Page images

conception. As you pass along you will be continually beset by evils of every kind, and, however desirous you may be to avoid them, they will frequently come in such a questionable shape, that you will be penetrating indeed if you do not often mistake them for virtues. I have had some experience, and I know that a new path has lately been marked out for my countrymen, which, in a few years, will lead them to troubles, such as I have no wish to live to see. I am aware that what I can do towards staying the evils is but little, but I consider it my duty to give to the young, as far as possible, the information that experience has given to me; and when I mect with a youth that seems to pay attention to what I say, it gives me more pleasure than any other thing." Here he took out of his pocket a book, and, without making any comment upon it, he presented it to me, saying, “ Read that with attention.” We then parted, and I never saw him again; but, believing his motive to be good, I have ever remembered him with great respect, and always considered the meeting with him as an incident that had more to do in forming my character, be it good or be it bad, than all the other circumstances that ever happened to me in the course of my life.

I proceeded to my lodgings, and, after supper, I opened my book, and read, as follows, on the title-page:-Rights or Man; being an Answer to Mr. Burke's ATTACK on the French REVOLUTION. By THOMAS PAINE. Thomas Paine!! why, surely, thought I, this is not the “Tom Paine” that I had used to hear spoken of as such a frightful character, and whom we burnt in effigy a few years back. I had never read a book through in my life, but, out of respect for the giver, I was determined to read this. I had 'not proceeded far, before I felt greatly interested, so much so, that I continued reading till daylight the next morning. On that day I executed my business with all speed, returned to my book, and finished reading the first and second parts of the Rights of Man. What a change that book made in me! It put my thought in motion. "Ah," said I, “now I have discovered the whole secret of all our grievances; now I see why the burning of Paine in effigy was encouraged in our village; why the poor are become so miserable, and why all these soldiers are found to be necessary." I attributed our troubles to our form of government; to there being a king, a titled nobility, and an established church. In this opinion I remained for years, while things continued to get worse and worse; until at last I was struck, while viewing a miserable family that formerly were so well dressed, so cheerful, and in every way so comfortable and happy-I was struck with the idea, that the changes could not be owing to the form of government, because they did not take place until I was old enough to recollect the circumstance; whereas, we find that kings have ruled for thousands of years! and Mr. Paine gives us the origin of the English


nobility, which he dates from William the Conqueror; and, as to the church, it is the same that was established by Henry the Eighth, some hundreds of years ago. This gave a turn to my way of thinking on these subjects, and forced me to look for another cause, which I thought I had discovered in the war, and in the unredeemable paper-money to which that war gave rise. Still I believed that Paine was right, and that self-government, of all other systems, was the most just, the most cheap, and the most perfect. This shows the necessity of age and experience, to be enabled to judge of matters of this kind. If we err as to the cause of our grievances, how can we proceed, with any hope of success, to redress them?

Now the late Mr. Paine's principles of government might do very well for a truly enlightened people, who could live securely without any governing at all, or for a people, the majority of whom were of that kind; but, alas! notwithstanding what the flattering designing demagogues say to the contrary, such a people have never been found on the earth, and there is nothing to justify the belief that they ever will be found. Of this, no man's writings furnish stronger evidence than Mr. Paine's, except it be those of Mr. Jefferson. On both of which I will here make some remarks: In the " Rights of Man" we find the Americans set forth as the most sensible people in the world; a people fit, in all respects, to be governed by laws based upon the principles so clearly laid down by Paine and Jefferson. In the year 1791-2 Paine, then in London, wrote that book, in which he says, “ If you ask an American if he wants a king ? he retorts, and asks



take him for an idiot ?" Mr. Paine had just left America. fully persuaded that his principles were there fairly engrafted-that nothing could prevent them thriving, and even expanding to the remotest parts of Europe. “ For what we can foresee,” said he, “ all Europe may form one great republic, and man be free of the whole.” Mr. Jefferson left America on a mission to France, with the same belief as to the thriving condition of democracy. He returned in the year 1790; that is, one year before Paine told us, in London, the tale about the king and the idiot. Mr. Jefferson lands in New York, and there expects to see the graft in full bearing; but, instead of which, he gives us a very different account, for which I must refer my readers to the Appendix.

By this account we see the little reliance there is to be placed on the opinions of men, though of the highest order in point of talents. We must compare and move cautiously in forming our opinions on matters of government. If we wish to be correct, depend upon it that nothing but experience will make us so. You see that while I, a youth in England, was wondering at the stupidity of my own countrymen, and eager to join a people that was, all at once, become so enlightened as to retort,


when asked if, to govern them, they wanted a king, that very people at the same moment were crying out, Give us kings ; give us an aristocracy, paper-money, public debt, and govern us by one of two motives, force or interest. Among all the respectables of New York, assembled at the various dinner-parties, where politics were the chief topic, poor democracy and republicanism were without a single advocate, with the exception of the stranger Mr. Jefferson and a few others. So desirous were they then for royalty and grandeur, that they harassed Washington nearly out of his life. Mr. Jefferson further tells us that

“When the president went to New York, he resisted for three weeks the efforts to introduce levees. At length he yielded, and left it to Humphreys and some others to settle the form. Accordingly an ante-chamber and presence-room were provided, and, when those who were to pay their court were assembled, the president (Washington) set out, preceded by Humphreys. After passing through the ante-chamber, the door of the inner room was thrown open, and Humphreys entered, first calling out with a loud voice, 'The President of the United States. The president was so much disconcerted with it, that he did not recover it the whole time of the levee, and, when the company was gone, he said to Humphreys, * Well, you have taken me in once, but, by G-d, you shull never take me in a second time.'''

