The Rights of Man
To M. De La Fayette
After an acquaintance of nearly fifteen years in difficult situations in America, and
various consultations in Europe, I feel a pleasure in presenting to you this small treatise,
in gratitude for your services to my beloved America, and as a testimony of my esteem
for the virtues, public and private, which I know you to possess.
The only point upon which I could ever discover that we differed was not as to principles
of government, but as to time. For my own part I think it equally as injurious to good
principles to permit them to linger, as to push them on too fast. That which you suppose
accomplishable in fourteen or fifteen years, I may believe practicable in a much shorter
period. Mankind, as it appears to me, are always ripe enough to understand their true
interest, provided it be presented clearly to their understanding, and that in a manner not
to create suspicion by anything like self-design, nor offend by assuming too much. Where
we would wish to reform we must not reproach.
When the American revolution was established I felt a disposition to sit serenely down
and enjoy the calm. It did not appear to me that any object could afterwards arise great
enough to make me quit tranquility and feel as I had felt before. But when principle, and
not place, is the energetic cause of action, a man, I find, is everywhere the same.
I am now once more in the public world; and as I have not a right to contemplate on so
many years of remaining life as you have, I have resolved to labour as fast as I can; and
as I am anxious for your aid and your company, I wish you to hasten your principles and
If you make a campaign the ensuing spring, which it is most probable there will be no
occasion for, I will come and join you. Should the campaign commence, I hope it will
terminate in the extinction of German despotism, and in establishing the freedom of all
Germany. When France shall be surrounded with revolutions she will be in peace and
safety, and her taxes, as well as those of Germany, will consequently become less.
London, Feb. 9, 1792