To James Monroe October 13, 1794
To James Monroe October 13, 1794
On the twenty-eighth of this month (October) I shall have suffered ten months' imprisonment, to the dishonor of America as well as of myself, and I speak to you very honestly, when I say that my patience is exhausted. It is only my actual liberation that can make me believe it. Had any person told me that I should remain in prison two months after the arrival of a new Minister, I should have supposed that he meant to affront me as an American. By the friendship and sympathy you express in your letter you seem to consider my imprisonment as having connection only with myself, but I am certain that the inferences that follow from it have relation also to the national character of America. I already feel this in myself, for I no longer speak with pride of being a citizen of that country. Is it possible, sir, that I should, when I am suffering unjust imprisonment under the very eye of her new Minister?
While there was no Minister here (for I consider Morris as none) nobody wondered at my imprisonment, but now everybody wonders. The continuance of it under a change of diplomatic circumstances subjects me to the suspicion of having merited it, and also to the suspicion of having forfeited my reputation with America; and it subjects her at the same time to the suspicion of ingratitude, or to the reproach of wanting national or diplomatic importance.
The language that some Americans have held of my not being considered as an American citizen, though contradicted by yourself, proceeds, I believe, from no other motive than the shame and dishonor they feel at the imprisonment of a fellow-citizen, and they adopt this apology, at my expense, to get rid of that disgrace.
Is it not enough that I suffer imprisonment, but my mind also must be wounded and tortured with subjects of this kind? Did I reason from personal considerations only, independent of principles and the pride of having practised those principles honorably, I should be tempted to curse the day I knew America. By contributing to her liberty I have lost my own, and yet her Government beholds my situation in silence.
Wonder not, Sir, at the ideas I express or the language in which I express them. If I have a heart to feel for others I can feel also for myself, and if I have anxiety for my own honor, I have it also for a country whose suffering infancy I endeavored to nourish and to which I have been enthusiastically attached. As to patience I have practised it long- as long as it was honorable to do so, and when it goes beyond that point it becomes meanness.
I am inclined to believe that you have attended to my imprisonment more as a friend than a Minister. As a friend I thank you for your affectionate attachment. As a Minister you have to look beyond me to the honor and reputation of your Government; and your countrymen, who have accustomed themselves to consider any subject in one line of thinking only, more especially if it makes a strong [impression] upon them, as I believe my situation has made upon you, do not immediately see the matters that have relation to it in another line; and it is to bring these two into one point that I offer you these observations. A citizen and his country, in a case like mine, are so closely connected that the case of one is the case of both.
When you first arrived, the path you had to pursue with respect to my liberation was simple. I was imprisoned as a foreigner; you knew that foreigner to be a citizen of America, and you knew also his character, and as such you should immediately have reclaimed him. You could lose nothing by taking strong ground, but you might lose much by taking an inferior one; but instead of this, which I conceive would have been the right line of acting, you left me in their hands on the loose intimation that my liberation would take place without your direct interference, and you strongly recommended it to me to wait the issue. This is more than seven weeks ago and I am still in prison. I suspect these people are trifling with you, and if they once believe they can do that, you will not easily get any business done except what they wish to have done.
When I take a review of my whole situation-my circumstances ruined, my health half destroyed, my person imprisoned, and the prospect of imprisonment still staring me in the face, can you wonder at the agony of my feelings? You lie down in safety and rise to plenty; it is otherwise with me; I am deprived of more than half the common necessaries of life; I have not a candle to burn and cannot get one. Fuel can be procured only in small quantities and that with great difficulty and very dear, and to add to the rest, I am fallen into a relapse and am again on the sick list.
Did you feel the whole force of what I suffer, and the disgrace put upon America by this injustice done to one of her best and most affectionate citizens, you would not, either as a friend or minister, rest a day till you had procured my liberation. It is the work of two or three hours when you set heartily about it, that is, when you demand me as an American citizen, or propose a conference with the Committee upon that subject; or you may make it the work of a twelve-month and not succeed. I know these people better than you do.
You desire me to believe that "you are placed here on a difficult theater with many important objects to attend to, and with but few to consult with, and that it becomes you in pursuit of these to regulate your conduct with respect to each, as to manner and time, as will in your judgment be best calculated to accomplish the whole."
As I know not what these objects are I can say nothing to that point. But I have always been taught to believe that the liberty of a citizen was the first object of all free governments, and that it ought not to give preference to, or be blended with, any other. It is that public object that all the world can see, and which obtains an influence upon public opinion more than any other.
This is not the case with the objects you allude to. But be those objects what they may, can you suppose you will accomplish them the easier by holding me in the background, or making me only an accident in the negotiation? Those with whom you confer will conclude from thence that you do not feel yourself very strong upon those points, and that you politically keep me out of sight in the meantime to make your approach the easier.
There is one part in your letter that it is equally as proper should be communicated to the Committee as to me, and which I conceive you are under some diplomatic obligation to do. It is that part which you conclude by saying that "to the welfare of Thomas Paine the Americans are not and cannot be indifferent." As it is impossible the Americans can preserve their esteem for me and for my oppressors at the same time, the injustice to me strikes at the popular part of the Treaty of Alliance.
