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myself, very unnaturally, as I thought, locked up in a close room of Dorchester Gaol, to see nothing but bricks and iron bars, to hear nothing but the clanking of chains and heavy keys, the cries of mangled nerves under the lash, preparations for banging, and so forth.
Well, to get out again, I will give up nature and true theology too, and stick, in future, to the right sort of matter. Pray ask the Archbishop of Canterbury, or his and your master, the head of the church, if he will not consent to my terms. Tell them, that I have grown a deal wiser than I was, and shall know better how to take care of myself in future.
Well, Sir, for publishing these two pretty titled books, I was both informed against and indicted! I was told, that an "AGE OF REASON," a "TRUE THEOLOGY," and the "PRINCIPLES OF NATURE," had highly displeased Almighty God! though, I could not tell how, nor would they tell me, who so said and so wrote.
1 subpoenaed the Almighty God of Lambeth Palace, to appear in Court at my trial; but the Judge very unjustly refused to allow me to ask if he was the Almighty personage displeased. I could not think of a higher personage at the moment, that could be displeased with my pretty titled books; but I have since been sorry, that I did not subpoena the then Prince Regent and now King, as the highest known personage on this part of the earth.
I had also the High Priest of the Jews in Court; but I was not allowed to ask him, if he was the high personage displeased.
I had the Royal Astronomer, as the Ambassador to our Court, from all the high personages that dwell on the planets around us, to ask him, if he knew, who or where that personage was, whom I had displeased; but the unjust judge would not allow me to ask him such a question.
I had also as many heads of the different true theologies, as I could collect, such as the Unitarian, the Freethinking Christian, the Swedenborgian, and others, too numerous to mention, so numerous, that, I may say with Saint John, that if their names were all written in books, the world could not contain them for number*.
I had also, in court, Mr. George Somers Clarke, the Vicar of Waltham, in Essex, a very learned man, with his Hebrew and Arabic Manuscripts of the Bible, to shew, that
*See Saint John's Gospel at the end.
Thomas Paine bad really separated the true from the fabulous theology: and, moreover, this learned Doctor happened to be at college with the then and present Chief Justice, and happened to be a preceptor to the then Mr. Abbott; and the Doctor assured me, by letter, that, when at college, the Chief Justice, or Mr. Abbott, was singularly attached to the true theology of Lucretius. Had Chief Justice Abbott done me justice in Court, the Doctor would have reminded him of it.
No one was allowed to come forward to say that they were displeased with my conduct. There was no person to say a word against me, but the lawyers, who were paid for it, and who, consequently, could not be disinterested evidences. And, all they could say, was, that, my two pretty titled books had offended another book, that has no title, nor any contents that can entitle it to a title, like the “AGE OF REASON," and "PRINCIPLES OF NATURE.”
The Jury, or Juries, without a shadow of evidence, said, that I was guilty of highly displeasing almighty God! There was not a shadow of evidence, to support any oue allegation of the information or indictment. It was charged against me, that my books had offended the Christian Religion, and the Judge refused to receive evidence, as to what constituted the Christian Religion; asserting, that, that was identified and established, about which, all, who call themselves Christians, disagree! He said, that, Christianity was part and parcel of the Common Law, when that law knew nothing of Protestant Christianity, knew nothing of any Christianity, but that which is called Roman Catholic, the very adherence to which, is now, so far illegal, in this country, as to disable a man from filling a high office of state, and, against which, almost every public officer is obliged to swear, that it is damnable and idolatrous!
I was not indicted upon any statute, and though I adduced a statute in my behalf, the Unitarian act of the 53rd of George the Third, which expressly made lawful the whole contents of my books, it was rejected and I was condemned!
So, you will see, Mr. Peel, if you will condescend to look calmly and fairly at my case, that, I have offended no law; that, I was indicted upon no law; that, I was tried and condemned without law, or rather, condemued without trial; and that, the existing law, which was clearly in my favour, was spurned and rejected by the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench.
I deny the possibility altogether of making Christianity
a part and parcel of the law. I deny the possibility of doing it by any express enactment of the legislature; because, it is not a matter to be defined as to its properties and pretensions, so as to be brought within the meaning and decision
of a law.
As an addition to this insurmountable difficulty, with respect to Christianity, I can prove, that, there is no evidence of the existence of such a person, as its alleged founder; and all the negative evidence to the contrary, that can be desired. I can prove, that no such a people as the Jews or Israelites inhabited the land of Judea, as lately called, prior to the Babylonian Colonization under the Persian Princes, to receive such promises as a nation, as are alleged in the books of the Old Testament. And, finally, I can prove, that there is uo such a God in existence, as any man has preached, or written of and, that, there is no superhuman intelligent power in existence, equal to the regulation of the most trivial matter that passes upon this planet, on which we live to persecute and give pain to each other.