Mr. Jefferson says that Washington accepted the presidency a second time with great reluctance on his part, and that “ he expressed the extreme wretchedness of his existence while in office.” It seems they put his effigy on a guillotine and cut off the head, buried the body, and so on.

This was the treatment of the great and good man from a people who had just thrown a beam of light over the world. One-half of those people were making a mountebank of him, and the other half were, in desire, cutting off his head with a guillotine,-a proof, if any were wanted, that an honest man was totally unfit for their service. And so it has been ever since. If an honest man, now by chance is called to one of their important offices, it would be better for him, and every day the more and more confirms this truth, to be in his grave than in such a situation.

I might notice many instances of ingratitude towards Washington that took place much earlier. Even his own principal officers, that served under him while he led them to victory, were jealous of his talents and fame, and conspired against him. One of these instances he speaks of himself in a letter to Patrick Henery, in the year 1778.

“ I cannot,” he says, “precisely mark the extent of their views, but it appeared in general that General Gates was to be exalted on the ruin of my reputation and influence. General Mifflin, it is commonly supposed, bore the second part in the cabal ; and General Conway, I know, was an active and malignant partisan.” And that the treatment is the same from the sovereign people in all ages, or, at least, from the days of Washington till now, may be seen in the case of the war-worn grey-headed Jackson, whose whole life of toil and hardship has been spent in the service of his country. Behold the sovereign people twice making him president, then accusing him of usurpation and tyranny, then expunging from the journals of the Senate the said accusation, and acknowledging themselves to have been the tyrants and oppressors.

“ Never,” said Senator Benton, “ has any one been so beset and impeded by a powerful combination of political and monied confederates! Never has any one in any country, where the administration of justice has risen above the knife or the bowstring, been so lawlessly and shamelessly tried and condemned by rivals and enemies, without hearing, without defence, without the forms of law or justice! History has been ransacked to find examples of tyrants sufficiently odious to illustrate him by comparison. Language has been tortured to find epithets sufficiently strong to paint him in description. Imagination has been es. hausted in her efforts to deck him with revolting and inhuman attributes. Tyrant, despot, usurper, destroyer of the liberties of his country ; rash, ignorant, imbecile; endangering the public peace with all foreign nations; destroying doniestic prosperity at home; ruining all industry, all commerce, all manufactories; annihilating confidence between man and man; delivering up the streets of populous cities to grass and weeds, and the wharfs of commercial towns to the incumbrance of decaying vessels, depriving labour of all reward ; depriving industry of all employment; destroying the currency; plunging an innocent and happy people from the summit of felicity to the depths of misery, want, and despair. Such is the faint outline, followed up by actual condemnation, of the appalling denunciations daily uttered against this one MAN, from the moment he became an object of political competition down to the concluding moment of his political existence.”

Mr. Benton moved to expunge the said resolution, which was accordingly done.

Mr. Paine, in his Rights of Man, says :

“ The opinions of men, with respect to governments, are changing very 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 expenses of government have provoked people to think, by making them feel ; and when once the veil begins to rent, it admits of no repair. Ignorance is of a peculiar nature; once dispelled, it is im

[ocr errors]


possible 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.”

Well, for nearly half a century, the believers of this doctrine, and I among the rest, for a number of years, have been expecting the great luminary, that threw out the beam of light, to shine upon the world in its full magnificence and effulgence; but instead of which its beams, in America, become fainter every day; and in France the beam was too like “ lightning that doth cease to be ere one can say it lightens.” Asto the veil, surely the greatest lover of light cannot complain that it was not sufficiently rent. No; the French philosophers tore it to very shreds, cast it away among worthless things, and exhibited the great unveiled in all their natural majesty. And what was the issue? Why, after murdering each other till their rivers were tinged with human blood, they, contrary to the positive assertions of Paine, repaired the veil, submitted to a despot, on whose head they placed an imperial crown, and followed him to deeds of conquest and of slaughter.

Such were the wild and vicious proceedings of the republicans, who were to enlighten the world; ever fickle and uncertain ; knowing nothing of right or wrong; it is a man only with a lion's heart that dares to be honest among them. None but the cunning, designing, knavish demagogue can secure their good opinion, even for a minute together. The consequence is, that but very few of the best and most sensible part of the people have anything todo with politics, not even so much as to use their votes. How often have I been reminded, while in America, of a doggerel stanza that I remember to have heard about the time of the French Revolution ! Speaking of the leaders of the people, it said

“One day he be a great man,

And head a great mob;
Two or three days after

They cut off his nob.” Paine said that "those who talked of a counter-revolution in France showed how little they understood of man. There does not,” said he, “ 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 a man unknow his knowledge, or unthink his thoughts.”

And yet we find that counter-revolutions in France have, in rapid succession, taken place, getting further from republicanism at every turn since the beam of light made its appearance. Next he says

“I do not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries in Europe. If better

« PreviousContinue »