The Life and Works of Thomas Paine - Vol. 7

By Thomas Paine; William M. Van der Weyde | Go to book overview

TO MR. SECRETARY DUNDAS

AS you opened the debate in the House of Commons, May twenty- fifth, on the proclamation for suppressing publications, which that proclamation (without naming any) calls wicked and seditious: and as you applied those opprobrious epithets to the works entitled "Rights of Man," I think it unnecessary to offer any other reason for addressing this letter to you.

THE recipient of this tart communication, dated London, June 6, 1792, was a British statesman of Scotch lineage, Henry D. Dundas, afterwards Viscount Melville, who, in 1791, had been appointed Home Secretary and who had previously been active in procuring the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Dundas was officially intolerant of any criticism levelled against existing government in Britain, and was rewarded by being made Secretary of War and, in 1804, First Lord of the Admiralty under Pitt. The ensuing year he was impeached, by the House of Lords, "of high crimes and misdemeanors" in his management of naval finances; but eventually was acquitted. A short time after the prosecution of the "Rights of Man," Secretary Dundas, ever a reactionary, gained notoriety by his rigorous prosecutions of the Scotch radicals in 1795. In this document Paine disregarded friendly advice in referring to George the Third as "King or Madjesty," in punning allusion to his mental infirmity.

I begin, then, at once, by declaring, that I do not believe there are found in the writings of any author, ancient or modern, on the subject of government, a spirit of greater benignity, and a stronger inculcation of moral

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