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BY THOMAS PAINE.
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY R. CARLILE, 55, FLEET STREET.
Comm I have commanded circumstances with a wish, I know not of any that would have more generally promoted the progress of knowledge, than the late Proclamation, and the numerous rotten Borough and Corporation Addresses thereon. They have not only served as advertisements, but they have excited a spirit of enquiry into principles of Government, and a desire to read the Rights Of Man, in places where that spirit and that work were before unknown.
The people of England, wearied and stunned with parties, and alternately deceived by each, had almost resigned the prerogative of thinking. Even curiosity had expired, and a universal languor had spread itself over the land. The opposition was visibly no other than a contest for power, whilst the mass of the Nation stood torpidly by as the prize.
In this hopeless state of things, the First Part of Rights Of man made its appearance. It had to combat with a strange mixture of prejudice and indifference; it stood exposed to every species of newspaper abuse; and besides this, it had to remove the obstructions which Mr. Burke's rude and outrageous attack on the French Revolution had artfully raised.
But how easily does even the most illiterate reader distinguish the spontaneous sensation of the heart, from the laboured productions of the brain! Truth, whenever it can fully appear, is a thing so naturally familiar to the mind, that an acquaintance commences at first sight. No artificial light, yet discovered, can display all the properties of daylight; so neither can the best invented fiction fill the mind with every conviction which truth begets.
To overthrow Mr. Burke's fallacious work was scarcely the operation of a day. Even the phalanx of Placemen and Pensioners, who had given the tone to the multitude, by clamouring forth his political fame, became suddenly silent; aud the final event to himself has been, that as he rose like a rocket, he fell like the stick.
It seldom happens, that the mind rests satisfied with the simple detection of error or imposition.— Once put into motion, that motion soon becomes accelerated. Where it had intended to stop, it discovers new reasons to proceed, and renews and continues the pursuit far beyond the limits it first prescribed to itself.—Thus it has happened to the people of England. From a detection of Mr. Burke's incoherent rhapsodies, and distorted facts, they began an enquiry into first principles of Government, whilst himself, like an object left far behind, became invisible and forgotten.
Much as the First Part of Rights Of Man impressed at its first appearance, the progressive mind soon discovered that it did not go far enough. It detected errors; it exposed absurdities; it shook the fabric of political superstition; it generated new ideas; but it did not produce a regular system of principles in the room of those which it displaced. And, if I may guess at the mind of the Government-party, they beheld it as an unexpected gale that would soon blow over, and they forbore, like sailors in threatening weather, to whistle, lest they should increase the wiud. Every thing, on their part, was profound silence.
When the Second Part of " Rights Of Man, combining Principle and Practice" was preparing to appear, they affected for a while, to act with the same policy as before; but finding their silence had no more influence in stilling the progress of the work, than it would have in stopping the progress of time, they changed their plan, and affected to treat it with clamorous contempt. The Speech-making Placenen and Pensioners, aud Place-expectants, in both Houses of Parliament, the Outs as well as the his, represented it as a silly, insignificant performance; as a work incapable of producing any effect; as something, which they were sure the good seuse of the people would either despise or indignantly spurn; but such was the overstrained awkwardness with which they harangued and encouraged each other, that in the very act of declaring their confidence, they betrayed their fears.
As most of the rotten Borough Addressers are obscured in holes and corners throughout the country, and to whom a