Thomas Paine (17371809). The Writings of Thomas Paine. 1906.
The Society for Political Inquiries
THE MORAL1 character and happiness of mankind are so interwoven with the operations of government, and the progress of the arts and sciences is so dependent on the nature of our political institutions, that it is essential to the advancement of civilized society to give ample discussion to these topics.
But important as these inquiries are to all, to the inhabitants of these republics they are objects of peculiar magnitude and necessity. Accustomed to look up to those nations, from whom we have derived our origin, for our laws, our opinions, and our manners, we have retained with undistinguishing reverence their errors with their improvements; have blended with our public institutions the policy of dissimilar countries; and have grafted on an infant commonwealth the manners of ancient and corrupted monarchies. In having effected a separate government, we have as yet effected but a partial independance. The revolution can only be said to be complete, when we shall have freed ourselves, no less from the influence of foreign prejudices than from the fetters of foreign power. When breaking through the bounds, in which a dependent people have been accustomed to think and act, we shall probably comprehend the character we have assumed and adopt those maxims of policy, which are suited to our new situation. While objects of subordinate importance have employed the associated labours of learned and ingenious men, the arduous and complicated science of government has been generally left to the care of practical politicians, or the speculations of individual theorists. From a desire of supplying this deficiency, and of promoting the welfare of our country, it is now proposed to establish a society for mutual improvement in the knowledge of government, and for the advancement of political science.
I. This Society shall consist of fifty residing members, and shall meet every Friday fortnight, at half past six oclock in the evening (the chair to be taken precisely at seven) except during the months of June, July, August and September, when their meetings shall be discontinued.
IV. Every candidate for admission shall be proposed by at least two residing members, who shall give in his name in writing with their own subscribed to it. After which one of the acting secretaries shall read aloud the name of the candidate as well as of the nominating members, at two successive meetings previous to the election.
VII. A committee of papers shall be appointed annually by ballot, on the same evening that the officers of the Society are elected. This committee shall consist of the president, vice-presidents, and six other members of the Society, and shall decide on the propriety of reading or publishing any paper which shall be presented to the Society. But they shall not proceed to any decision unless five of their number are present. Nor shall any essay, or the name of its author be published, without previously obtaining his contest.
VIII. The attention of the Society shall be confined to subjects of government and political conomy. And members having any essays, facts, or observations on these subjects, that they wish to have read in the Society, or any political queries that they may be desirous of having discussed in conversation, shall give the same into the hands of the president or vice-president who shall communicate the same to the Committee of papers and take order thereon.
XI. Medals shall be adjudged at the discretion of the Society to the authors (whether members or not) of the best essays upon such subjects as the Society may propose for that purpose. The votes in these cases shall be taken by ballot.
XIV. The Society shall be subject to such laws and regulations as shall be made from time to time. But no laws shall be enacted, rescinded or altered without the presence of twelve members, and without the consent of three-fourths of the number present: Nor shall any such measures be proposed, without notice has been previously given at two successive meetings of the alterations or additions intended to be made.
Note 1. Unpublished Rules and Regulations of the Society for Political Inquiries, established at Philadelphia, 9th Feb. 1787. This Society met at Dr. Franklins house, where Paine read a paper, described by William Rawle as a well-written dissertation on the inexpediency of incorporating towns. The paper was no doubt used in Rights of Man, ii., ch. 5. Several passages in the same work suggest Paines probable authorship of the above Preamble.Editor. [back]