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ye do, ye will cease to speak and feel for yourselves alone."—Rights of Man, Part II, p. 98.
Gentlemen, I have now stated to you such matters as appear necessary to me to offer to the consideration of the meeting. I have no other interest in what I am doing, nor in writing you this letter, than the interest of the lieart. I consider the proposed address as calculated to give countenance to placemen, pensioners, enormous taxation and corruption. Many of you will recollect, that whilst I resided among you, there was not a man more firm and open in supporting the principles of liberty than myself, and I still pursue, and ever will, the same path.
I have, Gentlemen, only one request to make, which is— that those who have called the meeting will speak out, and say, whether in the address they are going to present against publications, which the proclamation calls wicked, "they mean the work intitled Rights of Mant or whether they do not?"
I am, Gentlemen,
Your friend and servant,
TO SIR ARCHIBALD MACDONALD, ATTORNEY GENERAL.
Letter the First.
Though I have some reason for believing that you were not the original promoter or encourager of the prosecution commenced against the work entitled 'Rights of Man,' either as that prosecution is intended to effect the author, the publisher, or the public; yet as you appear the official person therein, I address this letter to you, not as Sir Archibald Macdonald, but as Attorney-General.
You began by a prosecution against the publisher, Jordan, and the reason assigned by Mr. Secretary Dundas, in the House of Commons, in the debate on the proclamation, May 25, for taking that measure, was, he said, because Mr. Paine could not be found, or words to that effect. Mr. Paine, Sir, so far from secreting himself, never went a step out of his way, nor in the least instance varied from his usual conduct, to avoid any measure you might choose to adopt with respect to him. It is on the purity of his heart, and the universal utility of the principles and plans which his writings contain, that he rests the issue; and he will not dishonour it by any kind of subterfuge. The apartments which he occupied at the time of writing the work last winter, he has continued to occupy to the present hour, and the solicitors of the prosecution knew where to find him; of which there is a proof in their own office, as far back as the 21st of May, and also in the office of my own attorney.
But admitting, for the sake of the case, that the reason for proceeding against the publisher was, as Mr. Dundas stated, that Mr. Paine could not be found, that reason can now exist no longer.
The instant that I was informed that an information was preparing to be filed against me, as the author of, I believe, one of the most useful and benevolent books ever offered to mankind, I directed my attorney to put in an appearance; and as I shall meet the prosecution fully and fairly, and with a good and upright conscience, I have a right to expect that no act of littleness will be made use of on the part of the prosecution towards influencing the future issue with respect to the author. This expression may, perhaps, appear obscure to you, but I am in the possession of some matters which serve to shew that the action against the publisher is not intended to be a real action. If, therefore, any persons concerned in the prosecution have found their cause so weak as to make it appear convenient to them to enter into negotiation with the publisher, whether for the purpose of his submitting to a verdict, and to make use of the verdict so obtained as a circumstance, by way of precedent, on a future trial against myself; or for any other purpose not fully made known to me; if, I say, I have cause to suspect this to be the case, I shall most certainly withdraw the defence I should otherwise have made, or promoted, on his (the publisher's) behalf, and leave the negociators to themselves, and shall reserve the whole of the defence for the real trial.
But, Sir, for the purpose of conducting this matter with at least the appearance of fairness and openness that shall justify itself before the public, whose cause it really is (for it is the right of public discussion and investigation that is questioned), I have to propose to you to cease the prosecution against the publisher; and as the reason or pretext can no longer exist for continuing it against him because Mr. Paine could not be found, that you would direct the whole process against me, with whom the prosecuting party will not find it possible to enter into any private negociation.
I will do the cause full justice, as well for the sake of the nation, as for my own reputation.
Another reason for discontinuing the process against the publisher is, because it can amount to nothing. First, because a jury in London cannot decide upon the fact of publishing beyond the limits of the jurisdiction of London, and therefore the work may be republished over and over again in every county in the nation, and every case must have a separate process; and by the time that three or four hundred prosecutions have been had, the eyes of the nation will then be fully open to see that the work in question contains a plan the best calculated to root out all the abuses of government, and to lessen the taxes of the nation upwards of six millions annually.
Secondly, Because though the gentlemen of London may be very expert in understanding their particular professions and occupations, and how to make business contracts with government beneficial to themselves as individuals, the rest of the nation may not be disposed to consider them sufficiently qualified nor authorised to determine for the whole nation on plans of reform, and on systems and principles of government. This would be in effect to erect a jury into a national convention, instead of electing a convention, and to lay a precedent for the probable tyranny of juries, under the pretence of supporting their rights.
That the possibility always exists of packing juries will not be denied; and, therefore, in all cases, where government is the prosecutor, more especially in those where the right of public discussion and investigation of principles and systems of government is attempted to be suppressed by a verdict, or in those where the object of the work that is prosecuted is the reform of abuse and the abolition of sinecure places and pensions, in all these cases the verdict of a jury will itself become a subject of discussion; and, therefore, it furnishes an additional reason for discontinuing the prosecution against the publisher, more especially as it is not a secret that there has been a negociation with him for secret purposes, and for proceeding against me only. I shall make a much stronger defence than what I believe the Treasury Solicitor's agreement with him will permit him to do.
I believe that Mr. Burke, finding himself defeated, and not being able to make any answer to the Rights of Man, has been one of the promoters of this prosecution; and I shall return the compliment to him by shewing, in a future publication, that he has been a masked pensioner at ,£1600 per annum for about ten years.
Thus it is that the public money is wasted, and the dread of public investigation is produced.
I am, Sir,
TO MR. SECRETARY DUNDAS.
Letter the Second.
Sir, Calais, Sept. 15, 1792.
I Conceive it necessary to make you acquainted with the following circumstance The department of Calais having elected me a member of the National Convention of France, I set off from London the 13th instant, in company with Mr. Frost, of Spring Gardens, and Mr. Audibert, one of the municipal officers of Calais, who brought me the certificate of my being elected. We had not arrived more, I believe, than five minutes at the York Hotel, at Dover, when the train of circumstauces began that I am going to relate. We had taken our baggage out of the carriage and put it into a room, into which we went. Mr. Frost having occasion to go out, was stopped in the passage by a gentleman, who told him he must return into the room, which he did, and the gentleman came in with him, aud shut the door; I had remained in the room. Mr. Audibert was gone to inquire when the packet was to sail. The gentleman then said, that he was Collector of the Customs, and had an information against us, and must examine our baggage for prohibited articles. He produced his commission as Collector. Mr. Frost demanded to see the information, which the Collector refused to shew, and continued to refuse on every demand that we made. The Collector then called in several other officers, and began first to search our pockets. He took from Mr. Audibert, who was then returned into the room, every thing he found in his pocket, and laid it on the table. He then searched Mr. Frost in the same manner, (who, among other things, had the keys of the trunks in his pocket) and then did the same by me. Mr. Frost wanting to go out, mentioned it, and was going towards the door; on which the Collector placed himself against the door, and said nobody should depart the room. After the keys had been taken from Mr. Frost (for I had given him the keys of my trunks beforehand, for the purpose of his attending the baggage to the Customs, if it should be necessary) the Collector asked us to open the trunks, presenting us the keys for that purpose; this we declined to do, unless he would produce his information,