To James Monroe September 14, 1794
From the original letter at the Library of Congress.
The following Memorial contains remarks upon my Claim of Citizenship in America, with a proposal misled, as I conceive, to the state of things -
Memorial of Thomas Paine to the Minister Plenipotentiary of the Unites States of America.
Prison of the Luxembourg Sepr. 14th 1794 —
I adresss this Memorial to you in Consequence of a letter I received from a friend 18th Fructidor (Sepr. 4) in which he says, “Mr. Monroe has told me, that he has no orders (meaning from the American Congress) respecting you — but I am sure he will leave nothing undone to liberate you — but from what I can learn from all the late Americans you are not considered either by the Government or by the individuals as an American Citizen — you have been made a french Citizen, which you have accepted, and you have further made yourself a servant of the french Republic, and therefore it would be out of Character for an American Minister to interfere in their internal concerns — you must therefore either be liberated out of compliment to America, or stand your trial, which you have a right to demand.” —
This information was so unexpected by me, that I am at a loss how to answer it. I know not on what principle it originates; whether from an Idea that I had voluntarily abandoned my Citizenship of America for that of France, or from any article of the American Constitution applied to me. The first is untrue with respect to any intention on my part; and the second is without foundation as I shall shew in the course of this memorial.
The Idea of conferring honour of Citizenship upon foreigners, who had distinguished themselves in propagating the principles of liberty and humanity, in opposition to despotism war and bloodshed, was first proposed by me to la Fayette at the commencement of the french Revolution when his heart appeared to be warmed with those principles. My motive in making this proposal was to render the people of different nations more fraternal than they had been or then were. — I observed that almost every branch of Science had possessed itself of the exercise of this right so far as it regarded its own institution. Most of the academies and societies in Europe, and also those of America conferred the rank of honorary member upon foreigners eminent in knowledge, and made them, in fact, citizens of their literary or Scientific republic, without affecting or anyways diminishing their rights of Citizenship in their own Country, or in other societies; and why the Science of Government should not have the same advantages; or why the people of one nation should not by their representatives exercise the right of conferring the honour of Citizenship upon individuals eminent in another Nation without affecting their rights of Citizenship in their proper Country is a problem yet to be solved.
I now proceed to remark on that part of the letter in which the writer says, “that from what he can learn from all the late Americans I am not considered in America, either by the Government or by the individuals, as an American citizen.”
In the first place, I wish to ask, what is here meant by the Government of America? The Members who compose the Government are only individuals when in Conversation, and who, most probably hold very different opinions upon the subject. — Have Congress as a body made any declaration that they no longer consider me as a Citizen? If they have not, any thing they may say is no more than the opinion of individuals, and consequently is not legal authority, nor anyways sufficient authority, to deprive any man of his Citizenship. Besides whether a man has forfeited his Rights of Citizenship is a question not determinable by Congress, but by a Court of Judicature and a Jury, and must depend upon evidence, and the application of some Law or Article of the Constitution to the Case. No such proceeding has yet been had, and consequently I remain a Citizen until it be had, be that decision what it may; for there can be no such thing as a Suspension of Rights in the interim.
I am very well aware, and always was, of the Article of the Constitution which says, as nearly as I can recollect the words, that any citizen of the United States, who accepts any title, place, or office, from any foreign king prince or state shall forfeit and lose his right of citizenship of the United States.”
Had the article said, that any Citizen of the United States who shall be member of any foreign convention for the purpose of forming a free Constitution shall forfeit and lose the right of Citizen of the United States, the Article had been directly applicable to me; but the Idea of such an Article never could have entered the mind of the American Convention, and the present Article is altogether foreign to the case with respect to me. — It supposes a Government in active existence; and not a Government dissolved; and it supposes a Citizen of America accepting titles and offices under that Government, and not a Citizen of America who gives his assistance in a Convention chosen by the people for the purpose of forming a government de nouveau founded on their authority. —
The late Constitution and Government of France was dissolved the 10th of August 1792. The National legislative Assembly then in being supposed itself without sufficient authority to continue its sittings, and it proposed to the departments to elect, not another legislative assembly, but a Convention for the express purpose of forming a New Constitution. When the Assembly were discoursing on this matter some of the members said that they wished to gain all the assistance possible upon the subject of free Constitutions, and expressed a wish to elect and invite foreigners of any nation to the Convention who had distinguished themselves in defending, explaining and propagating the principles of liberty. It was on this occasion that my name was mentioned in the Assembly. After this, a deputation from a body of the people, in order to remove any objection that might be made against my assisting at the proposed Convention, requested the Assembly as their representatives to give me the title of french citizen, after which I was elected a Member of the Convention (in four different departments) as is already known.
