To The Sheriff of the County of Sussex
TO THE SHERIFF OF THE COUNTY OF SUSSEX OR THE GENTLEMAN WHO SHALL PRESIDE AT THE MEETING TO BE HELD AT LEWES, JULY FOURTH DATED AT LONDON, JUNE 30, 1792. SIR: I have seen in the Lewes newspapers, of June twenty-fifth, an advertisement, signed by sundry persons, and also by the sheriff, for holding a meeting at the Town-hall of Lewes, for the purpose, as the advertisement states, of presenting an address on the late Proclamation for suppressing writings, books, etc. And as I conceive that a certain publication of mine, entitled "Rights of Man," in which, among other things, the enormous increase of taxes, placemen, and pensioners, is shown to be unnecessary and oppressive, is the particular writing alluded to in the said publication; I request the sheriff, or in his absence, who- ever shall preside at the meeting, or any other person, to read this letter publicly to the company who shall assemble in consequence of that advertisement. GENTLEMEN-It is now upwards of eighteen years since I was a resident inhabitant of the town of Lewes. My situation among you, as an officer of the revenue, for more than six years, enabled me to see into the numerous and various distresses which the weight of taxes even at that time of day occasioned; and feeling, as I then did, and as it is natural for me to do, for the hard condition of others, it is with pleasure I can declare, and every person then under my survey, and now living, can witness, the exceeding candor, and even tenderness, with which that part of the duty that fell to my share was executed. The name of Thomas Paine is not to be found in the records of the Lewes' justices, in any one act of contention with, or severity of any kind whatever toward, the persons whom he surveyed, either in the town, or in the country; of this, Mr. Fuller and Mr. Shelley, who will probably attend the meeting, can, if they please, give full testimony. It is, however, not in their power to contradict it. Having thus indulged myself in recollecting a place where I formerly had, and even now have, many friends, rich and poor, and most probably some enemies, I proceed to the more important purport of my letter. Since my departure from Lewes, fortune or providence has thrown me into a line of action, which my first setting out into life could not possibly have suggested to me. I have seen the fine and fertile country of America ravaged and deluged in blood, and the taxes of England enormously increased and multiplied in consequence thereof; and this, in a great measure, by the instigation of the same class of placemen, pensioners, and court dependents, who are now promoting addresses throughout England, on the present unintelligible Proclamation. I have also seen a system of government rise up in that country, free from corruption, and now administered over an extent of territory ten times as large as England, for less expense than the pensions alone in England amount to; and under which more freedom is enjoyed, arid a more happy state of society is preserved, and a more general prosperity is promoted, than under any other system of government now existing in the world. Knowing, as I do, the things I now declare, I should reproach myself with want of duty and affection to mankind, were I not in the most undismayed manner to publish them, as it were, on the house-tops, for the good of others. Having thus glanced at what has passed within my knowledge since my leaving Lewes, I come to the subject more immediately before the meeting now present. Mr. Edmund Burke, who, as I shall show, in a future publication, has lived a concealed pensioner, at the expense of the public of fifteen hundred pounds per annum, for about ten years last past, published a book the winter before last, in open violation of the principles of liberty, and for which he was applauded by that class of men who are now promoting addresses. Soon after his book appeared, I published the first part of the work, entitled "Rights of Man," as an answer thereto, and had the happiness of receiving the public thanks of several bodies of men, and of numerous individuals of the best character, of every denomination in religion, and of every rank in life-placemen and pensioners excepted. In February last, I published the second part of "Rights of Man," and as it met with still greater approbation from the true friends of national freedom, and went deeper into the system of government, and exposed the abuses of it, more than had been done in the first part, it consequently excited an alarm among all those, who, insensible of the burden of taxes which the general mass of the people sustain, are living in luxury and indolence, and hunting after court preferments, sinecure places, and pensions, either for themselves, or for their family connections. I have shown in that work, that the taxes may be reduced at least six millions, and even then the expenses of government in England would be twenty times greater than they are in the country I have already spoken of. That taxes may be entirely taken off from the poor, by remitting to them in money at the rate of between three and four pounds per head per annum, for the education and bringing up of the children of the poor families, who are computed at one third of the whole nation, and six pounds per annum to all poor persons, decayed tradesmen, or others, from the age of fifty until sixty, and ten pounds per annum from after sixty. And that in consequence of this allowance, to be paid out of the surplus taxes, the poor-rates would become unnecessary, and that it is better to apply the surplus taxes to these beneficent purposes, than to waste them on idle and profligate courtiers, placemen and pensioners. These, gentlemen, are a part of the plans and principles contained in the work, which this meeting is now called upon, in an indirect manner, to vote an address against, and brand with the name of wicked and seditious. Gentlemen, I have now stated to you such matters as appear necessary to me to offer to the consideration of the meeting. I have no other interest in what I am doing, nor in writing you this letter, than the interest of the heart. I consider the proposed address as calculated to give countenance to placemen, pensioners, enormous taxation and corruption. Many of you will recollect that, while I resided among you, there was not a man more firm and open in supporting the principles of liberty than myself, and I still pursue, and ever will, the same path. I have, gentlemen, only one request to make, which is-that those who have called the meeting will speak out, and say, whether in the address they are going to present against publications, which the proclamation calls wicked, they mean the work entitled "Rights of Man," or whether they do not? I am, Gentlemen, With sincere wishes for your happiness, Your friend and servant, THOMAS PAINE.