Tag Archives: Rights of Man

Freedom and the Americans (2)

In a recent article, I wrote about Thomas Paine and his defence of the French Revolution of 1789, Rights of Man, which was published two years later, in 1791:

paine

Fifteen years earlier, on July 4th 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence had also been a major step on the road to freedom.

Back towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Americans were more than a little dissatisfied with the treatment they received at the hands of the British, and rightly so:

bostonmassacre

The document, originally composed by Thomas Jefferson, explains why people, have the right to rebel against their government. I have tried to make the language a little easier:

“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  Whenever any Government becomes destructive, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers such as to them shall seem most likely for their Safety and Happiness.”
Prudence will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Fine words, and you can hear Thomas Paine clapping in the background.
King George III, of course, around this time, was beginning to show the very first signs of his madness.

George_III_Robes_Bestxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Most typical was his talking at great length, with enormously long sentences. Four hundred words per sentence. He repeated himself. Talked so much that he frothed at the mouth. Page boys would have to hold him down on the floor for his own safety. He spoke to dead relatives and thought he was in heaven. He talked with the angels. We don’t know what was wrong with him. Bipolar disorder, perhaps. Porphyria, maybe. It may have been his doctors who gave him “ James’s Powders” until his arsenic levels were 300 times the level of being merely toxic. After all, he did get better when his doctors stopped treating him.

george III picture

Wearing a big hat, though, is no recipe for stable government, and you can understand why the Americans left the Empire.  Their declaration contained one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sentences ever written by Man:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Even when the Declaration was being signed though, the inevitable question of slavery raised its ugly head. Thomas Day wrote:

“If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

Thomas_Jefferson_Regular_Issue_1968-1c

Thomas Jefferson owned two hundred slaves and freed only five. George Washington had 317 and of the other ten presidents who had slaves, the totals were James Madison (100), James Monroe (75), Andrew Jackson (200), Martin van Buren (1), William Henry Harrison (11), John Tyler (70), James K Polk (25), Zachary Taylor (150), Andrew Johnson (8) and Ulysses S.Grant (5).
Clearly, a difficult and awkward problem, and one to be returned to in the near future.

Advertisements

26 Comments

Filed under France, History, Politics

Freedom and the English (1)

The other day, I was reading that classic work, the “Nottingham Date-Book” when I stumbled upon two little gems. The first was dated September 30th 1793 and showed a Blackadder type of world where alcohol replaces political thought:

“The Mayor’s installation banquet at the “New Change” as it was termed, was distinguished by excessive displays of loyalty. Amongst the toasts were “the King and Constitution,” with three times three, “the Duke of York and the Army,” “the Duke of Clarence and the Navy,” and so on.

george III stampcccccccccccccccccccccccc

The Mayor himself sang the air, “God save the King,” and his guests the chorus, followed by loud huzzas and  Constitutional songs.”

These drunken fools in the past made me realise just how free Englishmen are in our present time. Free  to do what your rich betters want you to do. A good citizen as long as you think exactly what you are supposed to think. And any thought of a questioning kind is just not welcome. As it is now, so it was then, back in 1793, in the era when first the Americans and then the French had found other ways to rule themselves than with a king.

declaration of independence

The next entry in this diary of Nottingham is for November 12th 1793, in an entry where the author of the book promises us that “The spirit of the times will be observed in the following circumstances”. The events all took place in  Spalding, just over forty miles from Nottingham, in neighbouring Lincolnshire.

spalding

Here is the sorry tale:

“One of the Officers of the Nottingham Regiment of Militia” states the Journal, “now lying at Spalding, went to a shoemaker’s of that place to order a pair of boots, but on observing that detestable outcast of society’s book, Paine’s Rights of Man, lying on the table, he thought proper to countermand the order, and take the book along with him. Next day, the soldiers being under arms and forming a circle round a large bonfire, this knight of the lapstone was summoned to appear before them,, and made to burn the celebrated jargon of nonsense, the music playing “God save the King” during its burning, at the end of which the soldiers and inhabitants gave three loyal huzzas, and then this wonderful would be wiseacre was suffered to depart”.

And just in case you are wondering, a lapstone is, according to the Free Dictionary, “a rounded device or stone on which leather is beaten with a hammer by a cobbler”

Here is Thomas Paine:

paine

According to Wikipedia, Thomas Paine is exactly what you don’t want in a society run by the upper classes, especially when, deep down, they know that they are not particularly clever or competent. And they worry therefore when the ignorant peasant class produces a “political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary” like Thomas Paine, “The Father of the American Revolution”:

paine statue

Paine came from Norfolk and his famous book, Rights of Man,  was in part a defence of the French Revolution:

rights man book

Paine believed that each individual has rights and that all the institutions that do not benefit the nation are invalid.  Top of the list was the monarchy and the aristocracy.
He wanted a written Constitution for England, a national assembly and a national budget without any money to be spent on military or war expenses.

He demanded lower taxes for the poor and free education for all.

He wanted a progressive income tax, to limit the power of wealthy estates, so that a ruling class could not preserve power, whether economic, political or religious, uniquely within the nobility.

Indeed, Paine stated that the ability to govern is not hereditary. This would mean that any idea of inheritance or royal succession would be abolished.

Paine was tried in his absence for seditious libel against the King and the Royal Family but could not be hanged because he never returned to England.
At this time, George III was as mad as a fish although there are plenty of people who say that it was mostly down to the medicines given to him by his doctors.

Madness_of_king_george-715444

When the doctors stopped treating him as, presumably, a hopeless case, King George got better almost straightaway.
It says a great deal for the repressive machinery of the government that those buffoons in Spalding who gave “three loyal huzzas” for the king didn’t even realise that their king was completely mad. They might just as well have gone down to the local fishmongers and pledged their undying loyalty to the largest cod on the counter.

Fish-with-Crown-

 

 

 

 

 

27 Comments

Filed under France, History, Nottingham, Politics