
throw it in his way. The exiles who have fled from France, whose case he so
much interests himself in, and from whom he has had his lesson, fled in
consequence of the miscarriage of this plot. No plot was formed against them;
they were plotting against others; and those who fell, met, not unjustly, the
punishment they were preparing to execute. But will Mr. Burke say that if this
plot, contrived with the subtilty of an ambuscade, had succeeded, the
successful party would have restrained their wrath so soon? Let the history of
all governments answer the question.
Whom has the National Assembly brought to the scaffold? None. They were
themselves the devoted victims of this plot, and they have not retaliated; why,
then, are they charged with revenge they have not acted? In the tremendous
breaking forth of a whole people, in which all degrees, tempers and characters
are confounded, delivering themselves, by a miracle of exertion, from the
destruction meditated against them, is it to be expected that nothing will
happen? When men are sore with the sense of oppressions, and menaced with the
prospects of new ones, is the calmness of philosophy or the palsy of
insensibility to be looked for? Mr. Burke exclaims against outrage; yet the
greatest is that which himself has committed. His book is a volume of outrage,
not apologised for by the impulse of a moment, but cherished through a space of
ten months; yet Mr. Burke had no provocation — no life, no interest, at
More of the citizens fell in this struggle than of their opponents: but
four or five persons were seized by the populace, and instantly put to death;
the Governor of the Bastille, and the Mayor of Paris, who was detected in the
act of betraying them; and afterwards Foulon, one of the new ministry, and
Berthier, his son-in-law, who had accepted the office of intendant of Paris.
Their heads were stuck upon spikes, and carried about the city; and it is upon
this mode of punishment that Mr. Burke builds a great part of his tragic scene.
Let us therefore examine how men came by the idea of punishing in this manner.
They learn it from the governments they live under; and retaliate the
punishments they have been accustomed to behold. The heads stuck upon spikes,
which remained for years upon Temple Bar, differed nothing in the horror of the
scene from those carried about upon spikes at Paris; yet this was done by the
English Government. It may perhaps be said that it signifies nothing to a man
what is done to him after he is dead; but it signifies much to the living; it
either tortures their feelings or hardens their hearts, and in either case it
instructs them how to punish when power falls into their hands.
Lay then the axe to the root, and teach governments humanity. It is their
sanguinary punishments which corrupt mankind. In England the punishment in
certain cases is by hanging, drawing and quartering; the heart of the sufferer
is cut out and held up to the view of the populace. In France, under the former
Government, the punishments were not less barbarous. Who does not remember the
execution of Damien, torn to pieces by horses? The effect of those cruel
spectacles exhibited to the populace is to destroy tenderness or excite
revenge; and by the base and false idea of governing men by terror, instead of
reason, they become precedents. It is over the lowest class of mankind that
government by terror is intended to operate, and it is on them that it operates
to the worst effect. They have sense enough to feel they are the objects aimed
at; and they inflict in their turn the examples of terror they have been
instructed to practise.
There is in all European countries a large class of people of that
description, which in England is called the "mob." Of this class were
those who committed the burnings and devastations in London in 1780, and of
this class were those who carried the heads on iron spikes in Paris. Foulon and
Berthier were taken up in the country, and sent to Paris, to undergo their
examination at the Hotel de Ville; for the National Assembly, immediately on
the new ministry coming into office, passed a decree, which they communicated
to the King and Cabinet, that they (the National Assembly) would hold the
ministry, of which Foulon was one, responsible for the measures they were
advising and pursuing; but the mob, incensed at the appearance of Foulon and
Berthier, tore them from their conductors before they were carried to the Hotel
de Ville, and executed them on the spot. Why then does Mr. Burke charge
outrages of this kind on a whole people? As well may he charge the riots and
outrages of 1780 on all the people of London, or those in Ireland on all his
But everything we see or hear offensive to our feelings and derogatory to
the human character should lead to other reflections than those of reproach.
Even the beings who commit them have some claim to our consideration. How then
is it that such vast classes of mankind as are distinguished by the appellation
of the vulgar, or the ignorant mob, are so numerous in all old countries? The
instant we ask ourselves this question, reflection feels an answer. They rise,
as an unavoidable consequence, out of the ill construction of all old
governments in Europe, England included with the rest. It is by distortedly
exalting some men, that others are distortedly debased, till the whole is out
of nature. A vast mass of mankind are degradedly thrown into the back-ground of
the human picture, to bring forward, with greater glare, the puppet-show of
state and aristocracy. In the commencement of a revolution, those men are
rather the followers of the camp than of the standard of liberty, and have yet
to be instructed how to reverence it.
I give to Mr. Burke all his theatrical exaggerations for facts, and I then
ask him if they do not establish the certainty of what I here lay down?
Admitting them to be true, they show the necessity of the French Revolution, as
much as any one thing he could have asserted. These outrages were not the
effect of the principles of the Revolution, but of the degraded mind that
existed before the Revolution, and which the Revolution is calculated to
reform. Place them then to their proper cause, and take the reproach of them to
your own side.
It is the honour of the National Assembly and the city of Paris that,
during such a tremendous scene of arms and confusion, beyond the control of all
authority, they have been able, by the influence of example and exhortation, to
restrain so much. Never were more pains taken to instruct and enlighten
mankind, and to make them see that their interest consisted in their virtue,
and not in their revenge, than have been displayed in the Revolution of France.
I now proceed to make some remarks on Mr. Burke's account of the expedition to
Versailles, October the 5th and 6th.
I can consider Mr. Burke's book in scarcely any other light than a dramatic
performance; and he must, I think, have considered it in the same light
himself, by the poetical liberties he has taken of omitting some facts,
distorting others, and making the whole machinery bend to produce a stage
effect. Of this kind is his account of the expedition to Versailles. He begins
this account by omitting the only facts which as causes are known to be true;
everything beyond these is conjecture, even in Paris; and he then works up a
tale accommodated to his own passions and prejudices.
It is to be observed throughout Mr. Burke's book that he never speaks of
plots against the Revolution; and it is from those plots that all the mischiefs
have arisen. It suits his purpose to exhibit the consequences without their
causes. It is one of the arts of the drama to do so. If the crimes of men were
exhibited with their sufferings, stage effect would sometimes be lost, and the
audience would be inclined to approve where it was intended they should
After all the investigations that have been made into this intricate affair
(the expedition to Versailles), it still remains enveloped in all that kind of
mystery which ever accompanies events produced more from a concurrence of
awkward circumstances than from fixed design. While the characters of men are
forming, as is always the case in revolutions, there is a reciprocal suspicion,
and a disposition to misinterpret each other; and even parties directly
opposite in principle will sometimes concur in pushing forward the same
movement with very different views, and with the hopes of its producing very
different consequences. A great deal of this may be discovered in this
embarrassed affair, and yet the issue of the whole was what nobody had in view.
The only things certainly known are that considerable uneasiness was at
this time excited at Paris by the delay of the King in not sanctioning and
forwarding the decrees of the National Assembly, particularly that of the
Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the decrees of the fourth of August,
which contained the foundation principles on which the constitution was to be
erected. The kindest, and perhaps the fairest conjecture upon this matter is,
that some of the ministers intended to make remarks and observations upon
certain parts of them before they were finally sanctioned and sent to the
provinces; but be this as it may, the enemies of the Revolution derived hope
from the delay, and the friends of the Revolution uneasiness.
During this state of suspense, the Garde du Corps, which was composed as
such regiments generally are, of persons much connected with the Court, gave an
entertainment at Versailles (October 1) to some foreign regiments then arrived;
and when the entertainment was at the height, on a signal given, the Garde du
Corps tore the national cockade from their hats, trampled it under foot, and
replaced it with a counter-cockade prepared for the purpose. An indignity of
this kind amounted to defiance. It was like declaring war; and if men will give
challenges they must expect consequences. But all this Mr. Burke has carefully
kept out of sight. He begins his account by saying: "History will record
that on the morning of the 6th October, 1789, the King and Queen of France,
after a day of confusion, alarm, dismay, and slaughter, lay down under the
pledged security of public faith to indulge nature in a few hours of respite,
and troubled melancholy repose." This is neither the sober style of
history, nor the intention of it. It leaves everything to be guessed at and
mistaken. One would at least think there had been a battle; and a battle there
probably would have been had it not been for the moderating prudence of those
whom Mr. Burke involves in his censures. By his keeping the Garde du Corps out
of sight Mr. Burke has afforded himself the dramatic licence of putting the
King and Queen in their places, as if the object of the expedition was against
them. But to return to my account —
This conduct of the Garde du Corps, as might well be expected, alarmed and
enraged the Partisans. The colors of the cause, and the cause itself, were
become too united to mistake the intention of the insult, and the Partisans
were determined to call the Garde du Corps to an account. There was certainly
nothing of the cowardice of assassination in marching in the face of the day to
demand satisfaction, if such a phrase may be used, of a body of armed men who
had voluntarily given defiance. But the circumstance which serves to throw this
affair into embarrassment is, that the enemies of the Revolution appear to have
encouraged it as well as its friends. The one hoped to prevent a civil war by
checking it in time, and the other to make one. The hopes of those opposed to
the Revolution rested in making the King of their party, and getting him from
Versailles to Metz, where they expected to collect a force and set up a
standard. We have, therefore, two different objects presenting themselves at
the same time, and to be accomplished by the same means: the one to chastise
the Garde du Corps, which was the object of the Partisans; the other to render
the confusion of such a scene an inducement to the King to set off for Metz.
On the 5th of October a very numerous body of women, and men in the
disguise of women, collected around the Hotel de Ville or town-hall at Paris,
and set off for Versailles. Their professed object was the Garde du Corps; but
prudent men readily recollect that mischief is more easily begun than ended;
and this impressed itself with the more force from the suspicions already
stated, and the irregularity of such a cavalcade. As soon, therefore, as a
sufficient force could be collected, M. de la Fayette, by orders from the civil
authority of Paris, set off after them at the head of twenty thousand of the
Paris militia. The Revolution could derive no benefit from confusion, and its
opposers might. By an amiable and spirited manner of address he had hitherto
been fortunate in calming disquietudes, and in this he was extraordinarily
successful; to frustrate, therefore, the hopes of those who might seek to
improve this scene into a sort of justifiable necessity for the King's quitting
Versailles and withdrawing to Metz, and to prevent at the same time the
consequences that might ensue between the Garde du Corps and this phalanx of
men and women, he forwarded expresses to the King, that he was on his march to
Versailles, by the orders of the civil authority of Paris, for the purpose of
peace and protection, expressing at the same time the necessity of restraining
the Garde du Corps from firing upon the people.
He arrived at Versailles between ten and eleven at night. The Garde du
Corps was drawn up, and the people had arrived some time before, but everything
had remained suspended. Wisdom and policy now consisted in changing a scene of
danger into a happy event. M. de la Fayette became the mediator between the
enraged parties; and the King, to remove the uneasiness which had arisen from
the delay already stated, sent for the President of the National Assembly, and
signed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and such other parts of the
constitution as were in readiness.
It was now about one in the morning. Everything appeared to be composed,
and a general congratulation took place. By the beat of a drum a proclamation
was made that the citizens of Versailles would give the hospitality of their
houses to their fellow-citizens of Paris. Those who could not be accommodated
in this manner remained in the streets, or took up their quarters in the
churches; and at two o'clock the King and Queen retired.
In this state matters passed till the break of day, when a fresh
disturbance arose from the censurable conduct of some of both parties, for such
characters there will be in all such scenes. One of the Garde du Corps appeared
at one of the windows of the palace, and the people who had remained during the
night in the streets accosted him with reviling and provocative language.
Instead of retiring, as in such a case prudence would have dictated, he
presented his musket, fired, and killed one of the Paris militia. The peace
being thus broken, the people rushed into the palace in quest of the offender.
They attacked the quarters of the Garde du Corps within the palace, and pursued
them throughout the avenues of it, and to the apartments of the King. On this
tumult, not the Queen only, as Mr. Burke has represented it, but every person
in the palace, was awakened and alarmed; and M. de la Fayette had a second time
to interpose between the parties, the event of which was that the Garde du
Corps put on the national cockade, and the matter ended as by oblivion, after
the loss of two or three lives.
During the latter part of the time in which this confusion was acting, the
King and Queen were in public at the balcony, and neither of them concealed for
safety's sake, as Mr. Burke insinuates. Matters being thus appeased, and
tranquility restored, a general acclamation broke forth of Le Roi a Paris- Le
Roi a Paris — The King to Paris. It was the shout of peace, and
immediately accepted on the part of the King. By this measure all future
projects of trapanning the King to Metz, and setting up the standard of
opposition to the constitution, were prevented, and the suspicions
extinguished. The King and his family reached Paris in the evening, and were
congratulated on their arrival by M. Bailly, the Mayor of Paris, in the name of
the citizens. Mr. Burke, who throughout his book confounds things, persons, and
principles, as in his remarks on M. Bailly's address, confounded time also. He
censures M. Bailly for calling it "un bon jour," a good day. Mr.
Burke should have informed himself that this scene took up the space of two
days, the day on which it began with every appearance of danger and mischief,
and the day on which it terminated without the mischiefs that threatened; and
that it is to this peaceful termination that M. Bailly alludes, and to the
arrival of the King at Paris. Not less than three hundred thousand persons
arranged themselves in the procession from Versailles to Paris, and not an act
of molestation was committed during the whole march.
Mr. Burke on the authority of M. Lally Tollendal, a deserter from the
National Assembly, says that on entering Paris, the people shouted "Tous
les eveques a la lanterne." All Bishops to be hanged at the lanthorn or
lamp-posts. It is surprising that nobody could hear this but Lally Tollendal,
and that nobody should believe it but Mr. Burke. It has not the least
connection with any part of the transaction, and is totally foreign to every
circumstance of it. The Bishops had never been introduced before into any scene
of Mr. Burke's drama: why then are they, all at once, and altogether, tout a
coup, et tous ensemble, introduced now? Mr. Burke brings forward his Bishops
and his lanthorn-like figures in a magic lanthorn, and raises his scenes by
contrast instead of connection. But it serves to show, with the rest of his
book what little credit ought to be given where even probability is set at
defiance, for the purpose of defaming; and with this reflection, instead of a
soliloquy in praise of chivalry, as Mr. Burke has done, I close the account of
the expedition to Versailles.
I have now to follow Mr. Burke through a pathless wilderness of rhapsodies,
and a sort of descant upon governments, in which he asserts whatever he
pleases, on the presumption of its being believed, without offering either
evidence or reasons for so doing.
Before anything can be reasoned upon to a conclusion, certain facts,
principles, or data, to reason from, must be established, admitted, or denied.
Mr. Burke with his usual outrage, abused the Declaration of the Rights of Man,
published by the National Assembly of France, as the basis on which the
constitution of France is built. This he calls "paltry and blurred sheets
of paper about the rights of man." Does Mr. Burke mean to deny that man
has any rights? If he does, then he must mean that there are no such things as
rights anywhere, and that he has none himself; for who is there in the world
but man? But if Mr. Burke means to admit that man has rights, the question then
will be: What are those rights, and how man came by them originally?
The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity,
respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity.
They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of
an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for
the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into
antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and
if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced,
successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last
come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his
Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher
cannot be given him. But of titles I shall speak hereafter.
We are now got at the origin of man, and at the origin of his rights. As to
the manner in which the world has been governed from that day to this, it is no
farther any concern of ours than to make a proper use of the errors or the
improvements which the history of it presents. Those who lived an hundred or a
thousand years ago, were then moderns, as we are now. They had their ancients,
and those ancients had others, and we also shall be ancients in our turn. If
the mere name of antiquity is to govern in the affairs of life, the people who
are to live an hundred or a thousand years hence, may as well take us for a
precedent, as we make a precedent of those who lived an hundred or a thousand
years ago. The fact is, that portions of antiquity, by proving everything,
establish nothing. It is authority against authority all the way, till we come
to the divine origin of the rights of man at the creation. Here our enquiries
find a resting-place, and our reason finds a home. If a dispute about the
rights of man had arisen at the distance of an hundred years from the creation,
it is to this source of authority they must have referred, and it is to this
same source of authority that we must now refer.
Though I mean not to touch upon any sectarian principle of religion, yet it
may be worth observing, that the genealogy of Christ is traced to Adam. Why
then not trace the rights of man to the creation of man? I will answer the
question. Because there have been upstart governments, thrusting themselves
between, and presumptuously working to un-make man.
If any generation of men ever possessed the right of dictating the mode by
which the world should be governed for ever, it was the first generation that
existed; and if that generation did it not, no succeeding generation can show
any authority for doing it, nor can set any up. The illuminating and divine
principle of the equal rights of man (for it has its origin from the Maker of
man) relates, not only to the living individuals, but to generations of men
succeeding each other. Every generation is equal in rights to generations which
preceded it, by the same rule that every individual is born equal in rights
with his contemporary.
Every history of the creation, and every traditionary account, whether from
the lettered or unlettered world, however they may vary in their opinion or
belief of certain particulars, all agree in establishing one point, the unity
of man; by which I mean that men are all of one degree, and consequently that
all men are born equal, and with equal natural right, in the same manner as if
posterity had been continued by creation instead of generation, the latter
being the only mode by which the former is carried forward; and consequently
every child born into the world must be considered as deriving its existence
from God. The world is as new to him as it was to the first man that existed,
and his natural right in it is of the same kind.
The Mosaic account of the creation, whether taken as divine authority or
merely historical, is full to this point, the unity or equality of man. The
expression admits of no controversy. "And God said, Let us make man in our
own image. In the image of God created he him; male and female created he
them." The distinction of sexes is pointed out, but no other distinction
is even implied. If this be not divine authority, it is at least historical
authority, and shows that the equality of man, so far from being a modern
doctrine, is the oldest upon record.
It is also to be observed that all the religions known in the world are
founded, so far as they relate to man, on the unity of man, as being all of one
degree. Whether in heaven or in hell, or in whatever state man may be supposed
to exist hereafter, the good and the bad are the only distinctions. Nay, even
the laws of governments are obliged to slide into this principle, by making
degrees to consist in crimes and not in persons.
It is one of the greatest of all truths, and of the highest advantage to
cultivate. By considering man in this light, and by instructing him to consider
himself in this light, it places him in a close connection with all his duties,
whether to his Creator or to the creation, of which he is a part; and it is
only when he forgets his origin, or, to use a more fashionable phrase, his
birth and family, that he becomes dissolute. It is not among the least of the
evils of the present existing governments in all parts of Europe that man,
considered as man, is thrown back to a vast distance from his Maker, and the
artificial chasm filled up with a succession of barriers, or sort of turnpike
gates, through which he has to pass. I will quote Mr. Burke's catalogue of
barriers that he has set up between man and his Maker. Putting himself in the
character of a herald, he says: "We fear God — we look with awe to
kings — with affection to Parliaments with duty to magistrates — with
reverence to priests, and with respect to nobility." Mr. Burke has
forgotten to put in "'chivalry." He has also forgotten to put in
The duty of man is not a wilderness of turnpike gates, through which he is
to pass by tickets from one to the other. It is plain and simple, and consists
but of two points. His duty to God, which every man must feel; and with respect
to his neighbor, to do as he would be done by. If those to whom power is
delegated do well, they will be respected: if not, they will be despised; and
with regard to those to whom no power is delegated, but who assume it, the
rational world can know nothing of them.
Hitherto we have spoken only (and that but in part) of the natural rights
of man. We have now to consider the civil rights of man, and to show how the
one originates from the other. Man did not enter into society to become worse
than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have
those rights better secured. His natural rights are the foundation of all his
civil rights. But in order to pursue this distinction with more precision, it
will be necessary to mark the different qualities of natural and civil rights.
A few words will explain this. Natural rights are those which appertain to
man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or
rights of the mind, and also all those rights of acting as an individual for
his own comfort and happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of
others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a
member of society. Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right
pre-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual
power is not, in all cases, sufficiently competent. Of this kind are all those
which relate to security and protection.
From this short review it will be easy to distinguish between that class of
natural rights which man retains after entering into society and those which he
throws into the common stock as a member of society.
The natural rights which he retains are all those in which the Power to
execute is as perfect in the individual as the right itself. Among this class,
as is before mentioned, are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind;
consequently religion is one of those rights. The natural rights which are not
retained, are all those in which, though the right is perfect in the
individual, the power to execute them is defective. They answer not his
purpose. A man, by natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause; and so
far as the right of the mind is concerned, he never surrenders it. But what
availeth it him to judge, if he has not power to redress? He therefore deposits
this right in the common stock of society, and takes the ann of society, of
which he is a part, in preference and in addition to his own. Society grants
him nothing. Every man is a proprietor in society, and draws on the capital as
a matter of right.
From these premisses two or three certain conclusions will follow:
First, That every civil right grows out of a natural right; or, in other
words, is a natural right exchanged.
Secondly, That civil power properly considered as such is made up of the
aggregate of that class of the natural rights of man, which becomes defective
in the individual in point of power, and answers not his purpose, but when
collected to a focus becomes competent to the Purpose of every one.
Thirdly, That the power produced from the aggregate of natural rights,
imperfect in power in the individual, cannot be applied to invade the natural
rights which are retained in the individual, and in which the power to execute
is as perfect as the right itself.
We have now, in a few words, traced man from a natural individual to a
member of society, and shown, or endeavoured to show, the quality of the
natural rights retained, and of those which are exchanged for civil rights. Let
us now apply these principles to governments.
In casting our eyes over the world, it is extremely easy to distinguish the
governments which have arisen out of society, or out of the social compact,
from those which have not; but to place this in a clearer light than what a
single glance may afford, it will be proper to take a review of the several
sources from which governments have arisen and on which they have been founded.
They may be all comprehended under three heads.
Thirdly, The common interest of society and the common rights of man.
The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, and
the third of reason.
When a set of artful men pretended, through the medium of oracles, to hold
intercourse with the Deity, as familiarly as they now march up the back-stairs
in European courts, the world was completely under the government of
superstition. The oracles were consulted, and whatever they were made to say
became the law; and this sort of government lasted as long as this sort of
After these a race of conquerors arose, whose government, like that of
William the Conqueror, was founded in power, and the sword assumed the name of
a sceptre. Governments thus established last as long as the power to support
them lasts; but that they might avail themselves of every engine in their
favor, they united fraud to force, and set up an idol which they called Divine
Right, and which, in imitation of the Pope, who affects to be spiritual and
temporal, and in contradiction to the Founder of the Christian religion,
twisted itself afterwards into an idol of another shape, called Church and
State. The key of St. Peter and the key of the Treasury became quartered on one
another, and the wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention.
When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature has
not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness
of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force
and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust
at those who are thus imposed upon.
We have now to review the governments which arise out of society, in
contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest.
It has been thought a considerable advance towards establishing the
principles of Freedom to say that Government is a compact between those who
govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because it is
putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have existed before
governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not
exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such
a compact with.
The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own
personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce
a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to
arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.
To possess ourselves of a clear idea of what government is, or ought to be,
we must trace it to its origin. In doing this we shall easily discover that
governments must have arisen either out of the people or over the people. Mr.
Burke has made no distinction. He investigates nothing to its source, and
therefore he confounds everything; but he has signified his intention of
undertaking, at some future opportunity, a comparison between the constitution
of England and France. As he thus renders it a subject of controversy by
throwing the gauntlet, I take him upon his own ground. It is in high challenges
that high truths have the right of appearing; and I accept it with the more
readiness because it affords me, at the same time, an opportunity of pursuing
the subject with respect to governments arising out of society.
But it will be first necessary to define what is meant by a Constitution.
It is not sufficient that we adopt the word; we must fix also a standard
signification to it.
A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an
ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible
form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and
a government is only the creature of a constitution. The constitution of a
country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its
government. It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote
article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government
shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organised, the powers it
shall have, the mode of elections, the duration of Parliaments, or by what
other name such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of
the government shall have; and in fine, everything that relates to the complete
organisation of a civil government, and the principles on which it shall act,
and by which it shall be bound. A constitution, therefore, is to a government
what the laws made afterwards by that government are to a court of judicature.
The court of judicature does not make the laws, neither can it alter them; it
only acts in conformity to the laws made: and the government is in like manner
governed by the constitution.
Can, then, Mr. Burke produce the English Constitution? If he cannot, we may
fairly conclude that though it has been so much talked about, no such thing as
a constitution exists, or ever did exist, and consequently that the people have
yet a constitution to form.
Mr. Burke will not, I presume, deny the position I have already advanced
— namely, that governments arise either out of the people or over the
people. The English Government is one of those which arose out of a conquest,
and not out of society, and consequently it arose over the people; and though
it has been much modified from the opportunity of circumstances since the time
of William the Conqueror, the country has never yet regenerated itself, and is
therefore without a constitution.
I readily perceive the reason why Mr. Burke declined going into the
comparison between the English and French constitutions, because he could not
but perceive, when he sat down to the task, that no such a thing as a
constitution existed on his side the question. His book is certainly bulky
enough to have contained all he could say on this subject, and it would have
been the best manner in which people could have judged of their separate
merits. Why then has he declined the only thing that was worth while to write
upon? It was the strongest ground he could take, if the advantages were on his
side, but the weakest if they were not; and his declining to take it is either
a sign that he could not possess it or could not maintain it.
Mr. Burke said, in a speech last winter in Parliament, "that when the
National Assembly first met in three Orders (the Tiers Etat, the Clergy, and
the Noblesse), France had then a good constitution." This shows, among
numerous other instances, that Mr. Burke does not understand what a
constitution is. The persons so met were not a constitution, but a convention,
to make a constitution.
The present National Assembly of France is, strictly speaking, the personal
social compact. The members of it are the delegates of the nation in its
original character; future assemblies will be the delegates of the nation in
its organised character. The authority of the present Assembly is different
from what the authority of future Assemblies will be. The authority of the
present one is to form a constitution; the authority of future assemblies will
be to legislate according to the principles and forms prescribed in that
constitution; and if experience should hereafter show that alterations,
amendments, or additions are necessary, the constitution will point out the
mode by which such things shall be done, and not leave it to the discretionary
power of the future government.
A government on the principles on which constitutional governments arising
out of society are established, cannot have the right of altering itself. If it
had, it would be arbitrary. It might make itself what it pleased; and wherever
such a right is set up, it shows there is no constitution. The act by which the
English Parliament empowered itself to sit seven years, shows there is no
constitution in England. It might, by the same self-authority, have sat any
great number of years, or for life. The bill which the present Mr. Pitt brought
into Parliament some years ago, to reform Parliament, was on the same erroneous
principle. The right of reform is in the nation in its original character, and
the constitutional method would be by a general convention elected for the
purpose. There is, moreover, a paradox in the idea of vitiated bodies reforming
From these preliminaries I proceed to draw some comparisons. I have already
spoken of the declaration of rights; and as I mean to be as concise as
possible, I shall proceed to other parts of the French Constitution.
The constitution of France says that every man who pays a tax of sixty sous
per annum (2s. 6d. English) is an elector. What article will Mr. Burke place
against this? Can anything be more limited, and at the same time more
capricious, than the qualification of electors is in England? Limited —
because not one man in an hundred (I speak much within compass) is admitted to
vote. Capricious — because the lowest character that can be supposed to
exist, and who has not so much as the visible means of an honest livelihood, is
an elector in some places: while in other places, the man who pays very large
taxes, and has a known fair character, and the farmer who rents to the amount
of three or four hundred pounds a year, with a property on that farm to three
or four times that amount, is not admitted to be an elector. Everything is out
of nature, as Mr. Burke says on another occasion, in this strange chaos, and
all sorts of follies are blended with all sorts of crimes. William the
Conqueror and his descendants parcelled out the country in this manner, and
bribed some parts of it by what they call charters to hold the other parts of
it the better subjected to their will. This is the reason why so many of those
charters abound in Cornwall; the people were averse to the Government
established at the Conquest, and the towns were garrisoned and bribed to
enslave the country. All the old charters are the badges of this conquest, and
it is from this source that the capriciousness of election arises.
The French Constitution says that the number of representatives for any
place shall be in a ratio to the number of taxable inhabitants or electors.
What article will Mr. Burke place against this? The county of York, which
contains nearly a million of souls, sends two county members; and so does the
county of Rutland, which contains not an hundredth part of that number. The old
town of Sarum, which contains not three houses, sends two members; and the town
of Manchester, which contains upward of sixty thousand souls, is not admitted
to send any. Is there any principle in these things? It is admitted that all
this is altered, but there is much to be done yet, before we have a fair
representation of the people. Is there anything by which you can trace the
marks of freedom, or discover those of wisdom? No wonder then Mr. Burke has
declined the comparison, and endeavored to lead his readers from the point by a
wild, unsystematical display of paradoxical rhapsodies.
The French Constitution says that the National Assembly shall be elected
every two years. What article will Mr. Burke place against this? Why, that the
nation has no right at all in the case; that the government is perfectly
arbitrary with respect to this point; and he can quote for his authority the
precedent of a former Parliament.
The French Constitution says there shall be no game laws, that the farmer
on whose lands wild game shall be found (for it is by the produce of his lands
they are fed) shall have a right to what he can take; that there shall be no
monopolies of any kind — that all trades shall be free and every man free
to follow any occupation by which he can procure an honest livelihood, and in
any place, town, or city throughout the nation. What will Mr. Burke say to
this? In England, game is made the property of those at whose expense it is not
fed; and with respect to monopolies, the country is cut up into monopolies.
Every chartered town is an aristocratical monopoly in itself, and the
qualification of electors proceeds out of those chartered monopolies. Is this
freedom? Is this what Mr. Burke means by a constitution?
In these chartered monopolies, a man coming from another part of the
country is hunted from them as if he were a foreign enemy. An Englishman is not
free of his own country; every one of those places presents a barrier in his
way, and tells him he is not a freeman — that he has no rights. Within
these monopolies are other monopolies. In a city, such for instance as Bath,
which contains between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants, the right of
electing representatives to Parliament is monopolised by about thirty-one
persons. And within these monopolies are still others. A man even of the same
town, whose parents were not in circumstances to give him an occupation, is
debarred, in many cases, from the natural right of acquiring one, be his genius
or industry what it may.
Are these things examples to hold out to a country regenerating itself from
slavery, like France? Certainly they are not, and certain am I, that when the
people of England come to reflect upon them they will, like France, annihilate
those badges of ancient oppression, those traces of a conquered nation. Had Mr.
Burke possessed talents similar to the author of "On the Wealth of
Nations." he would have comprehended all the parts which enter into, and,
by assemblage, form a constitution. He would have reasoned from minutiae to
magnitude. It is not from his prejudices only, but from the disorderly cast of
his genius, that he is unfitted for the subject he writes upon. Even his genius
is without a constitution. It is a genius at random, and not a genius
constituted. But he must say something. He has therefore mounted in the air
like a balloon, to draw the eyes of the multitude from the ground they stand
Much is to be learned from the French Constitution. Conquest and tyranny
transplanted themselves with William the Conqueror from Normandy into England,
and the country is yet disfigured with the marks. May, then, the example of all
France contribute to regenerate the freedom which a province of it destroyed!
The French Constitution says that to preserve the national representation
from being corrupt, no member of the National Assembly shall be an officer of
the government, a placeman or a pensioner. What will Mr. Burke place against
this? I will whisper his answer: Loaves and Fishes. Ah! this government of
loaves and fishes has more mischief in it than people have yet reflected on.
The National Assembly has made the discovery, and it holds out the example to
the world. Had governments agreed to quarrel on purpose to fleece their
countries by taxes, they could not have succeeded better than they have done.
Everything in the English government appears to me the reverse of what it
ought to be, and of what it is said to be. The Parliament, imperfectly and
capriciously elected as it is, is nevertheless supposed to hold the national
purse in trust for the nation; but in the manner in which an English Parliament
is constructed it is like a man being both mortgagor and mortgagee, and in the
case of misapplication of trust it is the criminal sitting in judgment upon
himself. If those who vote the supplies are the same persons who receive the
supplies when voted, and are to account for the expenditure of those supplies
to those who voted them, it is themselves accountable to themselves, and the
Comedy of Errors concludes with the pantomime of Hush. Neither the Ministerial
party nor the Opposition will touch upon this case. The national purse is the
common hack which each mounts upon. It is like what the country people call
"Ride and tie — you ride a little way, and then I." They order these things better in
The French Constitution says that the right of war and peace is in the
nation. Where else should it reside but in those who are to pay the expense?
In England this right is said to reside in a metaphor shown at the Tower
for sixpence or a shilling a piece: so are the lions; and it would be a step
nearer to reason to say it resided in them, for any inanimate metaphor is no
more than a hat or a cap. We can all see the absurdity of worshipping Aaron's
molten calf, or Nebuchadnezzar's golden image; but why do men continue to
practise themselves the absurdities they despise in others?
It may with reason be said that in the manner the English nation is
represented it signifies not where the right resides, whether in the Crown or
in the Parliament. War is the common harvest of all those who participate in
the division and expenditure of public money, in all countries. It is the art
of conquering at home; the object of it is an increase of revenue; and as
revenue cannot be increased without taxes, a pretence must be made for
expenditure. In reviewing the history of the English Government, its wars and
its taxes, a bystander, not blinded by prejudice nor warped by interest, would
declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised
to carry on taxes.