These are all so many valid objections to Christianity being any part or parcel of the law of this country. But even if we waive all these valid objections, even if we admit for the sake of argument, that Christianity can be, or is, a part and parcel of the law, I still assert, that, I have offended no law; for, it is no offence against the annually varying law of this country, to blaspheme any part, or even the whole of it. You, as a member of the legislature, cannot call upon the House of Commons, for the repeal of any law, without giving such reasons, as to its badness or inutility, as shall amount to a blasphemy towards the law. Every petition against negro-slavery, every petition for the rendering milder the criminal code, is a blasphemy against the law of the land. If Christianity be a part and parcel of the law of the land, I claim the right, as a native of this land, to call for its change, or repeal, or to say, or to write, any thing about it, that 1 may think proper. It is not a property of which a man can be deprived it is not a virtue, in which he may be corrupted: but it is a vice, of which he may be morally cured; it is an ignorance, of which he may be enlightened; it is an error, of which he may be convinced.
The church, with absolute power, is the only legislature, that can establish and administer a law about Christianity: and Lord Coke has expressly laid it down as the law and custom of this country that offences against religion are not within the connusance of the Common Law Courts. The
bringing of such matters under the Common Law Courts was an illegal step, a step without any sanction of the legis lature, first taken, by the Lawyers, in the reign of Charles the Second, and continued to this day, upon no other authority, than that of Sir Matthew Hale, in opposition to Lord Coke and all former precedents and authorities.
The Reformation from Roman Catholicism was an entire abolition of all previously existing ecclesiastical authority to take connusance of offences against religion, and the Legislature has never given the New Church any new powers upon that head; so, that, in fact, Christianity is utterly unnected with, and unsupported by, the law of England, if we except the unrepealed part of the Blasphemy Act of the 9th and 10th of William and Mary; whilst the passing and purport of that act corroborates my conclusion. Upon that Statute, I was not indicted; because, it defines an amount of punishment quite moderate in comparison with that which I have received.
My memorial now cometh to the more serious part of this theological drama: a really serious part, to any man who has fellow feeling and loves honesty.
The other three Judges of the Court of King's Bench, so far put their sanction upon what the Chief Justice had done, as, on the 16th day of November, 1819, to sentence me to three years of imprisonment in this Gaol, and to the payment of fines to the amount of fifteen hundred pounds. And this only for the publication of the two books mentioned.
To aggravate this sentence a writ of the levari-facias was immediately issued by the Court of Kings' Bench against my property, which was seized within a few hours of my sentence being passed.
That property consisted of my stock in trade, furniture, and fixtures of the house and shop.
A Bailiff was placed in the house, and, very foolishly on my part, maintained by my family for six weeks.
In that time, my wife had been delivered of a child in a fortnight after the seizure, and as soon as she could rise from her bed, it was sold to a broker by the Sheriff.
After shutting up the shop, and stopping a business, the average profits of which, for three months, had been fifty pounds a week, the Sheriff, to avoid the rent due at christmas, removed the stock in trade, on the 24 of December, and took £54. in money, from a broker, for a part of the furniture and fixtures.
The number of books acknowledged in the return of the
Sheriff exceeded sixty seven thousand; but, I have reasons to believe, that a vast qunatity were purloined, and that, every individual brought to the house by the Sheriff, was a thief encouraged to take what he pleased of my property. This stock in trade was removed to an Auction Mart in Chancery Lane, under a pretence of sale, but never has been sold to this day. After three years had elapsed, about five hundred pounds worth of it to me, were sold in the Mart, for about thirty-five pounds; and, as far as I know, the remainder remains unsold to this day.
I have made various unsuccessful applications to the Court of King's Bench to have it disposed of; I have been denied a personal appearance in Court by Habeas Corpus for that purpose: and, if I employ a Barrister, it seems to me, that a sop is instantly put into his mouth; for, I have never been able to get any answer or successful motion made as to the disposal of the property.
Even when I brought an action and obtained a verdict against the surviving Sheriff Parkins, Chief Justice Abbott, did all he could do to deprive me of just damages, by most illegally and outrageously cautioning the jury, to consider my general pretensions, as an individual, unconnected with that action!
In short, the whole of my treatment has been a uniform violation of the existing law. Those who administer the law, and even impartially in other cases, have conspired against me to violate it, to deny me all redress and all means of procedure to final justice.
I lay it down as an axiom, both in the law of this country and in justice, that, if my property was not fit to be sold by the Sheriff, it was not fit to be seized and detained by him, under that pretence; that the Sheriff should have examined the nature of the property, in the course of the six weeks that he closed the house and stopped the business, and before he removed it to an Auction Mart, that, being by law bound to pursue the best and most ready means of sale, he was not justified in removing a stock in trade to an Auction Mart, which would have sold much better on the premises where it was seized. I may be answered, that, on this head, I must seek damages from the Sheriff. I reply, that, in this case, the Sheriff, Rothwell, since dead, and also, his Under Sheriff, Turner, acted wholly under the instructions of the Law Officers of the Crown. I have evidence,that, when the Sheriff's principal officer in the seizure was asked, in February, 1820, when the sale would take place, he answered: