To James Monroe October 20, 1794
From the original letter at the Librray of Congress.
I received your friendly letter of the 26 Vendre. on the day it was written, & I thank you for communicating to me your opinion upon my Case. Ideas serve to beget Ideas, and as it is from a review of every thing that can be said upon a subject, or is any ways connected with it, that the best judgment can be formed how to proceed, I present you with such Ideas as occur to me. I am sure of one thing, which is, that you will give them a patient and attentive perusal.
You say in your letter that “I must be sensible that although I am an American Citizen yet if you interfere in my behalf as the minister of my Country you must demand my liberation only in case there be no charge against me, and that if there is that I must be brought to trial previously, since no person in a private character can be exempt from the laws of the Country in which he resides.” — This is what I have twice attempted to do. I wrote a letter on the 3d Sans Culottodi to the deputies, members of the Committee of surety general who came to the Luxembourg to examine the persons detained. - The letter was as follows -
I offer myself for examination. Justice is due to every man. It is justice only that I ask. - Thomas Paine”
As I was not called for examination nor heard any thing in consequence of my letter the first time of sending it, I sent a duplicate of it a few days after. It was carried to them by my good friend and comrade Van-huele who was then going in liberty having been examined the day before. Van-huele wrote me on the next day and said - Bourdon de l’Oise (who was one of the anamemsy(?) deputies) is the most inveterate Enemy you can have. The answer he gave me when I presented your letter put me in such a passion with him that I expected I should be sent back again to prison. I then wrote a third letter but had not an opportunity of sending it as Bourdon did not come any more till after I received Mr. Labonadaire’s letter advising me to write to the Convention. The letter was as follows — “Citizens, I have twice offered myself for examination, and I chose to do this while Bourdon de l’Oise was one of the Commissioners. This deputy has said in the Convention that I intrigued with an ancient agent of the Bureau of foreign Affairs. My examination therefore while he is present will give him an opportunity of proving his charge or of convincing himself of his error. If Bourdon de l’Oise is an honest man he will examine me, but lest he should not I subjoin the following — That which B — calls an intrigue was at the request of a member of the former Committee of Salat public last August was twelve month. I met the member on the Boulevard. He asked me something in French which I did not understand and we went together to the Bureau of foreign Affairs which was near at hand. The agent (Otto, whom you probably knew in America) served as interpreter. The member (it was Barrere) then asked me 1st if I could furnish him with the plan of Constitution I had presented to the Committee of Constitution of which I was member with himself, because, he said, it contained several things which he wished had been adopted - 2dly He asked me my opinion upon sending Commissioners to the United States of America - 3dly - If fifty or an hundred ship loads of flour could be procured from America. As verbal interpretation was tedious it was agreed that I should give him my opinion in writing and that the Agent should translate it which he did - I answered the first question by sending him the plan, which he still has - To the second I replied that I thought it would be proper to send Comrs., because that in revolutions Circumstances change so fast that it was often necessary to send a better supply of information to an ally than could be communicated by letter writing, and that Congress had done the same thing during the American war and I gave him some information that the Commissioners would find useful on their arrival. I answered the third question by sending him a list of American Exports to years before, distinguishing the several Articles by which he would see that the supply he mentioned could be obtained. - I sent him also the plan of Paul Jones, giving it as his, for procuring salt petre, which was to send a squadron (it did not require a large one) to take possession of the Island of St. Helen’s, to keep the English flag flying at the port that the English East India ships coming from the East Indies, and that ballast with Salt petre might be induced to enter as usual, and that it would be a considerable time before the English Government could know of what had happened at St. Helen’s - See here what Bourdon de l’Oise has called an intrigue - If it was an Intrigue it was between a member of the Committee of Salut public and myself, for the Agent was no more than the interpreter and translator, and the object of the intrigue was to furnish France with flour and salt petre — I suppose Bourdon had heard that the Agent and I were seen together talking English, and this was enough for him to found his charge upon -
You next say that “I must likewise be sensible that although I am an American Citizen that it is likewise believed there that I am become a Citizen of france, and that in consequence this latter character has so far the former as to weaken if not destroy any claim you might have to interpose in my behalf.” — I am sorry I cannot add any new arguments to those I have already advanced on this part of the subject. - But I cannot help asking myself, and I wish you would ask the Committee, if it could possibly be the intention of France to kidnap Citizens from America under the pretense of dubbing them with the title of french Citizens, and then after inviting or rather inveigling them into France make it a pretense for detaining them. If it was, (which I am sure it was not, tho’ they now act as if it was) the insult was to America, tho the injury was to me, and the treachery was to both. Did they mean to kidnap General Washington Mr. Madison, and several other Americans whom they dubbed with the same