The Rights of Man



1. The Rights of Man (1775);

2. An Interesting Conversation (1793);

3. The End of Oppression (1795);

4. The Rights of Man for Me (song) (1794);

5. The Meridian Sun of Liberty (1796).

6. The Case of Thomas Spence (1792)




The Rights of Man

A Lecture

by Thomas Spence

 Read at The Philosophical Society, Newcastle upon Tyne, November 8th, 1775

(1793 edition)


Mr President, It being my turn to lecture, I beg to give some thoughts on this important question, viz. — Whether mankind in society reap all the advantages from their natural and equal rights of property in land and liberty, which in that state they possibly may and ought to expect? And as I hope you, Mr President and the good company here, are sincere friends to truth, I am under no apprehensions of giving offence by defending her cause with freedom.


That property in land and liberty among men in a state of nature ought to be equal, few, one would be fain to hope, would be foolish enough to deny. Therefore, taking this to be granted, the country of any people, in a native state, is properly their common, in which each of them has an equal property, with free liberty to sustain himself and family with the animals, fruits and other products thereof. Thus such a people reap jointly the whole advantages of their country, or neighbourhood, without having their right in so doing called in question by any, not even by the most selfish and corrupt. For upon what must they live if not upon the productions of the country in which they reside? Surely, to deny them that right is in effect denying them a right to live. Well, methinks some are now ready to say, but is it lawful, reasonable and just, for this people to sell, or make a present even, of the whole of their country, or common, to whom they will, to be held by them and their heirs for ever?


To this I answer, if their posterity require no grosser materials to live and move upon than air, it would certainly be very ill-natured to dispute their right of parting, for what of their own, their posterity would never have occasion for; but if their posterity cannot live but as grossly as they do, the same gross materials must be left them to live upon. For the right to deprive anything of the means of living, supposes a right to deprive it of life; and this right ancestors are not supposed to have over their posterity.


Hence it is plain that the land or earth, in any country or neighbourhood, with everything in or on the same, or pertaining thereto, belongs at all times to the living inhabitants of the said country or neighbourhood in an equal manner. For, as I said before, there is no living but on land and its productions, consequently, what we cannot live without we have the same property in as our lives.


Now as society ought properly to be nothing but a mutual agreement among the inhabitants of a country to maintain the natural rights and privileges of one another against all opposers, whether foreign or domestic, it would lead one to expect to find those rights and privileges no further infringed upon among men pretending to be in that state, than necessity absolutely required. I say again, it would lead one to think so. But I am afraid whoever does will be mightily mistaken. However, as the truth here is of much importance to be known, let it be boldly fought out; in order to which it may not be improper to trace the present method of holding land among men in society from its original.


If we look back to the origin of the present nations, we shall see that the land, with all its appurtenances, was claimed by a few, and divided among themselves, in as assured a manner as if they had manufactured it and it had been the work of their own hands; and by being unquestioned, or not called to an account for such usurpations and unjust claims, they fell into a habit of thinking, or, which is the same thing to the rest of mankind, of acting as if the earth was made for or by them, and did not scruple to call it their own property, which they might dispose of without regard to any other living creature in the universe. Accordingly they did so; and no man, more than any other creature, could claim a right to so much as a blade of grass, or a nut or an acorn, a fish or a fowl, or any natural production whatever, though to save his life, without the permission of the pretended proprietor; and not a foot of land, water, rock or heath but was claimed by one or other of those lords; so that all things, men as well as other creatures who lived, were obliged to owe their lives to some or other's property, consequently they like the creatures were claimed, and, certainly as properly as the wood herbs, etc., that were nourished by the soil. And so we find, that whether they lived, multiplied, worked or fought, it was all for their respective lords; and they, God bless them, most graciously accented of all as their due. For by granting the means of life, they granted the life itself; and of course, they thought they had a right to all the services and advantages that the life or death of the creatures they gave life to could yield.


Thus the title of gods seems suitable enough to such great beings; nor is it to be wondered at that no services could be thought too great by poor dependent needy wretches to such mightly and all-sufficient lords, in whom they seemed to live and move and have their being. Thus were the first landholders usurpers and tyrants; and all who have since possessed their lands, have done so by right of inheritance, purchase, etc., from them; and the present proprietors, like their predecessors, are proud to own it; and like them, too, they exclude all others from the least pretence to their respective properties. And any one of them still can, by laws of their own making, oblige every living creature to remove off his property (which, to the great distress of mankind, is too often put in execution); so of consequence were all the landholders to be of one mind, and determined to take their properties into their own hands, all the rest of mankind might go to heaven if they would, for there would be no place found for them here. Thus men may not live in any part of this world, not even where they are born, but as strangers, and by the permission of the pretender to the property thereof; which permission is, for the most part, paid extravagantly for, though many people are so straitened to pay the present demands, that it is believed if they hold on, there will be few to grant the favour to. And those land-makers, as we shall call them, justify all this by the practice of other manufacturers, who take all they can get for the products of their hands; and because that everyone ought to live by his business as well as he can, and consequently so ought the land-makers. Now, having before supposed it both proved and allowed, that mankind have as equal and just a property in land as they have in liberty, air, or the light and heat of the sun, and having also considered upon what hard conditions they enjoy those common gifts of nature, it is plain they are far from reaping all the advantages from them which they may and ought to expect.