The case, therefore, is, that I accepted nothing from any King, Prince or State, nor from any Government, for France was without any government except what arose from common consent, and the necessity of the Case. Neither “did I make myself a servant of the French Republic” as the letter alluded to expresses, for at that time France was not a Republic not even in name. She was altogether a people in a state of Revolution. It was not until the Convention met that France was declared a Republic, and Monarchy abolished; soon after which a Committee was elected, of which I was a Member, to form a Constitution, which was presented to the Convention the 15th & 16th of Febry following, but was not to be taken into Consideration till after the expiration of two months, and if approved of by the Convention was then to be referred to the people for their acceptance, with such additions or amendments as the Convention should make.
In thus employing myself upon the formation of a constitution, I certainly did nothing inconsistent with the American Constitution. I took no oath of allegiance to France nor any other oath whatever. I considered the Citizenship they had presented me with as a honorary mark of respect paid to me not only as a friend to Liberty but as an American Citizen. My acceptance of that, or of the deputyship, not confered on me by any King, Prince or State, but by a people in a State of revolution and contending for liberty, required no transfer of my allegiance or of my Citizenship from America to France. There I was a real Citizen paying taxes, here I was a voluntary friend, employing myself on a temporary service. Every American in Paris knew that it was my constant intention to return to America as soon as a Constitution should be established and that I anxiously waited for that event.
But it was not the mericans only but the Convention also that knew what my intentions were upon that subject. In my last discourse delivered at the Tribune of the Convention Janry. 19, 1793 on the Motion for suspending the execution of Louis 16th I said (the deputy Bancal read the translation in French) — It unfortunately happens that the person who is the subject of the present discussion is considered by the Americans as having been the friend of their revolution. His execution will be an affliction for them, and it is in your power not to wound the feelings of your ally. Could I speak the french language I would descend to your Bar and in their name become your petitioner to restrict the Execution of the sentence.” — “As the Convention was elected for the express purpose of forming a Constitution its continuance cannot be longer than four or five months more at furtherest; and if, after my return to America, I should employ myself in writing the history of the french revolution, I had rather record a thousand Errors on the side of Mercy than be obliged to tell one Act od severe Justice” — “Ah Citizens! give not the Tyrant of England the triumph of seeing the man perish on a Scaffold who had aided my much beloved America.” — Does this look as if I had abandoned America? But if she abandoned me, in the situation I am in, to gratify the enemies of humanity, let that disgrace be to herself. But I know the people of America better than to believe it, tho’ I undertake not to answer for every individual.
When this discourse was pronounced Marat launched himself into the middle of the Hall, and said that “I voted agaist the punishment of death because I was a Quaker.” I replied, ” that I voted against it both morally and politically.” I certainly went a great way, considering the rage of the times, in endeavouring to prevent that execution. I had many reasons for so doing. I judged, and events have shewn that I judged rightly, that if once they began shedding blood there was no knowing where it would end; and as to what the world might call, honour, the execution would appear like a Nation killing a mouse; and in a political view would serve to transfer the hereditary claim to some more formidable Enemy. The man could do no more mischief, and that which he had done was not only from the view of his education, but it was as much the fault of the Nation in restoring him after he had absconded June 21st, 1791 as it was his. I made the proposal for imprisonment until the end of the war and perpetual banishment after the war instead of the punishment of death. Upwards of three hundred deputies voted for this proposal. The sentence for absolute death, (for some members had voted the punishment of death conditionally) was carried by a majority of twenty five votes out of more than seven hundred.
I return from this description to the proper subject of my Memorial, I ever must deny that the Article of the American Constitution already mentioned can be applied either verbally, intentionally, or constructively to me. It undoubtedly was the intention of the Convention that framed it to preserve the purity of the American Republic from being debased by foreign and foppish customs; but it never could be its intention to act against the principles of liberty by forbidding its Citizens to assist in promoting those principles in foreign Countries. Neither could it be its intention to act against the principles of gratitude. France had aided America in the establishment of her revolution when invaded and oppressed by England and her Auxilaries; France in her turn was invaded and oppressed by a combination of foreign despots. In this situation I conceived it an act of gratitude in one as a Citizen of America, to render her in return the best services I could perform. I came to France (for I was in England when I received the invitation) not to enjoy ease, emoluments, and foppish honours as the Article supposes, but to encounter difficulties and dangers in defence of liberty: And I much question whether those who now malignantly seek (for some I believe do) to turn this to my injury would have had the courage to have done the same thing. I am sure Governeur Morris would not, for he told me the second day after my arrival, that the Austrians and Prussians, who were then at Verdun, would be in Paris in a fortnight. “I have no Idea, said he, that seventy thousand disciplined Troops can be stopt in their march by any power in France.
Besides the reasons I have already given for accepting the invitation to the Convention, I had another that has reference only to America, and which I mentioned to Mr. Pinckney the night before I left London to come to Paris. — “that it was to the interest of America to change the system of European Governments and place them on the same principles with herself.” Mr. Pinckney agreed fully in the same opinion - I have done my part towards it.