If it be the wish of the Committee to reduce the treaty to a mere skeleton of government forms, they are taking the right method to do it, and it is not improbable they will blame you afterward for not informing them upon the subject. The disposition to retort has been so notorious here, that you ought to be guarded against it at all points.
You say in your letter that you doubt whether the gentleman who informed me of the language held by some Americans respecting my citizenship of America conveyed even his own ideas clearly upon the subject. I know not how this may be, but I believe he told me the truth.
I received a letter a few days ago from a friend and former comrade of mine in which he tells me, that all the Americans he converses with say that I should have been in liberty long ago if the Minister could have reclaimed me as an American citizen. When I compare this with the counter-declarations in your letter I can explain the case no otherwise than I have already done, that it is an apology to get rid of the shame and dishonor they feel at the imprisonment of an American citizen, and because they are not willing it should be supposed there is want of influence in the American Embassy. But they ought to see that this language is injurious to me.
On the second of this month Vendemiaire I received a line from Mr. Beresford in which he tells me I shall be in liberty in two or three days, and that he has this for good authority. On the twelfth I received a note from Mr. Labonadaire, written at the Bureau of the Concierge, in which he tells me of the interest you take in procuring my liberation, and that after the steps that had been already taken that I ought to write to the Convention to demand my liberty purely and simply as a citizen of the United States of America. He advised me to send the letter to him, and he would translate it. I sent the letter, inclosing at the same time a letter to you. I have heard nothing since of the letter to the Convention.
On the seventeenth I received a letter from my former comrade Vanhuele, in which he says, "I am just come from Mr. Russell, who had yesterday a conversation with your Minister and your liberation is certain-you will be in liberty to-morrow." Vanhuele" also adds, "I find the advice of Mr. Labonadaire good, for though you have some enemies in the Convention, the strongest and best part are in your favor."
But the case is, and I felt it while I was writing the letter to the Convention that there is an awkwardness in my appearing, you being present; for every foreigner should apply through his Minister, or rather his Minister for him.
When I thus see day after day and month after month, and promise after promise, pass away without effect, what can I conclude but that either the Committees are secretly determined not to let me go, or that the measures you take are not pursued with the vigor necessary to give them effect; or that the American national character is without sufficient importance in the French Republic? The latter will be gratifying to the English Government. In short, Sir, the case is now arrived to that crisis, that for the sake of your own reputation as a Minister you ought to require a positive answer from the Committee.
As to myself, it is more agreeable to me now to contemplate an honorable destruction, and to perish in the act of protesting against the injustice I suffer, and to caution the people of America against confiding too much in the Treaty of Alliance, violated as it has been in every principle, and in my imprisonment though an American citizen, than remain in the wretched condition I am. I am no longer of any use to the world or to myself.
There was a time when I beheld the Revolution of the tenth Thermidor with enthusiasm. It was the first news my comrade Vanhuele communicated to me during my illness, and it contributed to my recovery. But there is still something rotten at the center, and the enemies that I have, though perhaps not numerous, are more active than my friends. If I form a wrong opinion of men or things it is to you I must look to set me right. You are in possession of the secret. I know nothing of it. But that I may be guarded against as many wants as possible I shall set about writing a memorial to Congress, another to the State of Pennsylvania, and an address to the people of America; but it will be difficult for me to finish these until I know from yourself what applications you have made for my liberation, and what answers you have received.
Ah, Sir, you would have gotten a load of trouble and difficulties off your hands that I fear will multiply every day had you made it a point to procure my liberty when you first arrived, and not left me floating on the promises of men whom you did not know. You were then a new character. You had come in consequence of their own request that Morris should be recalled; and had you then, before you opened any subject of negotiation that might arise into controversy, demanded my liberty either as a civility or as a right I see not how they could have refused it.
I have already said that after all the promises that have been made I am still in prison. I am in the dark upon all the matters that relate to myself. I know not if it be to the Convention, to the Committee of Public Safety, of General Surety, or to the deputies who come sometimes to the Luxembourg to examine and put persons in liberty, that applications have been made for my liberation. But be it to whom it may, my earnest and pressing request to you as Minister is that you will bring this matter to a conclusion by reclaiming me as an American citizen imprisoned in France under the plea of being a foreigner born in England; that I may know the result, and how to prepare the memorials I have mentioned, should there be occasion for them.
The right of determining who are American citizens can belong only to America. The Convention have declared I am not a French citizen because she has declared me to be a foreigner, and have by that declaration cancelled and annulled the vote of the former assembly that conferred the title of citizen upon citizens or subjects of other countries. I should not be honest to you nor to myself were I not to express myself as I have done in this letter, and I confide and request you will accept it in that sense and in no other.
I am, with great respect, your suffering fellow-citizen,
P. S.-If my imprisonment is to continue, and I indulge very little hope to the contrary, I shall be under the absolute necessity of applying to you for a supply of several articles. Every person here have their families or friends upon the spot who make provision for them. This is not the case with me; I a