Mr. Burke, as a member of the House of Commons, is a part of the English
Government; and though he professes himself an enemy to war, he abuses the
French Constitution, which seeks to explode it. He holds up the English
Government as a model, in all its parts, to France; but he should first know
the remarks which the French make upon it. They contend in favor of their own,
that the portion of liberty enjoyed in England is just enough to enslave a
country more productively than by despotism, and that as the real object of all
despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do
either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is, therefore on
the ground of interest, opposed to both. They account also for the readiness
which always appears in such governments for engaging in wars by remarking on
the different motives which produced them. In despotic governments wars are the
effect of pride; but in those governments in which they become the means of
taxation, they acquire thereby a more permanent promptitude.
The French Constitution, therefore, to provide against both these evils,
has taken away the power of declaring war from kings and ministers, and placed
the right where the expense must fall.
When the question of the right of war and peace was agitating in the
National Assembly, the people of England appeared to be much interested in the
event, and highly to applaud the decision. As a principle it applies as much to
one country as another. William the Conqueror, as a conqueror, held this power
of war and peace in himself, and his descendants have ever since claimed it
under him as a right.
Although Mr. Burke has asserted the right of the Parliament at the
Revolution to bind and control the nation and posterity for ever, he denies at
the same time that the Parliament or the nation had any right to alter what he
calls the succession of the crown in anything but in part, or by a sort of
modification. By his taking this ground he throws the case back to the Norman
Conquest, and by thus running a line of succession springing from William the
Conqueror to the present day, he makes it necessary to enquire who and what
William the Conqueror was, and where he came from, and into the origin, history
and nature of what are called prerogatives. Everything must have had a
beginning, and the fog of time and antiquity should be penetrated to discover
it. Let, then, Mr. Burke bring forward his William of Normandy, for it is to
this origin that his argument goes. It also unfortunately happens, in running
this line of succession, that another line parallel thereto presents itself,
which is that if the succession runs in the line of the conquest, the nation
runs in the line of being conquered, and it ought to rescue itself from this
But it will perhaps be said that though the power of declaring war descends
in the heritage of the conquest, it is held in check by the right of Parliament
to withhold the supplies. It will always happen when a thing is originally
wrong that amendments do not make it right, and it often happens that they do
as much mischief one way as good the other, and such is the case here, for if
the one rashly declares war as a matter of right, and the other peremptorily
withholds the supplies as a matter of right, the remedy becomes as bad, or
worse, than the disease. The one forces the nation to a combat, and the other
ties its hands; but the more probable issue is that the contest will end in a
collusion between the parties, and be made a screen to both.
On this question of war, three things are to be considered. First, the
right of declaring it: secondly, the right of declaring it: secondly, the
expense of supporting it: thirdly, the mode of conducting it after it is
declared. The French Constitution places the right where the expense must fall,
and this union can only be in the nation. The mode of conducting it after it is
declared, it consigns to the executive department. Were this the case in all
countries, we should hear but little more of wars.
Before I proceed to consider other parts of the French Constitution, and by
way of relieving the fatigue of argument, I will introduce an anecdote which I
had from Dr. Franklin.
While the Doctor resided in France as Minister from America, during the
war, he had numerous proposals made to him by projectors of every country and
of every kind, who wished to go to the land that floweth with milk and honey,
America; and among the rest, there was one who offered himself to be king. He
introduced his proposal to the Doctor by letter, which is now in the hands of
M. Beaumarchais, of Paris — stating, first, that as the Americans had
dismissed or sent away 
their King, that they would want another. Secondly, that himself was a Norman.
Thirdly, that he was of a more ancient family than the Dukes of Normandy, and
of a more honorable descent, his line having never been bastardised. Fourthly,
that there was already a precedent in England of kings coming out of Normandy,
and on these grounds he rested his offer, enjoining that the Doctor would
forward it to America. But as the Doctor neither did this, nor yet sent him an
answer, the projector wrote a second letter, in which he did not, it is true,
threaten to go over and conquer America, but only with great dignity proposed
that if his offer was not accepted, an acknowledgment of about £30,000
might be made to him for his generosity! Now, as all arguments respecting
succession must necessarily connect that succession with some beginning, Mr.
Burke's arguments on this subject go to show that there is no English origin of
kings, and that they are descendants of the Norman line in right of the
Conquest. It may, therefore, be of service to his doctrine to make this story
known, and to inform him, that in case of that natural extinction to which all
mortality is subject, Kings may again be had from Normandy, on more reasonable
terms than William the Conqueror; and consequently, that the good people of
England, at the revolution of 1688, might have done much better, had such a
generous Norman as this known their wants, and they had known his. The
chivalric character which Mr. Burke so much admires, is certainly much easier
to make a bargain with than a hard dealing Dutchman. But to return to the
matters of the constitution —
The French Constitution says, There shall be no titles; and, of
consequence, all that class of equivocal generation which in some countries is
called "aristocracy" and in others "nobility," is done
away, and the peer is exalted into the MAN.
Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is
perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human
character, which degrades it. It reduces man into the diminutive of man in
things which are great, and the counterfeit of women in things which are
little. It talks about its fine blue ribbon like a girl, and shows its new
garter like a child. A certain writer, of some antiquity, says: "When I
was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish
It is, properly, from the elevated mind of France that the folly of titles
has fallen. It has outgrown the baby clothes of Count and Duke, and breeched
itself in manhood. France has not levelled, it has exalted. It has put down the
dwarf, to set up the man. The punyism of a senseless word like Duke, Count or
Earl has ceased to please. Even those who possessed them have disowned the
gibberish, and as they outgrew the rickets, have despised the rattle. The
genuine mind of man, thirsting for its native home, society, contemns the
gewgaws that separate him from it. Titles are like circles drawn by the
magician's wand, to contract the sphere of man's felicity. He lives immured
within the Bastille of a word, and surveys at a distance the envied life of
Is it, then, any wonder that titles should fall in France? Is it not a
greater wonder that they should be kept up anywhere? What are they? What is
their worth, and "what is their amount?" When we think or speak of a
Judge or a General, we associate with it the ideas of office and character; we
think of gravity in one and bravery in the other; but when we use the word
merely as a title, no ideas associate with it. Through all the vocabulary of
Adam there is not such an animal as a Duke or a Count; neither can we connect
any certain ideas with the words. Whether they mean strength or weakness,
wisdom or folly, a child or a man, or the rider or the horse, is all equivocal.
What respect then can be paid to that which describes nothing, and which means
nothing? Imagination has given figure and character to centaurs, satyrs, and
down to all the fairy tribe; but titles baffle even the powers of fancy, and
are a chimerical nondescript.
But this is not all. If a whole country is disposed to hold them in
contempt, all their value is gone, and none will own them. It is common opinion
only that makes them anything, or nothing, or worse than nothing. There is no
occasion to take titles away, for they take themselves away when society
concurs to ridicule them. This species of imaginary consequence has visibly
declined in every part of Europe, and it hastens to its exit as the world of
reason continues to rise. There was a time when the lowest class of what are
called nobility was more thought of than the highest is now, and when a man in
armour riding throughout Christendom in quest of adventures was more stared at
than a modern Duke. The world has seen this folly fall, and it has fallen by
being laughed at, and the farce of titles will follow its fate. The patriots of
France have discovered in good time that rank and dignity in society must take
a new ground. The old one has fallen through. It must now take the substantial
ground of character, instead of the chimerical ground of titles; and they have
brought their titles to the altar, and made of them a burnt-offering to Reason.
If no mischief had annexed itself to the folly of titles they would not
have been worth a serious and formal destruction, such as the National Assembly
have decreed them; and this makes it necessary to enquire farther into the
nature and character of aristocracy.
That, then, which is called aristocracy in some countries and nobility in
others arose out of the governments founded upon conquest. It was originally a
military order for the purpose of supporting military government (for such were
all governments founded in conquest); and to keep up a succession of this order
for the purpose for which it was established, all the younger branches of those
families were disinherited and the law of primogenitureship set up.
The nature and character of aristocracy shows itself to us in this law. It
is the law against every other law of nature, and Nature herself calls for its
destruction. Establish family justice, and aristocracy falls. By the
aristocratical law of primogenitureship, in a family of six children five are
exposed. Aristocracy has never more than one child. The rest are begotten to be
devoured. They are thrown to the cannibal for prey, and the natural parent
prepares the unnatural repast.
As everything which is out of nature in man affects, more or less, the
interest of society, so does this. All the children which the aristocracy
disowns (which are all except the eldest) are, in general, cast like orphans on
a parish, to be provided for by the public, but at a greater charge.
Unnecessary offices and places in governments and courts are created at the
expense of the public to maintain them.
With what kind of parental reflections can the father or mother contemplate
their younger offspring? By nature they are children, and by marriage they are
heirs; but by aristocracy they are bastards and orphans. They are the flesh and
blood of their parents in the one line, and nothing akin to them in the other.
To restore, therefore, parents to their children, and children to their parents
— relations to each other, and man to society — and to exterminate
the monster aristocracy, root and branch — the French Constitution has
destroyed the law of Primogenitureship. Here then lies the
monster; and Mr. Burke, if he pleases, may write its epitaph.
Hitherto we have considered aristocracy chiefly in one point of view. We
have now to consider it in another. But whether we view it before or behind, or
sideways, or any way else, domestically or publicly, it is still a monster.
In France aristocracy had one feature less in its countenance than what it
has in some other countries. It did not compose a body of hereditary
legislators. It was not "'a corporation of aristocracy, for such I have
heard M. de la Fayette describe an English House of Peers. Let us then examine
the grounds upon which the French Constitution has resolved against having such
a House in France.
Because, in the first place, as is already mentioned, aristocracy is kept
up by family tyranny and injustice.
Secondly. Because there is an unnatural unfitness in an aristocracy to be
legislators for a nation. Their ideas of distributive justice are corrupted at
the very source. They begin life by trampling on all their younger brothers and
sisters, and relations of every kind, and are taught and educated so to do.
With what ideas of justice or honour can that man enter a house of legislation,
who absorbs in his own person the inheritance of a whole family of children or
doles out to them some pitiful portion with the insolence of a gift?
Thirdly. Because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as
that of hereditary judges, or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary
mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary
Fourthly. Because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody,
ought not to be trusted by anybody.
Fifthly. Because it is continuing the uncivilised principle of governments
founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and
governing him by personal right.
Sixthly. Because aristocracy has a tendency to deteriorate the human
species. By the universal economy of nature it is known, and by the instance of
the Jews it is proved, that the human species has a tendency to degenerate, in
any small number of persons, when separated from the general stock of society,
and inter-marrying constantly with each other. It defeats even its pretended
end, and becomes in time the opposite of what is noble in man. Mr. Burke talks
of nobility; let him show what it is. The greatest characters the world have
known have arisen on the democratic floor. Aristocracy has not been able to
keep a proportionate pace with democracy. The artificial Noble
shrinks into a dwarf before the Noble of Nature; and in the
few instances of those (for there are some in all countries) in whom nature, as
by a miracle, has survived in aristocracy, Those Men Despise
It. — But it is time to proceed to a new subject.
The French Constitution has reformed the condition of the clergy. It has
raised the income of the lower and middle classes, and taken from the higher.
None are now less than twelve hundred livres (fifty pounds sterling), nor any
higher than two or three thousand pounds. What will Mr. Burke place against
this? Hear what he says.
He says: "That the people of England can see without pain or grudging,
an archbishop precede a duke; they can see a Bishop of Durham, or a Bishop of
Winchester in possession of £10,000 a-year; and cannot see why it is in
worse hands than estates to a like amount, in the hands of this earl or that
squire." And Mr. Burke offers this as an example to France.
As to the first part, whether the archbishop precedes the duke, or the duke
the bishop, it is, I believe, to the people in general, somewhat like Sternhold
and Hopkins, or Hopkins and Sternhold; you may put which you please first; and
as I confess that I do not understand the merits of this case, I will not
contest it with Mr. Burke.
But with respect to the latter, I have something to say. Mr. Burke has not
put the case right. The comparison is out of order, by being put between the
bishop and the earl or the squire. It ought to be put between the bishop and
the curate, and then it will stand thus: — "The people of England can
see without pain or grudging, a Bishop of Durham, or a Bishop of Winchester, in
possession of ten thousand pounds a-year, and a curate on thirty or forty
pounds a-year, or less." No, sir, they certainly do not see those things
without great pain or grudging. It is a case that applies itself to every man's
sense of justice, and is one among many that calls aloud for a constitution.
In France the cry of "the church! the church!" was repeated as
often as in Mr. Burke's book, and as loudly as when the Dissenters' Bill was
before the English Parliament; but the generality of the French clergy were not
to be deceived by this cry any longer. They knew that whatever the pretence
might be, it was they who were one of the principal objects of it. It was the
cry of the high beneficed clergy, to prevent any regulation of income taking
place between those of ten thousand pounds a-year and the parish priest. They
therefore joined their case to those of every other oppressed class of men, and
by this union obtained redress.
The French Constitution has abolished tythes, that source of perpetual
discontent between the tythe-holder and the parishioner. When land is held on
tythe, it is in the condition of an estate held between two parties; the one
receiving one-tenth, and the other nine-tenths of the produce: and
consequently, on principles of equity, if the estate can be improved, and made
to produce by that improvement double or treble what it did before, or in any
other ratio, the expense of such improvement ought to be borne in like
proportion between the parties who are to share the produce. But this is not
the case in tythes: the farmer bears the whole expense, and the tythe-holder
takes a tenth of the improvement, in addition to the original tenth, and by
this means gets the value of two-tenths instead of one. This is another case
that calls for a constitution.
The French Constitution hath abolished or renounced Toleration and
Intolerance also, and hath established Universal Right Of
Toleration is not the opposite of Intolerance, but is the counterfeit of
it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding
Liberty of Conscience, and the other of granting it. The one is the Pope armed
with fire and faggot, and the other is the Pope selling or granting
indulgences. The former is church and state, and the latter is church and
But Toleration may be viewed in a much stronger light. Man worships not
himself, but his Maker; and the liberty of conscience which he claims is not
for the service of himself, but of his God. In this case, therefore, we must
necessarily have the associated idea of two things; the mortal who renders the
worship, and the Immortal Being who is worshipped. Toleration,
therefore, places itself, not between man and man, nor between church and
church, nor between one denomination of religion and another, but between God
and man; between the being who worships, and the Being who is
worshipped; and by the same act of assumed authority which it tolerates man to
pay his worship, it presumptuously and blasphemously sets itself up to tolerate
the Almighty to receive it.
Were a bill brought into any Parliament, entitled, "An Act to tolerate
or grant liberty to the Almighty to receive the worship of a Jew or Turk,"
or "to prohibit the Almighty from receiving it," all men would
startle and call it blasphemy. There would be an uproar. The presumption of
toleration in religious matters would then present itself unmasked; but the
presumption is not the less because the name of "Man" only appears to
those laws, for the associated idea of the worshipper and the worshipped cannot
be separated. Who then art thou, vain dust and ashes! by whatever name thou art
called, whether a King, a Bishop, a Church, or a State, a Parliament, or
anything else, that obtrudest thine insignificance between the soul of man and
its Maker? Mind thine own concerns. If he believes not as thou believest, it is
a proof that thou believest not as he believes, and there is no earthly power
can determine between you.
With respect to what are called denominations of religion, if every one is
left to judge of its own religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is
wrong; but if they are to judge of each other's religion, there is no such
thing as a religion that is right; and therefore all the world is right, or all
the world is wrong. But with respect to religion itself, without regard to
names, and as directing itself from the universal family of mankind to the
Divine object of all adoration, it is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of
his heart; and though those fruits may differ from each other like the fruits
of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted.
A Bishop of Durham, or a Bishop of Winchester, or the archbishop who heads
the dukes, will not refuse a tythe-sheaf of wheat because it is not a cock of
hay, nor a cock of hay because it is not a sheaf of wheat; nor a pig, because
it is neither one nor the other; but these same persons, under the figure of an
established church, will not permit their Maker to receive the varied tythes of
One of the continual choruses of Mr. Burke's book is "Church and
State." He does not mean some one particular church, or some one
particular state, but any church and state; and he uses the term as a general
figure to hold forth the political doctrine of always uniting the church with
the state in every country, and he censures the National Assembly for not
having done this in France. Let us bestow a few thoughts on this subject.
All religions are in their nature kind and benign, and united with
principles of morality. They could not have made proselytes at first by
professing anything that was vicious, cruel, persecuting, or immoral. Like
everything else, they had their beginning; and they proceeded by persuasion,
exhortation, and example. How then is it that they lose their native mildness,
and become morose and intolerant?
It proceeds from the connection which Mr. Burke recommends. By engendering
the church with the state, a sort of mule-animal, capable only of destroying,
and not of breeding up, is produced, called the Church established by Law. It
is a stranger, even from its birth, to any parent mother, on whom it is
begotten, and whom in time it kicks out and destroys.
The inquisition in Spain does not proceed from the religion originally
professed, but from this mule-animal, engendered between the church and the
state. The burnings in Smithfield proceeded from the same heterogeneous
production; and it was the regeneration of this strange animal in England
afterwards, that renewed rancour and irreligion among the inhabitants, and that
drove the people called Quakers and Dissenters to America. Persecution is not
an original feature in any religion; but it is alway the strongly-marked
feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law. Take away the
law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity. In
America, a catholic priest is a good citizen, a good character, and a good
neighbour; an episcopalian minister is of the same description: and this
proceeds independently of the men, from there being no law-establishment in
If also we view this matter in a temporal sense, we shall see the ill
effects it has had on the prosperity of nations. The union of church and state
has impoverished Spain. The revoking the edict of Nantes drove the silk
manufacture from that country into England; and church and state are now
driving the cotton manufacture from England to America and France. Let then Mr.
Burke continue to preach his antipolitical doctrine of Church and State. It
will do some good. The National Assembly will not follow his advice, but will
benefit by his folly. It was by observing the ill effects of it in England,
that America has been warned against it; and it is by experiencing them in
France, that the National Assembly have abolished it, and, like America, have
established Universal Right of Conscience, and Universal Right of
I will here cease the comparison with respect to the principles of the
French Constitution, and conclude this part of the subject with a few
observations on the organisation of the formal parts of the French and English
The executive power in each country is in the hands of a person styled the
King; but the French Constitution distinguishes between the King and the
Sovereign: It considers the station of King as official, and places Sovereignty
in the nation.
The representatives of the nation, who compose the National Assembly, and
who are the legislative power, originate in and from the people by election, as
an inherent right in the people. — In England it is otherwise; and this
arises from the original establishment of what is called its monarchy; for, as
by the conquest all the rights of the people or the nation were absorbed into
the hands of the Conqueror, and who added the title of King to that of
Conqueror, those same matters which in France are now held as rights in the
people, or in the nation, are held in England as grants from what is called the
crown. The Parliament in England, in both its branches, was erected by patents
from the descendants of the Conqueror. The House of Commons did not originate
as a matter of right in the people to delegate or elect, but as a grant or
By the French Constitution the nation is always named before the king. The
third article of the declaration of rights says: "The nation is
essentially the source (or fountain) of all sovereignty." Mr. Burke argues
that in England a king is the fountain — that he is the fountain of all
honour. But as this idea is evidently descended from the conquest I shall make
no other remark upon it, than that it is the nature of conquest to turn
everything upside down; and as Mr. Burke will not be refused the privilege of
speaking twice, and as there are but two parts in the figure, the fountain and
the spout, he will be right the second time.
The French Constitution puts the legislative before the executive, the law
before the king; la loi, le roi. This also is in the natural order of things,
because laws must have existence before they can have execution.
A king in France does not, in addressing himself to the National Assembly,
say, "My Assembly," similar to the phrase used in England of my
"Parliament"; neither can he use it consistently with the
constitution, nor could it be admitted. There may be propriety in the use of it
in England, because as is before mentioned, both Houses of Parliament
originated from what is called the crown by patent or boon — and not from
the inherent rights of the people, as the National Assembly does in France, and
whose name designates its origin.
The President of the National Assembly does not ask the King to grant to
the Assembly liberty of speech, as is the case with the English House of
Commons. The constitutional dignity of the National Assembly cannot debase
itself. Speech is, in the first place, one of the natural rights of man always
retained; and with respect to the National Assembly the use of it is their
duty, and the nation is their authority. They were elected by the greatest body
of men exercising the right of election the European world ever saw. They
sprung not from the filth of rotten boroughs, nor are they the vassal
representatives of aristocratical ones. Feeling the proper dignity of their
character they support it. Their Parliamentary language, whether for or against
a question, is free, bold and manly, and extends to all the parts and
circumstances of the case. If any matter or subject respecting the executive
department or the person who presides in it (the king) comes before them it is
debated on with the spirit of men, and in the language of gentlemen; and their
answer or their address is returned in the same style. They stand not aloof
with the gaping vacuity of vulgar ignorance, nor bend with the cringe of
sycophantic insignificance. The graceful pride of truth knows no extremes, and
preserves, in every latitude of life, the right-angled character of man.
Let us now look to the other side of the question. In the addresses of the
English Parliaments to their kings we see neither the intrepid spirit of the
old Parliaments of France, nor the serene dignity of the present National
Assembly; neither do we see in them anything of the style of English manners,
which border somewhat on bluntness. Since then they are neither of foreign
extraction, nor naturally of English production, their origin must be sought
for elsewhere, and that origin is the Norman Conquest. They are evidently of
the vassalage class of manners, and emphatically mark the prostrate distance
that exists in no other condition of men than between the conqueror and the
conquered. That this vassalage idea and style of speaking was not got rid of
even at the Revolution of 1688, is evident from the declaration of Parliament
to William and Mary in these words: "We do most humbly and faithfully
submit ourselves, our heirs and posterities, for ever." Submission is
wholly a vassalage term, repugnant to the dignity of freedom, and an echo of
the language used at the Conquest.
As the estimation of all things is given by comparison, the Revolution of
1688, however from circumstances it may have been exalted beyond its value,
will find its level. It is already on the wane, eclipsed by the enlarging orb
of reason, and the luminous revolutions of America and France. In less than
another century it will go, as well as Mr. Burke's labours, "to the family
vault of all the Capulets." Mankind will then scarcely believe that a
country calling itself free would send to Holland for a man, and clothe him
with power on purpose to put themselves in fear of him, and give him almost a
million sterling a year for leave to submit themselves and their posterity,
like bondmen and bondwomen, for ever.
But there is a truth that ought to be made known; I have had the
opportunity of seeing it; which is, that notwithstanding appearances, there is
not any description of men that despise monarchy so much as courtiers. But they
well know, that if it were seen by others, as it is seen by them, the juggle
could not be kept up; they are in the condition of men who get their living by
a show, and to whom the folly of that show is so familiar that they ridicule
it; but were the audience to be made as wise in this respect as themselves,
there would be an end to the show and the profits with it. The difference
between a republican and a courtier with respect to monarchy, is that the one
opposes monarchy, believing it to be something; and the other laughs at it,
knowing it to be nothing.
As I used sometimes to correspond with Mr. Burke believing him then to be a
man of sounder principles than his book shows him to be, I wrote to him last
winter from Paris, and gave him an account how prosperously matters were going
on. Among other subjects in that letter, I referred to the happy situation the
National Assembly were placed in; that they had taken ground on which their
moral duty and their political interest were united. They have not to hold out
a language which they do not themselves believe, for the fraudulent purpose of
making others believe it. Their station requires no artifice to support it, and
can only be maintained by enlightening mankind. It is not their interest to
cherish ignorance, but to dispel it. They are not in the case of a ministerial
or an opposition party in England, who, though they are opposed, are still
united to keep up the common mystery. The National Assembly must throw open a
magazine of light. It must show man the proper character of man; and the nearer
it can bring him to that standard, the stronger the National Assembly becomes.
In contemplating the French Constitution, we see in it a rational order of
things. The principles harmonise with the forms, and both with their origin. It
may perhaps be said as an excuse for bad forms, that they are nothing more than
forms; but this is a mistake. Forms grow out of principles, and operate to
continue the principles they grow from. It is impossible to practise a bad form
on anything but a bad principle. It cannot be ingrafted on a good one; and
wherever the forms in any government are bad, it is a certain indication that
the principles are bad also.
I will here finally close this subject. I began it by remarking that Mr.
Burke had voluntarily declined going into a comparison of the English and
French Constitutions. He apologises (in page 241) for not doing it, by saying
that he had not time. Mr. Burke's book was upwards of eight months in hand, and
is extended to a volume of three hundred and sixty-six pages. As his omission
does injury to his cause, his apology makes it worse; and men on the English
side of the water will begin to consider, whether there is not some radical
defect in what is called the English constitution, that made it necessary for
Mr. Burke to suppress the comparison, to avoid bringing it into view.
As Mr. Burke has not written on constitutions so neither has he written on
the French Revolution. He gives no account of its commencement or its progress.
He only expresses his wonder. "It looks," says he, "to me, as if
I were in a great crisis, not of the affairs of France alone, but of all
Europe, perhaps of more than Europe. All circumstances taken together, the
French Revolution is the most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the
As wise men are astonished at foolish things, and other people at wise
ones, I know not on which ground to account for Mr. Burke's astonishment; but
certain it is, that he does not understand the French Revolution. It has
apparently burst forth like a creation from a chaos, but it is no more than the
consequence of a mental revolution priorily existing in France. The mind of the
nation had changed beforehand, and the new order of things has naturally
followed the new order of thoughts. I will here, as concisely as I can, trace
out the growth of the French Revolution, and mark the circumstances that have
contributed to produce it.
The despotism of Louis XIV., united with the gaiety of his Court, and the
gaudy ostentation of his character, had so humbled, and at the same time so
fascinated the mind of France, that the people appeared to have lost all sense
of their own dignity, in contemplating that of their Grand Monarch; and the
whole reign of Louis XV., remarkable only for weakness and effeminacy, made no
other alteration than that of spreading a sort of lethargy over the nation,
from which it showed no disposition to rise.
The only signs which appeared to the spirit of Liberty during those
periods, are to be found in the writings of the French philosophers.
Montesquieu, President of the Parliament of Bordeaux, went as far as a writer
under a despotic government could well proceed; and being obliged to divide
himself between principle and prudence, his mind often appears under a veil,
and we ought to give him credit for more than he has expressed.
Voltaire, who was both the flatterer and the satirist of despotism, took
another line. His forte lay in exposing and ridiculing the superstitions which
priest-craft, united with state-craft, had interwoven with governments. It was
not from the purity of his principles, or his love of mankind (for satire and
philanthropy are not naturally concordant), but from his strong capacity of
seeing folly in its true shape, and his irresistible propensity to expose it,
that he made those attacks. They were, however, as formidable as if the motive
had been virtuous; and he merits the thanks rather than the esteem of mankind.
On the contrary, we find in the writings of Rousseau, and the Abbe Raynal,
a loveliness of sentiment in favour of liberty, that excites respect, and
elevates the human faculties; but having raised this animation, they do not
direct its operation, and leave the mind in love with an object, without
describing the means of possessing it.
The writings of Quesnay, Turgot, and the friends of those authors, are of
the serious kind; but they laboured under the same disadvantage with
Montesquieu; their writings abound with moral maxims of government, but are
rather directed to economise and reform the administration of the government,
than the government itself.
But all those writings and many others had their weight; and by the
different manner in which they treated the subject of government, Montesquieu
by his judgment and knowledge of laws, Voltaire by his wit, Rousseau and Raynal
by their animation, and Quesnay and Turgot by their moral maxims and systems of
economy, readers of every class met with something to their taste, and a spirit
of political inquiry began to diffuse itself through the nation at the time the
dispute between England and the then colonies of America broke out.
In the war which France afterwards engaged in, it is very well known that
the nation appeared to be before-hand with the French ministry. Each of them
had its view; but those views were directed to different objects; the one
sought liberty, and the other retaliation on England. The French officers and
soldiers who after this went to America, were eventually placed in the school
of Freedom, and learned the practice as well as the principles of it by heart.
As it was impossible to separate the military events which took place in
America from the principles of the American Revolution, the publication of
those events in France necessarily connected themselves with the principles
which produced them. Many of the facts were in themselves principles; such as
the declaration of American Independence, and the treaty of alliance between
France and America, which recognised the natural rights of man, and justified
resistance to oppression.
The then Minister of France, Count Vergennes, was not the friend of
America; and it is both justice and gratitude to say, that it was the Queen of
France who gave the cause of America a fashion at the French Court. Count
Vergennes was the personal and social friend of Dr. Franklin; and the Doctor
had obtained, by his sensible gracefulness, a sort of influence over him; but
with respect to principles Count Vergennes was a despot.
The situation of Dr. Franklin, as Minister from America to France, should
be taken into the chain of circumstances. The diplomatic character is of itself
the narrowest sphere of society that man can act in. It forbids intercourse by
the reciprocity of suspicion; and a diplomatic is a sort of unconnected atom,
continually repelling and repelled. But this was not the case with Dr.
Franklin. He was not the diplomatic of a Court, but of MAN. His character as a
philosopher had been long established, and his circle of society in France was
Count Vergennes resisted for a considerable time the publication in France
of American constitutions, translated into the French language: but even in
this he was obliged to give way to public opinion, and a sort of propriety in
admitting to appear what he had undertaken to defend. The American
constitutions were to liberty what a grammar is to language: they define its
parts of speech, and practically construct them into syntax.
The peculiar situation of the then Marquis de la Fayette is another link in
the great chain. He served in America as an American officer under a commission
of Congress, and by the universality of his acquaintance was in close
friendship with the civil government of America, as well as with the military
line. He spoke the language of the country, entered into the discussions on the
principles of government, and was always a welcome friend at any election.
When the war closed, a vast reinforcement to the cause of Liberty spread
itself over France, by the return of the French officers and soldiers. A
knowledge of the practice was then joined to the theory; and all that was
wanting to give it real existence was opportunity. Man cannot, properly
speaking, make circumstances for his purpose, but he always has it in his power
to improve them when they occur, and this was the case in France.
M. Neckar was displaced in May, 1781; and by the ill-management of the
finances afterwards, and particularly during the extravagant administration of
M. Calonne, the revenue of France, which was nearly twenty-four millions
sterling per year, was become unequal to the expenditure, not because the
revenue had decreased, but because the expenses had increased; and this was a
circumstance which the nation laid hold of to bring forward a Revolution. The
English Minister, Mr. Pitt, has frequently alluded to the state of the French
finances in his budgets, without understanding the subject. Had the French
Parliaments been as ready to register edicts for new taxes as an English
Parliament is to grant them, there had been no derangement in the finances, nor
yet any Revolution; but this will better explain itself as I proceed.
It will be necessary here to show how taxes were formerly raised in France.
The King, or rather the Court or Ministry acting under the use of that name,
framed the edicts for taxes at their own discretion, and sent them to the
Parliaments to be registered; for until they were registered by the Parliaments
they were not operative. Disputes had long existed between. the Court and the
Parliaments with respect to the extent of the Parliament's authority on this
head. The Court insisted that the authority of Parliaments went no farther than
to remonstrate or show reasons against the tax, reserving to itself the right
of determining whether the reasons were well or ill-founded; and in consequence
thereof, either to withdraw the edict as a matter of choice, or to order it to
be unregistered as a matter of authority. The Parliaments on their part
insisted that they had not only a right to remonstrate, but to reject; and on
this ground they were always supported by the nation.
But to return to the order of my narrative. M. Calonne wanted money: and as
he knew the sturdy disposition of the Parliaments with respect to new taxes, he
ingeniously sought either to approach them by a more gentle means than that of
direct authority, or to get over their heads by a manoeuvre; and for this
purpose he revived the project of assembling a body of men from the several
provinces, under the style of an "Assembly of the Notables," or men
of note, who met in 1787, and who were either to recommend taxes to the
Parliaments, or to act as a Parliament themselves. An Assembly under this name
had been called in 1617.
As we are to view this as the first practical step towards the Revolution,
it will be proper to enter into some particulars respecting it. The Assembly of
the Notables has in some places been mistaken for the States-General, but was
wholly a different body, the States-General being always by election. The
persons who composed the Assembly of the Notables were all nominated by the
king, and consisted of one hundred and forty members. But as M. Calonne could
not depend upon a majority of this Assembly in his favour, he very ingeniously
arranged them in such a manner as to make forty-four a majority of one hundred
and forty; to effect this he disposed of them into seven separate committees,
of twenty members each. Every general question was to be decided, not by a
majority of persons, but by a majority of committee, and as eleven votes would
make a majority in a committee, and four committees a majority of seven, M.
Calonne had good reason to conclude that as forty-four would determine any
general question he could not be outvoted. But all his plans deceived him, and
in the event became his overthrow.
The then Marquis de la Fayette was placed in the second committee, of which
the Count D'Artois was president, and as money matters were the object, it
naturally brought into view every circumstance connected with it. M. de la
Fayette made a verbal charge against Calonne for selling crown lands to the
amount of two millions of livres, in a manner that appeared to be unknown to
the king. The Count D'Artois (as if to intimidate, for the Bastille was then in
being) asked the Marquis if he would render the charge in writing? He replied
that he would. The Count D'Artois did not demand it, but brought a message from
the king to that purport. M. de la Fayette then delivered in his charge in
writing, to be given to the king, undertaking to support it. No farther
proceedings were had upon this affair, but M. Calonne was soon after dismissed
by the king and set off to England.