title as well as me. Let any man look at the condition of france when I arrived in it, invaded by Austrians and prussians and declared to be in danger, and then ask if any man who had a home and a Country to go to as I had in America, would have come amongst them from any other motive than of assisting them. If I could possibly have supposed them capable of treachery I certainly would not have trusted myself in their power. Instead therefore of your being unwilling or apprehensive of meeting the question of french Citizenship they ought to be ashamed of advancing it, and this will be the case unless you admit their arguments or objections to passively. It is a Case on their part fit only for the continuations of Robespierre to set up. As to the name of french Citizen I never considered it in any other light, so far as regarded myself, than as a token of honorary respect. I never made them any promise nor took any oath of allegiance or of Citizenship, nor bound myself by any act or means whatever to the performance of anyvthing. I acted altogether as a friend invited among them as I supposed, on honorable terms. I did not come to join myself to a Government already formed, but to assist in forming one de nouveau, which was afterwards to be submitted to the people whether they would accept it or not, and this any foreigner might do. And strictly speaking there are no Citizens before this a government. They are all of the People. The Americans were not called Citizens till after Government was established, and not even then until they had taken the oath of Allegiance. This was the Case in Pennsylvania. — But be this french Citizenship more or less the Convention have now swept it away by declaring me to be a foreigner, and imprisoning me as such, and this is a short answer to all those who affect to say or to believe that I am french Citizen. A Citizen without Citizenship is a term non-descript.
After the two preceding paragraphs you as - “If it be my wish that you should embark in this controversy (meaning that of reclaiming me) and risque the consequences with respect to myself and the good understanding subsisting between the two Countries, or, without relinquishing any point of right, and which might be insisted on in case of extremities, pursue according to your best judgment and with the light before you, the object of my liberation?”
As I believe from the apparent obstinacy of the Committees that circumstances will grow towards the extremity you mention unless prevented before hand I will endeavour to throw into your hands all the light I can upon the subject.
In the first place, reclamation may mean two distinct things - All the reclamations that are made by the sections in behalf of persons detained as suspect are made on the ground that the persons so detained are patriots, and the reclamation is good against the charge of suspect because it proves the contrary. — But my situation includes another Circumstance I am imprisoned on the charge (if it can be called one) of being a foreigner born in England. You know that foreigner to be a citizen of the United States of America, and that he has been such since the 4th of July 1776 the political birth-day of the United States and of every American Citizen, for before that period all were British subjects, and the States, then provinces, were British dominions. — Your reclamation of me therefore as a citizen of the United States (all other considerations apart) is good against the pretense for imprisoning me, or that pretense is equally good against every American Citizen born in England, Ireland Scotland, Germany or Holland, and you know this description of men compose a very great part of the population of the three states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and make also a part of Congress, and of the State legislatures.
Every politician ought to know, and every Civilian does know, that the Law of Treaty be superior to every other Law where it applies. Now the Treaty of Alliance and also that of Amity and Commerce knows no distinction of American Citizens on account of the place of their birth, but recognizes all to be Citizens whom the Constitution and laws of the United States of America recognize as such, and if I recollect rightly there is an article in the Treaty of Commerce particular to this point. The law therefore which they have here to put all persons in arrestation born in any of the Countries at war with France, is, when applied to Citizens of America born in England Ireland, Scotland, Germany or Holland, a violation of the treaties of Alliance and of Commerce, because it assumes to make a distinction of Citizens which those Treaties and the Constitution of America knows nothing of. This is a subject that officially comes under your cognizance as Minister and it would be consistent that you expostulated with them upon the Case. That foolish old man Vadier who was president of the Convention and of the Committee of surety general, when the Americans then in Paris went to the Bar of the Convention to reclaim me, gave them for answer that my being born in England was cause sufficient for imprisoning me. It happened that at least half those who went up with that address were in the same Case with myself.
As to reclamations on the ground of Patriotism it is difficult to know what is to be understood by Patriotism here. There is not a Vice, and scarcely a Virtue, that has not as the fashion of the moment suited been called by the name of Patriotism. The wretches who composed the revolutionary tribunal of Nantes were the Patriots of that day and the Criminals of this. The Jacobins called themselves Patriots of the first order, men up to the height of the Circumstances, and they are now considered as an Antidote to Patriotism. But if we give to Patriotism a fixed Idea consistent with that of a Republic it would signify a strict adherence to the principles of moral Justice, to the equality of civil and political Rights, to the System of representative government, and an opposition to every hereditary claim to govern; and of this species of Patriotism you know my character.
