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will be its strength. Thirdly, That as long as it exists in France, it would be the interest of the revolutionists to distract and revolutionize other countries.
In 1792, the operations of French principles in this country became very extensive and very dangerous. Paine had published his second part of the Rights of Man,' which may be considered as an exhortation to the subjects of existing governments, especially of Britain, TO A PRACTICAL APPLICATION of the theory of his first part. The purport of it was simply this: I have before told you that your government is a very bad one: I now earnestly recommend to you to get rid of it; pull down your monarchy, aristocracy, all your establishments, level every distinction; so only can you enjoy the Rights of Man.' This second part was by the societies spread with still more indefatigable industry and ardent zeal than the first. Productions connecting the speculations and precepts of Paine with the example of France, as lessons and models Bb +
for this country, were widely dispersed. Thomas Paine was represented as the Minister of God dispensing light to a darkened world.* Government finding attempts to reduce these wild theories to practice, issued a proclamation recommending to individuals to discourage such writings and their probable effects; and enjoining the magistrates to employ means for preserving the public tranquillity, which these attempts tended so much to disturb. An association, as the reader must remember, had been formed by Messrs. Sheridan, Mackintosh, Erskine, Francis, Courtenay, Lord Lauderdale, Major Maitland, Messrs. Grey, Whitbread, and Lambton, comprising great talents, property, and respectability, under the name of the Friends of the People,' to procure a reform in Parliament. Although the character of the individuals who composed this
Especially in a very daring daily paper of that time, the object of which was to abuse the constitution of this country. In the Argus there were two verses in imitation of the praise of Newton:
The world was hid in universal night.'
God said, let Paine arise, and all was light!'
body, and the stake many of them had in the country, precluded every idea that their object was any thing more than a moderate reform, yet they afforded a colourable pretext to the formation of societies of a very different description and of very different views. Under pretence of seeking reform, many individuals, in every quarter of the country, established Corresponding Societies, of which it has by no means appeared, that all the members sought a moderate reform, or by peaceable means. The discussion of the proclamation brought forward the sentiments of many of the members on reform in Parliament. Burke, as he had always done, declared his disapprobation of it as unnecessary, and reprobated its agitation at that time as dangerous. Other members, who had formerly been favourable to reform in Parliament, opposed it then. Mr. Pitt conceiving that every political measure was to be estimated not merely on abstract principles, but on these, combined with the circumstances of the case, argued, that although a reform might have been expedient before the minds of many individuals were
unhinged by Paine and his co-operators, any change would then be improper, when ideas of subversion were entertained.
During the recess of 1792 the public ferment increased. The French having dethroned their King, and massacred their opponents, deputations were sent from the societies in England to congratulate them on the progress of light. The retreat of the Duke of Brunswick, a retreat not displeasing to some even of the moderate friends of liberty, to those, at least, who considered the good of real liberty in the abstract more than of the phantom that had assumed its name in France, greatly emboldened the democratical republicans of England, who admired that phantom. The French, elated with success, published their proffer of support to all people who should be desirous of what they (the French) termed liberty. About the capital the approaching downfall of the British constitution began to be a subject of common talk. King, Lords, and Commons, church and state, were described
as on the eve of dissolution. The garrulous vanity of some of the weak and ignorant members of the democratical societies boasted of the situations they were to attain under the new order to be speedily established. There was evidently (as far as people can judge from circumstances) a design formed to overthrow the constitution; and confidence of its success. Wisdom, indeed common prudence dictated to Government to take effectual measures for crushing pernicious designs. It may be said that there was no proof of the existence of a plot sufficient to bring the supposed conspirators to trial. That was, doubtless, very true at that time; but certainly numberless cases may call for the vigilance of deliberative assemblies, which could not be evinced on a judicial trial.
Burke, on the commencement of the war between the German potentates and the
* To accurate and impartial observers of the sentiments and opinions prevalent among many in 1792, especially in November of that year, I appeal whether this account is exaggerated.