As M. de la Fayette, from the experience of what he had seen in America,
was better acquainted with the science of civil government than the generality
of the members who composed the Assembly of the Notables could then be, the
brunt of the business fell considerably to his share. The plan of those who had
a constitution in view was to contend with the Court on the ground of taxes,
and some of them openly professed their object. Disputes frequently arose
between Count D'Artois and M. de la Fayette upon various subjects. With respect
to the arrears already incurred the latter proposed to remedy them by
accommodating the expenses to the revenue instead of the revenue to the
expenses; and as objects of reform he proposed to abolish the Bastille and all
the State prisons throughout the nation (the keeping of which was attended with
great expense), and to suppress Lettres de Cachet; but those matters were not
then much attended to, and with respect to Lettres de Cachet, a majority of the
Nobles appeared to be in favour of them.
On the subject of supplying the Treasury by new taxes the Assembly declined
taking the matter on themselves, concurring in the opinion that they had not
authority. In a debate on this subject M. de la Fayette said that raising money
by taxes could only be done by a National Assembly, freely elected by the
people, and acting as their representatives. Do you mean, said the Count
D'Artois, the States-General? M. de la Fayette replied that he did. Will you,
said the Count D'Artois, sign what you say to be given to the king? The other
replied that he would not only do this but that he would go farther, and say
that the effectual mode would be for the king to agree to the establishment of
As one of the plans had thus failed, that of getting the Assembly to act as
a Parliament, the other came into view, that of recommending. On this subject
the Assembly agreed to recommend two new taxes to be unregistered by the
Parliament: the one a stamp-tax and the other a territorial tax, or sort of
land-tax. The two have been estimated at about five millions sterling per
annum. We have now to turn our attention to the Parliaments, on whom the
business was again devolving.
The Archbishop of Thoulouse (since Archbishop of Sens, and now a Cardinal),
was appointed to the administration of the finances soon after the dismission
of Calonne. He was also made Prime Minister, an office that did not always
exist in France. When this office did not exist, the chief of each of the
principal departments transacted business immediately with the King, but when a
Prime Minister was appointed they did business only with him. The Archbishop
arrived to more state authority than any minister since the Duke de Choiseul,
and the nation was strongly disposed in his favour; but by a line of conduct
scarcely to be accounted for he perverted every opportunity, turned out a
despot, and sunk into disgrace, and a Cardinal.
The Assembly of the Notables having broken up, the minister sent the edicts
for the two new taxes recommended by the Assembly to the Parliaments to be
unregistered. They of course came first before the Parliament of Paris, who
returned for answer: "that with such a revenue as the nation then
supported the name of taxes ought not to be mentioned but for the purpose of
reducing them"; and threw both the edicts out. On this refusal the Parliament was
ordered to Versailles, where, in the usual form, the King held what under the
old government was called a Bed of justice; and the two edicts were
unregistered in presence of the Parliament by an order of State, in the manner
mentioned, earlier. On this the Parliament immediately returned to Paris,
renewed their session in form, and ordered the enregistering to be struck out,
declaring that everything done at Versailles was illegal. All the members of
the Parliament were then served with Lettres de Cachet, and exiled to Troyes;
but as they continued as inflexible in exile as before, and as vengeance did
not supply the place of taxes, they were after a short time recalled to Paris.
The edicts were again tendered to them, and the Count D'Artois undertook to
act as representative of the King. For this purpose he came from Versailles to
Paris, in a train of procession; and the Parliament were assembled to receive
him. But show and parade had lost their influence in France; and whatever ideas
of importance he might set off with, he had to return with those of
mortification and disappointment. On alighting from his carriage to ascend the
steps of the Parliament House, the crowd (which was numerously collected) threw
out trite expressions, saying: "This is Monsieur D'Artois, who wants more
of our money to spend." The marked disapprobation which he saw impressed
him with apprehensions, and the word Aux armes! (To arms!) was given out by the
officer of the guard who attended him. It was so loudly vociferated, that it
echoed through the avenues of the house, and produced a temporary confusion. I
was then standing in one of the apartments through which he had to pass, and
could not avoid reflecting how wretched was the condition of a disrespected
He endeavoured to impress the Parliament by great words, and opened his
authority by saying, "The King, our Lord and Master." The Parliament
received him very coolly, and with their usual determination not to register
the taxes: and in this manner the interview ended.
After this a new subject took place: In the various debates and contests
which arose between the Court and the Parliaments on the subject of taxes, the
Parliament of Paris at last declared that although it had been customary for
Parliaments to enregister edicts for taxes as a matter of convenience, the
right belonged only to the States-General; and that, therefore, the Parliament
could no longer with propriety continue to debate on what it had not authority
to act. The King after this came to Paris and held a meeting with the
Parliament, in which he continued from ten in the morning till about six in the
evening, and, in a manner that appeared to proceed from him as if unconsulted
upon with the Cabinet or Ministry, gave his word to the Parliament that the
States-General should be convened.
But after this another scene arose, on a ground different from all the
former. The Minister and the Cabinet were averse to calling the States-General.
They well knew that if the States-General were assembled, themselves must fall;
and as the King had not mentioned any time, they hit on a project calculated to
elude, without appearing to oppose.
For this purpose, the Court set about making a sort of constitution itself.
It was principally the work of M. Lamoignon, the Keeper of the Seals, who
afterwards shot himself. This new arrangement consisted in establishing a body
under the name of a Cour Pleniere, or Full Court, in which were invested all
the powers that the Government might have occasion to make use of. The persons
composing this Court were to be nominated by the King; the contended right of
taxation was given up on the part of the King, and a new criminal code of laws
and law proceedings was substituted in the room of the former. The thing, in
many points, contained better principles than those upon which the Government
had hitherto been administered; but with respect to the Cour Pleniere, it was
no other than a medium through which despotism was to pass, without appearing
to act directly from itself.
The Cabinet had high expectations from their new contrivance. The people
who were to compose the Cour Pleniere were already nominated; and as it was
necessary to carry a fair appearance, many of the best characters in the nation
were appointed among the number. It was to commence on May 8, 1788; but an
opposition arose to it on two grounds — the one as to principle, the other
as to form.
On the ground of Principle it was contended that Government had not a right
to alter itself, and that if the practice was once admitted it would grow into
a principle and be made a precedent for any future alterations the Government
might wish to establish: that the right of altering the Government was a
national right, and not a right of Government. And on the ground of form it was
contended that the Cour Pleniere was nothing more than a larger Cabinet.
The then Duke de la Rochefoucault, Luxembourg, De Noailles, and many
others, refused to accept the nomination, and strenuously opposed the whole
plan. When the edict for establishing this new court was sent to the
Parliaments to be unregistered and put into execution, they resisted also. The
Parliament of Paris not only refused, but denied the authority; and the contest
renewed itself between the Parliament and the Cabinet more strongly than ever.
While the Parliament were sitting in debate on this subject, the Ministry
ordered a regiment of soldiers to surround the House and form a blockade. The
members sent out for beds and provisions, and lived as in a besieged citadel:
and as this had no effect, the commanding officer was ordered to enter the
Parliament House and seize them, which he did, and some of the principal
members were shut up in different prisons. About the same time a deputation of
persons arrived from the province of Brittany to remonstrate against the
establishment of the Cour Pleniere, and those the archbishop sent to the
Bastille. But the spirit of the nation was not to be overcome, and it was so
fully sensible of the strong ground it had taken — that of withholding
taxes — that it contented itself with keeping up a sort of quiet
resistance, which effectually overthrew all the plans at that time formed
against it. The project of the Cour Pleniere was at last obliged to be given
up, and the Prime Minister not long afterwards followed its fate, and M. Neckar
was recalled into office.
The attempt to establish the Cour Pleniere had an effect upon the nation
which itself did not perceive. It was a sort of new form of government that
insensibly served to put the old one out of sight and to unhinge it from the
superstitious authority of antiquity. It was Government dethroning Government;
and the old one, by attempting to make a new one, made a chasm.
The failure of this scheme renewed the subject of convening the
State-General; and this gave rise to a new series of politics. There was no
settled form for convening the States-General: all that it positively meant was
a deputation from what was then called the Clergy, the Noblesse, and the
Commons; but their numbers or their proportions had not been always the same.
They had been convened only on extraordinary occasions, the last of which was
in 1614; their numbers were then in equal proportions, and they voted by
It could not well escape the sagacity of M. Neckar, that the mode of 1614
would answer neither the purpose of the then government nor of the nation. As
matters were at that time circumstanced it would have been too contentious to
agree upon anything. The debates would have been endless upon privileges and
exemptions, in which neither the wants of the Government nor the wishes of the
nation for a Constitution would have been attended to. But as he did not choose
to take the decision upon himself, he summoned again the Assembly of the
Notables and referred it to them. This body was in general interested in the
decision, being chiefly of aristocracy and high-paid clergy, and they decided
in favor of the mode of 1614. This decision was against the sense of the
Nation, and also against the wishes of the Court; for the aristocracy opposed
itself to both and contended for privileges independent of either. The subject
was then taken up by the Parliament, who recommended that the number of the
Commons should be equal to the other two: and they should all sit in one house
and vote in one body. The number finally determined on was 1,200; 600 to be
chosen by the Commons (and this was less than their proportion ought to have
been when their worth and consequence is considered on a national scale), 300
by the Clergy, and 300 by the Aristocracy; but with respect to the mode of
assembling themselves, whether together or apart, or the manner in which they
should vote, those matters were referred.
The election that followed was not a contested election, but an animated
one. The candidates were not men, but principles. Societies were formed in
Paris, and committees of correspondence and communication established
throughout the nation, for the purpose of enlightening the people, and
explaining to them the principles of civil government; and so orderly was the
election conducted, that it did not give rise even to the rumour of tumult.
The States-General were to meet at Versailles in April 1789, but did not
assemble till May. They situated themselves in three separate chambers, or
rather the Clergy and Aristocracy withdrew each into a separate chamber. The
majority of the Aristocracy claimed what they called the privilege of voting as
a separate body, and of giving their consent or their negative in that manner;
and many of the bishops and the high-beneficed clergy claimed the same
privilege on the part of their Order.
The Tiers Etat (as they were then called) disowned any knowledge of
artificial orders and artificial privileges; and they were not only resolute on
this point, but somewhat disdainful. They began to consider the Aristocracy as
a kind of fungus growing out of the corruption of society, that could not be
admitted even as a branch of it; and from the disposition the Aristocracy had
shown by upholding Lettres de Cachet, and in sundry other instances, it was
manifest that no constitution could be formed by admitting men in any other
character than as National Men.
After various altercations on this head, the Tiers Etat or Commons (as they
were then called) declared themselves (on a motion made for that purpose by the
Abbe Sieyes) "THE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE NATION; and that the two Orders
could be considered but as deputies of corporations, and could only have a
deliberate voice when they assembled in a national character with the national
representatives." This proceeding extinguished the style of Etats
Generaux, or States-General, and erected it into the style it now bears, that
of L'Assemblee Nationale, or National Assembly.
This motion was not made in a precipitate manner. It was the result of cool
deliberation, and concerned between the national representatives and the
patriotic members of the two chambers, who saw into the folly, mischief, and
injustice of artificial privileged distinctions. It was become evident, that no
constitution, worthy of being called by that name, could be established on
anything less than a national ground. The Aristocracy had hitherto opposed the
despotism of the Court, and affected the language of patriotism; but it opposed
it as its rival (as the English Barons opposed King John) and it now opposed
the nation from the same motives.
On carrying this motion, the national representatives, as had been
concerted, sent an invitation to the two chambers, to unite with them in a
national character, and proceed to business. A majority of the clergy, chiefly
of the parish priests, withdrew from the clerical chamber, and joined the
nation; and forty-five from the other chamber joined in like manner. There is a
sort of secret history belonging to this last circumstance, which is necessary
to its explanation; it was not judged prudent that all the patriotic members of
the chamber styling itself the Nobles, should quit it at once; and in
consequence of this arrangement, they drew off by degrees, always leaving some,
as well to reason the case, as to watch the suspected. In a little time the
numbers increased from forty-five to eighty, and soon after to a greater
number; which, with the majority of the clergy, and the whole of the national
representatives, put the malcontents in a very diminutive condition.
The King, who, very different from the general class called by that name,
is a man of a good heart, showed himself disposed to recommend a union of the
three chambers, on the ground the National Assembly had taken; but the
malcontents exerted themselves to prevent it, and began now to have another
project in view. Their numbers consisted of a majority of the aristocratical
chamber, and the minority of the clerical chamber, chiefly of bishops and
high-beneficed clergy; and these men were determined to put everything to
issue, as well by strength as by stratagem. They had no objection to a
constitution; but it must be such a one as themselves should dictate, and
suited to their own views and particular situations. On the other hand, the
Nation disowned knowing anything of them but as citizens, and was determined to
shut out all such up-start pretensions. The more aristocracy appeared, the more
it was despised; there was a visible imbecility and want of intellects in the
majority, a sort of je ne sais quoi, that while it affected to be more than
citizen, was less than man. It lost ground from contempt more than from hatred;
and was rather jeered at as an ass, than dreaded as a lion. This is the general
character of aristocracy, or what are called Nobles or Nobility, or rather
No-ability, in all countries.
The plan of the malcontents consisted now of two things; either to
deliberate and vote by chambers (or orders), more especially on all questions
respecting a Constitution (by which the aristocratical chamber would have had a
negative on any article of the Constitution); or, in case they could not
accomplish this object, to overthrow the National Assembly entirely.
To effect one or other of these objects they began to cultivate a
friendship with the despotism they had hitherto attempted to rival, and the
Count D'Artois became their chief. The king (who has since declared himself
deceived into their measures) held, according to the old form, a Bed of
Justice, in which he accorded to the deliberation and vote par tete (by head)
upon several subjects; but reserved the deliberation and vote upon all
questions respecting a constitution to the three chambers separately. This
declaration of the king was made against the advice of M. Neckar, who now began
to perceive that he was growing out of fashion at Court, and that another
minister was in contemplation.
As the form of sitting in separate chambers was yet apparently kept up,
though essentially destroyed, the national representatives immediately after
this declaration of the King resorted to their own chambers to consult on a
protest against it; and the minority of the chamber (calling itself the
Nobles), who had joined the national cause, retired to a private house to
consult in like manner. The malcontents had by this time concerted their
measures with the court, which the Count D'Artois undertook to conduct; and as
they saw from the discontent which the declaration excited, and the opposition
making against it, that they could not obtain a control over the intended
constitution by a separate vote, they prepared themselves for their final
object — that of conspiring against the National Assembly, and
The next morning the door of the chamber of the National Assembly was shut
against them, and guarded by troops; and the members were refused admittance.
On this they withdrew to a tennis-ground in the neighbourhood of Versailles, as
the most convenient place they could find, and, after renewing their session,
took an oath never to separate from each other, under any circumstance
whatever, death excepted, until they had established a constitution. As the
experiment of shutting up the house had no other effect than that of producing
a closer connection in the members, it was opened again the next day, and the
public business recommenced in the usual place.
We are now to have in view the forming of the new ministry, which was to
accomplish the overthrow of the National Assembly. But as force would be
necessary, orders were issued to assemble thirty thousand troops, the command
of which was given to Broglio, one of the intended new ministry, who was
recalled from the country for this purpose. But as some management was
necessary to keep this plan concealed till the moment it should be ready for
execution, it is to this policy that a declaration made by Count D'Artois must
be attributed, and which is here proper to be introduced.
It could not but occur while the malcontents continued to resort to their
chambers separate from the National Assembly, more jealousy would be excited
than if they were mixed with it, and that the plot might be suspected. But as
they had taken their ground, and now wanted a pretence for quitting it, it was
necessary that one should be devised. This was effectually accomplished by a
declaration made by the Count D'Artois: "That if they took not a Part in
the National Assembly, the life of the king would be endangered": on which
they quitted their chambers, and mixed with the Assembly, in one body.
At the time this declaration was made, it was generally treated as a piece
of absurdity in Count D'Artois calculated merely to relieve the outstanding
members of the two chambers from the diminutive situation they were put in; and
if nothing more had followed, this conclusion would have been good. But as
things best explain themselves by their events, this apparent union was only a
cover to the machinations which were secretly going on; and the declaration
accommodated itself to answer that purpose. In a little time the National
Assembly found itself surrounded by troops, and thousands more were daily
arriving. On this a very strong declaration was made by the National Assembly
to the King, remonstrating on the impropriety of the measure, and demanding the
reason. The King, who was not in the secret of this business, as himself
afterwards declared, gave substantially for answer, that he had no other object
in view than to preserve the public tranquility, which appeared to be much
But in a few days from this time the plot unravelled itself M. Neckar and
the ministry were displaced, and a new one formed of the enemies of the
Revolution; and Broglio, with between twenty-five and thirty thousand foreign
troops, was arrived to support them. The mask was now thrown off, and matters
were come to a crisis. The event was that in a space of three days the new
ministry and their abettors found it prudent to fly the nation; the Bastille
was taken, and Broglio and his foreign troops dispersed, as is already related
in the former part of this work.
There are some curious circumstances in the history of this short-lived
ministry, and this short-lived attempt at a counter-revolution. The Palace of
Versailles, where the Court was sitting, was not more than four hundred yards
distant from the hall where the National Assembly was sitting. The two places
were at this moment like the separate headquarters of two combatant armies; yet
the Court was as perfectly ignorant of the information which had arrived from
Paris to the National Assembly, as if it had resided at an hundred miles
distance. The then Marquis de la Fayette, who (as has been already mentioned)
was chosen to preside in the National Assembly on this particular occasion,
named by order of the Assembly three successive deputations to the king, on the
day and up to the evening on which the Bastille was taken, to inform and confer
with him on the state of affairs; but the ministry, who knew not so much as
that it was attacked, precluded all communication, and were solacing themselves
how dextrously they had succeeded; but in a few hours the accounts arrived so
thick and fast that they had to start from their desks and run. Some set off in
one disguise, and some in another, and none in their own character. Their
anxiety now was to outride the news, lest they should be stopt, which, though
it flew fast, flew not so fast as themselves.
It is worth remarking that the National Assembly neither pursued those
fugitive conspirators, nor took any notice of them, nor sought to retaliate in
any shape whatever. Occupied with establishing a constitution founded on the
Rights of Man and the Authority of the People, the only authority on which
Government has a right to exist in any country, the National Assembly felt none
of those mean passions which mark the character of impertinent governments,
founding themselves on their own authority, or on the absurdity of hereditary
succession. It is the faculty of the human mind to become what it contemplates,
and to act in unison with its object.
The conspiracy being thus dispersed, one of the first works of the National
Assembly, instead of vindictive proclamations, as has been the case with other
governments, was to publish a declaration of the Rights of Man, as the basis on
which the new constitution was to be built, and which is here subjoined:
Declaration Of The Rights Of Man And Of Citizens By The National
Assembly Of France The representatives of the people of France, formed into a
National Assembly, considering that ignorance, neglect, or
contempt of human rights, are the sole causes of public misfortunes and
corruptions of Government, have resolved to set forth in a solemn declaration,
these natural, imprescriptible, and inalienable rights: that this declaration
being constantly present to the minds of the members of the body social, they
may be forever kept attentive to their rights and their duties; that the acts
of the legislative and executive powers of Government, being capable of being
every moment compared with the end of political institutions, may be more
respected; and also, that the future claims of the citizens, being directed by
simple and incontestable principles, may always tend to the maintenance of the
Constitution, and the general happiness.
For these reasons the National Assembly doth recognize and
declare, in the presence of the Supreme Being, and with the hope of his
blessing and favour, the following sacred rights of men and of citizens:
ONE: MEN ARE BORN, AND ALWAYS CONTINUE, FREE AND EQUAL IN RESPECT OF THEIR
RIGHTS. CIVIL DISTINCTIONS, THEREFORE, CAN BE FOUNDED ONLY ON PUBLIC UTILITY.
TWO: THE END OF ALL POLITICAL ASSOCIATIONS IS THE PRESERVATION OF THE
NATURAL AND IMPRESCRIPTIBLE RIGHTS OF MAN; AND THESE RIGHTS ARE LIBERTY,
PROPERTY, SECURITY, AND RESISTANCE OF OPPRESSION.
THREE: THE NATION IS ESSENTIALLY THE SOURCE OF ALL SOVEREIGNTY; NOR CAN ANY
INDIVIDUAL, OR ANY BODY OF MEN, BE ENTITLED TO ANY AUTHORITY WHICH IS NOT
EXPRESSLY DERIVED FROM IT.
FOUR: POLITICAL LIBERTY CONSISTS IN THE POWER OF DOING WHATEVER DOES NOT
INJURE ANOTHER. THE EXERCISE OF THE NATURAL RIGHTS OF EVERY MAN, HAS NO OTHER
LIMITS THAN THOSE WHICH ARE NECESSARY TO SECURE TO EVERY OTHER MAN THE FREE
EXERCISE OF THE SAME RIGHTS; AND THESE LIMITS ARE DETERMINABLE ONLY BY THE LAW
FIVE: THE LAW OUGHT TO PROHIBIT ONLY ACTIONS HURTFUL TO SOCIETY. WHAT IS
NOT PROHIBITED BY THE LAW SHOULD NOT BE HINDERED; NOR SHOULD ANYONE BE
COMPELLED TO THAT WHICH THE LAW DOES NOT REQUIRE
SIX: THE LAW IS AN EXPRESSION OF THE WILL OF THE COMMUNITY. ALL CITIZENS
HAVE A RIGHT TO CONCUR, EITHER PERSONALLY OR BY THEIR REPRESENTATIVES, IN ITS
FORMATION. IT SHOULD BE THE SAME TO ALL, WHETHER IT PROTECTS OR PUNISHES; AND
ALL BEING EQUAL IN ITS SIGHT, ARE EQUALLY ELIGIBLE TO ALL HONOURS, PLACES, AND
EMPLOYMENTS, ACCORDING TO THEIR DIFFERENT ABILITIES, WITHOUT ANY OTHER
DISTINCTION THAN THAT CREATED BY THEIR VIRTUES AND TALENTS
SEVEN: NO MAN SHOULD BE ACCUSED, ARRESTED, OR HELD IN CONFINEMENT, EXCEPT
IN CASES DETERMINED BY THE LAW, AND ACCORDING TO THE FORMS WHICH IT HAS
PRESCRIBED. ALL WHO PROMOTE, SOLICIT, EXECUTE, OR CAUSE TO BE EXECUTED,
ARBITRARY ORDERS, OUGHT TO BE PUNISHED, AND EVERY CITIZEN CALLED UPON, OR
APPREHENDED BY VIRTUE OF THE LAW, OUGHT IMMEDIATELY TO OBEY, AND RENDERS
HIMSELF CULPABLE BY RESISTANCE.
EIGHT: THE LAW OUGHT TO IMPOSE NO OTHER PENALTIES BUT SUCH AS ARE
ABSOLUTELY AND EVIDENTLY NECESSARY; AND NO ONE OUGHT TO BE PUNISHED, BUT IN
VIRTUE OF A LAW PROMULGATED BEFORE THE OFFENCE, AND LEGALLY APPLIED.
NINE: EVERY MAN BEING PRESUMED INNOCENT TILL HE HAS BEEN CONVICTED,
WHENEVER HIS DETENTION BECOMES INDISPENSABLE, ALL RIGOUR TO HIM, MORE THAN IS
NECESSARY TO SECURE HIS PERSON, OUGHT TO BE PROVIDED AGAINST BY THE LAW.
TEN: NO MAN OUGHT TO BE MOLESTED ON ACCOUNT OF HIS OPINIONS, NOT EVEN ON
ACCOUNT OF HIS RELIGIOUS OPINIONS, PROVIDED HIS AVOWAL OF THEM DOES NOT DISTURB
THE PUBLIC ORDER ESTABLISHED BY THE LAW.
ELEVEN: THE UNRESTRAINED COMMUNICATION OF THOUGHTS AND OPINIONS BEING ONE
OF THE MOST PRECIOUS RIGHTS OF MAN, EVERY CITIZEN MAY SPEAK, WRITE, AND PUBLISH
FREELY, PROVIDED HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABUSE OF THIS LIBERTY, IN CASES
DETERMINED BY THE LAW.
TWELVE: A PUBLIC FORCE BEING NECESSARY TO GIVE SECURITY TO THE RIGHTS OF
MEN AND OF CITIZENS, THAT FORCE IS INSTITUTED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE COMMUNITY
AND NOT FOR THE PARTICULAR BENEFIT OF THE PERSONS TO WHOM IT IS INTRUSTED.
THIRTEEN: A COMMON CONTRIBUTION BEING NECESSARY FOR THE SUPPORT OF THE
PUBLIC FORCE, AND FOR DEFRAYING THE OTHER EXPENSES OF GOVERNMENT, IT OUGHT TO
BE DIVIDED EQUALLY AMONG THE MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY, ACCORDING TO THEIR
FOURTEEN: EVERY CITIZEN HAS A RIGHT, EITHER BY HIMSELF OR HIS
REPRESENTATIVE, TO A FREE VOICE IN DETERMINING THE NECESSITY OF PUBLIC
CONTRIBUTIONS, THE APPROPRIATION OF THEM, AND THEIR AMOUNT, MODE OF ASSESSMENT,
FIFTEEN: EVERY COMMUNITY HAS A RIGHT TO DEMAND OF ALL ITS AGENTS AN ACCOUNT
OF THEIR CONDUCT.
SIXTEEN: EVERY COMMUNITY IN WHICH A SEPARATION OF POWERS AND A SECURITY OF
RIGHTS IS NOT PROVIDED FOR, WANTS A CONSTITUTION.
SEVENTEEN: THE RIGHT TO PROPERTY BEING INVIOLABLE AND SACRED, NO ONE OUGHT
TO BE DEPRIVED OF IT, EXCEPT IN CASES OF EVIDENT PUBLIC NECESSITY, LEGALLY
ASCERTAINED, AND ON CONDITION OF A PREVIOUS JUST INDEMNITY.
Observations on the Declaration of Rights
The first three articles comprehend in general terms the whole of a
Declaration of Rights, all the succeeding articles either originate from them
or follow as elucidations. The 4th, 5th, and 6th define more particularly what
is only generally expressed in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.
The 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th articles are declaratory of principles
upon which laws shall be constructed, conformable to rights already declared.
But it is questioned by some very good people in France, as well as in other
countries, whether the 10th article sufficiently guarantees the right it is
intended to accord with; besides which it takes off from the divine dignity of
religion, and weakens its operative force upon the mind, to make it a subject
of human laws. It then presents itself to man like light intercepted by a
cloudy medium, in which the source of it is obscured from his sight, and he
sees nothing to reverence in the dusky ray.
The remaining articles, beginning with the twelfth, are substantially
contained in the principles of the preceding articles; but in the particular
situation in which France then was, having to undo what was wrong, as well as
to set up what was right, it was proper to be more particular than what in
another condition of things would be necessary.
While the Declaration of Rights was before the National Assembly some of
its members remarked that if a declaration of rights were published it should
be accompanied by a Declaration of Duties. The observation discovered a mind
that reflected, and it only erred by not reflecting far enough. A Declaration
of Rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my
right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to
guarantee as well as to possess.
The three first articles are the base of Liberty, as well individual as
national; nor can any country be called free whose government does not take its
beginning from the principles they contain, and continue to preserve them pure;
and the whole of the Declaration of Rights is of more value to the world, and
will do more good, than all the laws and statutes that have yet been
In the declaratory exordium which prefaces the Declaration of Rights we see
the solemn and majestic spectacle of a nation opening its commission, under the
auspices of its Creator, to establish a Government, a scene so new, and so
transcendantly unequalled by anything in the European world, that the name of a
Revolution is diminutive of its character, and it rises into a Regeneration of
man. What are the present Governments of Europe but a scene of iniquity and
oppression? What is that of England? Do not its own inhabitants say it is a
market where every man has his price, and where corruption is common traffic at
the expense of a deluded people? No wonder, then, that the French Revolution is
traduced. Had it confined itself merely to the destruction of flagrant
despotism perhaps Mr. Burke and some others had been silent. Their cry now is,
"It has gone too far" — that is, it has gone too far for them.
It stares corruption in the face, and the venal tribe are all alarmed. Their
fear discovers itself in their outrage, and they are but publishing the groans
of a wounded vice. But from such opposition the French Revolution, instead of
suffering, receives an homage. The more it is struck the more sparks it will
emit; and the fear is it will not be struck enough. It has nothing to dread
from attacks; truth has given it an establishment, and time will record it with
a name as lasting as his own.
Having now traced the progress of the French Revolution through most of its
principal stages, from its commencement to the taking of the Bastille, and its
establishment by the Declaration of Rights, I will close the subject with the
energetic apostrophe of M. de la Fayette —
"May this great monument, raised to Liberty, serve as a lesson to the
oppressor, and an example to the oppressed!"
To prevent interrupting the argument in the preceding part of this work, or
the narrative that follows it, I reserved some observations to be thrown
together in a Miscellaneous Chapter; by which variety might not be censured for
confusion. Mr. Burke's book is all Miscellany. His intention was to make an
attack on the French Revolution; but instead of proceeding with an orderly
arrangement, he has stormed it with a mob of ideas tumbling over and destroying
But this confusion and contradiction in Mr. Burke's Book is easily
accounted for. — When a man in a wrong cause attempts to steer his course
by anything else than some polar truth or principle, he is sure to be lost. It
is beyond the compass of his capacity to keep all the parts of an argument
together, and make them unite in one issue, by any other means than having this
guide always in view. Neither memory nor invention will supply the want of it.
The former fails him, and the latter betrays him.
Notwithstanding the nonsense, for it deserves no better name, that Mr.
Burke has asserted about hereditary rights, and hereditary succession, and that
a Nation has not a right to form a Government of itself; it happened to fall in
his way to give some account of what Government is. "Government,"
says he, "is a contrivance of human wisdom.
Admitting that government is a contrivance of human wisdom, it must
necessarily follow, that hereditary succession, and hereditary rights (as they
are called), can make no part of it, because it is impossible to make wisdom
hereditary; and on the other hand, that cannot be a wise contrivance, which in
its operation may commit the government of a nation to the wisdom of an idiot.
The ground which Mr. Burke now takes is fatal to every part of his cause. The
argument changes from hereditary rights to hereditary wisdom; and the question
is, Who is the wisest man? He must now show that every one in the line of
hereditary succession was a Solomon, or his title is not good to be a king.
What a stroke has Mr. Burke now made! To use a sailor's phrase, he has swabbed
the deck, and scarcely left a name legible in the list of Kings; and he has
mowed down and thinned the House of Peers, with a scythe as formidable as Death
But Mr. Burke appears to have been aware of this retort; and he has taken
care to guard against it, by making government to be not only a contrivance of
human wisdom, but a monopoly of wisdom. He puts the nation as fools on one
side, and places his government of wisdom, all wise men of Gotham, on the other
side; and he then proclaims, and says that "Men have a RIGHT that their
WANTS should be provided for by this wisdom." Having thus made
proclamation, he next proceeds to explain to them what their wants are, and
also what their rights are. In this he has succeeded dextrously, for he makes
their wants to be a want of wisdom; but as this is cold comfort, he then
informs them, that they have a right (not to any of the wisdom) but to be
governed by it; and in order to impress them with a solemn reverence for this
monopoly-government of wisdom, and of its vast capacity for all purposes,
possible or impossible, right or wrong, he proceeds with astrological
mysterious importance, to tell to them its powers in these words: "The
rights of men in government are their advantages; and these are often in
balance between differences of good; and in compromises sometimes between good
and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing
principle; adding — subtracting — multiplying — and dividing,
morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral
As the wondering audience, whom Mr. Burke supposes himself talking to, may
not understand all this learned jargon, I will undertake to be its interpreter.
The meaning, then, good people, of all this, is: That government is governed by
no principle whatever; that it can make evil good, or good evil, just as it
pleases. In short, that government is arbitrary power.
But there are some things which Mr. Burke has forgotten. First, he has not
shown where the wisdom originally came from: and secondly, he has not shown by
what authority it first began to act. In the manner he introduces the matter,
it is either government stealing wisdom, or wisdom stealing government. It is
without an origin, and its powers without authority. In short, it is
Whether it be from a sense of shame, or from a consciousness of some
radical defect in a government necessary to be kept out of sight, or from both,
or from any other cause, I undertake not to determine, but so it is, that a
monarchical reasoner never traces government to its source, or from its source.
It is one of the shibboleths by which he may be known. A thousand years hence,
those who shall live in America or France, will look back with contemplative
pride on the origin of their government, and say, This was the work of our
glorious ancestors! But what can a monarchical talker say? What has he to exult
in? Alas he has nothing. A certain something forbids him to look back to a
beginning, lest some robber, or some Robin Hood, should rise from the long
obscurity of time and say, I am the origin. Hard as Mr. Burke laboured at the
Regency Bill and Hereditary Succession two years ago, and much as he dived for
precedents, he still had not boldness enough to bring up William of Normandy,
and say, There is the head of the list! there is the fountain of honour! the
son of a prostitute, and the plunderer of the English nation.
The opinions of men with respect to government are changing fast in all
countries. The Revolutions of America and France have thrown a beam of light
over the world, which reaches into man. The enormous expense of governments has
provoked people to think, by making them feel; and when once the veil begins to
rend, it admits not of repair. Ignorance is of a peculiar nature: once
dispelled, it is impossible to re-establish it. It is not originally a thing of
itself, but is only the absence of knowledge; and though man may be kept
ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant. The mind, in discovering truth, acts in
the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once
any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same
condition it was in before it saw it. Those who talk of a counter-revolution in
France, show how little they understand of man. There does not exist in the
compass of language an arrangement of words to express so much as the means of
effecting a counter-revolution. The means must be an obliteration of knowledge;
and it has never yet been discovered how to make man unknow his knowledge, or
unthink his thoughts.