But lest it should be said that a system whereby they may reap more advantages consistent with the nature of society cannot be proposed, I will attempt to show the outlines of such a plan.


Let it be supposed, then, that the whole people in some country, after much reasoning and deliberation, should conclude that every man has an equal property in the land in the neighbourhood where he resides. They therefore resolve that if they live in society together, it shall only be with a view that everyone may reap all the benefits from their natural rights and privileges possible.


Therefore a day appointed on which the inhabitants of each parish meet, in their respective parishes, to take their long-lost rights into possession, and to form themselves into corporations. So then each parish becomes a corporation, and all men who are inhabitants become members or burghers. The land, with all that appertains to it, is in every parish made the property of the corporation or parish, with as ample power to let, repair, or alter all or any part thereof as a lord of the manor enjoys over his lands, houses, etc,; but the power of alienating the least morsel, in any manner, from the parish either at this or any time hereafter is denied. For it is solemnly agreed to, by the whole nation, that a parish that shall either sell or give away any part of its landed property, shall be looked upon with as much horror and detestation, and used by them as if they had sold all their children to be slaves, or massacred them with their own hands. Thus are there no more nor other lands in the whole country than the parishes; and each of them is sovereign lord of its own territories.


Then you may behold the rent which the people have paid into the parish treasuries, employed by each parish in paying the Government its share of the sum which the Parliament or National Congress at any time grants; in maintaining and relieving its own poor, and people out of work; in paying the necessary officers their salaries; in building, repairing, and adorning its houses, bridges, and other structures; in making and maintaining convenient and delightful streets, highways, and passages both for foot and carriages; in making and maintaining canals and other conveniences for trade and navigation; in planting and taking in waste grounds; in providing and keeping up a magazine of ammunition, and all sorts of arms sufficient for all its inhabitants in case of danger from enemies; in premiums for the encouragement of agriculture, or anything else thought worthy of encouragement; and, in a word, in doing whatever the people think proper; and not, as formerly, to support and spread luxury, pride, and all manner of vice. As for corruption in elections, it has now no being or effect among them; all affairs to be determined by voting, either in a full meeting of a parish, its committees, or in the house of representatives, are done by balloting, so that votings or elections among them occasion no animosities, for none need to let another know for which side he votes; all that can be done, therefore, in order to gain a majority of votes for anything, is to make it appear in the best light possibly by speaking or writing. Among them Government does not meddle in every trifle; but on the contrary, allows each parish the power of putting the laws in force in all cases, and does not interfere but when they act manifestly to the prejudice of society and the rights and liberties of mankind, as established in their glorious constitution and laws. For the judgment of a parish may be as much depended upon as that of a House of Lords, because they have as little to fear from speaking or voting according to truth as they.


A certain number of neighbouring parishes, as those in a town or county, have each anequal vote in the election of persons to represent them in Parliament, Senate, or Congress; and each of them pays equally towards their maintenance. They are chosen thus: all the candidates are proposed in every parish on the same day, when the election by balloting immediately proceeds in all the parishes at once, to prevent too great a concourse at one place; and they who are found to have a majority, on a proper survey of the several poll-books, are acknowledged to be their representatives.


A man by dwelling a whole year in any parish, becomes a parishioner or member of its corporation; and retains that privilege till he lives a full year in some other, when he becomes a member in that parish, and immediately loses all his right to the former for ever, unless he choose to go back and recover it by dwelling again a full year there. Thus none can be a member of two parishes at once, and yet a man is always member of one though he move ever so oft.


If in any parish should be dwelling strangers from foreign nations, or people from distant countries who by sickness or other casualties should become so necessitous as to require relief before they have acquired a settlement by dwelling a full year therein; then this parish, as if it were their proper settlement, immediately takes them under its humane protection, and the expenses thus incurred by any parish in providing those not properly their own poor being taken account of, is discounted by the Exchequer out of the first payment made to the State. Thus poor strangers, being the poor of the State, are not looked upon with an envious eye lest they should become burthensome, - neither are the poor harassed about in the extremity of distress, and perhaps in a dying condition, to justify the litigiousness of the parishes.

