Of the English Navy

Foner's note: This article appeared in the Jeffersonian press of New York and Philadelphia in January, 1807, and was reprinted in Miscellaneous Letters and Essays on Various Subjects by Thomas Paine, London, 1819, pp. 208-209.


THE boasted navy of England has been the ruin of England. This may appear strange to a set of stupid Feds, who have no more foresight than a mole underground, or they would not abuse France as they do; but strange as it may appear, it is nevertheless true, and a little reflection on the case will show it.

The expense of that navy is greater than the nation can bear; and the deficiency is continually supplied by anticipation of revenue under the name of loans, till the national debt, which is the sum total of these anticipations, has amounted, according to the report of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the English Parliament, the 28th of last March, to the enormous sum of -L-603,924,000 sterling; and the interest of the debt at that time was -L-24,900,000 sterling.

What are called loans, are no other than creating a new quantity of stock and sending it to market to be sold, and then laying on new taxes to pay the interest of that new stock. The persons called loaners, or subscribers for the loan, contract with the minister for large wholesale quantities of this new stock at as low a price as they can get it, and all they can make by retailing it is their profit. This ruinous system, for it is certain ruin in the end, began in the time of William the Third, one hundred and eighteen years ago.

The expense of the English navy this year, as given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, last March, is -L-15,281,000 sterling, above sixty-eight million dollars. The enormous expense of this navy, taken on an average of peace and war, has run the nation into debt upwards of five millions

sterling every year for the one hundred and eighteen years since the system of what are called loans began. And it is this annual accumulation of more than five millions sterling every year, for one hundred and eighteen years, that has carried the English national debt to this enormous sum of -L-603,924,000 sterling, which was the amount of the debt, in March last. If it be asked, what has this mighty navy done to balance this expense? it may be answered, that, comparatively speaking, it has done nothing. It has obtained some victories at sea, where nothing was to be gained but blows and broken bones, and it has plundered the unarmed vessels of neutral nations; and this makes the short history of its services.

That the English Government does not depend upon the navy to prevent Bonaparte making a descent upon England, is demonstrated by the expensive preparations that Government puts itself to by land to repel it. And that the navy contributes nothing to the protection of commerce is proved by the fact, that all the ports on the Continent of Europe are shut by land against the commerce of England. Of what use, then, is the navy that has incurred such an enormous debt, and which costs more than sixty-eight millions of dollars annually to keep it up, which is three times more than all the gold and silver that the mines of Peru and Mexico annually produce. Such a navy will always keep a nation poor. No wonder, then, that every seventh person in England is a pauper, which is the fact. The number of paupers now is 1,200,000.

Another evil to England attending this navy, besides the debt it has incurred, is that it drains the nation of specie. More than half the materials that go into the construction of a navy in England are procured from Russia and Sweden; and as the exports of English manufactures to those places are but small, the balance must be paid in specie. If Bonaparte succeed[s] in all his plans, I hope he will put an end to navies for the good of the world.


Jan. 7, 1807.