But, Sir, there are men on the Committee who have changed their Party but not their principles. Their aim is to hold power as long as possible by preventing the establishment of a Constitution, and these men are and will be my Enemies, and seek to hold me in prison as long as they can. I am too good a Patriot for them. It is not improbable that they have heard of the strange language held by some Americans that I am not considered in America as an American Citizen, and they may also have heard say, that you had no orders respecting me, and it is not improbable that they interpret that language and that silence into a Connivance at my imprisonment. If they had not some Ideas of this kind would they resist so long the civil efforts you make for my liberation, or would they attach so much importance to the imprisonment of an Individual as to risque (as you say to me) the good understanding that exists between the two countries. - You also say that it is impossible for any person to do more than you have done without adopting the other means, meaning that of reclaiming me. How then can you account for the want of success after so many efforts, and such a length of time, upwards of ten weeks, without supposing that they fortify themselves in the interpretation I have just mentioned. I can admit that it was not necessary to give orders, and that it was difficult to give direct orders, for I much question if Morris had informed Congress or the President of the whole of the Case, or had sent copies of my letters to him as I had desired him to do. You would find the Case here when you came, and you could not fully understand it till you did come, and as Minister you would have authority to act upon it. But as you inform me that you know what the wishes of the President are, you will see also that his reputation is exposed to some risque admitting there to be ground for the supposition I have made. It will not add to his popularity to have it believed in America, as I am inclined to think the Committee believe here, that he connives at my imprisonment. — You say also that it is known to everybody that you wish my liberation. It is, Sir, because they know your wishes that they misinterpret the means you use. They suppose that those mild means arise from a restriction that you cannot use others, or from a consciousness of some defect on my part of which you are unwilling to provoke the enquiry.
But as you ask me if it be my wish that you should embark in this controversy and risque the consequences with respect to myself, I will answer this part of the question by marking out precisely the part I wish you to take. What I mean is a sort of middle line above what you have yet gone, and not up to the full extremity of the Case, which will still lie in reserve. It is to write a letter to the Committee, that shall in the first place, defeat by anticipation all the objections they might make to a simple reclamation, and at the same time make the ground good for that object. But instead of sending the letter immediately to invite some of the Committee to your house and to make that invitation the opportunity of shewing them the letter, expressing at the same time a wish that you had done this, from a hope that the business might be settled in an amicable manner without your being forced into an official interference, that would excite the observations of the Enemies of both Countries, and probably interrupt the harmony that subsisted between the two Republics.
But as I cannot convey the Ideas I wish you to use by any means so concisely or so well as to suppose myself the writer of the letter, I shall adopt this method, and you will make use of such parts or such Ideas of it as you please if you approve the plan. - Here follows the supposed letter.
When I first arrived among you, as Minister from the United States of America, I was given to understand that the liberation of Thomas Paine would take place without any official interference on my part. This was the more agreeable to me, as it would not only supersede the necessity of that interference, but would leave to yourselves the whole opportunity of doing justice to a man who as far as I have been able to learn has suffered much cruel treatment under what you have denominated the System of Terror. But as I find my expectations have not been fulfilled I am under the official necessity of being more explicit upon the subject than I have hitherto been.
Permit me, in the first place, to observe that as it is impossible for me to suppose that it could have been the intention of France to seduce any Citizens of America from their allegiance to their proper Country by offering them the title of french Citizen, so must I be compelled to believe, that the title of french Citizen conferred on Thomas Paine was intended only as a mask of honorary respect towards a man who had so eminently distinguished himself in defence of liberty, and on no occasion more so than in promoting and defending your own revolution. For a proof of this I refer you to his two works entitled Rights of Man. Those works have procured to him an addition of esteem in America, and I am sorry they have been so ill rewarded in France. But be this title of french Citizen more or less it is now entirely swept away by the Vote of the Convention which declares him to be a foreigner and which supersedes the Vote of the Assembly that conferred that title upon him, consequently upon the Case superseded with it.
In consequence of this Vote of the Convention declaring him to be foreigner the former Committees have imprisoned him. It is therefore become my official duty to declare to you that the foreigner thus imprisoned is a Citizen of the United States of America as fully as legally and as constitutionally as myself, and that he is moreover one of the principal founders of the American Republic.
I have been informed of a law or decree of the Convention which subjects foreigners born in any of the Countries at war with france to arrestation and imprisonment. This law when applied to Citizens of America born in England is an infraction of the Treaty of Alliance and of Amity and Commerce, which knows no distinction of American Citizens on account of the place of their birth, but recognizes all to be Citizens whom the Constitution and laws of America recognize as such. The Circumstances under which America has been peopled requires this guard on her treaties, because the mass of her Citizens are composed not of natives only but also of the natives of almost all the countries of Europe who have sought an Asylum there from the persecutions they experienced in their own Countries. After this intimation you will without doubt see the propriety of modeling that Law to the principles of the Treaty because the law of Treaty in cases where it applies is the governing law to both parties alike, and cannot be infracted by either without hazarding the existence of the Treaty.