It is certain that Governments upon similar systems execute better together than those that are discordant, and the same rule holds good with respect to the people living under them. In the latter case they afford each other by Pity, or by reproach, and the discerning carries itself even to matters of Commerce. I am not an ambitious man, but perhaps I have been an ambitious American. I have wished to see America the Mother Church of Governments; and I have done my utmost to exalt her character and her condition
I have now stated sufficient matter to shew that the Article in question cannot be applied to me, and that any such application to my injury, as well in Circumstances so in Rights, as contrary both to the letter and intention that Article, and is illegal and unconstitutional. Neither do I believe that any Jury in America, when they are informed of the whole of the Case, would give a Verdict to deprive me of my Rights upon that article. The Citizens of America, I believe, are not very fond of permitting forced and indiscreet explanations to be put upon matters of this kind. I know not what were the merits of the Case with respect to the person who was prosecuted for acting as King’s Master to a french Privateer, but I know that the Jury gave a Verdict against the prosecution. The Rights I have acquired are dear to me. They have been acquired by honorable means, and by dangerous service, in the worst of times, and I cannot possibly permit them to be passively wrested from me. I conceive it my duty to defend them as the Case involves a constitutional and public question, which is, how far the power of the federal Goverenment intends in depriving any Citizen of his Rights of Citizenship, or if suspending them.
That the explanation of National Treaties belong to Congress is admitted, strictly constitutional, but not the explanation of the Constitution itself, any more than the explanation of Law, when in the cases of individual Citizens. These are altogether ordinary Questions. It is however worth observing that Congress in explaining the Article of the Treaty with respect to french Prizes and french Privateers confined itself strictly to the letter of the Article. Let them explain the Article of the Constitution with respect to me in the same manner, and this decision, did it appertain to them, could not deprive me of my Rights of Citizenship nor suspend them, for I have accepted nothing from any king, prince, state, or government.
You will please to observe that I speak as if the federal Government has made some declaration upon the subject of my Citizenship, whereas the fact is otherwise, and your saying that you have no orders respecting me is a proof of it. Those therefore who propagate the report of my not being considered as a Citizen by the Government do it to the prolongation of my imprisonment and without authority; for Congress as a Government has neither decided upon it, nor taken the matter into consideration, and I request you to caution such persons against spreading such opinions. — But be these matters as they may I cannot have a doubt but you find and feel the case very different since you have heard what I have to say and known what my situation is, than you did before your arrival.
I know not what opinions have been circulated in America. It may have been supposed there that I had intentionally and voluntarily abandoned America and that my Citizenship had ceased by my own choice. I can easily conceive there are those in that Country who would take such a proceeding on my part somewhat in disgust. The idea of forsaking old friendships for new acquaintances is not agreeable. I am a little warranted in making this supposition by a letter I received some time ago from the wife of one of the Georgia delegates, in which she says “your friends on this side the water cannot be reconciled to the idea of your abandoning America.”
I have never abandoned her in Thought, Word, or Deed, and I feel it incumbent upon me to give the assurance to the friends I have in that Country and with whom I have always intended, and am determined, if the possibility exists, to close the scene of my Life. — It is there that I have made myself a home — It is there that I have given the services of my best days. America never saw me flinch from her Cause in the most gloomy and perilous of her situations; and I know there are those in that Country who will not flinch from me. If I have enemies (and every man has some) I leave them to the enjoyment of their ingratitude.
(I subjoin in this note, for the sake of wasting the solitude of a prison, the answer that I gave to the part of the letter above mentioned. It is not inapplicable to the subject of this Memorial; but it contains somewhat of a melancholy Idea a little predictive, that I hope is not becoming true so soon.
“You touch me on a very tender point when you say that my friends on your side the water cannot be reconciled to the Idea of my abandoning America. They are Right. I had rather see my horse Button eating the grass of Borden-Town or Morrisania than see all the pomp and show of Europe. — A thousand years hence (for I must indulge a few thoughts) perhaps in less, America may be what Europe now is. The innocence of her character, that won the hearts of all Nations in her favour may sound like a romance, and her inimitable virtues as if it had never been. The ruin of that liberty which thousands bled for, or struggled to obtain may just furnish materials for a village tale or extort a sigh from rustic sensibility, while the fashionable of that day, enveloped in dissipation, shall deride the principle and deny the fact.
“When we contemplate the fall of Empires and the extinction of the Nations of the Ancient World, we see but little to excite our regret, than the mouldering ruins of pompous palaces, magnificent monuments, lofty pyramids and Walls and Towers of the most costly workmanship; but when the empire of America shall fall, the subject for contemplative sorrow will be infinitely greater than crumbling brass and marble can inspire. It will not then be said, here stood a temple of vast antiquity; here rose a babel of invisible height; or there a palace of sumptuous extravagance — But here, Ah, painful thought! the noblest work of human Wisdom, the grandest scene of human glory, the fair cause of Freedom rose and fell. — Read this and then ask if I forget America.”)