Mr. Burke is labouring in vain to stop the progress of knowledge; and it
comes with the worse grace from him, as there is a certain transaction known in
the city which renders him suspected of being a pensioner in a fictitious name.
This may account for some strange doctrine he has advanced in his book, which
though he points it at the Revolution Society, is effectually directed against
the whole nation.
"The King of England," says he, "holds his crown (for it
does not belong to the Nation, according to Mr. Burke) in contempt of the
choice of the Revolution Society, who have not a single vote for a king among
them either individually or collectively; and his Majesty's heirs each in their
time and order, will come to the Crown with the same contempt of their choice,
with which his Majesty has succeeded to that which he now wears."
As to who is King in England, or elsewhere, or whether there is any King at
all, or whether the people choose a Cherokee chief, or a Hessian hussar for a
King, it is not a matter that I trouble myself about — be that to
themselves; but with respect to the doctrine, so far as it relates to the
Rights of Men and Nations, it is as abominable as anything ever uttered in the
most enslaved country under heaven. Whether it sounds worse to my ear, by not
being accustomed to hear such despotism, than what it does to another person, I
am not so well a judge of; but of its abominable principle I am at no loss to
It is not the Revolution Society that Mr. Burke means; it is the Nation, as
well in its original as in its representative character; and he has taken care
to make himself understood, by saying that they have not a vote either
collectively or individually. The Revolution Society is composed of citizens of
all denominations, and of members of both the Houses of Parliament; and
consequently, if there is not a right to a vote in any of the characters, there
can be no right to any either in the nation or in its Parliament. This ought to
be a caution to every country how to import foreign families to be kings. It is
somewhat curious to observe, that although the people of England had been in
the habit of talking about kings, it is always a Foreign House of Kings; hating
Foreigners yet governed by them. — It is now the House of Brunswick, one
of the petty tribes of Germany.
It has hitherto been the practice of the English Parliaments to regulate
what was called the succession (taking it for granted that the Nation then
continued to accord to the form of annexing a monarchical branch of its
government; for without this the Parliament could not have had authority to
have sent either to Holland or to Hanover, or to impose a king upon the nation
against its will). And this must be the utmost limit to which Parliament can go
upon this case; but the right of the Nation goes to the whole case, because it
has the right of changing its whole form of government. The right of a
Parliament is only a right in trust, a right by delegation, and that but from a
very small part of the Nation; and one of its Houses has not even this. But the
right of the Nation is an original right, as universal as taxation. The nation
is the paymaster of everything, and everything must conform to its general
I remember taking notice of a speech in what is called the English House of
Peers, by the then Earl of Shelburne, and I think it was at the time he was
Minister, which is applicable to this case. I do not directly charge my memory
with every particular; but the words and the purport, as nearly as I remember,
were these: "That the form of a Government was a matter wholly at the will
of the Nation at all times, that if it chose a monarchical form, it had a right
to have it so; and if it afterwards chose to be a Republic, it had a right to
be a Republic, and to say to a King, "We have no longer any occasion for
When Mr. Burke says that "His Majesty's heirs and successors, each in
their time and order, will come to the crown with the same content of their
choice with which His Majesty had succeeded to that he wears," it is
saying too much even to the humblest individual in the country; part of whose
daily labour goes towards making up the million sterling a-year, which the
country gives the person it styles a king. Government with insolence is
despotism; but when contempt is added it becomes worse; and to pay for contempt
is the excess of slavery. This species of government comes from Germany; and
reminds me of what one of the Brunswick soldiers told me, who was taken
prisoner by, the Americans in the late war: "Ah!" said he,
"America is a fine free country, it is worth the people's fighting for; I
know the difference by knowing my own: in my country, if the prince says eat
straw, we eat straw." God help that country, thought I, be it England or
elsewhere, whose liberties are to be protected by German principles of
government, and Princes of Brunswick!
As Mr. Burke sometimes speaks of England, sometimes of France, and
sometimes of the world, and of government in general, it is difficult to answer
his book without apparently meeting him on the same ground. Although principles
of Government are general subjects, it is next to impossible, in many cases, to
separate them from the idea of place and circumstance, and the more so when
circumstances are put for arguments, which is frequently the case with Mr.
In the former part of his book, addressing himself to the people of France,
he says: "No experience has taught us (meaning the English), that in any
other course or method than that of a hereditary crown, can our liberties be
regularly perpetuated and preserved sacred as our hereditary right." I ask
Mr. Burke, who is to take them away? M. de la Fayette, in speaking to France,
says: "For a Nation to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it."
But Mr. Burke represents England as wanting capacity to take care of itself,
and that its liberties must be taken care of by a King holding it in
"contempt." If England is sunk to this, it is preparing itself to eat
straw, as in Hanover, or in Brunswick. But besides the folly of the
declaration, it happens that the facts are all against Mr. Burke. It was by the
government being hereditary, that the liberties of the people were endangered.
Charles I. and James II. are instances of this truth; yet neither of them went
so far as to hold the Nation in contempt.
As it is sometimes of advantage to the people of one country to hear what
those of other countries have to say respecting it, it is possible that the
people of France may learn something from Mr. Burke's book, and that the people
of England may also learn something from the answers it will occasion. When
Nations fall out about freedom, a wide field of debate is opened. The argument
commences with the rights of war, without its evils, and as knowledge is the
object contended for, the party that sustains the defeat obtains the prize.
Mr. Burke talks about what he calls an hereditary crown, as if it were some
production of Nature; or as if, like Time, it had a power to operate, not only
independently, but in spite of man; or as if it were a thing or a subject
universally consented to. Alas! it has none of those properties, but is the
reverse of them all. It is a thing in imagination, the propriety of which is
more than doubted, and the legality of which in a few years will be denied.
But, to arrange this matter in a clearer view than what general expression
can heads under which (what is called) an hereditary crown, or more properly
speaking, an hereditary succession to the Government of a Nation, can be
considered; which are —
First, The right of a particular Family to establish itself.
Secondly, The right of a Nation to establish a particular Family.
With respect to the first of these heads, that of a Family establishing
itself with hereditary powers on its own authority, and independent of the
consent of a Nation, all men will concur in calling it despotism; and it would
be trespassing on their understanding to attempt to prove it.
But the second head, that of a Nation establishing a particular Family with
hereditary powers, does not present itself as despotism on the first
reflection; but if men will permit it a second reflection to take place, and
carry that reflection forward but one remove out of their own persons to that
of their offspring, they will then see that hereditary succession becomes in
its consequences the same despotism to others, which they reprobated for
themselves. It operates to preclude the consent of the succeeding generations;
and the preclusion of consent is despotism. When the person who at any time
shall be in possession of a Government, or those who stand in succession to
him, shall say to a Nation, I hold this power in "contempt" of you,
it signifies not on what authority he pretends to say it. It is no relief, but
an aggravation to a person in slavery, to reflect that he was sold by his
parent; and as that which heightens the criminality of an act cannot be
produced to prove the legality of it, hereditary succession cannot be
established as a legal thing.
In order to arrive at a more perfect decision on this head, it will be
proper to consider the generation which undertakes to establish a Family with
hereditary powers, apart and separate from the generations which are to follow;
and also to consider the character in which the first generation acts with
respect to succeeding generations.
The generation which first selects a person, and puts him at the head of
its Government, either with the title of King, or any other distinction, acts
on its own choice, be it wise or foolish, as a free agent for itself The person
so set up is not hereditary, but selected and appointed; and the generation who
sets him up, does not live under a hereditary government, but under a
government of its own choice and establishment. Were the generation who sets
him up, and the person so set up, to live for ever, it never could become
hereditary succession; and of consequence hereditary succession can only follow
on the death of the first parties.
As, therefore, hereditary succession is out of the question with respect to
the first generation, we have now to consider the character in which that
generation acts with respect to the commencing generation, and to all
It assumes a character, to which it has neither right nor title. It changes
itself from a Legislator to a Testator, and effects to make its Will, which is
to have operation after the demise of the makers, to bequeath the Government;
and it not only attempts to bequeath, but to establish on the succeeding
generation, a new and different form of Government under which itself lived.
Itself, as already observed, lived not under a hereditary Government but under
a Government of its own choice and establishment; and it now attempts, by
virtue of a will and testament (and which it has not authority to make), to
take from the commencing generation, and all future ones, the rights and free
agency by which itself acted.
But, exclusive of the right which any generation has to act collectively as
a testator, the objects to which it applies itself in this case, are not within
the compass of any law, or of any will or testament.
The rights of men in society, are neither devisable or transferable, nor
annihilable, but are descendable only, and it is not in the power of any
generation to intercept finally, and cut off the descent. If the present
generation, or any other, are disposed to be slaves, it does not lessen the
right of the succeeding generation to be free. Wrongs cannot have a legal
descent. When Mr. Burke attempts to maintain that the English nation did at the
Revolution of 1688, most solemnly renounce and abdicate their rights for
themselves, and for all their posterity for ever, he speaks a language that
merits not reply, and which can only excite contempt for his prostitute
principles, or pity for his ignorance.
In whatever light hereditary succession, as growing out of the will and
testament of some former generation, presents itself, it is an absurdity. A
cannot make a will to take from B the property of B, and give it to C; yet this
is the manner in which (what is called) hereditary succession by law operates.
A certain former generation made a will, to take away the rights of the
commencing generation, and all future ones, and convey those rights to a third
person, who afterwards comes forward, and tells them, in Mr. Burke's language,
that they have no rights, that their rights are already bequeathed to him and
that he will govern in contempt of them. From such principles, and such
ignorance, good Lord deliver the world!
But, after all, what is this metaphor called a crown, or rather what is
monarchy? Is it a thing, or is it a name, or is it a fraud? Is it a
"contrivance of human wisdom," or of human craft to obtain money from
a nation under specious pretences? Is it a thing necessary to a nation? If it
is, in what does that necessity consist, what service does it perform, what is
its business, and what are its merits? Does the virtue consist in the metaphor,
or in the man? Doth the goldsmith that makes the crown, make the virtue also?
Doth it operate like Fortunatus's wishing-cap, or Harlequin's wooden sword?
Doth it make a man a conjurer? In fine, what is it? It appears to be something
going much out of fashion, falling into ridicule, and rejected in some
countries, both as unnecessary and expensive. In America it is considered as an
absurdity; and in France it has so far declined, that the goodness of the man,
and the respect for his personal character, are the only things that preserve
the appearance of its existence.
If government be what Mr. Burke describes it, "a contrivance of human
wisdom" I might ask him, if wisdom was at such a low ebb in England, that
it was become necessary to import it from Holland and from Hanover? But I will
do the country the justice to say, that was not the case; and even if it was it
mistook the cargo. The wisdom of every country, when properly exerted, is
sufficient for all its purposes; and there could exist no more real occasion in
England to have sent for a Dutch Stadtholder, or a German Elector, than there
was in America to have done a similar thing. If a country does not understand
its own affairs, how is a foreigner to understand them, who knows neither its
laws, its manners, nor its language? If there existed a man so transcendently
wise above all others, that his wisdom was necessary to instruct a nation, some
reason might be offered for monarchy; but when we cast our eyes about a
country, and observe how every part understands its own affairs; and when we
look around the world, and see that of all men in it, the race of kings are the
most insignificant in capacity, our reason cannot fail to ask us — What
are those men kept for?
If there is anything in monarchy which we people of America do not
understand, I wish Mr. Burke would be so kind as to inform us. I see in
America, a government extending over a country ten times as large as England,
and conducted with regularity, for a fortieth part of the expense which
Government costs in England. If I ask a man in America if he wants a King, he
retorts, and asks me if I take him for an idiot? How is it that this difference
happens? are we more or less wise than others? I see in America the generality
of people living in a style of plenty unknown in monarchical countries; and I
see that the principle of its government, which is that of the equal Rights of
Man, is making a rapid progress in the world.
If monarchy is a useless thing, why is it kept up anywhere? and if a
necessary thing, how can it be dispensed with? That civil government is
necessary, all civilized nations will agree; but civil government is republican
government. All that part of the government of England which begins with the
office of constable, and proceeds through the department of magistrate,
quarter-sessions, and general assize, including trial by jury, is republican
government. Nothing of monarchy appears in any part of it, except in the name
which William the Conqueror imposed upon the English, that of obliging them to
call him "Their Sovereign Lord the King."
It is easy to conceive that a band of interested men, such as Placemen,
Pensioners, Lords of the bed-chamber, Lords of the kitchen, Lords of the
necessary-house, and the Lord knows what besides, can find as many reasons for
monarchy as their salaries, paid at the expense of the country, amount to; but
if I ask the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and down
through all the occupations of life to the common labourer, what service
monarchy is to him? he can give me no answer. If I ask him what monarchy is, he
believes it is something like a sinecure.
Notwithstanding the taxes of England amount to almost seventeen millions a
year, said to be for the expenses of Government, it is still evident that the
sense of the Nation is left to govern itself, and does govern itself, by
magistrates and juries, almost at its own charge, on republican principles,
exclusive of the expense of taxes. The salaries of the judges are almost the
only charge that is paid out of the revenue. Considering that all the internal
government is executed by the people, the taxes of England ought to be the
lightest of any nation in Europe; instead of which, they are the contrary. As
this cannot be accounted for on the score of civil government, the subject
necessarily extends itself to the monarchical part.
When the people of England sent for George the First (and it would puzzle a
wiser man than Mr. Burke to discover for what he could be wanted, or what
service he could render), they ought at least to have conditioned for the
abandonment of Hanover. Besides the endless German intrigues that must follow
from a German Elector being King of England, there is a natural impossibility
of uniting in the same person the principles of Freedom and the principles of
Despotism, or as it is usually called in England Arbitrary Power. A German
Elector is in his electorate a despot; how then could it be expected that he
should be attached to principles of liberty in one country, while his interest
in another was to be supported by despotism? The union cannot exist; and it
might easily have been foreseen that German Electors would make German Kings,
or in Mr. Burke's words, would assume government with "contempt." The
English have been in the habit of considering a King of England only in the
character in which he appears to them; whereas the same person, while the
connection lasts, has a home-seat in another country, the interest of which is
different to their own, and the principles of the governments in opposition to
each other. To such a person England will appear as a town-residence, and the
Electorate as the estate. The English may wish, as I believe they do, success
to the principles of liberty in France, or in Germany; but a German Elector
trembles for the fate of despotism in his electorate; and the Duchy of
Mecklenburgh, where the present Queen's family governs, is under the same
wretched state of arbitrary power, and the people in slavish vassalage.
There never was a time when it became the English to watch continental
intrigues more circumspectly than at the present moment, and to distinguish the
politics of the Electorate from the politics of the Nation. The Revolution of
France has entirely changed the ground with respect to England and France, as
nations; but the German despots, with Prussia at their head, are combining
against liberty; and the fondness of Mr. Pitt for office, and the interest
which all his family connections have obtained, do not give sufficient security
against this intrigue.
As everything which passes in the world becomes matter for history, I will
now quit this subject, and take a concise review of the state of parties and
politics in England, as Mr. Burke has done in France.
Whether the present reign commenced with contempt, I leave to Mr. Burke:
certain, however, it is, that it had strongly that appearance. The animosity of
the English nation, it is very well remembered, ran high; and, had the true
principles of Liberty been as well understood then as they now promise to be,
it is probable the Nation would not have patiently submitted to so much. George
the First and Second were sensible of a rival in the remains of the Stuarts;
and as they could not but consider themselves as standing on their good
behaviour, they had prudence to keep their German principles of government to
themselves; but as the Stuart family wore away, the prudence became less
The contest between rights, and what were called prerogatives, continued to
heat the nation till some time after the conclusion of the American War, when
all at once it fell a calm — Execration exchanged itself for applause, and
Court popularity sprung up like a mushroom in a night.
To account for this sudden transition, it is proper to observe that there
are two distinct species of popularity; the one excited by merit, and the other
by resentment. As the Nation had formed itself into two parties, and each was
extolling the merits of its parliamentary champions for and against
prerogative, nothing could operate to give a more general shock than an
immediate coalition of the champions themselves. The partisans of each being
thus suddenly left in the lurch, and mutually heated with disgust at the
measure, felt no other relief than uniting in a common execration against both.
A higher stimulus or resentment being thus excited than what the contest on
prerogatives occasioned, the nation quitted all former objects of rights and
wrongs, and sought only that of gratification. The indignation at the Coalition
so effectually superseded the indignation against the Court as to extinguish
it; and without any change of principles on the part of the Court, the same
people who had reprobated its despotism united with it to revenge themselves on
the Coalition Parliament. The case was not, which they liked best, but which
they hated most; and the least hated passed for love. The dissolution of the
Coalition Parliament, as it afforded the means of gratifying the resentment of
the Nation, could not fail to be popular; and from hence arose the popularity
of the Court.
Transitions of this kind exhibit a Nation under the government of temper,
instead of a fixed and steady principle; and having once committed itself,
however rashly, it feels itself urged along to justify by continuance its first
proceeding. Measures which at other times it would censure it now approves, and
acts persuasion upon itself to suffocate its judgment.
On the return of a new Parliament, the new Minister, Mr. Pitt, found
himself in a secure majority; and the Nation gave him credit, not out of regard
to himself, but because it had resolved to do it out of resentment to another.
He introduced himself to public notice by a proposed Reform of Parliament,
which in its operation would have amounted to a public justification of
corruption. The Nation was to be at the expense of buying up the rotten
boroughs, whereas it ought to punish the persons who deal in the traffic.
Passing over the two bubbles of the Dutch business and the million a-year
to sink the national debt, the matter which most presents itself, is the affair
of the Regency. Never, in the course of my observation, was delusion more
successfully acted, nor a nation more completely deceived. But, to make this
appear, it will be necessary to go over the circumstances.
Mr. Fox had stated in the House of Commons, that the Prince of Wales, as
heir in succession, had a right in himself to assume the Government. This was
opposed by Mr. Pitt; and, so far as the opposition was confined to the
doctrine, it was just. But the principles which Mr. Pitt maintained on the
contrary side were as bad, or worse in their extent, than those of Mr. Fox;
because they went to establish an aristocracy over the nation, and over the
small representation it has in the House of Commons.
Whether the English form of Government be good or bad, is not in this case
the question; but, taking it as it stands, without regard to its merits or
demerits, Mr. Pitt was farther from the point than Mr. Fox.
It is supposed to consist of three parts: — while therefore the Nation
is disposed to continue this form, the parts have a national standing,
independent of each other, and are not the creatures of each other. Had Mr. Fox
passed through Parliament, and said that the person alluded to claimed on the,
ground of the Nation, Mr. Pitt must then have contended what he called the
right of the Parliament against the right of the Nation.
By the appearance which the contest made, Mr. Fox took the hereditary
ground, and Mr. Pitt the Parliamentary ground; but the fact is, they both took
hereditary ground, and Mr. Pitt took the worst of the two.
What is called the Parliament is made up of two Houses, one of which is
more hereditary, and more beyond the control of the Nation than what the Crown
(as it is called) is supposed to be. It is an hereditary aristocracy, assuming
and asserting indefeasible, irrevocable rights and authority, wholly
independent of the Nation. Where, then, was the merited popularity of exalting
this hereditary power over another hereditary power less independent of the
Nation than what itself assumed to be, and of absorbing the rights of the
Nation into a House over which it has neither election nor control?
The general impulse of the Nation was right; but it acted without
reflection. It approved the opposition made to the right set up by Mr. Fox,
without perceiving that Mr. Pitt was supporting another indefeasible right more
remote from the Nation, in opposition to it.
With respect to the House of Commons, it is elected but by a small part of
the Nation; but were the election as universal as taxation, which it ought to
be, it would still be only the organ of the Nation, and cannot possess inherent
rights. — When the National Assembly of France resolves a matter, the
resolve is made in right of the Nation; but Mr. Pitt, on all national
questions, so far as they refer to the House of Commons, absorbs the rights of
the Nation into the organ, and makes the organ into a Nation, and the Nation
itself into a cypher.
In a few words, the question on the Regency was a question of a million
a-year, which is appropriated to the executive department: and Mr. Pitt could
not possess himself of any management of this sum, without setting up the
supremacy of Parliament; and when this was accomplished, it was indifferent who
should be Regent, as he must be Regent at his own cost. Among the curiosities
which this contentious debate afforded, was that of making the Great Seal into
a King, the affixing of which to an act was to be royal authority. If,
therefore, Royal Authority is a Great Seal, it consequently is in itself
nothing; and a good Constitution would be of infinitely more value to the
Nation than what the three Nominal Powers, as they now stand, are worth.
The continual use of the word Constitution in the English Parliament shows
there is none; and that the whole is merely a form of government without a
Constitution, and constituting itself with what powers it pleases. If there
were a Constitution, it certainly could be referred to; and the debate on any
constitutional point would terminate by producing the Constitution. One member
says this is Constitution, and another says that is Constitution — To-day
it is one thing; and to-morrow something else — while the maintaining of
the debate proves there is none. Constitution is now the cant word of
Parliament, tuning itself to the ear of the Nation. Formerly it was the
universal supremacy of Parliament — the omnipotence of Parliament: But
since the progress of Liberty in France, those phrases have a despotic
harshness in their note; and the English Parliament have catched the fashion
from the National Assembly, but without the substance, of speaking of
As the present generation of the people in England did not make the
Government, they are not accountable for any of its defects; but, that sooner
or later, it must come into their hands to undergo a constitutional
reformation, is as certain as that the same thing has happened in France. If
France, with a revenue of nearly twenty-four millions sterling, with an extent
of rich and fertile country above four times larger than England, with a
population of twenty-four millions of inhabitants to support taxation, with
upwards of ninety millions sterling of gold and silver circulating in the
nation, and with a debt less than the present debt of England — still
found it necessary, from whatever cause, to come to a settlement of its
affairs, it solves the problem of funding for both countries.
It is out of the question to say how long what is called the English
constitution has lasted, and to argue from thence how long it is to last; the
question is, how long can the funding system last? It is a thing but of modern
invention, and has not yet continued beyond the life of a man; yet in that
short space it has so far accumulated, that, together with the current
expenses, it requires an amount of taxes at least equal to the whole landed
rental of the nation in acres to defray the annual expenditure. That a
government could not have always gone on by the same system which has been
followed for the last seventy years, must be evident to every man; and for the
same reason it cannot always go on.
The funding system is not money; neither is it, properly speaking, credit.
It, in effect, creates upon paper the sum which it appears to borrow, and lays
on a tax to keep the imaginary capital alive by the payment of interest and
sends the annuity to market, to be sold for paper already in circulation. If
any credit is given, it is to the disposition of the people to pay the tax, and
not to the government, which lays it on. When this disposition expires, what is
supposed to be the credit of Government expires with it. The instance of France
under the former Government shows that it is impossible to compel the payment
of taxes by force, when a whole nation is determined to take its stand upon
Mr. Burke, in his review of the finances of France, states the quantity of
gold and silver in France, at about eighty-eight millions sterling. In doing
this, he has, I presume, divided by the difference of exchange, instead of the
standard of twenty-four livres to a pound sterling; for M. Neckar's statement,
from which Mr. Burke's is taken, is two thousand two hundred millions of
livres, which is upwards of ninety-one millions and a half sterling.
M. Neckar in France, and Mr. George Chalmers at the Office of Trade and
Plantation in England, of which Lord Hawkesbury is president, published nearly
about the same time (1786) an account of the quantity of money in each nation,
from the returns of the Mint of each nation. Mr. Chalmers, from the returns of
the English Mint at the Tower of London, states the quantity of money in
England, including Scotland and Ireland, to be twenty millions
M. Neckar says that the
amount of money in France, recoined from the old coin which was called in, was
two thousand five hundred millions of livres (upwards of one hundred and four
millions sterling); and, after deducting for waste, and what may be in the West
Indies and other possible circumstances, states the circulation quantity at
home to be ninety-one millions and a half sterling; but, taking it as Mr. Burke
has put it, it is sixty-eight millions more than the national quantity in
That the quantity of money in France cannot be under this sum, may at once
be seen from the state of the French Revenue, without referring to the records
of the French Mint for proofs. The revenue of France, prior to the Revolution,
was nearly twenty-four millions sterling; and as paper had then no existence in
France the whole revenue was collected upon gold and silver; and it would have
been impossible to have collected such a quantity of revenue upon a less
national quantity than M. Neckar has stated. Before the establishment of paper
in England, the revenue was about a fourth part of the national amount of gold
and silver, as may be known by referring to the revenue prior to King William,
and the quantity of money stated to be in the nation at that time, which was
nearly as much as it is now.
It can be of no real service to a nation, to impose upon itself, or to
permit itself to be imposed upon; but the prejudices of some, and the
imposition of others, have always represented France as a nation possessing but
little money — whereas the quantity is not only more than four times what
the quantity is in England, but is considerably greater on a proportion of
numbers. To account for this deficiency on the part of England, some reference
should be had to the English system of funding. It operates to multiply paper,
and to substitute it in the room of money, in various shapes; and the more
paper is multiplied, the more opportunities are offered to export the specie;
and it admits of a possibility (by extending it to small notes) of increasing
paper till there is no money left.
I know this is not a pleasant subject to English readers; but the matters I
am going to mention, are so important in themselves, as to require the
attention of men interested in money transactions of a public nature. There is
a circumstance stated by M. Neckar, in his treatise on the administration of
the finances, which has never been attended to in England, but which forms the
only basis whereon to estimate the quantity of money (gold and silver) which
ought to be in every nation in Europe, to preserve a relative proportion with
Lisbon and Cadiz are the two ports into which (money) gold and silver from
South America are imported, and which afterwards divide and spread themselves
over Europe by means of commerce, and increase the quantity of money in all
parts of Europe. If, therefore, the amount of the annual importation into
Europe can be known, and the relative proportion of the foreign commerce of the
several nations by which it can be distributed can be ascertained, they give a
rule sufficiently true, to ascertain the quantity of money which ought to be
found in any nation, at any given time.
M. Neckar shows from the registers of Lisbon and Cadiz, that the
importation of gold and silver into Europe, is five millions sterling annually.
He has not taken it on a single year, but on an average of fifteen succeeding
years, from 1763 to 1777, both inclusive; in which time, the amount was one
thousand eight hundred million livres, which is seventy-five millions
From the commencement of the Hanover succession in 1714 to the time Mr.
Chalmers published, is seventy-two years; and the quantity imported into
Europe, in that time, would be three hundred and sixty millions sterling.
If the foreign commerce of Great Britain be stated at a sixth part of what
the whole foreign commerce of Europe amounts to (which is probably an inferior
estimation to what the gentlemen at the Exchange would allow) the proportion
which Britain should draw by commerce of this sum, to keep herself on a
proportion with the rest of Europe, would be also a sixth part which is sixty
millions sterling; and if the same allowance for waste and accident be made for
England which M. Neckar makes for France, the quantity remaining after these
deductions would be fifty-two millions; and this sum ought to have been in the
nation (at the time Mr. Chalmers published), in addition to the sum which was
in the nation at the commencement of the Hanover succession, and to have made
in the whole at least sixty-six millions sterling; instead of which there were
but twenty millions, which is forty-six millions below its proportionate
As the quantity of gold and silver imported into Lisbon and Cadiz is more
exactly ascertained than that of any commodity imported into England, and as
the quantity of money coined at the Tower of London is still more positively
known, the leading facts do not admit of controversy. Either, therefore, the
commerce of England is unproductive of profit, or the gold and silver which it
brings in leak continually away by unseen means at the average rate of about
three-quarters of a million a year, which, in the course of seventy-two years,
accounts for the deficiency; and its absence is supplied by paper.
The Revolution of France is attended with many novel circumstances, not
only in the political sphere, but in the circle of money transactions. Among
others, it shows that a government may be in a state of insolvency and a nation
rich. So far as the fact is confined to the late Government of France, it was
insolvent; because the nation would no longer support its extravagance, and
therefore it could no longer support itself — but with respect to the
nation all the means existed. A government may be said to be insolvent every
time it applies to the nation to discharge its arrears. The insolvency of the
late Government of France and the present of England differed in no other
respect than as the dispositions of the people differ. The people of France
refused their aid to the old Government; and the people of England submit to
taxation without inquiry. What is called the Crown in England has been
insolvent several times; the last of which, publicly known, was in May, 1777,
when it applied to the nation to discharge upwards of £600,000 private
debts, which otherwise it could not pay.
It was the error of Mr. Pitt, Mr. Burke, and all those who were
unacquainted with the affairs of France to confound the French nation with the
French Government. The French nation, in effect, endeavoured to render the late
Government insolvent for the purpose of taking government into its own hands:
and it reserved its means for the support of the new Government. In a country
of such vast extent and population as France the natural means cannot be
wanting, and the political means appear the instant the nation is disposed to
permit them. When Mr. Burke, in a speech last winter in the British Parliament,
"cast his eyes over the map of Europe, and saw a chasm that once was
France," he talked like a dreamer of dreams. The same natural France
existed as before, and all the natural means existed with it. The only chasm
was that the extinction of despotism had left, and which was to be filled up
with the Constitution more formidable in resources than the power which had
Although the French Nation rendered the late Government insolvent, it did
not permit the insolvency to act towards the creditors; and the creditors,
considering the Nation as the real pay-master, and the Government only as the
agent, rested themselves on the nation, in preference to the Government. This
appears greatly to disturb Mr. Burke, as the precedent is fatal to the policy
by which governments have supposed themselves secure. They have contracted
debts, with a view of attaching what is called the monied interest of a Nation
to their support; but the example in France shows that the permanent security
of the creditor is in the Nation, and not in the Government; and that in all
possible revolutions that may happen in Governments, the means are always with
the Nation, and the Nation always in existence. Mr. Burke argues that the
creditors ought to have abided the fate of the Government which they trusted;
but the National Assembly considered them as the creditors of the Nation, and
not of the Government — of the master, and not of the steward.
Notwithstanding the late government could not discharge the current
expenses, the present government has paid off a great part of the capital. This
has been accomplished by two means; the one by lessening the expenses of
government, and the other by the sale of the monastic and ecclesiastical landed
estates. The devotees and penitent debauchees, extortioners and misers of
former days, to ensure themselves a better world than that they were about to
leave, had bequeathed immense property in trust to the priesthood for pious
uses; and the priesthood kept it for themselves. The National Assembly has
ordered it to be sold for the good of the whole nation, and the priesthood to
be decently provided for.
In consequence of the revolution, the annual interest of the debt of France
will be reduced at least six millions sterling, by paying off upwards of one
hundred millions of the capital; which, with lessening the former expenses of
government at least three millions, will place France in a situation worthy the
imitation of Europe.
Upon a whole review of the subject, how vast is the contrast! While Mr.
Burke has been talking of a general bankruptcy in France, the National Assembly
has been paying off the capital of its debt; and while taxes have increased
near a million a year in England, they have lowered several millions a year in
France. Not a word has either Mr. Burke or Mr. Pitt said about the French
affairs, or the state of the French finances, in the present Session of
Parliament. The subject begins to be too well understood, and imposition serves
There is a general enigma running through the whole of Mr. Burke's book. He
writes in a rage against the National Assembly; but what is he enraged about?
If his assertions were as true as they are groundless, and that France by her
Revolution, had annihilated her power, and become what he calls a chasm, it
might excite the grief of a Frenchman (considering himself as a national man),
and provoke his rage against the National Assembly; but why should it excite
the rage of Mr. Burke? Alas! it is not the nation of France that Mr. Burke
means, but the Court; and every Court in Europe, dreading the same fate, is in
mourning. He writes neither in the character of a Frenchman nor an Englishman,
but in the fawning character of that creature known in all countries, and a
friend to none — a courtier. Whether it be the Court of Versailles, or the
Court of St. James, or Carlton-House, or the Court in expectation, signifies
not; for the caterpillar principle of all Courts and Courtiers are alike. They
form a common policy throughout Europe, detached and separate from the interest
of Nations: and while they appear to quarrel, they agree to plunder. Nothing
can be more terrible to a Court or Courtier than the Revolution of France. That
which is a blessing to Nations is bitterness to them: and as their existence
depends on the duplicity of a country, they tremble at the approach of
principles, and dread the precedent that threatens their overthrow.
Reason and Ignorance, the opposites of each other, influence the great bulk
of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive in a
country, the machinery of Government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself; and
Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.
The two modes of the Government which prevail in the world, are —
First, Government by election and representation.
Secondly, Government by hereditary succession.
The former is generally known by the name of republic; the latter by that
of monarchy and aristocracy.
Those two distinct and opposite forms erect themselves on the two distinct
and opposite bases of Reason and Ignorance. — As the exercise of
Government requires talents and abilities, and as talents and abilities cannot
have hereditary descent, it is evident that hereditary succession requires a
belief from man to which his reason cannot subscribe, and which can only be
established upon his ignorance; and the more ignorant any country is, the
better it is fitted for this species of Government.
On the contrary, Government, in a well-constituted republic, requires no
belief from man beyond what his reason can give. He sees the rationale of the
whole system, its origin and its operation; and as it is best supported when
best understood, the human faculties act with boldness, and acquire, under this
form of government, a gigantic manliness.
As, therefore, each of those forms acts on a different base, the one moving
freely by the aid of reason, the other by ignorance; we have next to consider,
what it is that gives motion to that species of Government which is called
mixed Government, or, as it is sometimes ludicrously styled, a Government of
this, that and t' other.