Of the Patriotism of Thomas Paine I can speak fully if we agree to give to patriotism a fixed Idea consistent with that of a republic. It would then signify a strict adherence to moral Justice - to the equality of civil and political Rights, to the System of representative government - and an opposition to all hereditary claims to govern. - Admitting patriotism to consist in these principles, I know of no man who has gone beyond Thomas Paine in promulgating and defending them and that for almost twenty years past.
I have now spoken to you on the principal matters concerned in the case of Thomas Paine — The title of french Citizen which you had conforced upon him and have since taken away by declaring him to be foreigner and consequently this part of the subject ceases of itself. - I have declared to you that this foreigner is a citizen of the United States of America, and I have assured you of his patriotism.
I cannot help, at the same time, repeating to you my wish that his liberation had taken place without my being obliged to go thus far into the subject, because it is the mutual interest of both republics to avoid as much as possible all subjects of controversy especially such from which no possible good can flow. — I still hope that you will save me the unpleasant task of proceeding any farther by sending me an order for his liberation, and which the injured state of his health absolutely requires. I shall be happy to receive such an order from you and happy in presenting it to him, for to the welfare of Thomas Paine the Americans are not and cannot be indifferent.
This is the sort of letter I wish you to write for I have no Idea that you will succeed by any measures that can, by any kind of Construction, be interpreted into a want of confidence or an apprehension of consequences. - It is themselves that ought to be apprehensive of consequences if any are to be apprehended. They, I mean the Committees are not certain that the Convention or the Nation would support them in forcing any question of extremity that might interrupt the good understanding subsisting between the two Countries, and I know of no question to do this as that which involves the rights and liberty of a Citizen.
You will please to observe that I have put the case of french Citizenship in a point of view that ought not only to preclude, but to make them ashamed to advance, any thing upon this subject and this is better than to have to answer their counter-reclamation afterwards - Either the Citizenship was intended as a token of honorary respect, or it was in- tended to deprive America of a Citizen or to seduce him from his Allegiance to his proper Country. If it was intended as an honour they must act consistently with the principle of honour. But if they make a pretense for detaining me they convict themselves of the Act of Seduction. Had America singled out any particular french Citizen, complimented him with the title of Citizen of America, which he without suspecting any fraudulent intention might accept, and then after having invited or rather inveigled him into America made his acceptance of that Title a pretense for seducing or forcing him from his allegiance to France would not France have just cause to be offended at America? And ought not America to have the same Right to be offended at France? And will the Committees take upon themselves to answer for the dishonour they bring upon the National Character of their Country? If these arguments are stated before-hand they will prevent the Committees going into the subject of french Citizenship. They must be ashamed of it. - But after all the Case comes to this that this french Citizenship appertains no longer to me because the Convention as I have already said, have swept it away by declaring me to be a foreigner, and it is not in the power of the Committees to reverse it. But if I am to be Citizen & foreigner, and Citizen again just when and how and for any purposes they please they take the Government of America into their own hands or make her only a Cypher in their system.
Though these Ideas have been long with me they have been more particularly matured by reading your last communication, and I have many reasons to wish you had opened that Communication sooner. - I am best acquainted with the persons you have to deal with and the circumstances of my own Case. - If you chuse to adopt the letter as it is I send you a translation for the sake of expediting the business. I have endeavoured to conceive your own manner of expression as well as I could and the civility of language you would use, but the matter of the letter is essential to me.
If you chuse to confer with some of the members of the Committee at your own house on the subject of the letter it may render the sending it unnecessary; but in either case I must request and press you not to give way to evasion and delay and that you will fix positively with them that they shall give you an answer in three or four days whether they will liberate me on the representation you have made in the letter or whether you must be forced to go further into the subject. The state of my health will not admit of delay, and besides this the tortured state of my mind wears me down.
If they talk of bringing me to trial (and I well know there is no accusation against me and that they can bring none) I certainly shall summon you as an Evidence to my Character. This you may mention to them either as what I intend to do or what you intend to do voluntarily for me.
I am anxious that you undertake this business without losing time, because if I am not liberated in the course of this decade, I intend, if in case the seventy one detained deputies are liberated, to follow the same track that they have done and publish my own Case myself. I cannot rest any longer in this state of miserable suspense be the consequences what they may.