It is somewhat extraordinary that the Idea of my not being a Citizen of America should have arisen only at the time that I am imprisoned in France because, or on the pretense that, I am a foreigner. The Case involves a strange contradiction of Ideas. None of the Americans who came to France while I was in liberty had conceived any such Idea or circulated any such opinion, and why it should arise now is a matter yet to be explained. However discordant the late American Minister Gouverneur Morris and the late french Committee of public safety were, it suited the purpose of both that I should be continued in arrestation. The former wished to prevent my return to America that I should not expose his misconduct, and the latter, lest I should publish to the world the history of its wickedness. Whilst that Minister and the Committee continued I had no expectation of liberty. - I speak here of the Committee of which Robespierre was Member.
Painful as the want of Liberty may be, it is a consolation to me to believe, that my imprisonment proves to the world that I have no share in the murderous system that then reigned. That I was an Enemy to it both morally and politically, is known by all who had any knowlwdge of me, and could I have written french as well as I can english I would publicly had exposed it wickedness and shewn the ruin with which it was poignant. Those who have esteemed me on former occasions, whether in America or in Europe, will, I know, feel no cause to abate that esteem when they reflect, that imprisonment with preservation of Character is preferable to Liberty with disgrace.
I here close my Memorial, and proceed to offer to you a proposal, that appears to me suited to all the Circumstances of the Case, which is, that you reclaim me conditionally until the opinion of Congress can be obtained upon the subject of my Citizenship of America; and that I remain in Liberty under your protection during that time. —
I found this proposal upon the following grounds.
First — You say, you have no orders respecting me, consequently you have no orders not to reclaim me, and in this case you are left discretionary judge whether to reclaim or not. My proposal therefore would a Consideration of your situation with my own.
Secondly. I am put Arrestation because I am a foreigner. It is therefore necessary to determine to what Country I belong. The Right of determining this question cannot appertain exclusively to the Committee of Public Safety or of general surety; because I appeal to the Minister of the United States and shew that my Citizenship of that Country is good and valid; refering at the same time, through the Agency of the Minister, my clai of Right is the opinion of Congress. It being a matter between two Governments.
Thirdly. France does not claim me for a Citizen; neither do I set up any claim of Citizenship in France. The question simply is whether I am, or am not, a Citizen of America. I am imprisoned here on the decree for imprisoning foreigners; because, say they, I was born in England. I say, in answer, that though born in England, I am not a subject of the english Government any more than any other American is who was born, as they all were under the same government; or than the Citizens of France are subjects of the french Monarchy under which they were born. I have twice taken the oath of abjuration to the british king and Government and of allegiance to America: Once as a Citizen of the state of Pennsylvania in the year 1776, and again before Congress administered to me by the President Mr. Hancock when I was appointed secretary in the Office of foreign Affairs in 1777.
The letter before quoted in the first page of this Memorial says that “it would be out of Character for an American Minister to interfere in the internal affairs of France.” This declaration goes on the Idea that I am a Citizen of France and a member of the Convention which is not that fact. The Convention have declared me to be a foreigner, and consequantly the Citizenship and the election are nul and void. It also has the appearance of a decision that the Article of the Constitution respecting grants made to American Citizens by foreign kings princesor States is applicable to me, which is the very point in question and against the application of which I contend. I state evidence to the Minister to shew that I am strictly within the letter and meaning of that Article; that it cannot operate against me; and I apply to him for the protection that, I conceive, I have a right to ask and to receive. The internal affairs of France are out of the question with respect to my application or his interference. I ask it not as a Ciitizen of France for I am not one; I ask it not as a member of the Convention for I am not one; both these as before said, have been rendered nul and void. I ask it not as a man against whom there is any accusation, for there is none; I ask it not as an exile from America where independance I have honorably and generously contributed to establish; I ask it as a Citizen of America deprived of his liberty in France under the plea of his being a foreigner, and I ask it because I conceive I am entitled to it upon every principle of Constitutional Justice and National honour.
But though I thus positively assert my claim because I believe I have a right to do so, it is perhaps most eligible, in the present situation of things, to put that claim upon the footing I have already mentioned; that is, that the Minister reclaims me conditionally until the opinion of Congress can be obtained on the subject of my citizenship of America, and that I remain in liberty under the protection of the Minister during that interval.
N.B. I should have added that as Govr Morris could not inform Congress of the Cause of my Arrestation, as he knew it not himself, it may be supposed that Congress were not enough acquainted with the Case to give any directions respecting me when you came away.