"My country is the World. My Religion is to do Good."


A Call for Return to First Principles

Thomas Paine


[An Open Letter signed by The Forester, Pennsylania Journal, 8 May, 1776]


Whoever will take the trouble of attending to the progress and changeability of times and things, and the conduct of mankind thereon, will find, that extraordinary circumstances do sometimes arise before us, of a species, either so purely natural or so perfectly original, that none but the man of nature can understand them. When precedents fail to spirit us, we must return to the first principles of things for information; and think, as if we were the first men that thought. And this is the true reason that, in the present state of affairs, the wise are become foolish, and the foolish wise. I am led to this reflexion by not being able to account for the conduct of the Quakers on any other: for although they do not seem to perceive it themselves, yet it is amazing to hear with what unanswerable ignorance many of that body, wise in other matters, will discourse on the present one. Did they hold places or commissions under the King, were they Governors of provinces, or had they any interest apparently distinct from us, the mystery would cease; but as they have not, their folly is best attributed to that superabundance of worldly knowledge which in original matters is too cunning to be wise. Back to the first plain path of nature, friends, and begin anew: for in this business your first footsteps were wrong. You have now travelled to the summit of inconsistency, and that with such accelerated rapidity as to acquire autumnal ripeness by the first of May. Now your resting time comes on. You have done your utmost and must abide the consequences. Yet who can reflect on such conduct without feeling concern! Who can look, unaffected, on a body of thoughtful men, undoing in one rash hour the labour of seventy years: Or what can be said in their excuse, more, than that they have arrived at their second childhood, the infancy of threescore and ten.?

But my chief design, in this letter, is to set forth the inconsistency, partiality, and injustice of the dependant faction,1 and like an honest man, who courts no favor, to shew to them the dangerous ground they stand upon; in order to do which, I must refer to the business, event, and probable consequences of the late election.

The business of that day was to do what? Why, to elect four burgesses to assist those already elected, in conducting the military proceedings of this province, against the power of that crown by whose authority they pretend to sit: and those gentlemen when elected, are according to the rules of that House (as the rest have done) to take an oath of allegiance to serve the same King against whom this province, with themselves at the head thereof, are at war: and a necessary qualification required of many voters was, that they likewise should swear allegiance to the same King against whose power the same house of assembly had just before obliged them either to fine or take up arms. Did ever national hypocrisy arise to such a pitch as this! Under the pretence of moderation we are running into the most damnable sins. It is now the duty of every man from the pulpit and from the press, in his family and in the street to cry out against it. Good God! Have we no remembrance of duty left to the King of Heaven! No conscientious awe to restrain this sacrifice of sacred things? Is this our chartered privilege? This our boasted constitution, that we can sin and feel it not? The clergy of the English church, of which I profess myself a member, complain of their situation, and wish relief; in short, every thinking man must feel distress. Yet, to the credit of the people be it spoken, the sin lies not at their door. We can trace the iniquity in this province to the fountain head, and see by what delusions it has imposed on others. The guilt centres in a few, and flows from the same source, that a few years ago avariciously suffered the frontiers of this province to be deluged in blood; and though the vengeance of Heaven hath slept since, it may awake too soon for their repose.

A motion was sometime ago made to elect a convention to take into consideration the state of the province. A more judicious proposal could not be thought of. Our present condition is alarming. We are worse off then other provinces, and such an enquiry is highly necessary. The House of Assembly in its present form is disqualified for such business, because it is a branch from that power against whom we are contending. Besides, they are in intercourse with the King's representative, and the members which compose the house have, as members thereof taken an oath to discover to the King of England the very business which, in that inquiry, would unavoidably come before them. Their minds too are warped and prejudiced by the provincial instructions they have arbitrarily and without right issued forth. They are again improper because the enquiry would necessarily extend to them as a body, to see how far it is proper to trust men with such unlimited power as they have lately assumed. In times like these, we must trace to the root and origin of things; It being the only way to become right, when we are got systematically wrong. The motion for a Convention alarmed the crown and proprietary dependants;1 but, to every man of reflexion, it had a cordial and restorative quality. The case is, first, we are got wrong-Secondly, how shall we get right? Not by a House of Assembly; because they cannot sit as Judges, in a case, where their own existence under their present form and authority is to be judged of. However, the objectors found out a way, as they thought, to supercede the necessity of a Convention, by promoting a bill for augmenting the number of representatives; not perceiving at the same time that such an augmentation would encrease the necessity of a Convention; because, the more any power is augmented, which derives it's authority from our enemies, the more unsafe and dangerous it becomes to us. Far be it from the writer of this to censure the individuals which compose that House; his aim being only against the chartered authority under which it acts. However, the bill passed into a law, (which shews, that in Pennsylvania, as well as in England, there is no constitution, but only a temporary form of government.? ) While, in order to show the inconsistency of the House in its present state, the motion for a convention was postponed, and four conscientious independent gentlemen were proposed as candidates, on the augmentation, who, had they been elected would not have taken the oaths necessary to admit a person as member of that Assembly. And in that case, the house would have had neither one kind of authority or another, while the old part remained sworn to divulge to the King what the new part thought it their duty to declare against him. Thus matters stood on the morning of election.