The moving power in this species of Government is, of necessity,
Corruption. However imperfect election and representation may be in mixed
Governments, they still give exercise to a greater portion of reason than is
convenient to the hereditary Part; and therefore it becomes necessary to buy
the reason up. A mixed Government is an imperfect everything, cementing and
soldering the discordant parts together by corruption, to act as a whole. Mr.
Burke appears highly disgusted that France, since she had resolved on a
revolution, did not adopt what he calls "A British Constitution"; and
the regretful manner in which he expresses himself on this occasion implies a
suspicion that the British Constitution needed something to keep its defects in
In mixed Governments there is no responsibility: the parts cover each other
till responsibility is lost; and the corruption which moves the machine,
contrives at the same time its own escape. When it is laid down as a maxim,
that a King can do no wrong, it places him in a state of similar security with
that of idiots and persons insane, and responsibility is out of the question
with respect to himself. It then descends upon the Minister, who shelters
himself under a majority in Parliament, which, by places, pensions, and
corruption, he can always command; and that majority justifies itself by the
same authority with which it protects the Minister. In this rotatory motion,
responsibility is thrown off from the parts, and from the whole.
When there is a Part in a Government which can do no wrong, it implies that
it does nothing; and is only the machine of another power, by whose advice and
direction it acts. What is supposed to be the King in the mixed Governments, is
the Cabinet; and as the Cabinet is always a part of the Parliament, and the
members justifying in one character what they advise and act in another, a
mixed Government becomes a continual enigma; entailing upon a country by the
quantity of corruption necessary to solder the parts, the expense of supporting
all the forms of government at once, and finally resolving itself into a
Government by Committee; in which the advisers, the actors, the approvers, the
justifiers, the persons responsible, and the persons not responsible, are the
By this pantomimical contrivance, and change of scene and character, the
parts help each other out in matters which neither of them singly would assume
to act. When money is to be obtained, the mass of variety apparently dissolves,
and a profusion of parliamentary praises passes between the parts. Each admires
with astonishment, the wisdom, the liberality, the disinterestedness of the
other: and all of them breathe a pitying sigh at the burthens of the Nation.
But in a well-constituted republic, nothing of this soldering, praising,
and pitying, can take place; the representation being equal throughout the
country, and complete in itself, however it may be arranged into legislative
and executive, they have all one and the same natural source. The parts are not
foreigners to each other, like democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. As there
are no discordant distinctions, there is nothing to corrupt by compromise, nor
confound by contrivance. Public measures appeal of themselves to the
understanding of the Nation, and, resting on their own merits, disown any
flattering applications to vanity. The continual whine of lamenting the burden
of taxes, however successfully it may be practised in mixed Governments, is
inconsistent with the sense and spirit of a republic. If taxes are necessary,
they are of course advantageous; but if they require an apology, the apology
itself implies an impeachment. Why, then, is man thus imposed upon, or why does
he impose upon himself?
When men are spoken of as kings and subjects, or when Government is
mentioned under the distinct and combined heads of monarchy, aristocracy, and
democracy, what is it that reasoning man is to understand by the terms? If
there really existed in the world two or more distinct and separate elements of
human power, we should then see the several origins to which those terms would
descriptively apply; but as there is but one species of man, there can be but
one element of human power; and that element is man himself. Monarchy,
aristocracy, and democracy, are but creatures of imagination; and a thousand
such may be contrived as well as three.
From the Revolutions of America and France, and the symptoms that have
appeared in other countries, it is evident that the opinion of the world is
changing with respect to systems of Government, and that revolutions are not
within the compass of political calculations. The progress of time and
circumstances, which men assign to the accomplishment of great changes, is too
mechanical to measure the force of the mind, and the rapidity of reflection, by
which revolutions are generated: All the old governments have received a shock
from those that already appear, and which were once more improbable, and are a
greater subject of wonder, than a general revolution in Europe would be now.
When we survey the wretched condition of man, under the monarchical and
hereditary systems of Government, dragged from his home by one power, or driven
by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies, it becomes evident
that those systems are bad, and that a general revolution in the principle and
construction of Governments is necessary.
What is government more than the management of the affairs of a Nation? It
is not, and from its nature cannot be, the property of any particular man or
family, but of the whole community, at whose expense it is supported; and
though by force and contrivance it has been usurped into an inheritance, the
usurpation cannot alter the right of things. Sovereignty, as a matter of right,
appertains to the Nation only, and not to any individual; and a Nation has at
all times an inherent indefeasible right to abolish any form of Government it
finds inconvenient, and to establish such as accords with its interest,
disposition and happiness. The romantic and barbarous distinction of men into
Kings and subjects, though it may suit the condition of courtiers, cannot that
of citizens; and is exploded by the principle upon which Governments are now
founded. Every citizen is a member of the Sovereignty, and, as such, can
acknowledge no personal subjection; and his obedience can be only to the laws.
When men think of what Government is, they must necessarily suppose it to
possess a knowledge of all the objects and matters upon which its authority is
to be exercised. In this view of Government, the republican system, as
established by America and France, operates to embrace the whole of a Nation;
and the knowledge necessary to the interest of all the parts, is to be found in
the center, which the parts by representation form: But the old Governments are
on a construction that excludes knowledge as well as happiness; government by
Monks, who knew nothing of the world beyond the walls of a Convent, is as
consistent as government by Kings.
What were formerly called Revolutions, were little more than a change of
persons, or an alteration of local circumstances. They rose and fell like
things of course, and had nothing in their existence or their fate that could
influence beyond the spot that produced them. But what we now see in the world,
from the Revolutions of America and France, are a renovation of the natural
order of things, a system of principles as universal as truth and the existence
of man, and combining moral with political happiness and national prosperity.
"I. Men are born, and always continue, free and equal in
respect of their rights. Civil distinctions, therefore, can be founded only on
"II. The end of all political associations is the preservation of the
natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these rights are liberty,
property, security, and resistance of oppression.
"III. The nation is essentially the source of all sovereignty; nor can
any Individual, or any body of men, be
entitled to any authority which is not expressly derived from it."
In these principles, there is nothing to throw a Nation into confusion by
inflaming ambition. They are calculated to call forth wisdom and abilities, and
to exercise them for the public good, and not for the emolument or
aggrandisement of particular descriptions of men or families. Monarchical
sovereignty, the enemy of mankind, and the source of misery, is abolished; and
the sovereignty itself is restored to its natural and original place, the
Nation. Were this the case throughout Europe, the cause of wars would be taken
It is attributed to Henry the Fourth of France, a man of enlarged and
benevolent heart, that he proposed, about the year 1610, a plan for abolishing
war in Europe. The plan consisted in constituting an European Congress, or as
the French authors style it, a Pacific Republic; by appointing delegates from
the several Nations who were to act as a Court of arbitration in any disputes
that might arise between nation and nation.
Had such a plan been adopted at the time it was proposed, the taxes of
England and France, as two of the parties, would have been at least ten
millions sterling annually to each Nation less than they were at the
commencement of the French Revolution.
To conceive a cause why such a plan has not been adopted (and that instead
of a Congress for the purpose of preventing war, it has been called only to
terminate a war, after a fruitless expense of several years) it will be
necessary to consider the interest of Governments as a distinct interest to
that of Nations.
Whatever is the cause of taxes to a Nation, becomes also the means of
revenue to Government. Every war terminates with an addition of taxes, and
consequently with an addition of revenue; and in any event of war, in the
manner they are now commenced and concluded, the power and interest of
Governments are increased. War, therefore, from its productiveness, as it
easily furnishes the pretence of necessity for taxes and appointments to places
and offices, becomes a principal part of the system of old Governments; and to
establish any mode to abolish war, however advantageous it might be to Nations,
would be to take from such Government the most lucrative of its branches. The
frivolous matters upon which war is made, show the disposition and avidity of
Governments to uphold the system of war, and betray the motives upon which they
Why are not Republics plunged into war, but because the nature of their
Government does not admit of an interest distinct from that of the Nation? Even
Holland, though an ill-constructed Republic, and with a commerce extending over
the world, existed nearly a century without war: and the instant the form of
Government was changed in France, the republican principles of peace and
domestic prosperity and economy arose with the new Government; and the same
consequences would follow the cause in other Nations.
As war is the system of Government on the old construction, the animosity
which Nations reciprocally entertain, is nothing more than what the policy of
their Governments excites to keep up the spirit of the system. Each Government
accuses the other of perfidy, intrigue, and ambition, as a means of heating the
imagination of their respective Nations, and incensing them to hostilities. Man
is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of
Government. Instead, therefore, of exclaiming against the ambition of Kings,
the exclamation should be directed against the principle of such Governments;
and instead of seeking to reform the individual, the wisdom of a Nation should
apply itself to reform the system.
Whether the forms and maxims of Governments which are still in practice,
were adapted to the condition of the world at the period they were established,
is not in this case the question. The older they are, the less correspondence
can they have with the present state of things. Time, and change of
circumstances and opinions, have the same progressive effect in rendering modes
of Government obsolete as they have upon customs and manners. —
Agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and the tranquil arts, by which the
prosperity of Nations is best promoted, require a different system of
Government, and a different species of knowledge to direct its operations, than
what might have been required in the former condition of the world.
As it is not difficult to perceive, from the enlightened state of mankind,
that hereditary Governments are verging to their decline, and that Revolutions
on the broad basis of national sovereignty and Government by representation,
are making their way in Europe, it would be an act of wisdom to anticipate
their approach, and produce Revolutions by reason and accommodation, rather
than commit them to the issue of convulsions.
From what we now see, nothing of reform in the political world ought to be
held improbable. It is an age of Revolutions, in which everything may be looked
for. The intrigue of Courts, by which the system of war is kept up, may provoke
a confederation of Nations to abolish it: and an European Congress to patronise
the progress of free Government, and promote the civilisation of Nations with
each other, is an event nearer in probability, than once were the revolutions
and alliance of France and America.
Part the Second
Combining Principle And Practice
To M. de la Fayette
After an acquaintance of nearly fifteen years in difficult situations in
America, and various consultations in Europe, I feel a pleasure in presenting
to you this small treatise, in gratitude for your services to my beloved
America, and as a testimony of my esteem for the virtues, public and private,
which I know you to possess.
The only point upon which I could ever discover that we differed was not as
to principles of government, but as to time. For my own part I think it equally
as injurious to good principles to permit them to linger, as to push them on
too fast. That which you suppose accomplishable in fourteen or fifteen years, I
may believe practicable in a much shorter period. Mankind, as it appears to me,
are always ripe enough to understand their true interest, provided it be
presented clearly to their understanding, and that in a manner not to create
suspicion by anything like self-design, nor offend by assuming too much. Where
we would wish to reform we must not reproach.
When the American revolution was established I felt a disposition to sit
serenely down and enjoy the calm. It did not appear to me that any object could
afterwards arise great enough to make me quit tranquility and feel as I had
felt before. But when principle, and not place, is the energetic cause of
action, a man, I find, is everywhere the same.
I am now once more in the public world; and as I have not a right to
contemplate on so many years of remaining life as you have, I have resolved to
labour as fast as I can; and as I am anxious for your aid and your company, I
wish you to hasten your principles and overtake me.
If you make a campaign the ensuing spring, which it is most probable there
will be no occasion for, I will come and join you. Should the campaign
commence, I hope it will terminate in the extinction of German despotism, and
in establishing the freedom of all Germany. When France shall be surrounded
with revolutions she will be in peace and safety, and her taxes, as well as
those of Germany, will consequently become less.
LONDON, Feb. 9, 1792
When I began the chapter entitled the "Conclusion" in the former
part of the Rights Of Man, published last year, it was my
intention to have extended it to a greater length; but in casting the whole
matter in my mind, which I wish to add, I found that it must either make the
work too bulky, or contract my plan too much. I therefore brought it to a close
as soon as the subject would admit, and reserved what I had further to say to
Several other reasons contributed to produce this determination. I wished
to know the manner in which a work, written in a style of thinking and
expression different to what had been customary in England, would be received
before I proceeded farther. A great field was opening to the view of mankind by
means of the French Revolution. Mr. Burke's outrageous opposition thereto
brought the controversy into England. He attacked principles which he knew
(from information) I would contest with him, because they are principles I
believe to be good, and which I have contributed to establish, and conceive
myself bound to defend. Had he not urged the controversy, I had most probably
been a silent man.
Another reason for deferring the remainder of the work was, that Mr. Burke
promised in his first publication to renew the subject at another opportunity,
and to make a comparison of what he called the English and French
Constitutions. I therefore held myself in reserve for him. He has published two
works since, without doing this: which he certainly would not have omitted, had
the comparison been in his favour.
In his last work, his "Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs," he
has quoted about ten pages from the Rights Of Man, and having
given himself the trouble of doing this, says he "shall not attempt in the
smallest degree to refute them," meaning the principles therein contained.
I am enough acquainted with Mr. Burke to know that he would if he could. But
instead of contesting them, he immediately after consoles himself with saying
that "he has done his part." — He has not done his part. He has
not performed his promise of a comparison of constitutions. He started the
controversy, he gave the challenge, and has fled from it; and he is now a case
in point with his own opinion that "the age of chivalry is gone!"
The title, as well as the substance of his last work, his
"Appeal," is his condemnation. Principles must stand on their own
merits, and if they are good they certainly will. To put them under the shelter
of other men's authority, as Mr. Burke has done, serves to bring them into
suspicion. Mr. Burke is not very fond of dividing his honours, but in this case
he is artfully dividing the disgrace.
But who are those to whom Mr. Burke has made his appeal? A set of childish
thinkers, and half-way politicians born in the last century, men who went no
farther with any principle than as it suited their purposes as a party; the
nation was always left out of the question; and this has been the character of
every party from that day to this. The nation sees nothing of such works, or
such politics, worthy its attention. A little matter will move a party, but it
must be something great that moves a nation.
Though I see nothing in Mr. Burke's "Appeal" worth taking much
notice of, there is, however, one expression upon which I shall offer a few
remarks. After quoting largely from the Rights Of Man, and
declining to contest the principles contained in that work, he says: "This
will most probably be done (if such writings shall be thought to deserve any
other refutation than that of criminal justice) by others, who may think with
Mr. Burke and with the same zeal."
In the first place, it has not yet been done by anybody. Not less, I
believe, than eight or ten pamphlets intended as answers to the former part of
the Rights Of Man have been published by different persons,
and not one of them to my knowledge, has extended to a second edition, nor are
even the titles of them so much as generally remembered. As I am averse to
unnecessary multiplying publications, I have answered none of them. And as I
believe that a man may write himself out of reputation when nobody else can do
it, I am careful to avoid that rock.
But as I would decline unnecessary publications on the one hand, so would I
avoid everything that might appear like sullen pride on the other. If Mr.
Burke, or any person on his side the question, will produce an answer to the
Rights Of Man that shall extend to a half, or even to a fourth
part of the number of copies to which the Rights Of Man
extended, I will reply to his work. But until this be done, I shall so far take
the sense of the public for my guide (and the world knows I am not a flatterer)
that what they do not think worth while to read, is not worth mine to answer. I
suppose the number of copies to which the first part of the Rights Of
Man extended, taking England, Scotland, and Ireland, is not less than
between forty and fifty thousand.
I now come to remark on the remaining part of the quotation I have made
from Mr. Burke.
"If," says he, "such writings shall be thought to deserve
any other refutation than that of criminal justice."
Pardoning the pun, it must be criminal justice indeed that should condemn a
work as a substitute for not being able to refute it. The greatest condemnation
that could be passed upon it would be a refutation. But in proceeding by the
method Mr. Burke alludes to, the condemnation would, in the final event, pass
upon the criminality of the process and not upon the work, and in this case, I
had rather be the author, than be either the judge or the jury that should
But to come at once to the point. I have differed from some professional
gentlemen on the subject of prosecutions, and I since find they are falling
into my opinion, which I will here state as fully, but as concisely as I can.
I will first put a case with respect to any law, and then compare it with a
government, or with what in England is, or has been, called a constitution.
It would be an act of despotism, or what in England is called arbitrary
power, to make a law to prohibit investigating the principles, good or bad, on
which such a law, or any other is founded.
If a law be bad it is one thing to oppose the practice of it, but it is
quite a different thing to expose its errors, to reason on its defects, and to
show cause why it should be repealed, or why another ought to be substituted in
its place. I have always held it an opinion (making it also my practice) that
it is better to obey a bad law, making use at the same time of every argument
to show its errors and procure its repeal, than forcibly to violate it; because
the precedent of breaking a bad law might weaken the force, and lead to a
discretionary violation, of those which are good.
The case is the same with respect to principles and forms of government, or
to what are called constitutions and the parts of which they are, composed.
It is for the good of nations and not for the emolument or aggrandisement
of particular individuals, that government ought to be established, and that
mankind are at the expense of supporting it. The defects of every government
and constitution both as to principle and form, must, on a parity of reasoning,
be as open to discussion as the defects of a law, and it is a duty which every
man owes to society to point them out. When those defects, and the means of
remedying them, are generally seen by a nation, that nation will reform its
government or its constitution in the one case, as the government repealed or
reformed the law in the other. The operation of government is restricted to the
making and the administering of laws; but it is to a nation that the right of
forming or reforming, generating or regenerating constitutions and governments
belong; and consequently those subjects, as subjects of investigation, are
always before a country as a matter of right, and cannot, without invading the
general rights of that country, be made subjects for prosecution. On this
ground I will meet Mr. Burke whenever he please. It is better that the whole
argument should come out than to seek to stifle it. It was himself that opened
the controversy, and he ought not to desert it.
I do not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years
longer in any of the enlightened countries in Europe. If better reasons can be
shown for them than against them, they will stand; if the contrary, they will
not. Mankind are not now to be told they shall not think, or they shall not
read; and publications that go no farther than to investigate principles of
government, to invite men to reason and to reflect, and to show the errors and
excellences of different systems, have a right to appear. If they do not excite
attention, they are not worth the trouble of a prosecution; and if they do, the
prosecution will amount to nothing, since it cannot amount to a prohibition of
reading. This would be a sentence on the public, instead of the author, and
would also be the most effectual mode of making or hastening revolution.
On all cases that apply universally to a nation, with respect to systems of
government, a jury of twelve men is not competent to decide. Where there are no
witnesses to be examined, no facts to be proved, and where the whole matter is
before the whole public, and the merits or demerits of it resting on their
opinion; and where there is nothing to be known in a court, but what every body
knows out of it, every twelve men is equally as good a jury as the other, and
would most probably reverse each other's verdict; or, from the variety of their
opinions, not be able to form one. It is one case, whether a nation approve a
work, or a plan; but it is quite another case, whether it will commit to any
such jury the power of determining whether that nation have a right to, or
shall reform its government or not. I mention those cases that Mr. Burke may
see I have not written on Government without reflecting on what is Law, as well
as on what are Rights. — The only effectual jury in such cases would be a
convention of the whole nation fairly elected; for in all such cases the whole
nation is the vicinage. If Mr. Burke will propose such a jury, I will waive all
privileges of being the citizen of another country, and, defending its
principles, abide the issue, provided he will do the same; for my opinion is,
that his work and his principles would be condemned instead of mine.
As to the prejudices which men have from education and habit, in favour of
any particular form or system of government, those prejudices have yet to stand
the test of reason and reflection. In fact, such prejudices are nothing. No man
is prejudiced in favour of a thing, knowing it to be wrong. He is attached to
it on the belief of its being right; and when he sees it is not so, the
prejudice will be gone. We have but a defective idea of what prejudice is. It
might be said, that until men think for themselves the whole is prejudice, and
not opinion; for that only is opinion which is the result of reason and
reflection. I offer this remark, that Mr. Burke may not confide too much in
what have been the customary prejudices of the country.
I do not believe that the people of England have ever been fairly and
candidly dealt by. They have been imposed upon by parties, and by men assuming
the character of leaders. It is time that the nation should rise above those
trifles. It is time to dismiss that inattention which has so long been the
encouraging cause of stretching taxation to excess. It is time to dismiss all
those songs and toasts which are calculated to enslave, and operate to
suffocate reflection. On all such subjects men have but to think, and they will
neither act wrong nor be misled. To say that any people are not fit for
freedom, is to make poverty their choice, and to say they had rather be loaded
with taxes than not. If such a case could be proved, it would equally prove
that those who govern are not fit to govern them, for they are a part of the
same national mass.
But admitting governments to be changed all over Europe; it certainly may
be done without convulsion or revenge. It is not worth making changes or
revolutions, unless it be for some great national benefit: and when this shall
appear to a nation, the danger will be, as in America and France, to those who
oppose; and with this reflection I close my Preface.
LONDON, Feb. 9, 1792
What Archimedes said of the mechanical powers, may be applied to Reason and
Liberty. "Had we," said he, "a place to stand upon, we might
raise the world."
The revolution of America presented in politics what was only theory in
mechanics. So deeply rooted were all the governments of the old world, and so
effectually had the tyranny and the antiquity of habit established itself over
the mind, that no beginning could be made in Asia, Africa, or Europe, to reform
the political condition of man. Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason
was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, — and
all it wants, — is the liberty of appearing. The sun needs no inscription
to distinguish him from darkness; and no sooner did the American governments
display themselves to the world, than despotism felt a shock and man began to
The independence of America, considered merely as a separation from
England, would have been a matter but of little importance, had it not been
accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practice of governments. She
made a stand, not for herself only, but for the world, and looked beyond the
advantages herself could receive. Even the Hessian, though hired to fight
against her, may live to bless his defeat; and England, condemning the
viciousness of its government, rejoice in its miscarriage.
As America was the only spot in the political world where the principle of
universal reformation could begin, so also was it the best in the natural
world. An assemblage of circumstances conspired, not only to give birth, but to
add gigantic maturity to its principles. The scene which that country presents
to the eye of a spectator, has something in it which generates and encourages
great ideas. Nature appears to him in magnitude. The mighty objects he beholds,
act upon his mind by enlarging it, and he partakes of the greatness he
contemplates. — Its first settlers were emigrants from different European
nations, and of diversified professions of religion, retiring from the
governmental persecutions of the old world, and meeting in the new, not as
enemies, but as brothers. The wants which necessarily accompany the cultivation
of a wilderness produced among them a state of society, which countries long
harassed by the quarrels and intrigues of governments, had neglected to
cherish. In such a situation man becomes what he ought. He sees his species,
not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy, but as kindred; and the example
shows to the artificial world, that man must go back to Nature for information.
From the rapid progress which America makes in every species of
improvement, it is rational to conclude that, if the governments of Asia,
Africa, and Europe had begun on a principle similar to that of America, or had
not been very early corrupted therefrom, those countries must by this time have
been in a far superior condition to what they are. Age after age has passed
away, for no other purpose than to behold their wretchedness. Could we suppose
a spectator who knew nothing of the world, and who was put into it merely to
make his observations, he would take a great part of the old world to be new,
just struggling with the difficulties and hardships of an infant settlement. He
could not suppose that the hordes of miserable poor with which old countries
abound could be any other than those who had not yet had time to provide for
themselves. Little would he think they were the consequence of what in such
countries they call government.
If, from the more wretched parts of the old world, we look at those which
are in an advanced stage of improvement we still find the greedy hand of
government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and
grasping the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to
furnish new pretences for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its
prey, and permits none to escape without a tribute.
As revolutions have begun (and as the probability is always greater against
a thing beginning, than of proceeding after it has begun), it is natural to
expect that other revolutions will follow. The amazing and still increasing
expenses with which old governments are conducted, the numerous wars they
engage in or provoke, the embarrassments they throw in the way of universal
civilisation and commerce, and the oppression and usurpation acted at home,
have wearied out the patience, and exhausted the property of the world. In such
a situation, and with such examples already existing, revolutions are to be
looked for. They are become subjects of universal conversation, and may be
considered as the Order of the day.
If systems of government can be introduced less expensive and more
productive of general happiness than those which have existed, all attempts to
oppose their progress will in the end be fruitless. Reason, like time, will
make its own way, and prejudice will fall in a combat with interest. If
universal peace, civilisation, and commerce are ever to be the happy lot of
man, it cannot be accomplished but by a revolution in the system of
governments. All the monarchical governments are military. War is their trade,
plunder and revenue their objects. While such governments continue, peace has
not the absolute security of a day. What is the history of all monarchical
governments but a disgustful picture of human wretchedness, and the accidental
respite of a few years' repose? Wearied with war, and tired with human
butchery, they sat down to rest, and called it peace. This certainly is not the
condition that heaven intended for man; and if this be monarchy, well might
monarchy be reckoned among the sins of the Jews.
The revolutions which formerly took place in the world had nothing in them
that interested the bulk of mankind. They extended only to a change of persons
and measures, but not of principles, and rose or fell among the common
transactions of the moment. What we now behold may not improperly be called a
"counter-revolution." Conquest and tyranny, at some earlier period,
dispossessed man of his rights, and he is now recovering them. And as the tide
of all human affairs has its ebb and flow in directions contrary to each other,
so also is it in this. Government founded on a moral theory, on a system of
universal peace, on the indefeasible hereditary Rights of Man, is now revolving
from west to east by a stronger impulse than the government of the sword
revolved from east to west. It interests not particular individuals, but
nations in its progress, and promises a new era to the human race.
The danger to which the success of revolutions is most exposed is that of
attempting them before the principles on which they proceed, and the advantages
to result from them, are sufficiently seen and understood. Almost everything
appertaining to the circumstances of a nation, has been absorbed and confounded
under the general and mysterious word government. Though it avoids taking to
its account the errors it commits, and the mischiefs it occasions, it fails not
to arrogate to itself whatever has the appearance of prosperity. It robs
industry of its honours, by pedantically making itself the cause of its
effects; and purloins from the general character of man, the merits that
appertain to him as a social being.
It may therefore be of use in this day of revolutions to discriminate
between those things which are the effect of government, and those which are
not. This will best be done by taking a review of society and civilisation, and
the consequences resulting therefrom, as things distinct from what are called
governments. By beginning with this investigation, we shall be able to assign
effects to their proper causes and analyse the mass of common errors.
Of Society and Civilisation
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of
government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural
constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the
formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal
interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon
each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The
landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and
every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and
from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law;
and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws
of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is
ascribed to government.
To understand the nature and quantity of government proper for man, it is
necessary to attend to his character. As Nature created him for social life,
she fitted him for the station she intended. In all cases she made his natural
wants greater than his individual powers. No one man is capable, without the
aid of society, of supplying his own wants, and those wants, acting upon every
individual, impel the whole of them into society, as naturally as gravitation
acts to a centre.
But she has gone further. She has not only forced man into society by a
diversity of wants which the reciprocal aid of each other can supply, but she
has implanted in him a system of social affections, which, though not necessary
to his existence, are essential to his happiness. There is no period in life
when this love for society ceases to act. It begins and ends with our being.
If we examine with attention into the composition and constitution of man,
the diversity of his wants, and the diversity of talents in different men for
reciprocally accommodating the wants of each other, his propensity to society,
and consequently to preserve the advantages resulting from it, we shall easily
discover, that a great part of what is called government is mere imposition.
Government is no farther necessary than to supply the few cases to which
society and civilisation are not conveniently competent; and instances are not
wanting to show, that everything which government can usefully add thereto, has
been performed by the common consent of society, without government.
For upwards of two years from the commencement of the American War, and to
a longer period in several of the American States, there were no established
forms of government. The old governments had been abolished, and the country
was too much occupied in defence to employ its attention in establishing new
governments; yet during this interval order and harmony were preserved as
inviolate as in any country in Europe. There is a natural aptness in man, and
more so in society, because it embraces a greater variety of abilities and
resource, to accommodate itself to whatever situation it is in. The instant
formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association
takes place, and common interest produces common security.
So far is it from being true, as has been pretended, that the abolition of
any formal government is the dissolution of society, that it acts by a contrary
impulse, and brings the latter the closer together. All that part of its
organisation which it had committed to its government, devolves again upon
itself, and acts through its medium. When men, as well from natural instinct as
from reciprocal benefits, have habituated themselves to social and civilised
life, there is always enough of its principles in practice to carry them
through any changes they may find necessary or convenient to make in their
government. In short, man is so naturally a creature of society that it is
almost impossible to put him out of it.
Formal government makes but a small part of civilised life; and when even
the best that human wisdom can devise is established, it is a thing more in
name and idea than in fact. It is to the great and fundamental principles of
society and civilisation — to the common usage universally consented to,
and mutually and reciprocally maintained — to the unceasing circulation of
interest, which, passing through its million channels, invigorates the whole
mass of civilised man — it is to these things, infinitely more than to
anything which even the best instituted government can perform, that the safety
and prosperity of the individual and of the whole depends.
The more perfect civilisation is, the less occasion has it for government,
because the more does it regulate its own affairs, and govern itself; but so
contrary is the practice of old governments to the reason of the case, that the
expenses of them increase in the proportion they ought to diminish. It is but
few general laws that civilised life requires, and those of such common
usefulness, that whether they are enforced by the forms of government or not,
the effect will be nearly the same. If we consider what the principles are that
first condense men into society, and what are the motives that regulate their
mutual intercourse afterwards, we shall find, by the time we arrive at what is
called government, that nearly the whole of the business is performed by the
natural operation of the parts upon each other.
Man, with respect to all those matters, is more a creature of consistency
than he is aware, or than governments would wish him to believe. All the great
laws of society are laws of nature. Those of trade and commerce, whether with
respect to the intercourse of individuals or of nations, are laws of mutual and
reciprocal interest. They are followed and obeyed, because it is the interest
of the parties so to do, and not on account of any formal laws their
governments may impose or interpose.
But how often is the natural propensity to society disturbed or destroyed
by the operations of government! When the latter, instead of being ingrafted on
the principles of the former, assumes to exist for itself, and acts by
partialities of favour and oppression, it becomes the cause of the mischiefs it
ought to prevent.
If we look back to the riots and tumults which at various times have
happened in England, we shall find that they did not proceed from the want of a
government, but that government was itself the generating cause; instead of
consolidating society it divided it; it deprived it of its natural cohesion,
and engendered discontents and disorders which otherwise would not have
existed. In those associations which men promiscuously form for the purpose of
trade, or of any concern in which government is totally out of the question,
and in which they act merely on the principles of society, we see how naturally
the various parties unite; and this shows, by comparison, that governments, so
far from being always the cause or means of order, are often the destruction of
it. The riots of 1780 had no other source than the remains of those prejudices
which the government itself had encouraged. But with respect to England there
are also other causes.
Excess and inequality of taxation, however disguised in the means, never
fail to appear in their effects. As a great mass of the community are thrown
thereby into poverty and discontent, they are constantly on the brink of
commotion; and deprived, as they unfortunately are, of the means of
information, are easily heated to outrage. Whatever the apparent cause of any
riots may be, the real one is always want of happiness. It shows that something
is wrong in the system of government that injures the felicity by which society
is to be preserved.
But as a fact is superior to reasoning, the instance of America presents
itself to confirm these observations. If there is a country in the world where
concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is
America. Made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and
habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their
modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was
impracticable; but by the simple operation of constructing government on the
principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires, and all
the parts are brought into cordial unison. There the poor are not oppressed,
the rich are not privileged. Industry is not mortified by the splendid
extravagance of a court rioting at its expense. Their taxes are few, because
their government is just: and as there is nothing to render them wretched,
there is nothing to engender riots and tumults.
A metaphysical man, like Mr. Burke, would have tortured his invention to
discover how such a people could be governed. He would have supposed that some
must be managed by fraud, others by force, and all by some contrivance; that
genius must be hired to impose upon ignorance, and show and parade to fascinate
the vulgar. Lost in the abundance of his researches, he would have resolved and
re-resolved, and finally overlooked the plain and easy road that lay directly
One of the great advantages of the American Revolution has been, that it
led to a discovery of the principles, and laid open the imposition, of
governments. All the revolutions till then had been worked within the
atmosphere of a court, and never on the grand floor of a nation. The parties
were always of the class of courtiers; and whatever was their rage for
reformation, they carefully preserved the fraud of the profession.
In all cases they took care to represent government as a thing made up of
mysteries, which only themselves understood; and they hid from the
understanding of the nation the only thing that was beneficial to know, namely,
That government is nothing more than a national association adding on the
principles of society.
Having thus endeavoured to show that the social and civilised state of man
is capable of performing within itself almost everything necessary to its
protection and government, it will be proper, on the other hand, to take a
review of the present old governments, and examine whether their principles and
practice are correspondent thereto.
Of the Origin of the Present Old Governments
It is impossible that such governments as have hitherto existed in the
world, could have commenced by any other means than a total violation of every
principle sacred and moral. The obscurity in which the origin of all the
present old governments is buried, implies the iniquity and disgrace with which
they began. The origin of the present government of America and France will
ever be remembered, because it is honourable to record it; but with respect to
the rest, even Flattery has consigned them to the tomb of time, without an
It could have been no difficult thing in the early and solitary ages of the
world, while the chief employment of men was that of attending flocks and
herds, for a banditti of ruffians to overrun a country, and lay it under
contributions. Their power being thus established, the chief of the band
contrived to lose the name of Robber in that of Monarch; and hence the origin
of Monarchy and Kings.
The origin of the Government of England, so far as relates to what is
called its line of monarchy, being one of the latest, is perhaps the best
recorded. The hatred which the Norman invasion and tyranny begat, must have
been deeply rooted in the nation, to have outlived the contrivance to
obliterate it. Though not a courtier will talk of the curfew-bell, not a
village in England has forgotten it.
