Observations on the Situation of the Powers

Philip Foner’s introduction:

This paper appears in the French State Archives, and is endorsed “January 1793. Thomas Payne. Copie.” The date is erroneous, for the reference to the defeat of the Duke of York at Dunkirk indicates that it was written during the late summer or early fall of 1793. The Duke of York set out to capture Dunkirk in the late spring of 1793.

The paper is printed from a photostatic copy of the French manuscript through the courtesy of the Library of Congress.


IT is always useful to know the position and the designs of one’s enemies. It is much easier to do so by combining and comparing the events, and by examining the consequences which result from them, than by forming one’s judgment by letters found or intercepted. These letters could be fabricated with the intention of deceiving, but events or circumstances have a character which is proper to them. If in the course of our political operations we mistake the designs of our enemy, it leads us to do precisely that .which he desired we should do, and it happens, by the fact, but against our intentions, that we work for him.

It appears at first sight that the coalition against France is not of the nature of those which form themselves by a treaty. It has been the work of circumstances. It is a heterogeneous mass, the parts of which dash against each other, and often neutralize themselves. They have but one single point of reunion, the re-establishment of the monarchical government in France. Two means can conduct them to the execution of this plan. The first is, to re-establish the Bourbons, and with them the Monarchy; the second, to make a division similar to that which they have made in Poland, and to reign themselves in France. The political questions to be solved are, then, to know on which of these two plans it is most probable, the united Powers will act; and which are the points of these plans on which they will agree or disagree.

Supposing their aim to be the re-establishment of the Bourbons, the difficulty which will present itself, will be, to know who will be their Allies?

Will England consent to the re-establishment of the compact of family in the person of the Bourbons, against whom she has machinated and fought since her existence? Will Prussia consent to re-establish the alliance which subsisted between France and Austria, or will Austria wish to re-establish the ancient alliance between France and Prussia, which was directed against her? Will Spain, or any other maritime Power, allow France and her Marine to ally themselves to England ? In fine, will any of these Powers consent to furnish forces which could be directed against herself? However, all these cases present themselves in the hypothesis of the restoration of the Bourbons.

If we suppose that their plan be the dismemberment of France, difficulties will present themselves under another form, but not of the same nature. It will no longer be a question, in this case, of the Bourbons, as their position will be worse; for if their preservation is a part of their first plan, their destruction ought to enter in the second; because it is necessary for the success of the dismembering that not a single pretendant to the Crown of France should exist.

As one must think of all the probabilities in political calculations, it is not unlikely that some of the united Powers, having in view the first of these plans, and others the second,-that this may be one of the causes of their disagreement. It is to be remembered that Russia recognized a Regency from the beginning of Spring; not one of the other Powers followed her example. The distance of Russia from France, and the different countries by which she is separated from her, leave no doubt as to her dispositions with regard to the plan of division; and as much as one can form an opinion on the circumstances, it is not her scheme.

The coalition directed against France, is composed of two kinds of Powers. The Maritime Powers, not having the same interest as the others, will be divided, as to the execution of the project of division.

I do not hesitate to believe that the politic of the English Government is to foment the scheme of dismembering, and the entire destruction of the Bourbon family.

The difficulty which must arise, in this last hypothesis, between the united Maritime Powers proceeds from their views being entirely opposed.

The trading vessels of the Northern Nations, from Holland to Russia, must pass through the narrow Channel, which lies between Dunkirk and the coasts of England; and consequently not one of them, will allow this latter Power to have forts on both sides of this Strait. The audacity with which she has seized the neutral vessels ought to demonstrate to all Nations how much her schemes increase their danger, and menace the security of their present and future commerce.

Supposing then that the other Nations oppose the plans of England, she will be forced to cease the war with us; or, if she continues it, the Northern Nations will become interested in the safety of France.

There are three distinct parties in England at this moment: the Government party, the Revolutionary party, and an intermedial party, which is only opposed to the war on account of the expense it entails, and the harm it does commerce and manufacture. I am speaking of the People, and not of the Parliament. The latter is divided into two parties : the Ministerial and the Anti-Ministerial. The Revolutionary party, the intermedial party and the Anti-Ministerial party will all rejoice, publicly or privately, at the defeat of the Duke of York’s army at Dunkirk. The intermedial party, because they hope that this defeat will finish the war. The Anti-Ministerial party, because they hope it will overthrow the Ministry. And all the three because they hate the Duke of York. Such is the state of the different parties in England.