To the English Attorney-General
ON THE PROSECUTION AGAINST THE SECOND PART OF RIGHTS OF MAN
SIR:-As there can be no personal resentment between two strangers, I write this letter to you, as to a man against whom I have no animosity.
You have, as Attorney-General, commenced a prosecution against me as the author of “Rights of Man.” Had not my duty, in consequence of my being elected a member of the National Convention of France, called me from England, I should have stayed to have contested the injustice of that prosecution; not upon my own account, for I cared not about the prosecution, but to have defended the principles I had advanced in the work.
The duty I am now engaged in is of too much importance to permit me to trouble myself about your prosecution: when I have leisure, I shall have no objection to meet you on that ground; but, as I now stand, whether you go on with the prosecution, or whether you do not, or whether you obtain a verdict, or not, is a matter of the most perfect indifference to me as an individual. If you obtain one (which you are welcome to if you can get it), it cannot affect me either in person, property, or reputation, otherwise than to increase the latter; and with respect to yourself, it is as consistent that you obtain a verdict against the Man in the Moon as against me; neither do I see how you can continue the prosecution against me as you would have done against one of your own people, who had absented himself because he was prosecuted; what passed at Dover proves that my departure from England was no secret.
My necessary absence from your country affords the opportunity of knowing whether the prosecution was intended against Thomas Paine, or against the right of the people of England to investigate systems and principles of government; for as I cannot now be the object of the prosecution, the going on with the prosecution will show that something else was the object, and that something else can be no other than the people of England, for it is against their rights, and not against me, that a verdict or sentence can operate, if it can operate at all. Be then so candid as to tell the jury (if you choose to continue the process), whom it is you are prosecuting, and on whom it is that the verdict is to fall.
But I have other reasons than those I have mentioned for writing you this letter; and, however you may choose to interpret them, they proceed from a good heart. The time, Sir, is becoming too serious to play with court prosecutions, and sport with national rights. The terrible examples that have taken place here, upon men who, less than a year ago, thought themselves as secure as any prosecuting judge, jury, or attorney-general, now can in England, ought to have some weight with men in your situation.
That the Government of England is as great, if not the greatest, perfection of fraud and corruption that ever took place since governments began, is what you cannot be a stranger to, unless the constant habit of seeing it has blinded your senses; but though you may not choose to see it, the people are seeing it very fast, and the progress is beyond what you may choose to believe. Is it possible that you or I can believe, or that reason can make any other man believe, that the capacity of such a man as Mr. Guelph, or any of his profligate sons, is necessary to the government of a nation? I speak to you as one man ought to speak to another; and I know also that I speak what other people are beginning to think.
That you cannot obtain a verdict (and if you do, it will signify nothing) without packing a jury (and we both know that such tricks are practised), is what I have very good reason to believe. I have gone into coffee-houses, and places where I was unknown, on purpose to learn the currency of opinion, and I never yet saw any company of twelve men that condemned the book; but I have often found a greater number than twelve approving it, and this I think is a fair way of collecting the natural currency of opinion.
Do not then, Sir, be the instrument of drawing twelve men into a situation that may be injurious to them afterwards. I do not speak this from policy, but from benevolence; but if you choose to go on with the process, I make it my request to you that you will read this letter in court, after which the judge and the jury may do as they please. As I do not consider myself the object of the prosecution, neither can I be affected by the issue, one way or the other, I shall, though a foreigner in your country, subscribe as much money as any other man toward supporting the right of the nation against the prosecution; and it is for this purpose only that I shall do it.
As I have not time to copy letters, you will excuse the corrections.
P. S.-I intended, had I stayed in England, to have published the information, with my remarks upon it, before the trial came on; but as I am otherwise engaged, I reserve myself till the trial is over when I shall reply fully to everything you shall advance.