Those bands of robbers having parcelled out the world, and divided it into
dominions, began, as is naturally the case, to quarrel with each other. What at
first was obtained by violence was considered by others as lawful to be taken,
and a second plunderer succeeded the first. They alternately invaded the
dominions which each had assigned to himself, and the brutality with which they
treated each other explains the original character of monarchy. It was ruffian
torturing ruffian. The conqueror considered the conquered, not as his prisoner,
but his property. He led him in triumph rattling in chains, and doomed him, at
pleasure, to slavery or death. As time obliterated the history of their
beginning, their successors assumed new appearances, to cut off the entail of
their disgrace, but their principles and objects remained the same. What at
first was plunder, assumed the softer name of revenue; and the power originally
usurped, they affected to inherit.
From such beginning of governments, what could be expected but a continued
system of war and extortion? It has established itself into a trade. The vice
is not peculiar to one more than to another, but is the common principle of
all. There does not exist within such governments sufficient stamina whereon to
engraft reformation; and the shortest and most effectual remedy is to begin
anew on the ground of the nation.
What scenes of horror, what perfection of iniquity, present themselves in
contemplating the character and reviewing the history of such governments! If
we would delineate human nature with a baseness of heart and hypocrisy of
countenance that reflection would shudder at and humanity disown, it is kings,
courts and cabinets that must sit for the portrait. Man, naturally as he is,
with all his faults about him, is not up to the character.
Can we possibly suppose that if governments had originated in a right
principle, and had not an interest in pursuing a wrong one, the world could
have been in the wretched and quarrelsome condition we have seen it? What
inducement has the farmer, while following the plough, to lay aside his
peaceful pursuit, and go to war with the farmer of another country? or what
inducement has the manufacturer? What is dominion to them, or to any class of
men in a nation? Does it add an acre to any man's estate, or raise its value?
Are not conquest and defeat each of the same price, and taxes the never-failing
consequence? — Though this reasoning may be good to a nation, it is not so
to a government. War is the Pharo-table of governments, and nations the dupes
of the game.
If there is anything to wonder at in this miserable scene of governments
more than might be expected, it is the progress which the peaceful arts of
agriculture, manufacture and commerce have made beneath such a long
accumulating load of discouragement and oppression. It serves to show that
instinct in animals does not act with stronger impulse than the principles of
society and civilisation operate in man. Under all discouragements, he pursues
his object, and yields to nothing but impossibilities.
Of the Old and New Systems of Government
Nothing can appear more contradictory than the principles on which the old
governments began, and the condition to which society, civilisation and
commerce are capable of carrying mankind. Government, on the old system, is an
assumption of power, for the aggrandisement of itself; on the new, a delegation
of power for the common benefit of society. The former supports itself by
keeping up a system of war; the latter promotes a system of peace, as the true
means of enriching a nation. The one encourages national prejudices; the other
promotes universal society, as the means of universal commerce. The one
measures its prosperity, by the quantity of revenue it extorts; the other
proves its excellence, by the small quantity of taxes it requires.
Mr. Burke has talked of old and new whigs. If he can amuse himself with
childish names and distinctions, I shall not interrupt his pleasure. It is not
to him, but to the Abbe Sieyes, that I address this chapter. I am already
engaged to the latter gentleman to discuss the subject of monarchical
government; and as it naturally occurs in comparing the old and new systems, I
make this the opportunity of presenting to him my observations. I shall
occasionally take Mr. Burke in my way.
Though it might be proved that the system of government now called the
new, is the most ancient in principle of all that have
existed, being founded on the original, inherent Rights of Man: yet, as tyranny
and the sword have suspended the exercise of those rights for many centuries
past, it serves better the purpose of distinction to call it the new, than to
claim the right of calling it the old.
The first general distinction between those two systems, is, that the one
now called the old is hereditary, either in whole or in part; and the new is
entirely representative. It rejects all hereditary government:
First, As being an imposition on mankind.
Secondly, As inadequate to the purposes for which government is necessary.
With respect to the first of these heads — It cannot be proved by what
right hereditary government could begin; neither does there exist within the
compass of mortal power a right to establish it. Man has no authority over
posterity in matters of personal right; and, therefore, no man, or body of men,
had, or can have, a right to set up hereditary government. Were even ourselves
to come again into existence, instead of being succeeded by posterity, we have
not now the right of taking from ourselves the rights which would then be ours.
On what ground, then, do we pretend to take them from others?
All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. An heritable crown, or
an heritable throne, or by what other fanciful name such things may be called,
have no other significant explanation than that mankind are heritable property.
To inherit a government, is to inherit the people, as if they were flocks and
With respect to the second head, that of being inadequate to the purposes
for which government is necessary, we have only to consider what government
essentially is, and compare it with the circumstances to which hereditary
succession is subject.
Government ought to be a thing always in full maturity. It ought to be so
constructed as to be superior to all the accidents to which individual man is
subject; and, therefore, hereditary succession, by being subject to them all,
is the most irregular and imperfect of all the systems of government.
We have heard the Rights of Man called a levelling system; but the only
system to which the word levelling is truly applicable, is the hereditary
monarchical system. It is a system of mental levelling. It indiscriminately
admits every species of character to the same authority. Vice and virtue,
ignorance and wisdom, in short, every quality good or bad, is put on the same
level. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies
not what their mental or moral characters are. Can we then be surprised at the
abject state of the human mind in monarchical countries, when the government
itself is formed on such an abject levelling system? — It has no fixed
character. To-day it is one thing; to-morrow it is something else. It changes
with the temper of every succeeding individual, and is subject to all the
varieties of each. It is government through the medium of passions and
accidents. It appears under all the various characters of childhood,
decrepitude, dotage, a thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in crutches. It
reverses the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally puts children over men,
and the conceits of nonage over wisdom and experience. In short, we cannot
conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession, in
all its cases, presents.
Could it be made a decree in nature, or an edict registered in heaven, and
man could know it, that virtue and wisdom should invariably appertain to
hereditary succession, the objection to it would be removed; but when we see
that nature acts as if she disowned and sported with the hereditary system;
that the mental character of successors, in all countries, is below the average
of human understanding; that one is a tyrant, another an idiot, a third insane,
and some all three together, it is impossible to attach confidence to it, when
reason in man has power to act.
It is not to the Abbe Sieyes that I need apply this reasoning; he has
already saved me that trouble by giving his own opinion upon the case. "If
it be asked," says he, "what is my opinion with respect to hereditary
right, I answer without hesitation, That in good theory, an hereditary
transmission of any power of office, can never accord with the laws of a true
representation. Hereditaryship is, in this sense, as much an attaint upon
principle, as an outrage upon society. But let us," continues he,
"refer to the history of all elective monarchies and principalities: is
there one in which the elective mode is not worse than the hereditary
As to debating on which is the worst of the two, it is admitting both to be
bad; and herein we are agreed. The preference which the Abbe has given, is a
condemnation of the thing that he prefers. Such a mode of reasoning on such a
subject is inadmissible, because it finally amounts to an accusation upon
Providence, as if she had left to man no other choice with respect to
government than between two evils, the best of which he admits to be "an
attaint upon principle, and an outrage upon society."
Passing over, for the present, all the evils and mischiefs which monarchy
has occasioned in the world, nothing can more effectually prove its uselessness
in a state of civil government, than making it hereditary. Would we make any
office hereditary that required wisdom and abilities to fill it? And where
wisdom and abilities are not necessary, such an office, whatever it may be, is
superfluous or insignificant.
Hereditary succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It puts it in the most
ridiculous light, by presenting it as an office which any child or idiot may
fill. It requires some talents to be a common mechanic; but to be a king
requires only the animal figure of man — a sort of breathing automaton.
This sort of superstition may last a few years more, but it cannot long resist
the awakened reason and interest of man.
As to Mr. Burke, he is a stickler for monarchy, not altogether as a
pensioner, if he is one, which I believe, but as a political man. He has taken
up a contemptible opinion of mankind, who, in their turn, are taking up the
same of him. He considers them as a herd of beings that must be governed by
fraud, effigy, and show; and an idol would be as good a figure of monarchy with
him, as a man. I will, however, do him the justice to say that, with respect to
America, he has been very complimentary. He always contended, at least in my
hearing, that the people of America were more enlightened than those of
England, or of any country in Europe; and that therefore the imposition of show
was not necessary in their governments.
Though the comparison between hereditary and elective monarchy, which the
Abbe has made, is unnecessary to the case, because the representative system
rejects both: yet, were I to make the comparison, I should decide contrary to
what he has done.
The civil wars which have originated from contested hereditary claims, are
more numerous, and have been more dreadful, and of longer continuance, than
those which have been occasioned by election. All the civil wars in France
arose from the hereditary system; they were either produced by hereditary
claims, or by the imperfection of the hereditary form, which admits of
regencies or monarchy at nurse. With respect to England, its history is full of
the same misfortunes. The contests for succession between the houses of York
and Lancaster lasted a whole century; and others of a similar nature have
renewed themselves since that period. Those of 1715 and 1745 were of the same
kind. The succession war for the crown of Spain embroiled almost half Europe.
The disturbances of Holland are generated from the hereditaryship of the
Stadtholder. A government calling itself free, with an hereditary office, is
like a thorn in the flesh, that produces a fermentation which endeavours to
But I might go further, and place also foreign wars, of whatever kind, to
the same cause. It is by adding the evil of hereditary succession to that of
monarchy, that a permanent family interest is created, whose constant objects
are dominion and revenue. Poland, though an elective monarchy, has had fewer
wars than those which are hereditary; and it is the only government that has
made a voluntary essay, though but a small one, to reform the condition of the
Having thus glanced at a few of the defects of the old, or hereditary
systems of government, let us compare it with the new, or representative
The representative system takes society and civilisation for its basis;
nature, reason, and experience, for its guide.
Experience, in all ages, and in all countries, has demonstrated that it is
impossible to control Nature in her distribution of mental powers. She gives
them as she pleases. Whatever is the rule by which she, apparently to us,
scatters them among mankind, that rule remains a secret to man. It would be as
ridiculous to attempt to fix the hereditaryship of human beauty, as of wisdom.
Whatever wisdom constituently is, it is like a seedless plant; it may be reared
when it appears, but it cannot be voluntarily produced. There is always a
sufficiency somewhere in the general mass of society for all purposes; but with
respect to the parts of society, it is continually changing its place. It rises
in one to-day, in another to-morrow, and has most probably visited in rotation
every family of the earth, and again withdrawn.
As this is in the order of nature, the order of government must necessarily
follow it, or government will, as we see it does, degenerate into ignorance.
The hereditary system, therefore, is as repugnant to human wisdom as to human
rights; and is as absurd as it is unjust.
As the republic of letters brings forward the best literary productions, by
giving to genius a fair and universal chance; so the representative system of
government is calculated to produce the wisest laws, by collecting wisdom from
where it can be found. I smile to myself when I contemplate the ridiculous
insignificance into which literature and all the sciences would sink, were they
made hereditary; and I carry the same idea into governments. An hereditary
governor is as inconsistent as an hereditary author. I know not whether Homer
or Euclid had sons; but I will venture an opinion that if they had, and had
left their works unfinished, those sons could not have completed them.
Do we need a stronger evidence of the absurdity of hereditary government
than is seen in the descendants of those men, in any line of life, who once
were famous? Is there scarcely an instance in which there is not a total
reverse of the character? It appears as if the tide of mental faculties flowed
as far as it could in certain channels, and then forsook its course, and arose
in others. How irrational then is the hereditary system, which establishes
channels of power, in company with which wisdom refuses to flow! By continuing
this absurdity, man is perpetually in contradiction with himself; he accepts,
for a king, or a chief magistrate, or a legislator, a person whom he would not
elect for a constable.
It appears to general observation, that revolutions create genius and
talents; but those events do no more than bring them forward. There is existing
in man, a mass of sense lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something
excites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition, to the grave.
As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be
employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward,
by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails
to appear in revolutions.
This cannot take place in the insipid state of hereditary government, not
only because it prevents, but because it operates to benumb. When the mind of a
nation is bowed down by any political superstition in its government, such as
hereditary succession is, it loses a considerable portion of its powers on all
other subjects and objects. Hereditary succession requires the same obedience
to ignorance, as to wisdom; and when once the mind can bring itself to pay this
indiscriminate reverence, it descends below the stature of mental manhood. It
is fit to be great only in little things. It acts a treachery upon itself, and
suffocates the sensations that urge the detection.
Though the ancient governments present to us a miserable picture of the
condition of man, there is one which above all others exempts itself from the
general description. I mean the democracy of the Athenians. We see more to
admire, and less to condemn, in that great, extraordinary people, than in
anything which history affords.
Mr. Burke is so little acquainted with constituent principles of
government, that he confounds democracy and representation together.
Representation was a thing unknown in the ancient democracies. In those the
mass of the people met and enacted laws (grammatically speaking) in the first
person. Simple democracy was no other than the common hall of the ancients. It
signifies the form, as well as the public principle of the government. As those
democracies increased in population, and the territory extended, the simple
democratical form became unwieldy and impracticable; and as the system of
representation was not known, the consequence was, they either degenerated
convulsively into monarchies, or became absorbed into such as then existed. Had
the system of representation been then understood, as it now is, there is no
reason to believe that those forms of government, now called monarchical or
aristocratical, would ever have taken place. It was the want of some method to
consolidate the parts of society, after it became too populous, and too
extensive for the simple democratical form, and also the lax and solitary
condition of shepherds and herdsmen in other parts of the world, that afforded
opportunities to those unnatural modes of government to begin.
As it is necessary to clear away the rubbish of errors, into which the
subject of government has been thrown, I will proceed to remark on some others.
It has always been the political craft of courtiers and court-governments,
to abuse something which they called republicanism; but what republicanism was,
or is, they never attempt to explain. let us examine a little into this case.
The only forms of government are the democratical, the aristocratical, the
monarchical, and what is now called the representative.
What is called a republic is not any particular form of government. It is
wholly characteristical of the purport, matter or object for which government
ought to be instituted, and on which it is to be employed,
Res-Publica, the public affairs, or the public good; or,
literally translated, the public thing. It is a word of a good original,
referring to what ought to be the character and business of government; and in
this sense it is naturally opposed to the word monarchy, which has a base
original signification. It means arbitrary power in an individual person; in
the exercise of which, himself, and not the res-publica, is the object.
Every government that does not act on the principle of a Republic, or in
other words, that does not make the res-publica its whole and sole object, is
not a good government. Republican government is no other than government
established and conducted for the interest of the public, as well individually
as collectively. It is not necessarily connected with any particular form, but
it most naturally associates with the representative form, as being best
calculated to secure the end for which a nation is at the expense of supporting
Various forms of government have affected to style themselves a republic.
Poland calls itself a republic, which is an hereditary aristocracy, with what
is called an elective monarchy. Holland calls itself a republic, which is
chiefly aristocratical, with an hereditary stadtholdership. But the government
of America, which is wholly on the system of representation, is the only real
Republic, in character and in practice, that now exists. Its government has no
other object than the public business of the nation, and therefore it is
properly a republic; and the Americans have taken care that
this, and no other, shall always be the object of their
government, by their rejecting everything hereditary, and establishing
governments on the system of representation only. Those who have said that a
republic is not a form of government calculated for countries of great extent,
mistook, in the first place, the business of a government, for a form of
government; for the res-publica equally appertains to every extent of territory
and population. And, in the second place, if they meant anything with respect
to form, it was the simple democratical form, such as was the mode of
government in the ancient democracies, in which there was no representation.
The case, therefore, is not, that a republic cannot be extensive, but that it
cannot be extensive on the simple democratical form; and the question naturally
presents itself, What is the best form of government for conducting the
Res-Publica, or the Public Business of a
nation, after it becomes too extensive and populous for the simple democratical
form? It cannot be monarchy, because monarchy is subject to an objection of the
same amount to which the simple democratical form was subject.
It is possible that an individual may lay down a system of principles, on
which government shall be constitutionally established to any extent of
territory. This is no more than an operation of the mind, acting by its own
powers. But the practice upon those principles, as applying to the various and
numerous circumstances of a nation, its agriculture, manufacture, trade,
commerce, etc., etc., a knowledge of a different kind, and which can be had
only from the various parts of society. It is an assemblage of practical
knowledge, which no individual can possess; and therefore the monarchical form
is as much limited, in useful practice, from the incompetency of knowledge, as
was the democratical form, from the multiplicity of population. The one
degenerates, by extension, into confusion; the other, into ignorance and
incapacity, of which all the great monarchies are an evidence. The monarchical
form, therefore, could not be a substitute for the democratical, because it has
Much less could it when made hereditary. This is the most effectual of all
forms to preclude knowledge. Neither could the high democratical mind have
voluntarily yielded itself to be governed by children and idiots, and all the
motley insignificance of character, which attends such a mere animal system,
the disgrace and the reproach of reason and of man.
As to the aristocratical form, it has the same vices and defects with the
monarchical, except that the chance of abilities is better from the proportion
of numbers, but there is still no security for the right use and application of
Referring them to the original simple democracy, it affords the true data
from which government on a large scale can begin. It is incapable of extension,
not from its principle, but from the inconvenience of its form; and monarchy
and aristocracy, from their incapacity. Retaining, then, democracy as the
ground, and rejecting the corrupt systems of monarchy and aristocracy, the
representative system naturally presents itself; remedying at once the defects
of the simple democracy as to form, and the incapacity of the other two with
respect to knowledge.
Simple democracy was society governing itself without the aid of secondary
means. By ingrafting representation upon democracy, we arrive at a system of
government capable of embracing and confederating all the various interests and
every extent of territory and population; and that also with advantages as much
superior to hereditary government, as the republic of letters is to hereditary
It is on this system that the American government is founded. It is
representation ingrafted upon democracy. It has fixed the form by a scale
parallel in all cases to the extent of the principle. What Athens was in
miniature America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of the ancient
world; the other is becoming the admiration of the present. It is the easiest
of all the forms of government to be understood and the most eligible in
practice; and excludes at once the ignorance and insecurity of the hereditary
mode, and the inconvenience of the simple democracy.
It is impossible to conceive a system of government capable of acting over
such an extent of territory, and such a circle of interests, as is immediately
produced by the operation of representation. France, great and populous as it
is, is but a spot in the capaciousness of the system. It is preferable to
simple democracy even in small territories. Athens, by representation, would
have outrivalled her own democracy.
That which is called government, or rather that which we ought to conceive
government to be, is no more than some common center in which all the parts of
society unite. This cannot be accomplished by any method so conducive to the
various interests of the community, as by the representative system. It
concentrates the knowledge necessary to the interest of the parts, and of the
whole. It places government in a state of constant maturity. It is, as has
already been observed, never young, never old. It is subject neither to nonage,
nor dotage. It is never in the cradle, nor on crutches. It admits not of a
separation between knowledge and power, and is superior, as government always
ought to be, to all the accidents of individual man, and is therefore superior
to what is called monarchy.
A nation is not a body, the figure of which is to be represented by the
human body; but is like a body contained within a circle, having a common
center, in which every radius meets; and that center is formed by
representation. To connect representation with what is called monarchy, is
eccentric government. Representation is of itself the delegated monarchy of a
nation, and cannot debase itself by dividing it with another.
Mr. Burke has two or three times, in his parliamentary speeches, and in his
publications, made use of a jingle of words that convey no ideas. Speaking of
government, he says, "It is better to have monarchy for its basis, and
republicanism for its corrective, than republicanism for its basis, and
monarchy for its corrective." — If he means that it is better to
correct folly with wisdom, than wisdom with folly, I will no otherwise contend
with him, than that it would be much better to reject the folly entirely.
But what is this thing which Mr. Burke calls monarchy? Will he explain it?
All men can understand what representation is; and that it must necessarily
include a variety of knowledge and talents. But what security is there for the
same qualities on the part of monarchy? or, when the monarchy is a child, where
then is the wisdom? What does it know about government? Who then is the
monarch, or where is the monarchy? If it is to be performed by regency, it
proves to be a farce. A regency is a mock species of republic, and the whole of
monarchy deserves no better description. It is a thing as various as
imagination can paint. It has none of the stable character that government
ought to possess. Every succession is a revolution, and every regency a
counter-revolution. The whole of it is a scene of perpetual court cabal and
intrigue, of which Mr. Burke is himself an instance. To render monarchy
consistent with government, the next in succession should not be born a child,
but a man at once, and that man a Solomon. It is ridiculous that nations are to
wait and government be interrupted till boys grow to be men.
Whether I have too little sense to see, or too much to be imposed upon;
whether I have too much or too little pride, or of anything else, I leave out
of the question; but certain it is, that what is called monarchy, always
appears to me a silly, contemptible thing. I compare it to something kept
behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss, and a
wonderful air of seeming solemnity; but when, by any accident, the curtain
happens to be open — and the company see what it is, they burst into
In the representative system of government, nothing of this can happen.
Like the nation itself, it possesses a perpetual stamina, as well of body as of
mind, and presents itself on the open theatre of the world in a fair and manly
manner. Whatever are its excellences or defects, they are visible to all. It
exists not by fraud and mystery; it deals not in cant and sophistry; but
inspires a language that, passing from heart to heart, is felt and understood.
We must shut our eyes against reason, we must basely degrade our
understanding, not to see the folly of what is called monarchy. Nature is
orderly in all her works; but this is a mode of government that counteracts
nature. It turns the progress of the human faculties upside down. It subjects
age to be governed by children, and wisdom by folly.
On the contrary, the representative system is always parallel with the
order and immutable laws of nature, and meets the reason of man in every part.
In the American Federal Government, more power is delegated to the
President of the United States than to any other individual member of Congress.
He cannot, therefore, be elected to this office under the age of thirty-five
years. By this time the judgment of man becomes more matured, and he has lived
long enough to be acquainted with men and things, and the country with him.
— But on the monarchial plan (exclusive of the numerous chances there are
against every man born into the world, of drawing a prize in the lottery of
human faculties), the next in succession, whatever he may be, is put at the
head of a nation, and of a government, at the age of eighteen years. Does this
appear like an action of wisdom? Is it consistent with the proper dignity and
the manly character of a nation? Where is the propriety of calling such a lad
the father of the people? — In all other cases, a person is a minor until
the age of twenty-one years. Before this period, he is not trusted with the
management of an acre of land, or with the heritable property of a flock of
sheep, or an herd of swine; but, wonderful to tell! he may, at the age of
eighteen years, be trusted with a nation.
That monarchy is all a bubble, a mere court artifice to procure money, is
evident (at least to me) in every character in which it can be viewed. It would
be impossible, on the rational system of representative government, to make out
a bill of expenses to such an enormous amount as this deception admits.
Government is not of itself a very chargeable institution. The whole expense of
the federal government of America, founded, as I have already said, on the
system of representation, and extending over a country nearly ten times as
large as England, is but six hundred thousand dollars, or one hundred and
thirty-five thousand pounds sterling.
I presume that no man in his sober senses will compare the character of any
of the kings of Europe with that of General Washington. Yet, in France, and
also in England, the expense of the civil list only, for the support of one
man, is eight times greater than the whole expense of the federal government in
America. To assign a reason for this, appears almost impossible. The generality
of people in America, especially the poor, are more able to pay taxes, than the
generality of people either in France or England.
But the case is, that the representative system diffuses such a body of
knowledge throughout a nation, on the subject of government, as to explode
ignorance and preclude imposition. The craft of courts cannot be acted on that
ground. There is no place for mystery; nowhere for it to begin. Those who are
not in the representation, know as much of the nature of business as those who
are. An affectation of mysterious importance would there be scouted. Nations
can have no secrets; and the secrets of courts, like those of individuals, are
always their defects.
In the representative system, the reason for everything must publicly
appear. Every man is a proprietor in government, and considers it a necessary
part of his business to understand. It concerns his interest, because it
affects his property. He examines the cost, and compares it with the
advantages; and above all, he does not adopt the slavish custom of following
what in other governments are called Leaders.
It can only be by blinding the understanding of man, and making him believe
that government is some wonderful mysterious thing, that excessive revenues are
obtained. Monarchy is well calculated to ensure this end. It is the popery of
government; a thing kept up to amuse the ignorant, and quiet them into taxes.
The government of a free country, properly speaking, is not in the persons,
but in the laws. The enacting of those requires no great expense; and when they
are administered, the whole of civil government is performed — the rest is
all court contrivance.
That men mean distinct and separate things when they speak of constitutions
and of governments, is evident; or why are those terms distinctly and
separately used? A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people
constituting a government; and government without a constitution, is power
without a right.
All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must either
be delegated or assumed. There are no other sources. All delegated power is
trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and
quality of either.
In viewing this subject, the case and circumstances of America present
themselves as in the beginning of a world; and our enquiry into the origin of
government is shortened, by referring to the facts that have arisen in our own
day. We have no occasion to roam for information into the obscure field of
antiquity, nor hazard ourselves upon conjecture. We are brought at once to the
point of seeing government begin, as if we had lived in the beginning of time.
The real volume, not of history, but of facts, is directly before us,
unmutilated by contrivance, or the errors of tradition.
I will here concisely state the commencement of the American constitutions;
by which the difference between constitutions and governments will sufficiently
It may not appear improper to remind the reader that the United States of
America consist of thirteen separate states, each of which established a
government for itself, after the declaration of independence, done the 4th of
July, 1776. Each state acted independently of the rest, in forming its
governments; but the same general principle pervades the whole. When the
several state governments were formed, they proceeded to form the federal
government, that acts over the whole in all matters which concern the interest
of the whole, or which relate to the intercourse of the several states with
each other, or with foreign nations. I will begin with giving an instance from
one of the state governments (that of Pennsylvania) and then proceed to the
The state of Pennsylvania, though nearly of the same extent of territory as
England, was then divided into only twelve counties. Each of those counties had
elected a committee at the commencement of the dispute with the English
government; and as the city of Philadelphia, which also had its committee, was
the most central for intelligence, it became the center of communication to the
several country committees. When it became necessary to proceed to the
formation of a government, the committee of Philadelphia proposed a conference
of all the committees, to be held in that city, and which met the latter end of
Though these committees had been duly elected by the people, they were not
elected expressly for the purpose, nor invested with the authority of forming a
constitution; and as they could not, consistently with the American idea of
rights, assume such a power, they could only confer upon the matter, and put it
into a train of operation. The conferees, therefore, did no more than state the
case, and recommend to the several counties to elect six representatives for
each county, to meet in convention at Philadelphia, with powers to form a
constitution, and propose it for public consideration.
This convention, of which Benjamin Franklin was president, having met and
deliberated, and agreed upon a constitution, they next ordered it to be
published, not as a thing established, but for the consideration of the whole
people, their approbation or rejection, and then adjourned to a stated time.
When the time of adjournment was expired, the convention re-assembled; and as
the general opinion of the people in approbation of it was then known, the
constitution was signed, sealed, and proclaimed on the authority of the people
and the original instrument deposited as a public record. The convention then
appointed a day for the general election of the representatives who were to
compose the government, and the time it should commence; and having done this
they dissolved, and returned to their several homes and occupations.
In this constitution were laid down, first, a declaration of rights; then
followed the form which the government should have, and the powers it should
possess — the authority of the courts of judicature, and of juries —
the manner in which elections should be conducted, and the proportion of
representatives to the number of electors — the time which each succeeding
assembly should continue, which was one year — the mode of levying, and of
accounting for the expenditure, of public money — of appointing public
officers, etc., etc., etc.
No article of this constitution could be altered or infringed at the
discretion of the government that was to ensue. It was to that government a
law. But as it would have been unwise to preclude the benefit of experience,
and in order also to prevent the accumulation of errors, if any should be
found, and to preserve an unison of government with the circumstances of the
state at all times, the constitution provided that, at the expiration of every
seven years, a convention should be elected, for the express purpose of
revising the constitution, and making alterations, additions, or abolitions
therein, if any such should be found necessary.
Here we see a regular process — a government issuing out of a
constitution, formed by the people in their original character; and that
constitution serving, not only as an authority, but as a law of control to the
government. It was the political bible of the state. Scarcely a family was
without it. Every member of the government had a copy; and nothing was more
common, when any debate arose on the principle of a bill, or on the extent of
any species of authority, than for the members to take the printed constitution
out of their pocket, and read the chapter with which such matter in debate was
Having thus given an instance from one of the states, I will show the
proceedings by which the federal constitution of the United States arose and
Congress, at its two first meetings, in September 1774, and May 1775, was
nothing more than a deputation from the legislatures of the several provinces,
afterwards states; and had no other authority than what arose from common
consent, and the necessity of its acting as a public body. In everything which
related to the internal affairs of America, congress went no further than to
issue recommendations to the several provincial assemblies, who at discretion
adopted them or not. Nothing on the part of congress was compulsive; yet, in
this situation, it was more faithfully and affectionately obeyed than was any
government in Europe. This instance, like that of the national assembly in
France, sufficiently shows, that the strength of government does not consist in
any thing itself, but in the attachment of a nation, and the interest which a
people feel in supporting it. When this is lost, government is but a child in
power; and though, like the old government in France, it may harass individuals
for a while, it but facilitates its own fall.
After the declaration of independence, it became consistent with the
principle on which representative government is founded, that the authority of
congress should be defined and established. Whether that authority should be
more or less than congress then discretionarily exercised was not the question.
It was merely the rectitude of the measure.
For this purpose, the act, called the act of confederation (which was a
sort of imperfect federal constitution), was proposed, and, after long
deliberation, was concluded in the year 1781. It was not the act of congress,
because it is repugnant to the principles of representative government that a
body should give power to itself. Congress first informed the several states,
of the powers which it conceived were necessary to be invested in the union, to
enable it to perform the duties and services required from it; and the states
severally agreed with each other, and concentrated in congress those powers.
It may not be improper to observe that in both those instances (the one of
Pennsylvania, and the other of the United States), there is no such thing as
the idea of a compact between the people on one side, and the government on the
other. The compact was that of the people with each other, to produce and
constitute a government. To suppose that any government can be a party in a
compact with the whole people, is to suppose it to have existence before it can
have a right to exist. The only instance in which a compact can take place
between the people and those who exercise the government, is, that the people
shall pay them, while they choose to employ them.
Government is not a trade which any man, or any body of men, has a right to
set up and exercise for his own emolument, but is altogether a trust, in right
of those by whom that trust is delegated, and by whom it is always resumeable.
It has of itself no rights; they are altogether duties.
Having thus given two instances of the original formation of a
constitution, I will show the manner in which both have been changed since
their first establishment.
The powers vested in the governments of the several states, by the state
constitutions, were found, upon experience, to be too great; and those vested
in the federal government, by the act of confederation, too little. The defect
was not in the principle, but in the distribution of power.
Numerous publications, in pamphlets and in the newspapers, appeared, on the
propriety and necessity of new modelling the federal government. After some
time of public discussion, carried on through the channel of the press, and in
conversations, the state of Virginia, experiencing some inconvenience with
respect to commerce, proposed holding a continental conference; in consequence
of which, a deputation from five or six state assemblies met at Annapolis, in
Maryland, in 1786. This meeting, not conceiving itself sufficiently authorised
to go into the business of a reform, did no more than state their general
opinions of the propriety of the measure, and recommend that a convention of
all the states should be held the year following.
The convention met at Philadelphia in May, 1787, of which General
Washington was elected president. He was not at that time connected with any of
the state governments, or with congress. He delivered up his commission when
the war ended, and since then had lived a private citizen.
The convention went deeply into all the subjects; and having, after a
variety of debate and investigation, agreed among themselves upon the several
parts of a federal constitution, the next question was, the manner of giving it
authority and practice.
For this purpose they did not, like a cabal of courtiers, send for a Dutch
Stadtholder, or a German Elector; but they referred the whole matter to the
sense and interest of the country.
They first directed that the proposed constitution should be published.
Secondly, that each state should elect a convention, expressly for the purpose
of taking it into consideration, and of ratifying or rejecting it; and that as
soon as the approbation and ratification of any nine states should be given,
that those states shall proceed to the election of their proportion of members
to the new federal government; and that the operation of it should then begin,
and the former federal government cease.
The several states proceeded accordingly to elect their conventions. Some
of those conventions ratified the constitution by very large majorities, and
two or three unanimously. In others there were much debate and division of
opinion. In the Massachusetts convention, which met at Boston, the majority was
not above nineteen or twenty, in about three hundred members; but such is the
nature of representative government, that it quietly decides all matters by
majority. After the debate in the Massachusetts convention was closed, and the
vote taken, the objecting members rose and declared, "That though they had
argued and voted against it, because certain parts appeared to them in a
different light to what they appeared to other members; yet, as the vote had
decided in favour of the constitution as proposed, they should give it the same
practical support as if they had for it."
As soon as nine states had concurred (and the rest followed in the order
their conventions were elected), the old fabric of the federal government was
taken down, and the new one erected, of which General Washington is president.
— In this place I cannot help remarking, that the character and services
of this gentleman are sufficient to put all those men called kings to shame.
While they are receiving from the sweat and labours of mankind, a prodigality
of pay, to which neither their abilities nor their services can entitle them,
he is rendering every service in his power, and refusing every pecuniary
reward. He accepted no pay as commander-in-chief; he accepts none as president
of the United States.
After the new federal constitution was established, the state of
Pennsylvania, conceiving that some parts of its own constitution required to be
altered, elected a convention for that purpose. The proposed alterations were
published, and the people concurring therein, they were established.
In forming those constitutions, or in altering them, little or no
inconvenience took place. The ordinary course of things was not interrupted,
and the advantages have been much. It is always the interest of a far greater
number of people in a nation to have things right, than to let them remain
wrong; and when public matters are open to debate, and the public judgment
free, it will not decide wrong, unless it decides too hastily.
