The Life and Works of Thomas Paine - Vol. 7

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

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.

PAINEwrote this letter in Paris, November 11, 1792, to Sir Archibald Macdonald, who represented the British Government in the prosecution of the author of the "Rights of Man" for libel. The Attorney-General read it to the jury at the trial of Paine, December 18 following, which resulted in his being outlawed. In addressing the jury he stated that "If I succeed in this prosecution, he [ Paine] shall never return to this country otherwise than 'in vinculis,' for I will outlaw him."

Repeating Paine's phrase, "Mr. Guelph and his profligate sons," the Attorney-General exclaimed to the jury, "This passage is contemptuous, scandalous, false, cruel. Why, gentlemen, is Mr. Paine, in addition to the political doctrines he is teaching us in this country, to teach us the morality and religion of implacability?" Paine's counsel objected vainly to having this letter read, as containing matter likely to divert the jury from the subject of prosecution, the book. Lord Kenyon, the presiding judge, overruled the objection.

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.

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