The Rights of Man HTML version
What Archimedes said of the mechanical powers, may be applied to Reason and Liberty.
"Had we," said he, "a place to stand upon, we might raise the world."
The revolution of America presented in politics what was only theory in mechanics. So
deeply rooted were all the governments of the old world, and so effectually had the
tyranny and the antiquity of habit established itself over the mind, that no beginning
could be made in Asia, Africa, or Europe, to reform the political condition of man.
Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the
slavery of fear had made men afraid to think.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks,- and all it wants,- is the liberty
of appearing. The sun needs no inscription to distinguish him from darkness; and no
sooner did the American governments display themselves to the world, than despotism
felt a shock and man began to contemplate redress.
The independence of America, considered merely as a separation from England, would
have been a matter but of little importance, had it not been accompanied by a revolution
in the principles and practice of governments. She made a stand, not for herself only, but
for the world, and looked beyond the advantages herself could receive. Even the Hessian,
though hired to fight against her, may live to bless his defeat; and England, condemning
the viciousness of its government, rejoice in its miscarriage.
As America was the only spot in the political world where the principle of universal
reformation could begin, so also was it the best in the natural world. An assemblage of
circumstances conspired, not only to give birth, but to add gigantic maturity to its
principles. The scene which that country presents to the eye of a spectator, has something
in it which generates and encourages great ideas. Nature appears to him in magnitude.
The mighty objects he beholds, act upon his mind by enlarging it, and he partakes of the
greatness he contemplates.- Its first settlers were emigrants from different European
nations, and of diversified professions of religion, retiring from the governmental
persecutions of the old world, and meeting in the new, not as enemies, but as brothers.
The wants which necessarily accompany the cultivation of a wilderness produced among
them a state of society, which countries long harassed by the quarrels and intrigues of
governments, had neglected to cherish. In such a situation man becomes what he ought.
He sees his species, not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy, but as kindred; and the
example shows to the artificial world, that man must go back to Nature for information.
From the rapid progress which America makes in every species of improvement, it is
rational to conclude that, if the governments of Asia, Africa, and Europe had begun on a
principle similar to that of America, or had not been very early corrupted therefrom, those
countries must by this time have been in a far superior condition to what they are. Age
after age has passed away, for no other purpose than to behold their wretchedness. Could
we suppose a spectator who knew nothing of the world, and who was put into it merely to
make his observations, he would take a great part of the old world to be new, just