Thomas Paine (17371809). The Writings of Thomas Paine. 1906.
Letter to Jefferson in Paris
NO. 13 BROAD STREET BUILDINGS, LONDON, Feb. 16, 1789.
DEAR SIR:Your favour of the 23d Decr continued to the of Jany came safe to hand; for which I thank you. I begin this without knowing of any opportunity of conveyance, and shall follow the method of your letter by writing on till an opportunity offers. I thank you for the many and judicious observations about my bridge. I am exactly in your Ideas, as you will perceive by the following account.I went to the Iron Works [Yorkshire] the latter end of Octr. My intention at the time of writing to you was to construct an experiment arch of 250 feet [an iron Bridge], but in the first place the season was too far advanced to work out of doors, and an arch of that extent could not be worked within doors; and nextly, there was a prospect of a real Bridge being wanted on the spot, of 90 feet extent. The person who appeared disposed to erect a Bridge was Mr. Foljambe, nephew to the late Sir George Saville, and Member in the last Parliament for Yorkshire. He lives about three miles from the Works, and the river Don runs in front of his house, over which there is an old ill-constructed Bridge which he wants to remove. These circumstances determined me to begin an arch of 90 feet, with an elevation of five feet.The foreman of the Works is a relative of the Proprietors [Messrs. Walker], an excellent mechanic, who fell in with all my Ideas with great ease and penetration. I staid at the Works till one-half of the Rib, 45 feet, was completed and framed horizontally together, and came up to London at the meeting of Parliament on the 4th of December. The foreman, whom, as I told him, I should appoint President of the Board of Works in my absence, wrote me word that he has got the other half together with much less trouble than the first. He is now preparing for erecting and I for returning.
Feb. 26. A few days ago I received a letter from Mr. Foljambe in which he says, I saw the Rib of your Bridge. In point of elegance and beauty it far exceeded my expectations, and is certainly beyond anything I ever saw.
My Model and myself had many visitors while I was at the Works. A few days after I got there, Lord Fitz William, heir to the Marquis of Rockingham, came with Mr. [Edmund] Burke. The former gave the workmen five guineas and invited me to Wentworth House, a few miles distant from the Works, where I went, and staid a few days.
This Bridge I expect will bring forth something greater, but in the meantime I feel like a bird from its nest [America], and wishing most anxiously to return; therefore as soon as I can bring anything to bear I shall dispose of the contract and bid adieu. I can very truly say that my mind is not at home.
I am very much rejoiced at the account you give me of the state of affairs in France. I feel exceedingly interested in the affairs of that nation. They are now got or getting into the right way, and the present reign will be more immortalized in France than any that ever preceded it: they have all died away, forgotten in the common mass of things, but this will be to France like an Anno Mundi, or an Anno Domini.
The happiness of doing good, and the pride of doing great things, unite themselves in this business. But as there are two kinds of Pride, the little and the great, the privileged orders will in some degree be governed by this division. Those of little pride (I mean little-minded pride) will be schismatical, and those of great pride will be orthodox, with respect to the States General. Interest will likewise have some share, and could this operate freely it would arrange itself on the orthodox side. To enrich a nation is to enrich the individuals which compose it. To enrich the farmer is to enrich the farmand consequently the landlord;for whatever the farmer is, the farm will be. The richer the subject, the richer the revenue, because the consumption from which taxes are raised are in proportion to the abilities of people to consume; therefore the most effectual method to raise both the revenue and the rental of a country is to raise the condition of the people,or that order known in France by the Tiers Etat. But I ought to ask pardon for entering into reasoning in a letter to you. I only do it because I like the subject.
I observe in all the companies I go into the impression which the present circumstances of France have upon this country. An internal Alliance [of Throne and People] in France is an alliance which England never dreamed of, and which she most dreads. Whether she will be better or worse tempered afterwards I cannot judge of, but I believe she will be more cautious in giving offense. She is likewise impressed with an idea that a negotiation is on foot between the King [Louis XVI.] and the Emperor [of Germany] for adding Austrian Flanders to France. This appears to me such a probable thing, and may be rendered [so] conducive to the interest of all parties concerned, that I am inclined to give it credit and wish it success. I hope then to see the Scheld opened, for it is a sin to refuse the bounties of Nature. On these matters I shall be glad of your opinion. I think the States General of Holland could not be in earnest when they applied to France for the payment of the quota to the Emperor. All things considered, to request it was meanness and to expect it absurdity. I am more inclined to think they made it an opportunity to find how they stood with France. Absalom (I think it was) set fire to his brothers field of corn to bring on a conversation.
March 12. With respect to political matters here the truth is, the people are fools. They have no discernment into principles and consequences. Had Mr. Pitt proposed a National Convention at the time of the Kings insanity, he had done right; but instead of this he has absorbed the right of the Nation into a right of Parliament,one house of which (the Peers) is hereditary in its own right, and over which the people have no control (not as much as they have over their King); and the other elective by only a small part of the Nation. Therefore he has lessened instead of increased the rights of the people; but as they have not sense enough to see it, they have been huzzaing him. There can be no fixed principles of government, or anything like a Constitution, in a country where the government can alter itself, or one part of it supply the other.
Whether a man that has been so compleatly mad as not to be managed but by force and the mad shirt can ever be confided in afterwards as a reasonable man, is a matter I have very little opinion of. Such a circumstance, in my estimation, if mentioned, ought to be a perpetual disqualification.
Had the Regency gone on and the new Administration been formed I should have been able to communicate some matters of business to you, both with respect to America and France, as an interview for that purpose was agreed upon, and to take place as soon as the persons who were to fill the offices should succeed. I am the more confidential with those persons, as they are distinguished by the name of the Blue and Buff,a dress taken up during the American war, and the undress uniform of General Washington with lapels, which they still wear. But at any rate, I do not think it worth while for Congress to appoint any Minister to this Court. The greater distance Congress observes on this point, the better. It will be all money thrown away to go to any expense about it,at least during the present reign. I know the Nation well, and the line of acquaintance I am in enables me to judge better than any other American can judge, especially at a distance. If Congress should have any business to state to the Government here, it can be easily done thro their Minister at Paris; but the seldomer the better.
I believe I am not so much in the good graces of the Marquis of Lansdowne as I used to be. I do not answer his purpose. He was always talking of a sort of reconnection of England and America, and my coldness and reserve on this subject checked communication. I believe he would be a good Minister for England with respect to a better agreement with France.
Remember me to the Marquis de la Fayette, Mr. Le Roy, Mr. De Corney. Please to inform me if anything further has been done about the Bridge; and likewise how the new Bridge in your neighbourhood goes on.