In the two instances of changing the constitutions, the governments then in
being were not actors either way. Government has no right to make itself a
party in any debate respecting the principles or modes of forming, or of
changing, constitutions. It is not for the benefit of those who exercise the
powers of government that constitutions, and the governments issuing from them,
are established. In all those matters the right of judging and acting are in
those who pay, and not in those who receive.
A constitution is the property of a nation, and not of those who exercise
the government. All the constitutions of America are declared to be established
on the authority of the people. In France, the word nation is used instead of
the people; but in both cases, a constitution is a thing antecedent to the
government, and always distinct there from.
In England it is not difficult to perceive that everything has a
constitution, except the nation. Every society and association that is
established, first agreed upon a number of original articles, digested into
form, which are its constitution. It then appointed its officers, whose powers
and authorities are described in that constitution, and the government of that
society then commenced. Those officers, by whatever name they are called, have
no authority to add to, alter, or abridge the original articles. It is only to
the constituting power that this right belongs.
From the want of understanding the difference between a constitution and a
government, Dr. Johnson, and all writers of his description, have always
bewildered themselves. They could not but perceive, that there must necessarily
be a controlling power existing somewhere, and they placed this power in the
discretion of the persons exercising the government, instead of placing it in a
constitution formed by the nation. When it is in a constitution, it has the
nation for its support, and the natural and the political controlling powers
are together. The laws which are enacted by governments, control men only as
individuals, but the nation, through its constitution, controls the whole
government, and has a natural ability to do so. The final controlling power,
therefore, and the original constituting power, are one and the same power.
Dr. Johnson could not have advanced such a position in any country where
there was a constitution; and he is himself an evidence that no such thing as a
constitution exists in England. But it may be put as a question, not improper
to be investigated, that if a constitution does not exist, how came the idea of
its existence so generally established?
In order to decide this question, it is necessary to consider a
constitution in both its cases: — First, as creating a government and
giving it powers. Secondly, as regulating and restraining the powers so given.
If we begin with William of Normandy, we find that the government of
England was originally a tyranny, founded on an invasion and conquest of the
country. This being admitted, it will then appear, that the exertion of the
nation, at different periods, to abate that tyranny, and render it less
intolerable, has been credited for a constitution.
Magna Charta, as it was called (it is now like an almanack of the same
date), was no more than compelling the government to renounce a part of its
assumptions. It did not create and give powers to government in a manner a
constitution does; but was, as far as it went, of the nature of a re-conquest,
and not a constitution; for could the nation have totally expelled the
usurpation, as France has done its despotism, it would then have had a
constitution to form.
The history of the Edwards and the Henries, and up to the commencement of
the Stuarts, exhibits as many instances of tyranny as could be acted within the
limits to which the nation had restricted it. The Stuarts endeavoured to pass
those limits, and their fate is well known. In all those instances we see
nothing of a constitution, but only of restrictions on assumed power.
After this, another William, descended from the same stock, and claiming
from the same origin, gained possession; and of the two evils, James and
William, the nation preferred what it thought the least; since, from
circumstances, it must take one. The act, called the Bill of Rights, comes here
into view. What is it, but a bargain, which the parts of the government made
with each other to divide powers, profits, and privileges? You shall have so
much, and I will have the rest; and with respect to the nation, it said, for
your share, YOU shall have the right of petitioning. This being the case, the
bill of rights is more properly a bill of wrongs, and of insult. As to what is
called the convention parliament, it was a thing that made itself, and then
made the authority by which it acted. A few persons got together, and called
themselves by that name. Several of them had never been elected, and none of
them for the purpose.
From the time of William a species of government arose, issuing out of this
coalition bill of rights; and more so, since the corruption introduced at the
Hanover succession by the agency of Walpole; that can be described by no other
name than a despotic legislation. Though the parts may embarrass each other,
the whole has no bounds; and the only right it acknowledges out of itself, is
the right of petitioning. Where then is the constitution either that gives or
It is not because a part of the government is elective, that makes it less
a despotism, if the persons so elected possess afterwards, as a parliament,
unlimited powers. Election, in this case, becomes separated from
representation, and the candidates are candidates for despotism.
I cannot believe that any nation, reasoning on its own rights, would have
thought of calling these things a constitution, if the cry of constitution had
not been set up by the government. It has got into circulation like the words
bore and quoz [quiz], by being chalked up in the speeches of parliament, as
those words were on window shutters and doorposts; but whatever the
constitution may be in other respects, it has undoubtedly been the most
productive machine of taxation that was ever invented. The taxes in France,
under the new constitution, are not quite thirteen shillings per
head, and the taxes in
England, under what is called its present constitution, are forty-eight
shillings and sixpence per head — men, women, and children —
amounting to nearly seventeen millions sterling, besides the expense of
collecting, which is upwards of a million more.
In a country like England, where the whole of the civil Government is
executed by the people of every town and county, by means of parish officers,
magistrates, quarterly sessions, juries, and assize; without any trouble to
what is called the government or any other expense to the revenue than the
salary of the judges, it is astonishing how such a mass of taxes can be
employed. Not even the internal defence of the country is paid out of the
revenue. On all occasions, whether real or contrived, recourse is continually
had to new loans and new taxes. No wonder, then, that a machine of government
so advantageous to the advocates of a court, should be so triumphantly
extolled! No wonder, that St. James's or St. Stephen's should echo with the
continual cry of constitution; no wonder, that the French revolution should be
reprobated, and the res-publica treated with reproach! The red book of England,
like the red book of France, will explain the reason.
I will now, by way of relaxation, turn a thought or two to Mr. Burke. I ask
his pardon for neglecting him so long.
"America," says he (in his speech on the Canada Constitution
bill), "never dreamed of such absurd doctrine as the Rights of Man."
Mr. Burke is such a bold presumer, and advances his assertions and his
premises with such a deficiency of judgment, that, without troubling ourselves
about principles of philosophy or politics, the mere logical conclusions they
produce, are ridiculous. For instance,
If governments, as Mr. Burke asserts, are not founded on the Rights of MAN,
and are founded on any rights at all, they consequently must be founded on the
right of something that is not man. What then is that something?
Generally speaking, we know of no other creatures that inhabit the earth
than man and beast; and in all cases, where only two things offer themselves,
and one must be admitted, a negation proved on any one, amounts to an
affirmative on the other; and therefore, Mr. Burke, by proving against the
Rights of Man, proves in behalf of the beast; and consequently, proves that
government is a beast; and as difficult things sometimes explain each other, we
now see the origin of keeping wild beasts in the Tower; for they certainly can
be of no other use than to show the origin of the government. They are in the
place of a constitution. O John Bull, what honours thou hast lost by not being
a wild beast. Thou mightest, on Mr. Burke's system, have been in the Tower for
If Mr. Burke's arguments have not weight enough to keep one serious, the
fault is less mine than his; and as I am willing to make an apology to the
reader for the liberty I have taken, I hope Mr. Burke will also make his for
giving the cause.
Having thus paid Mr. Burke the compliment of remembering him, I return to
From the want of a constitution in England to restrain and regulate the
wild impulse of power, many of the laws are irrational and tyrannical, and the
administration of them vague and problematical.
The attention of the government of England (for I rather choose to call it
by this name than the English government) appears, since its political
connection with Germany, to have been so completely engrossed and absorbed by
foreign affairs, and the means of raising taxes, that it seems to exist for no
other purposes. Domestic concerns are neglected; and with respect to regular
law, there is scarcely such a thing.
Almost every case must now be determined by some precedent, be that
precedent good or bad, or whether it properly applies or not; and the practice
is become so general as to suggest a suspicion, that it proceeds from a deeper
policy than at first sight appears.
Since the revolution of America, and more so since that of France, this
preaching up the doctrines of precedents, drawn from times and circumstances
antecedent to those events, has been the studied practice of the English
government. The generality of those precedents are founded on principles and
opinions, the reverse of what they ought; and the greater distance of time they
are drawn from, the more they are to be suspected. But by associating those
precedents with a superstitious reverence for ancient things, as monks show
relics and call them holy, the generality of mankind are deceived into the
design. Governments now act as if they were afraid to awaken a single
reflection in man. They are softly leading him to the sepulchre of precedents,
to deaden his faculties and call attention from the scene of revolutions. They
feel that he is arriving at knowledge faster than they wish, and their policy
of precedents is the barometer of their fears. This political popery, like the
ecclesiastical popery of old, has had its day, and is hastening to its exit.
The ragged relic and the antiquated precedent, the monk and the monarch, will
Government by precedent, without any regard to the principle of the
precedent, is one of the vilest systems that can be set up. In numerous
instances, the precedent ought to operate as a warning, and not as an example,
and requires to be shunned instead of imitated; but instead of this, precedents
are taken in the lump, and put at once for constitution and for law.
Either the doctrine of precedents is policy to keep a man in a state of
ignorance, or it is a practical confession that wisdom degenerates in
governments as governments increase in age, and can only hobble along by the
stilts and crutches of precedents. How is it that the same persons who would
proudly be thought wiser than their predecessors, appear at the same time only
as the ghosts of departed wisdom? How strangely is antiquity treated! To some
purposes it is spoken of as the times of darkness and ignorance, and to answer
others, it is put for the light of the world.
If the doctrine of precedents is to be followed, the expenses of government
need not continue the same. Why pay men extravagantly, who have but little to
do? If everything that can happen is already in precedent, legislation is at an
end, and precedent, like a dictionary, determines every case. Either,
therefore, government has arrived at its dotage, and requires to be renovated,
or all the occasions for exercising its wisdom have occurred.
We now see all over Europe, and particularly in England, the curious
phenomenon of a nation looking one way, and the government the other — the
one forward and the other backward. If governments are to go on by precedent,
while nations go on by improvement, they must at last come to a final
separation; and the sooner, and the more civilly they determine this point, the
Having thus spoken of constitutions generally, as things distinct from
actual governments, let us proceed to consider the parts of which a
constitution is composed.
Opinions differ more on this subject than with respect to the whole. That a
nation ought to have a constitution, as a rule for the conduct of its
government, is a simple question in which all men, not directly courtiers, will
agree. It is only on the component parts that questions and opinions multiply.
But this difficulty, like every other, will diminish when put into a train
of being rightly understood.
The first thing is, that a nation has a right to establish a constitution.
Whether it exercises this right in the most judicious manner at first is
quite another case. It exercises it agreeably to the judgment it possesses; and
by continuing to do so, all errors will at last be exploded.
When this right is established in a nation, there is no fear that it will
be employed to its own injury. A nation can have no interest in being wrong.
Though all the constitutions of America are on one general principle, yet
no two of them are exactly alike in their component parts, or in the
distribution of the powers which they give to the actual governments. Some are
more, and others less complex.
In forming a constitution, it is first necessary to consider what are the
ends for which government is necessary? Secondly, what are the best means, and
the least expensive, for accomplishing those ends?
Government is nothing more than a national association; and the object of
this association is the good of all, as well individually as collectively.
Every man wishes to pursue his occupation, and to enjoy the fruits of his
labours and the produce of his property in peace and safety, and with the least
possible expense. When these things are accomplished, all the objects for which
government ought to be established are answered.
It has been customary to consider government under three distinct general
heads. The legislative, the executive, and the judicial.
But if we permit our judgment to act unincumbered by the habit of
multiplied terms, we can perceive no more than two divisions of power, of which
civil government is composed, namely, that of legislating or enacting laws, and
that of executing or administering them. Everything, therefore, appertaining to
civil government, classes itself under one or other of these two divisions.
So far as regards the execution of the laws, that which is called the
judicial power, is strictly and properly the executive power of every country.
It is that power to which every individual has appeal, and which causes the
laws to be executed; neither have we any other clear idea with respect to the
official execution of the laws. In England, and also in America and France,
this power begins with the magistrate, and proceeds up through all the courts
I leave to courtiers to explain what is meant by calling monarchy the
executive power. It is merely a name in which acts of government are done; and
any other, or none at all, would answer the same purpose. Laws have neither
more nor less authority on this account. It must be from the justness of their
principles, and the interest which a nation feels therein, that they derive
support; if they require any other than this, it is a sign that something in
the system of government is imperfect. Laws difficult to be executed cannot be
With respect to the organization of the legislative power, different modes
have been adopted in different countries. In America it is generally composed
of two houses. In France it consists but of one, but in both countries, it is
wholly by representation.
The case is, that mankind (from the long tyranny of assumed power) have had
so few opportunities of making the necessary trials on modes and principles of
government, in order to discover the best, that government is but now beginning
to be known, and experience is yet wanting to determine many particulars.
The objections against two houses are, first, that there is an
inconsistency in any part of a whole legislature, coming to a final
determination by vote on any matter, whilst that matter, with respect to that
whole, is yet only in a train of deliberation, and consequently open to new
Secondly, That by taking the vote on each, as a separate body, it always
admits of the possibility, and is often the case in practice, that the minority
governs the majority, and that, in some instances, to a degree of great
Thirdly, That two houses arbitrarily checking or controlling each other is
inconsistent; because it cannot be proved on the principles of just
representation, that either should be wiser or better than the other. They may
check in the wrong as well as in the right — therefore to give the power
where we cannot give the wisdom to use it, nor be assured of its being rightly
used, renders the hazard at least equal to the precaution.
The objection against a single house is, that it is always in a condition
of committing itself too soon. — But it should at the same time be
remembered, that when there is a constitution which defines the power, and
establishes the principles within which a legislature shall act, there is
already a more effectual check provided, and more powerfully operating, than
any other check can be. For example,
Were a Bill to be brought into any of the American legislatures similar to
that which was passed into an act by the English parliament, at the
commencement of George the First, to extend the duration of the assemblies to a
longer period than they now sit, the check is in the constitution, which in
effect says, Thus far shalt thou go and no further.
But in order to remove the objection against a single house (that of acting
with too quick an impulse), and at the same time to avoid the inconsistencies,
in some cases absurdities, arising from two houses, the following method has
been proposed as an improvement upon both.
First, To have but one representation.
Secondly, To divide that representation, by lot, into two or three parts.
Thirdly, That every proposed bill shall be first debated in those parts by
succession, that they may become the hearers of each other, but without taking
any vote. After which the whole representation to assemble for a general debate
and determination by vote.
To this proposed improvement has been added another, for the purpose of
keeping the representation in the state of constant renovation; which is, that
one-third of the representation of each county, shall go out at the expiration
of one year, and the number be replaced by new elections. Another third at the
expiration of the second year replaced in like manner, and every third year to
be a general election.
But in whatever manner the separate parts of a constitution may be
arranged, there is one general principle that distinguishes freedom from
slavery, which is, that all hereditary government over a people is to them a
species of slavery, and representative government is freedom.
Considering government in the only light in which it should be considered,
that of a National Association, it ought to be so constructed
as not to be disordered by any accident happening among the parts; and,
therefore, no extraordinary power, capable of producing such an effect, should
be lodged in the hands of any individual. The death, sickness, absence or
defection, of any one individual in a government, ought to be a matter of no
more consequence, with respect to the nation, than if the same circumstance had
taken place in a member of the English Parliament, or the French National
Scarcely anything presents a more degrading character of national
greatness, than its being thrown into confusion, by anything happening to or
acted by any individual; and the ridiculousness of the scene is often increased
by the natural insignificance of the person by whom it is occasioned. Were a
government so constructed, that it could not go on unless a goose or a gander
were present in the senate, the difficulties would be just as great and as
real, on the flight or sickness of the goose, or the gander, as if it were
called a King. We laugh at individuals for the silly difficulties they make to
themselves, without perceiving that the greatest of all ridiculous things are
acted in governments.
All the constitutions of America are on a plan that excludes the childish
embarrassments which occur in monarchical countries. No suspension of
government can there take place for a moment, from any circumstances whatever.
The system of representation provides for everything, and is the only system in
which nations and governments can always appear in their proper character.
As extraordinary power ought not to be lodged in the hands of any
individual, so ought there to be no appropriations of public money to any
person, beyond what his services in a state may be worth. It signifies not
whether a man be called a president, a king, an emperor, a senator, or by any
other name which propriety or folly may devise or arrogance assume; it is only
a certain service he can perform in the state; and the service of any such
individual in the routine of office, whether such office be called monarchical,
presidential, senatorial, or by any other name or title, can never exceed the
value of ten thousand pounds a year. All the great services that are done in
the world are performed by volunteer characters, who accept nothing for them;
but the routine of office is always regulated to such a general standard of
abilities as to be within the compass of numbers in every country to perform,
and therefore cannot merit very extraordinary recompense. Government, says
Swift, is a Plain thing, and fitted to the capacity of many heads.
It is inhuman to talk of a million sterling a year, paid out of the public
taxes of any country, for the support of any individual, whilst thousands who
are forced to contribute thereto, are pining with want, and struggling with
misery. Government does not consist in a contrast between prisons and palaces,
between poverty and pomp; it is not instituted to rob the needy of his mite,
and increase the wretchedness of the wretched. — But on this part of the
subject I shall speak hereafter, and confine myself at present to political
When extraordinary power and extraordinary pay are allotted to any
individual in a government, he becomes the center, round which every kind of
corruption generates and forms. Give to any man a million a year, and add
thereto the power of creating and disposing of places, at the expense of a
country, and the liberties of that country are no longer secure. What is called
the splendour of a throne is no other than the corruption of the state. It is
made up of a band of parasites, living in luxurious indolence, out of the
When once such a vicious system is established it becomes the guard and
protection of all inferior abuses. The man who is in the receipt of a million a
year is the last person to promote a spirit of reform, lest, in the event, it
should reach to himself. It is always his interest to defend inferior abuses,
as so many outworks to protect the citadel; and on this species of political
fortification, all the parts have such a common dependence that it is never to
be expected they will attack each other.
Monarchy would not have continued so many ages in the world, had it not
been for the abuses it protects. It is the master-fraud, which shelters all
others. By admitting a participation of the spoil, it makes itself friends; and
when it ceases to do this it will cease to be the idol of courtiers.
As the principle on which constitutions are now formed rejects all
hereditary pretensions to government, it also rejects all that catalogue of
assumptions known by the name of prerogatives.
If there is any government where prerogatives might with apparent safety be
entrusted to any individual, it is in the federal government of America. The
president of the United States of America is elected only for four years. He is
not only responsible in the general sense of the word, but a particular mode is
laid down in the constitution for trying him. He cannot be elected under
thirty-five years of age; and he must be a native of the country.
In a comparison of these cases with the Government of England, the
difference when applied to the latter amounts to an absurdity. In England the
person who exercises prerogative is often a foreigner; always half a foreigner,
and always married to a foreigner. He is never in full natural or political
connection with the country, is not responsible for anything, and becomes of
age at eighteen years; yet such a person is permitted to form foreign
alliances, without even the knowledge of the nation, and to make war and peace
without its consent.
But this is not all. Though such a person cannot dispose of the government
in the manner of a testator, he dictates the marriage connections, which, in
effect, accomplish a great part of the same end. He cannot directly bequeath
half the government to Prussia, but he can form a marriage partnership that
will produce almost the same thing. Under such circumstances, it is happy for
England that she is not situated on the Continent, or she might, like Holland,
fall under the dictatorship of Prussia. Holland, by marriage, is as effectually
governed by Prussia, as if the old tyranny of bequeathing the government had
been the means.
The presidency in America (or, as it is sometimes called, the executive) is
the only office from which a foreigner is excluded, and in England it is the
only one to which he is admitted. A foreigner cannot be a member of Parliament,
but he may be what is called a king. If there is any reason for excluding
foreigners, it ought to be from those offices where mischief can most be acted,
and where, by uniting every bias of interest and attachment, the trust is best
secured. But as nations proceed in the great business of forming constitutions,
they will examine with more precision into the nature and business of that
department which is called the executive. What the legislative and judicial
departments are every one can see; but with respect to what, in Europe, is
called the executive, as distinct from those two, it is either a political
superfluity or a chaos of unknown things.
Some kind of official department, to which reports shall be made from the
different parts of a nation, or from abroad, to be laid before the national
representatives, is all that is necessary; but there is no consistency in
calling this the executive; neither can it be considered in any other light
than as inferior to the legislative. The sovereign authority in any country is
the power of making laws, and everything else is an official department.
Next to the arrangement of the principles and the organization of the
several parts of a constitution, is the provision to be made for the support of
the persons to whom the nation shall confide the administration of the
A nation can have no right to the time and services of any person at his
own expense, whom it may choose to employ or entrust in any department
whatever; neither can any reason be given for making provision for the support
of any one part of a government and not for the other.
But admitting that the honour of being entrusted with any part of a
government is to be considered a sufficient reward, it ought to be so to every
person alike. If the members of the legislature of any country are to serve at
their own expense that which is called the executive, whether monarchical or by
any other name, ought to serve in like manner. It is inconsistent to pay the
one, and accept the service of the other gratis.
In America, every department in the government is decently provided for;
but no one is extravagantly paid. Every member of Congress, and of the
Assemblies, is allowed a sufficiency for his expenses. Whereas in England, a
most prodigal provision is made for the support of one part of the Government,
and none for the other, the consequence of which is that the one is furnished
with the means of corruption and the other is put into the condition of being
corrupted. Less than a fourth part of such expense, applied as it is in
America, would remedy a great part of the corruption.
Another reform in the American constitution is the exploding all oaths of
personality. The oath of allegiance in America is to the nation only. The
putting any individual as a figure for a nation is improper. The happiness of a
nation is the superior object, and therefore the intention of an oath of
allegiance ought not to be obscured by being figuratively taken, to, or in the
name of, any person. The oath, called the civic oath, in France, viz.,
"the nation, the law, and the king," is improper. If taken at all, it
ought to be as in America, to the nation only. The law may or may not be good;
but, in this place, it can have no other meaning, than as being conducive to
the happiness of a nation, and therefore is included in it. The remainder of
the oath is improper, on the ground, that all personal oaths ought to be
abolished. They are the remains of tyranny on one part and slavery on the
other; and the name of the Creator ought not to be introduced
to witness the degradation of his creation; or if taken, as is already
mentioned, as figurative of the nation, it is in this place redundant. But
whatever apology may be made for oaths at the first establishment of a
government, they ought not to be permitted afterwards. If a government requires
the support of oaths, it is a sign that it is not worth supporting, and ought
not to be supported. Make government what it ought to be, and it will support
To conclude this part of the subject: — One of the greatest
improvements that have been made for the perpetual security and progress of
constitutional liberty, is the provision which the new constitutions make for
occasionally revising, altering, and amending them.
The principle upon which Mr. Burke formed his political creed, that of
"binding and controlling posterity to the end of time, and of renouncing
and abdicating the rights of all posterity, for ever," is now become too
detestable to be made a subject of debate; and therefore, I pass it over with
no other notice than exposing it.
Government is but now beginning to be known. Hitherto it has been the mere
exercise of power, which forbade all effectual enquiry into rights, and
grounded itself wholly on possession. While the enemy of liberty was its judge,
the progress of its principles must have been small indeed.
The constitutions of America, and also that of France, have either affixed
a period for their revision, or laid down the mode by which improvement shall
be made. It is perhaps impossible to establish anything that combines
principles with opinions and practice, which the progress of circumstances,
through a length of years, will not in some measure derange, or render
inconsistent; and, therefore, to prevent inconveniences accumulating, till they
discourage reformations or provoke revolutions, it is best to provide the means
of regulating them as they occur. The Rights of Man are the rights of all
generations of men, and cannot be monopolised by any. That which is worth
following, will be followed for the sake of its worth, and it is in this that
its security lies, and not in any conditions with which it may be encumbered.
When a man leaves property to his heirs, he does not connect it with an
obligation that they shall accept it. Why, then, should we do otherwise with
respect to constitutions? The best constitution that could now be devised,
consistent with the condition of the present moment, may be far short of that
excellence which a few years may afford. There is a morning of reason rising
upon man on the subject of government, that has not appeared before. As the
barbarism of the present old governments expires, the moral conditions of
nations with respect to each other will be changed. Man will not be brought up
with the savage idea of considering his species as his enemy, because the
accident of birth gave the individuals existence in countries distinguished by
different names; and as constitutions have always some relation to external as
well as to domestic circumstances, the means of benefitting by every change,
foreign or domestic, should be a part of every constitution. We already see an
alteration in the national disposition of England and France towards each
other, which, when we look back to only a few years, is itself a Revolution.
Who could have foreseen, or who could have believed, that a French National
Assembly would ever have been a popular toast in England, or that a friendly
alliance of the two nations should become the wish of either? It shows that
man, were he not corrupted by governments, is naturally the friend of man, and
that human nature is not of itself vicious. That spirit of jealousy and
ferocity, which the governments of the two countries inspired, and which they
rendered subservient to the purpose of taxation, is now yielding to the
dictates of reason, interest, and humanity. The trade of courts is beginning to
be understood, and the affectation of mystery, with all the artificial sorcery
by which they imposed upon mankind, is on the decline. It has received its
death-wound; and though it may linger, it will expire. Government ought to be
as much open to improvement as anything which appertains to man, instead of
which it has been monopolised from age to age, by the most ignorant and vicious
of the human race. Need we any other proof of their wretched management, than
the excess of debts and taxes with which every nation groans, and the quarrels
into which they have precipitated the world? Just emerging from such a
barbarous condition, it is too soon to determine to what extent of improvement
government may yet be carried. For what we can foresee, all Europe may form but
one great Republic, and man be free of the whole.
Ways And Means Of Improving The Condition Of Europe Interspersed With
In contemplating a subject that embraces with equatorial magnitude the whole
region of humanity it is impossible to confine the pursuit in one single
direction. It takes ground on every character and condition that appertains to
man, and blends the individual, the nation, and the world. From a small spark,
kindled in America, a flame has arisen not to be extinguished. Without
consuming, like the Ultima Ratio Regum, it winds its progress from nation to
nation, and conquers by a silent operation. Man finds himself changed, he
scarcely perceives how. He acquires a knowledge of his rights by attending
justly to his interest, and discovers in the event that the strength and powers
of despotism consist wholly in the fear of resisting it, and that, in order
"to be free, it is sufficient that he wills it."
Having in all the preceding parts of this work endeavoured to establish a
system of principles as a basis on which governments ought to be erected, I
shall proceed in this, to the ways and means of rendering them into practice.
But in order to introduce this part of the subject with more propriety, and
stronger effect, some preliminary observations, deducible from, or connected
with, those principles, are necessary.
Whatever the form or constitution of government may be, it ought to have no
other object than the general happiness. When, instead of this, it operates to
create and increase wretchedness in any of the parts of society, it is on a
wrong system, and reformation is necessary. Customary language has classed the
condition of man under the two descriptions of civilised and uncivilised life.
To the one it has ascribed felicity and affluence; to the other hardship and
want. But, however our imagination may be impressed by painting and comparison,
it is nevertheless true, that a great portion of mankind, in what are called
civilised countries, are in a state of poverty and wretchedness, far below the
condition of an Indian. I speak not of one country, but of all. It is so in
England, it is so all over Europe. Let us enquire into the cause.
It lies not in any natural defect in the principles of civilisation, but in
preventing those principles having a universal operation; the consequence of
which is, a perpetual system of war and expense, that drains the country, and
defeats the general felicity of which civilisation is capable. All the European
governments (France now excepted) are constructed not on the principle of
universal civilisation, but on the reverse of it. So far as those governments
relate to each other, they are in the same condition as we conceive of savage
uncivilised life; they put themselves beyond the law as well of GOD as of man,
and are, with respect to principle and reciprocal conduct, like so many
individuals in a state of nature. The inhabitants of every country, under the
civilisation of laws, easily civilise together, but governments being yet in an
uncivilised state, and almost continually at war, they pervert the abundance
which civilised life produces to carry on the uncivilised part to a greater
extent. By thus engrafting the barbarism of government upon the internal
civilisation of a country, it draws from the latter, and more especially from
the poor, a great portion of those earnings, which should be applied to their
own subsistence and comfort. Apart from all reflections of morality and
philosophy, it is a melancholy fact that more than one-fourth of the labour of
mankind is annually consumed by this barbarous system. What has served to
continue this evil, is the pecuniary advantage which all the governments of
Europe have found in keeping up this state of uncivilisation. It affords to
them pretences for power, and revenue, for which there would be neither
occasion nor apology, if the circle of civilisation were rendered complete.
Civil government alone, or the government of laws, is not productive of
pretences for many taxes; it operates at home, directly under the eye of the
country, and precludes the possibility of much imposition. But when the scene
is laid in the uncivilised contention of governments, the field of pretences is
enlarged, and the country, being no longer a judge, is open to every
imposition, which governments please to act. Not a thirtieth, scarcely a
fortieth, part of the taxes which are raised in England are either occasioned
by, or applied to, the purpose of civil government. It is not difficult to see,
that the whole which the actual government does in this respect, is to enact
laws, and that the country administers and executes them, at its own expense,
by means of magistrates, juries, sessions, and assize, over and above the taxes
which it pays. In this view of the case, we have two distinct characters of
government; the one the civil government, or the government of laws, which
operates at home, the other the court or cabinet government, which operates
abroad, on the rude plan of uncivilised life; the one attended with little
charge, the other with boundless extravagance; and so distinct are the two,
that if the latter were to sink, as it were, by a sudden opening of the earth,
and totally disappear, the former would not be deranged. It would still
proceed, because it is the common interest of the nation that it should, and
all the means are in practice. Revolutions, then, have for their object a
change in the moral condition of governments, and with this change the burthen
of public taxes will lessen, and civilisation will be left to the enjoyment of
that abundance, of which it is now deprived. In contemplating the whole of this
subject, I extend my views into the department of commerce. In all my
publications, where the matter would admit, I have been an advocate for
commerce, because I am a friend to its effects. It is a pacific system,
operating to cordialise mankind, by rendering nations, as well as individuals,
useful to each other. As to the mere theoretical reformation, I have never
preached it up. The most effectual process is that of improving the condition
of man by means of his interest; and it is on this ground that I take my stand.
If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable, it
would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilised
state of governments. The invention of commerce has arisen since those
governments began, and is the greatest approach towards universal civilisation
that has yet been made by any means not immediately flowing from moral
principles. Whatever has a tendency to promote the civil intercourse of nations
by an exchange of benefits, is a subject as worthy of philosophy as of
politics. Commerce is no other than the traffic of two individuals, multiplied
on a scale of numbers; and by the same rule that nature intended for the
intercourse of two, she intended that of all. For this purpose she has
distributed the materials of manufactures and commerce, in various and distant
parts of a nation and of the world; and as they cannot be procured by war so
cheaply or so commodiously as by commerce, she has rendered the latter the
means of extirpating the former. As the two are nearly the opposite of each
other, consequently, the uncivilised state of the European governments is
injurious to commerce. Every kind of destruction or embarrassment serves to
lessen the quantity, and it matters but little in what part of the commercial
world the reduction begins. Like blood, it cannot be taken from any of the
parts, without being taken from the whole mass in circulation, and all partake
of the loss. When the ability in any nation to buy is destroyed, it equally
involves the seller. Could the government of England destroy the commerce of
all other nations, she would most effectually ruin her own. It is possible that
a nation may be the carrier for the world, but she cannot be the merchant. She
cannot be the seller and buyer of her own merchandise. The ability to buy must
reside out of herself; and, therefore, the prosperity of any commercial nation
is regulated by the prosperity of the rest. If they are poor she cannot be
rich, and her condition, be what it may, is an index of the height of the
commercial tide in other nations. That the principles of commerce, and its
universal operation may be understood, without understanding the practice, is a
position that reason will not deny; and it is on this ground only that I argue
the subject. It is one thing in the counting-house, in the world it is another.
With respect to its operation it must necessarily be contemplated as a
reciprocal thing; that only one-half its powers resides within the nation, and
that the whole is as effectually destroyed by the destroying the half that
resides without, as if the destruction had been committed on that which is
within; for neither can act without the other. When in the last, as well as in
former wars, the commerce of England sunk, it was because the quantity was
lessened everywhere; and it now rises, because commerce is in a rising state in
every nation. If England, at this day, imports and exports more than at any
former period, the nations with which she trades must necessarily do the same;
her imports are their exports, and vice versa. There can be no such thing as a
nation flourishing alone in commerce: she can only participate; and the
destruction of it in any part must necessarily affect all. When, therefore,
governments are at war, the attack is made upon a common stock of commerce, and
the consequence is the same as if each had attacked his own. The present
increase of commerce is not to be attributed to ministers, or to any political
contrivances, but to its own natural operation in consequence of peace. The
regular markets had been destroyed, the channels of trade broken up, the high
road of the seas infested with robbers of every nation, and the attention of
the world called to other objects. Those interruptions have ceased, and peace
has restored the deranged condition of things to their proper order. It is worth remarking that every
nation reckons the balance of trade in its own favour; and therefore something
must be irregular in the common ideas upon this subject. The fact, however, is
true, according to what is called a balance; and it is from this cause that
commerce is universally supported. Every nation feels the advantage, or it
would abandon the practice: but the deception lies in the mode of making up the
accounts, and in attributing what are called profits to a wrong cause. Mr. Pitt
has sometimes amused himself, by showing what he called a balance of trade from
the custom-house books. This mode of calculating not only affords no rule that
is true, but one that is false. In the first place, Every cargo that departs
from the custom-house appears on the books as an export; and, according to the
custom-house balance, the losses at sea, and by foreign failures, are all
reckoned on the side of profit because they appear as exports.
Secondly, Because the importation by the smuggling trade does not appear on
the custom-house books, to arrange against the exports.