On our side we had to sustain the loss of those good citizens who are now before the walls of Quebec, and other parts of the continent; while the tories by never stirring out remain at home to take the advantage of elections; and this evil prevails more or less from the Congress down to the Committees. A numerous body of Germans of property, zealots in the cause of freedom, were likewise excluded for non-allegiance. Notwithstanding which, the tory non-conformists, that is those who are advertised as enemies to their country, were admitted to vote on the other side. A strange contradiction indeed! To which were added the testimonizing Quakers, who, after suffering themselves to be duped by the meanest of all passions, religious spleen, endeavour in a vague uncharitable manner to possess the Roman Catholics of the same disease. These parties, with such others as they could influence, were headed by the proprietary dependants to support the British and Proprietary power against the public. They had pompously given out that nine tenths of the people were on their side. A vast majority truly! But it so happened that, notwithstanding the disadvantages we laid under of having many of our votes rejected, others disqualified for non-allegiance, with the great loss sustained by absentees, the manœuvre of shutting up the doors between seven and eight o'clock, and circulating the report of adjourning, and finishing the next morning, by which several were deceived,-it so happened, I say, that on casting up the tickets, the first in numbers on the dependant side, and the first on the independant side, viz. Clymer and Allen, were a tye: 923 each.?

To the description which I have already given of those who are against us, I may add, that they have neither associated nor assisted, or but very few of them; that they are a collection of different bodies blended by accident, having no natural relation to each other; that they have agreed rather out of spite than right; and that, as they met by chance, they will dissolve away again for the want of a cement.

On our side, our object was single, our cause was one; wherefore, we cannot separate, neither will we separate. We have stood the experiment of the election, for the sake of knowing the men who were against us. Alas, what are they? One half of them ought to be now asking public pardon for their former offences; and the other half may think themselves well off that they are let alone. When the enemy enters the country, can they defend themselves? Or will they defend themselves? And if not, are they so foolish as to think that, in times like these, when it is our duty to search the corrupted wound to the bottom, that we, with ten times their strength and number (if the question were put to the people at large) will submit to be governed by cowards and tories?

He that is wise will reflect, that the safest asylum, especially in times of general convulsion when no settled form of government prevails, is, the love of the people. All property is safe under their protection. Even in countries where the lowest and most licentious of them have risen into outrage they have never departed from the path of natural honor. Volunteers unto death in defence of the person or fortune of those who had served or defended them, division of property never entered the mind of the populace. It is incompatible with that spirit which impels them into action. An avaricious mob was never heard of; nay, even a miser pausing in the midst of them, and catching their spirit, would from that instant cease to be covetous.

I shall conclude this letter with remarking, that the English fleet and army have of late gone upon a different plan of operation to what they first set out with; for instead of going against those Colonies where independence prevails most, they go against those only where they suppose it prevails least. They have quitted Massachusetts-Bay and gone to North-Carolina, supposing they had many friends there. Why are they expected at New-York? But because they imagine the inhabitants are not generally independents, (yet that province hath a large share of virtue, notwithstanding the odium which its House of Assembly brought upon it.) From which I argue that the electing the King's Attorney for a Burgess of this city, is a fair invitation for them to come here; and in that case, will those who have invited them turn out to repulse them? I suppose not, for in their 923 votes there will not be found more than sixty armed men, perhaps not so many. Wherefore, should such an event happen, which probably will, I here give my first vote to levy the expence attending the expedition against them, on the estates of those who have invited them.


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