No balance, therefore, as applying to superior advantages, can be drawn
from these documents; and if we examine the natural operation of commerce, the
idea is fallacious; and if true, would soon be injurious. The great support of
commerce consists in the balance being a level of benefits among all nations.
Two merchants of different nations trading together, will both become rich,
and each makes the balance in his own favour; consequently, they do not get
rich of each other; and it is the same with respect to the nations in which
they reside. The case must be, that each nation must get rich out of its own
means, and increases that riches by something which it procures from another in
If a merchant in England sends an article of English manufacture abroad
which costs him a shilling at home, and imports something which sells for two,
he makes a balance of one shilling in his favour; but this is not gained out of
the foreign nation or the foreign merchant, for he also does the same by the
articles he receives, and neither has the advantage upon the other. The
original value of the two articles in their proper countries was but two
shillings; but by changing their places, they acquire a new idea of value,
equal to double what they had first, and that increased value is equally
There is no otherwise a balance on foreign than on domestic commerce. The
merchants of London and Newcastle trade on the same principles, as if they
resided in different nations, and make their balances in the same manner: yet
London does not get rich out of Newcastle, any more than Newcastle out of
London: but coals, the merchandize of Newcastle, have an additional value at
London, and London merchandize has the same at Newcastle.
Though the principle of all commerce is the same, the domestic, in a
national view, is the part the most beneficial; because the whole of the
advantages, an both sides, rests within the nation; whereas, in foreign
commerce, it is only a participation of one-half.
The most unprofitable of all commerce is that connected with foreign
dominion. To a few individuals it may be beneficial, merely because it is
commerce; but to the nation it is a loss. The expense of maintaining dominion
more than absorbs the profits of any trade. It does not increase the general
quantity in the world, but operates to lessen it; and as a greater mass would
be afloat by relinquishing dominion, the participation without the expense
would be more valuable than a greater quantity with it.
But it is impossible to engross commerce by dominion; and therefore it is
still more fallacious. It cannot exist in confined channels, and necessarily
breaks out by regular or irregular means, that defeat the attempt: and to
succeed would be still worse. France, since the Revolution, has been more
indifferent as to foreign possessions, and other nations will become the same
when they investigate the subject with respect to commerce.
To the expense of dominion is to be added that of navies, and when the
amounts of the two are subtracted from the profits of commerce, it will appear,
that what is called the balance of trade, even admitting it to exist, is not
enjoyed by the nation, but absorbed by the Government.
The idea of having navies for the protection of commerce is delusive. It is
putting means of destruction for the means of protection. Commerce needs no
other protection than the reciprocal interest which every nation feels in
supporting it — it is common stock — it exists by a balance of
advantages to all; and the only interruption it meets, is from the present
uncivilised state of governments, and which it is its common interest to
Quitting this subject, I now proceed to other matters. — As it is
necessary to include England in the prospect of a general reformation, it is
proper to inquire into the defects of its government. It is only by each nation
reforming its own, that the whole can be improved, and the full benefit of
reformation enjoyed. Only partial advantages can flow from partial reforms.
France and England are the only two countries in Europe where a reformation
in government could have successfully begun. The one secure by the ocean, and
the other by the immensity of its internal strength, could defy the malignancy
of foreign despotism. But it is with revolutions as with commerce, the
advantages increase by their becoming general, and double to either what each
would receive alone.
As a new system is now opening to the view of the world, the European
courts are plotting to counteract it. Alliances, contrary to all former
systems, are agitating, and a common interest of courts is forming against the
common interest of man. This combination draws a line that runs throughout
Europe, and presents a cause so entirely new as to exclude all calculations
from former circumstances. While despotism warred with despotism, man had no
interest in the contest; but in a cause that unites the soldier with the
citizen, and nation with nation, the despotism of courts, though it feels the
danger and meditates revenge, is afraid to strike.
No question has arisen within the records of history that pressed with the
importance of the present. It is not whether this or that party shall be in or
not, or Whig or Tory, high or low shall prevail; but whether man shall inherit
his rights, and universal civilisation take place? Whether the fruits of his
labours shall be enjoyed by himself or consumed by the profligacy of
governments? Whether robbery shall be banished from courts, and wretchedness
When, in countries that are called civilised, we see age going to the
workhouse and youth to the gallows, something must be wrong in the system of
government. It would seem, by the exterior appearance of such countries, that
all was happiness; but there lies hidden from the eye of common observation, a
mass of wretchedness, that has scarcely any other chance, than to expire in
poverty or infamy. Its entrance into life is marked with the presage of its
fate; and until this is remedied, it is in vain to punish.
Civil government does not exist in executions; but in making such provision
for the instruction of youth and the support of age, as to exclude, as much as
possible, profligacy from the one and despair from the other. Instead of this,
the resources of a country are lavished upon kings, upon courts, upon
hirelings, impostors and prostitutes; and even the poor themselves, with all
their wants upon them, are compelled to support the fraud that oppresses them.
Why is it that scarcely any are executed but the poor? The fact is a proof,
among other things, of a wretchedness in their condition. Bred up without
morals, and cast upon the world without a prospect, they are the exposed
sacrifice of vice and legal barbarity. The millions that are superfluously
wasted upon governments are more than sufficient to reform those evils, and to
benefit the condition of every man in a nation, not included within the
purlieus of a court. This I hope to make appear in the progress of this work.
It is the nature of compassion to associate with misfortune. In taking up
this subject I seek no recompense — I fear no consequence. Fortified with
that proud integrity, that disdains to triumph or to yield, I will advocate the
Rights of Man.
It is to my advantage that I have served an apprenticeship to life. I know
the value of moral instruction, and I have seen the danger of the contrary.
At an early period — little more than sixteen years of age, raw and
adventurous, and heated with the false heroism of a master who had served in a man-of-war —
I began the carver of my own fortune, and entered on board the Terrible
Privateer, Captain Death. From this adventure I was happily prevented by the
affectionate and moral remonstrance of a good father, who, from his own habits
of life, being of the Quaker profession, must begin to look upon me as lost.
But the impression, much as it effected at the time, began to wear away, and I
entered afterwards in the King of Prussia Privateer, Captain Mendez, and went
with her to sea. Yet, from such a beginning, and with all the inconvenience of
early life against me, I am proud to say, that with a perseverance undismayed
by difficulties, a disinterestedness that compelled respect, I have not only
contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of
government, but I have arrived at an eminence in political literature, the most
difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy with all its
aids has not been able to reach or to rival.
Knowing my own heart and feeling myself as I now do, superior to all the
skirmish of party, the inveteracy of interested or mistaken opponents, I answer
not to falsehood or abuse, but proceed to the defects of the English
I begin with charters and corporations.
It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates
by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently
in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the
majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few. If charters
were constructed so as to express in direct terms, "that every inhabitant,
who is not a member of a corporation, shall not exercise the right of
voting," such charters would, in the face, be charters not of rights, but
of exclusion. The effect is the same under the form they now stand; and the
only persons on whom they operate are the persons whom they exclude. Those
whose rights are guaranteed, by not being taken away, exercise no other rights
than as members of the community they are entitled to without a charter; and,
therefore, all charters have no other than an indirect negative operation. They
do not give rights to A, but they make a difference in favour of A by taking
away the right of B, and consequently are instruments of injustice.
But charters and corporations have a more extensive evil effect than what
relates merely to elections. They are sources of endless contentions in the
places where they exist, and they lessen the common rights of national society.
A native of England, under the operation of these charters and corporations,
cannot be said to be an Englishman in the full sense of the word. He is not
free of the nation, in the same manner that a Frenchman is free of France, and
an American of America. His rights are circumscribed to the town, and, in some
cases, to the parish of his birth; and all other parts, though in his native
land, are to him as a foreign country. To acquire a residence in these, he must
undergo a local naturalisation by purchase, or he is forbidden or expelled the
place. This species of feudality is kept up to aggrandise the corporations at
the ruin of towns; and the effect is visible.
The generality of corporation towns are in a state of solitary decay, and
prevented from further ruin only by some circumstance in their situation, such
as a navigable river, or a plentiful surrounding country. As population is one
of the chief sources of wealth (for without it land itself has no value),
everything which operates to prevent it must lessen the value of property; and
as corporations have not only this tendency, but directly this effect, they
cannot but be injurious. If any policy were to be followed, instead of that of
general freedom, to every person to settle where he chose (as in France or
America) it would be more consistent to give encouragement to new comers than
to preclude their admission by exacting premiums from them.
The persons most immediately interested in the abolition of corporations
are the inhabitants of the towns where corporations are established. The
instances of Manchester, Birmingham, and Sheffield show, by contrast, the
injuries which those Gothic institutions are to property and commerce. A few
examples may be found, such as that of London, whose natural and commercial
advantage, owing to its situation on the Thames, is capable of bearing up
against the political evils of a corporation; but in almost all other cases the
fatality is too visible to be doubted or denied.
Though the whole nation is not so directly affected by the depression of
property in corporation towns as the inhabitants themselves, it partakes of the
consequence. By lessening the value of property, the quantity of national
commerce is curtailed. Every man is a customer in proportion to his ability;
and as all parts of a nation trade with each other, whatever affects any of the
parts must necessarily communicate to the whole.
As one of the Houses of the English Parliament is, in a great measure, made
up of elections from these corporations; and as it is unnatural that a pure
stream should flow from a foul fountain, its vices are but a continuation of
the vices of its origin. A man of moral honour and good political principles
cannot submit to the mean drudgery and disgraceful arts, by which such
elections are carried. To be a successful candidate, he must be destitute of
the qualities that constitute a just legislator; and being thus disciplined to
corruption by the mode of entering into Parliament, it is not to be expected
that the representative should be better than the man.
Mr. Burke, in speaking of the English representation, has advanced as bold
a challenge as ever was given in the days of chivalry. "Our
representation," says he, "has been found perfectly adequate to all
the purposes for which a representation of the people can be desired or
devised." "I defy," continues he, "the enemies of our
constitution to show the contrary." — This declaration from a man who
has been in constant opposition to all the measures of parliament the whole of
his political life, a year or two excepted, is most extraordinary; and,
comparing him with himself, admits of no other alternative, than that he acted
against his judgment as a member, or has declared contrary to it as an author.
But it is not in the representation only that the defects lie, and
therefore I proceed in the next place to the aristocracy.
What is called the House of Peers, is constituted on a ground very similar
to that, against which there is no law in other cases. It amounts to a
combination of persons in one common interest. No better reason can be given,
why a house of legislation should be composed entirely of men whose occupation
consists in letting landed property, than why it should be composed of those
who hire, or of brewers, or bakers, or any other separate class of men. Mr.
Burke calls this house "the great ground and pillar of security to the
landed interest." Let us examine this idea.
What pillar of security does the landed interest require more than any
other interest in the state, or what right has it to a distinct and separate
representation from the general interest of a nation? The only use to be made
of this power (and which it always has made), is to ward off taxes from itself,
and throw the burthen upon those articles of consumption by which itself would
be least affected.
That this has been the consequence (and will always be the consequence) of
constructing governments on combinations, is evident with respect to England,
from the history of its taxes.
Notwithstanding taxes have increased and multiplied upon every article of
common consumption, the land-tax, which more particularly affects this
"pillar," has diminished. In 1778 the amount of the land-tax was
£1,950,000, which is half-a-million less than it produced almost a hundred
years ago, notwithstanding
the rentals are in many instances doubled since that period.
Before the coming of the Hanoverians, the taxes were divided in nearly
equal proportions between the land and articles of consumption, the land
bearing rather the largest share: but since that era nearly thirteen millions
annually of new taxes have been thrown upon consumption. The consequence of
which has been a constant increase in the number and wretchedness of the poor,
and in the amount of the poor-rates. Yet here again the burthen does not fall
in equal proportions on the aristocracy with the rest of the community. Their
residences, whether in town or country, are not mixed with the habitations of
the poor. They live apart from distress, and the expense of relieving it. It is
in manufacturing towns and labouring villages that those burthens press the
heaviest; in many of which it is one class of poor supporting another.
Several of the most heavy and productive taxes are so contrived, as to give
an exemption to this pillar, thus standing in its own defence. The tax upon
beer brewed for sale does not affect the aristocracy, who brew their own beer
free from this duty. It falls only on those who have not conveniency or ability
to brew, and who must purchase it in small quantities. But what will mankind
think of the justice of taxation, when they know that this tax alone, from
which the aristocracy are from circumstances exempt, is nearly equal to the
whole of the land-tax, being in the year 1788, and it is not less now,
£1,666,152, and with its proportion of the taxes on malt and hops, it
exceeds it. — That a single article, thus partially consumed, and that
chiefly by the working part, should be subject to a tax, equal to that on the
whole rental of a nation, is, perhaps, a fact not to be paralleled in the
histories of revenues.
This is one of the circumstances resulting from a house of legislation,
composed on the ground of a combination of common interest; for whatever their
separate politics as to parties may be, in this they are united. Whether a
combination acts to raise the price of any article for sale, or rate of wages;
or whether it acts to throw taxes from itself upon another class of the
community, the principle and the effect are the same; and if the one be
illegal, it will be difficult to show that the other ought to exist.
It is no use to say that taxes are first proposed in the House of Commons;
for as the other house has always a negative, it can always defend itself; and
it would be ridiculous to suppose that its acquiescence in the measures to be
proposed were not understood before hand. Besides which, it has obtained so
much influence by borough-traffic, and so many of its relations and connections
are distributed on both sides the commons, as to give it, besides an absolute
negative in one house, a preponderancy in the other, in all matters of common
It is difficult to discover what is meant by the landed interest, if it
does not mean a combination of aristocratical landholders, opposing their own
pecuniary interest to that of the farmer, and every branch of trade, commerce,
and manufacture. In all other respects it is the only interest that needs no
partial protection. It enjoys the general protection of the world. Every
individual, high or low, is interested in the fruits of the earth; men, women,
and children, of all ages and degrees, will turn out to assist the farmer,
rather than a harvest should not be got in; and they will not act thus by any
other property. It is the only one for which the common prayer of mankind is
put up, and the only one that can never fail from the want of means. It is the
interest, not of the policy, but of the existence of man, and when it ceases,
he must cease to be.
No other interest in a nation stands on the same united support. Commerce,
manufactures, arts, sciences, and everything else, compared with this, are
supported but in parts. Their prosperity or their decay has not the same
universal influence. When the valleys laugh and sing, it is not the farmer
only, but all creation that rejoice. It is a prosperity that excludes all envy;
and this cannot be said of anything else.
Why then, does Mr. Burke talk of his house of peers as the pillar of the
landed interest? Were that pillar to sink into the earth, the same landed
property would continue, and the same ploughing, sowing, and reaping would go
on. The aristocracy are not the farmers who work the land, and raise the
produce, but are the mere consumers of the rent; and when compared with the
active world are the drones, a seraglio of males, who neither collect the honey
nor form the hive, but exist only for lazy enjoyment.
Mr. Burke, in his first essay, called aristocracy "the Corinthian
capital of polished society." Towards completing the figure, he has now
added the pillar; but still the base is wanting; and whenever a nation choose
to act a Samson, not blind, but bold, down will go the temple of Dagon, the
Lords and the Philistines.
If a house of legislation is to be composed of men of one class, for the
purpose of protecting a distinct interest, all the other interests should have
the same. The inequality, as well as the burthen of taxation, arises from
admitting it in one case, and not in all. Had there been a house of farmers,
there had been no game laws; or a house of merchants and manufacturers, the
taxes had neither been so unequal nor so excessive. It is from the power of
taxation being in the hands of those who can throw so great a part of it from
their own shoulders, that it has raged without a check.
Men of small or moderate estates are more injured by the taxes being thrown
on articles of consumption, than they are eased by warding it from landed
property, for the following reasons:
First, They consume more of the productive taxable articles, in proportion
to their property, than those of large estates.
Secondly, Their residence is chiefly in towns, and their property in
houses; and the increase of the poor-rates, occasioned by taxes on consumption,
is in much greater proportion than the land-tax has been favoured. In
Birmingham, the poor-rates are not less than seven shillings in the pound. From
this, as is already observed, the aristocracy are in a great measure exempt.
These are but a part of the mischiefs flowing from the wretched scheme of
an house of peers.
As a combination, it can always throw a considerable portion of taxes from
itself; and as an hereditary house, accountable to nobody, it resembles a
rotten borough, whose consent is to be courted by interest. There are but few
of its members, who are not in some mode or other participators, or disposers
of the public money. One turns a candle-holder, or a lord in waiting; another a
lord of the bed-chamber, a groom of the stole, or any insignificant nominal
office to which a salary is annexed, paid out of the public taxes, and which
avoids the direct appearance of corruption. Such situations are derogatory to
the character of man; and where they can be submitted to, honour cannot reside.
To all these are to be added the numerous dependants, the long list of
younger branches and distant relations, who are to be provided for at the
public expense: in short, were an estimation to be made of the charge of
aristocracy to a nation, it will be found nearly equal to that of supporting
the poor. The Duke of Richmond alone (and there are cases similar to his) takes
away as much for himself as would maintain two thousand poor and aged persons.
Is it, then, any wonder, that under such a system of government, taxes and
rates have multiplied to their present extent?
In stating these matters, I speak an open and disinterested language,
dictated by no passion but that of humanity. To me, who have not only refused
offers, because I thought them improper, but have declined rewards I might with
reputation have accepted, it is no wonder that meanness and imposition appear
disgustful. Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are,
without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is
to do good.
Mr. Burke, in speaking of the aristocratical law of primogeniture, says,
"it is the standing law of our landed inheritance; and which, without
question, has a tendency, and I think," continues he, "a happy
tendency, to preserve a character of weight and consequence."
Mr. Burke may call this law what he pleases, but humanity and impartial
reflection will denounce it as a law of brutal injustice. Were we not
accustomed to the daily practice, and did we only hear of it as the law of some
distant part of the world, we should conclude that the legislators of such
countries had not arrived at a state of civilisation.
As to its preserving a character of weight and consequence, the case
appears to me directly the reverse. It is an attaint upon character; a sort of
privateering on family property. It may have weight among dependent tenants,
but it gives none on a scale of national, and much less of universal character.
Speaking for myself, my parents were not able to give me a shilling, beyond
what they gave me in education; and to do this they distressed themselves: yet,
I possess more of what is called consequence, in the world, than any one in Mr.
Burke's catalogue of aristocrats.
Having thus glanced at some of the defects of the two houses of parliament,
I proceed to what is called the crown, upon which I shall be very concise.
It signifies a nominal office of a million sterling a year, the business of
which consists in receiving the money. Whether the person be wise or foolish,
sane or insane, a native or a foreigner, matters not. Every ministry acts upon
the same idea that Mr. Burke writes, namely, that the people must be
hood-winked, and held in superstitious ignorance by some bugbear or other; and
what is called the crown answers this purpose, and therefore it answers all the
purposes to be expected from it. This is more than can be said of the other two
The hazard to which this office is exposed in all countries, is not from
anything that can happen to the man, but from what may happen to the nation
— the danger of its coming to its senses.
It has been customary to call the crown the executive power, and the custom
is continued, though the reason has ceased.
It was called the executive, because the person whom it signified used,
formerly, to act in the character of a judge, in administering or executing the
laws. The tribunals were then a part of the court. The power, therefore, which
is now called the judicial, is what was called the executive and, consequently,
one or other of the terms is redundant, and one of the offices useless. When we
speak of the crown now, it means nothing; it signifies neither a judge nor a
general: besides which it is the laws that govern, and not the man. The old
terms are kept up, to give an appearance of consequence to empty forms; and the
only effect they have is that of increasing expenses.
Before I proceed to the means of rendering governments more conducive to
the general happiness of mankind, than they are at present, it will not be
improper to take a review of the progress of taxation in England.
It is a general idea, that when taxes are once laid on, they are never
taken off. However true this may have been of late, it was not always so.
Either, therefore, the people of former times were more watchful over
government than those of the present, or government was administered with less
It is now seven hundred years since the Norman conquest, and the
establishment of what is called the crown. Taking this portion of time in seven
separate periods of one hundred years each, the amount of the annual taxes, at
each period, will be as follows:
Annual taxes levied by William the Conqueror,
beginning in the year 1066 £400,000
Annual taxes at 100 years from the conquest (1166) 200,000
Annual taxes at 200 years from the conquest (1266) 150,000
Annual taxes at 300 years from the conquest (1366) 130,000
Annual taxes at 400 years from the conquest (1466) 100,000
These statements and those which follow, are taken from Sir John Sinclair's
History of the Revenue; by which it appears, that taxes continued decreasing
for four hundred years, at the expiration of which time they were reduced
three-fourths, viz., from four hundred thousand pounds to one hundred thousand.
The people of England of the present day, have a traditionary and historical
idea of the bravery of their ancestors; but whatever their virtues or their
vices might have been, they certainly were a people who would not be imposed
upon, and who kept governments in awe as to taxation, if not as to principle.
Though they were not able to expel the monarchical usurpation, they restricted
it to a republican economy of taxes.
Let us now review the remaining three hundred years:
Annual amount of taxes at:
500 years from the conquest (1566) 500,000
600 years from the conquest (1666) 1,800,000
the present time (1791) 17,000,000
The difference between the first four hundred years and the last three, is
so astonishing, as to warrant an opinion, that the national character of the
English has changed. It would have been impossible to have dragooned the former
English, into the excess of taxation that now exists; and when it is considered
that the pay of the army, the navy, and of all the revenue officers, is the
same now as it was about a hundred years ago, when the taxes were not above a
tenth part of what they are at present, it appears impossible to account for
the enormous increase and expenditure on any other ground, than extravagance,
corruption, and intrigue.
With the Revolution of 1688, and more so since the Hanover succession, came
the destructive system of continental intrigues, and the rage for foreign wars
and foreign dominion; systems of such secure mystery that the expenses admit of
no accounts; a single line stands for millions. To what excess taxation might
have extended had not the French revolution contributed to break up the system,
and put an end to pretences, is impossible to say. Viewed, as that revolution
ought to be, as the fortunate means of lessening the load of taxes of both
countries, it is of as much importance to England as to France; and, if
properly improved to all the advantages of which it is capable, and to which it
leads, deserves as much celebration in one country as the other.
In pursuing this subject, I shall begin with the matter that first presents
itself, that of lessening the burthen of taxes; and shall then add such matter
and propositions, respecting the three countries of England, France, and
America, as the present prospect of things appears to justify: I mean, an
alliance of the three, for the purposes that will be mentioned in their proper
What has happened may happen again. By the statement before shown of the
progress of taxation, it is seen that taxes have been lessened to a fourth part
of what they had formerly been. Though the present circumstances do not admit
of the same reduction, yet they admit of such a beginning, as may accomplish
that end in less time than in the former case.
The amount of taxes for the year ending at Michaelmas 1788, was as follows:
Land-tax £ 1,950,000
Excise (including old and new malt) 6,751,727
Miscellaneous taxes and incidents 1,803,755
Since the year 1788, upwards of one million new taxes have been laid on,
besides the produce of the lotteries; and as the taxes have in general been
more productive since than before, the amount may be taken, in round numbers,
at £17,000,000. (The expense of collection and the drawbacks, which
together amount to nearly two millions, are paid out of the gross amount; and
the above is the net sum paid into the exchequer). This sum of seventeen
millions is applied to two different purposes; the one to pay the interest of
the National Debt, the other to the current expenses of each year. About nine
millions are appropriated to the former; and the remainder, being nearly eight
millions, to the latter. As to the million, said to be applied to the reduction
of the debt, it is so much like paying with one hand and taking out with the
other, as not to merit much notice. It happened, fortunately for France, that
she possessed national domains for paying off her debt, and thereby lessening
her taxes; but as this is not the case with England, her reduction of taxes can
only take place by reducing the current expenses, which may now be done to the
amount of four or five millions annually, as will hereafter appear. When this
is accomplished it will more than counter-balance the enormous charge of the
American war; and the saving will be from the same source from whence the evil
arose. As to the national debt, however heavy the interest may be in taxes,
yet, as it serves to keep alive a capital useful to commerce, it balances by
its effects a considerable part of its own weight; and as the quantity of gold
and silver is, by some means or other, short of its proper proportion, being
not more than twenty millions, whereas it should be sixty (foreign intrigue,
foreign wars, foreign dominions, will in a great measure account for the
deficiency), it would, besides the injustice, be bad policy to extinguish a
capital that serves to supply that defect. But with respect to the current
expense, whatever is saved therefrom is gain. The excess may serve to keep
corruption alive, but it has no re-action on credit and commerce, like the
interest of the debt.
It is now very probable that the English Government (I do not mean the
nation) is unfriendly to the French Revolution. Whatever serves to expose the
intrigue and lessen the influence of courts, by lessening taxation, will be
unwelcome to those who feed upon the spoil. Whilst the clamour of French
intrigue, arbitrary power, popery, and wooden shoes could be kept up, the
nation was easily allured and alarmed into taxes. Those days are now past:
deception, it is to be hoped, has reaped its last harvest, and better times are
in prospect for both countries, and for the world.
Taking it for granted that an alliance may be formed between England,
France, and America for the purposes hereafter to be mentioned, the national
expenses of France and England may consequently be lessened. The same fleets
and armies will no longer be necessary to either, and the reduction can be made
ship for ship on each side. But to accomplish these objects the governments
must necessarily be fitted to a common and correspondent principle. Confidence
can never take place while an hostile disposition remains in either, or where
mystery and secrecy on one side is opposed to candour and openness on the
These matters admitted, the national expenses might be put back, for the
sake of a precedent, to what they were at some period when France and England
were not enemies. This, consequently, must be prior to the Hanover succession,
and also to the Revolution of 1688. The first instance that presents
itself, antecedent to those dates, is in the very wasteful and profligate times
of Charles the Second; at which time England and France acted as allies. If I
have chosen a period of great extravagance, it will serve to show modern
extravagance in a still worse light; especially as the pay of the navy, the
army, and the revenue officers has not increased since that time.
The peace establishment was then as follows (see Sir John Sinclair's
History of the Revenue):
|| £ 300,000
| Civil List
The parliament, however, settled the whole annual peace establishment at
$1,200,000. If we go back
to the time of Elizabeth the amount of all the taxes was but half a million,
yet the nation sees nothing during that period that reproaches it with want of
All circumstances, then, taken together, arising from the French
revolution, from the approaching harmony and reciprocal interest of the two
nations, the abolition of the court intrigue on both sides, and the progress of
knowledge in the science of government, the annual expenditure might be put
back to one million and a half, viz.:
Navy £ 500,000
Expenses of Government 500,000
Even this sum is six times greater than the expenses of government are in
America, yet the civil internal government in England (I mean that administered
by means of quarter sessions, juries and assize, and which, in fact, is nearly
the whole, and performed by the nation), is less expense upon the revenue, than
the same species and portion of government is in America.
It is time that nations should be rational, and not be governed like
animals, for the pleasure of their riders. To read the history of kings, a man
would be almost inclined to suppose that government consisted in stag-hunting,
and that every nation paid a million a-year to a huntsman. Man ought to have
pride, or shame enough to blush at being thus imposed upon, and when he feels
his proper character he will. Upon all subjects of this nature, there is often
passing in the mind, a train of ideas he has not yet accustomed himself to
encourage and communicate. Restrained by something that puts on the character
of prudence, he acts the hypocrite upon himself as well as to others. It is,
however, curious to observe how soon this spell can be dissolved. A single
expression, boldly conceived and uttered, will sometimes put a whole company
into their proper feelings: and whole nations are acted on in the same manner.
As to the offices of which any civil government may be composed, it matters
but little by what names they are described. In the routine of business, as
before observed, whether a man be styled a president, a king, an emperor, a
senator, or anything else, it is impossible that any service he can perform,
can merit from a nation more than ten thousand pounds a year; and as no man
should be paid beyond his services, so every man of a proper heart will not
accept more. Public money ought to be touched with the most scrupulous
consciousness of honour. It is not the produce of riches only, but of the hard
earnings of labour and poverty. It is drawn even from the bitterness of want
and misery. Not a beggar passes, or perishes in the streets, whose mite is not
in that mass.
Were it possible that the Congress of America could be so lost to their
duty, and to the interest of their constituents, as to offer General
Washington, as president of America, a million a year, he would not, and he
could not, accept it. His sense of honour is of another kind. It has cost
England almost seventy millions sterling, to maintain a family imported from
abroad, of very inferior capacity to thousands in the nation; and scarcely a
year has passed that has not produced some new mercenary application. Even the
physicians' bills have been sent to the public to be paid. No wonder that jails
are crowded, and taxes and poor-rates increased. Under such systems, nothing is
to be looked for but what has already happened; and as to reformation, whenever
it come, it must be from the nation, and not from the government.
To show that the sum of five hundred thousand pounds is more than
sufficient to defray all the expenses of the government, exclusive of navies
and armies, the following estimate is added, for any country, of the same
extent as England.
In the first place, three hundred representatives fairly elected, are
sufficient for all the purposes to which legislation can apply, and preferable
to a larger number. They may be divided into two or three houses, or meet in
one, as in France, or in any manner a constitution shall direct.
As representation is always considered, in free countries, as the most
honourable of all stations, the allowance made to it is merely to defray the
expense which the representatives incur by that service, and not to it as an
If an allowance, at the rate of five hundred pounds per annum, be made to
every representative, deducting for non-attendance, the expense, if the whole
number attended for six months, each year, would be £ 75,00
The official departments cannot reasonably exceed the following number,
with the salaries annexed:
Three offices at ten thousand pounds each £ 30,000
Ten ditto, at five thousand pounds each 50,000
Twenty ditto, at two thousand pounds each 40,000
Forty ditto, at one thousand pounds each 40,000
Two hundred ditto, at five hundred pounds each 100,000
Three hundred ditto, at two hundred pounds each 60,000
Five hundred ditto, at one hundred pounds each 50,000
Seven hundred ditto, at seventy-five pounds each 52,500
If a nation choose, it can deduct four per cent. from all offices, and make
one of twenty thousand per annum.
All revenue officers are paid out of the monies they collect, and
therefore, are not in this estimation.
The foregoing is not offered as an exact detail of offices, but to show the
number of rate of salaries which five hundred thousand pounds will support; and
it will, on experience, be found impracticable to find business sufficient to
justify even this expense. As to the manner in which office business is now
performed, the Chiefs, in several offices, such as the post-office, and certain
offices in the exchequer, etc., do little more than sign their names three or
four times a year; and the whole duty is performed by under-clerks.
Taking, therefore, one million and a half as a sufficient peace
establishment for all the honest purposes of government, which is three hundred
thousand pounds more than the peace establishment in the profligate and
prodigal times of Charles the Second (notwithstanding, as has been already
observed, the pay and salaries of the army, navy, and revenue officers,
continue the same as at that period), there will remain a surplus of upwards of
six millions out of the present current expenses. The question then will be,
how to dispose of this surplus.
Whoever has observed the manner in which trade and taxes twist themselves
together, must be sensible of the impossibility of separating them suddenly.
First. Because the articles now on hand are already charged with the duty,
and the reduction cannot take place on the present stock.
Secondly. Because, on all those articles on which the duty is charged in
the gross, such as per barrel, hogshead, hundred weight, or ton, the abolition
of the duty does not admit of being divided down so as fully to relieve the
consumer, who purchases by the pint, or the pound. The last duty laid on strong
beer and ale was three shillings per barrel, which, if taken off, would lessen
the purchase only half a farthing per pint, and consequently, would not reach
to practical relief.
This being the condition of a great part of the taxes, it will be necessary
to look for such others as are free from this embarrassment and where the
relief will be direct and visible, and capable of immediate operation.
In the first place, then, the poor-rates are a direct tax which every
house-keeper feels, and who knows also, to a farthing, the sum which he pays.
The national amount of the whole of the poor-rates is not positively known, but
can be procured. Sir John Sinclair, in his History of the Revenue has stated it
at £2,100,587. A considerable part of which is expended in litigations, in
which the poor, instead of being relieved, are tormented. The expense, however,
is the same to the parish from whatever cause it arises.
In Birmingham, the amount of poor-rates is fourteen thousand pounds a year.
This, though a large sum, is moderate, compared with the population. Birmingham
is said to contain seventy thousand souls, and on a proportion of seventy
thousand to fourteen thousand pounds poor-rates, the national amount of
poor-rates, taking the population of England as seven millions, would be but
one million four hundred thousand pounds. It is, therefore, most probable, that
the population of Birmingham is over-rated. Fourteen thousand pounds is the
proportion upon fifty thousand souls, taking two millions of poor-rates, as the
Be it, however, what it may, it is no other than the consequence of
excessive burthen of taxes, for, at the time when the taxes were very low, the
poor were able to maintain themselves; and there were no poor-rates. In the present state of things a
labouring man, with a wife or two or three children, does not pay less than
between seven and eight pounds a year in taxes. He is not sensible of this,
because it is disguised to him in the articles which he buys, and he thinks
only of their dearness; but as the taxes take from him, at least, a fourth part
of his yearly earnings, he is consequently disabled from providing for a
family, especially, if himself, or any of them, are afflicted with sickness.
The first step, therefore, of practical relief, would be to abolish the
poor-rates entirely, and in lieu thereof, to make a remission of taxes to the
poor of double the amount of the present poor-rates, viz., four millions
annually out of the surplus taxes. By this measure, the poor would be benefited
two millions, and the house-keepers two millions. This alone would be equal to
a reduction of one hundred and twenty millions of the National Debt, and
consequently equal to the whole expense of the American War.
It will then remain to be considered, which is the most effectual mode of
distributing this remission of four millio