All the men in every parish, at times of their own choosing, repair together to a field for that purpose, with their officers, arms, banners, and all sorts of martial music, in order to learn or retain the complete art of war; there they become soldiers.


Yet not to molest their neighbours unprovoked, but to be able to defend what none have a right to dispute their title to the enjoyment of; and woe be to them who occasion them to do this, they would use them worse than highwaymen or pirates if they got them in their power.

There is no army kept in pay among them in times of peace, as all have property alike to defend, they are alike ready to run to arms when their country is in danger; and when an army is to be sent abroad, it is soon raised, of ready trained soldiers, either as volunteers or by casting lots in each parish for so many men.


Besides, as each man has a vote in all the affairs of his parish, and for his own sake must wish well to the public, the land is let in very small farms, which makes employment for a greater number of hands, and makes more victualling of all kinds be raised.


There are no tolls or taxes of any kind paid among them by native or foreigner, but the aforesaid rent which every person pays to the parish, according to the quantity, quality, and conveniences of the land, housing, etc., which he occupies in it. The government, poor, roads, etc. etc., as said before, are all maintained by the parishes with the rent; on which account all wares, manufactures, allowable trade employments or actions are entirely duty free. Freedom to do anything whatever cannot there be bought; a thing is either entirely prohibited, as theft or murder; or entirely free to everyone without tax or price, and the rents are still not so high, notwithstanding all that is done with them, as they were formerly for only the maintenance of a few haughty, unthankful landlords. For the government, which may be said to be the greatest mouth, having neither excisemen, customhouse men, collectors, army, pensioners, bribery, nor such like ruination vermin to maintain, is soon satisfied, and moreover there are no more persons employed in offices, either about the government or parishes, than are absolutely necessary; and their salaries are but just sufficient to maintain them suitably to their offices. And, as to the other charges, they are but trifles, and might be increased or diminished at pleasure.


But though the rent, which includes all public burden, were obliged to be somewhat raised, what then? All nations have a devouring landed interest to support besides those necessary expenses of the public; and they might be raised very high indeed before their burden would be as heavy as that of their neighbours, who pay rent and taxes too. And it surely would be the same for a person in any country to pay for instance an increase of rent if required, as to pay the same sum by little and little on everything he gets. It would certainly save him a great deal of trouble and inconvenience and Government much expense.


But what makes this prospect yet more glowing is that after this empire of right and reason is thus established, it will stand for ever. Force and corruption attempting its downfall shall equally be baffled, and all other nations, struck with wonder and admiration at its happiness and stability, shall follow the example; and thus the whole earth shall at last be happy and live like brethren.



reprinted from the fourth edition of Spence's Newcastle lecture. The original title for the lecture was Property in Land  Every One's Right.  The contents of the 1775 edition and the one reproduced here are not significantly different. The lecture was re-titledThe Rights of Man by Spence in 1792. The edition reproduced above was published in 1793.


Spence was thrown out of the The Philosophical Society in 1775 for printing his lecture and distributing it on the streets of Newcastle. 



Below: Spence token




An Interesting Conversation, between

a Gentleman and the Author, on the

Subject of the foregoing Lecture

by Thomas Spence

(appended to The Rights of Man in the 1793 edition; perhaps also in previous editions)


Gentleman: So I understand you are the Author of this strange Lecture?

Author: Yes, Sir.

Gent. Well, though I am a friend to the Reformation of the world, I did not expect any one's ideas would have been carried to such extravagant lengths on the subject as your's.

Auth. And I am as strangely puzzled to conceive how any one, not afraid of the freedom of his own thoughts, could stop any thing short of the system there laid down.

Gent. Indeed! But who, pray, among all the Revolutionists in either America, France, or England, or any where else, ever disputed or attempted to invalidate the rights of the landed interest? Or, does Paine, whose publications seem to satisfy the wishes of the most sanguine Reformers, glance in the least on their rights? This is taking too great liberties.

Auth. I cannot help it. I would sooner not think at all, than check my thoughts on a subject so important. — I hate patching and cobling. Let us have a perfect system that will keep itself right, and let us have done; for what is radically wrong must be a continual plague.

But, Sir, why all this anxiety and concern for the interests of landlords? Those who can reward as they can will never want advocates to defend their cause, whether it be good or bad. "Will you plead for Baal? If Baal be a god, let him plead for himself.

The Reformers, of whom you say you are one, indulge themselves in criticising on, and condemning customs and establishments as old and as defensible as the monopoly of land, and think they are only using the Rights of Men: allow me therefore, to take the same liberty with what I think amiss; and let Baal, as I say, plead for himself. So, Sir, your servant, you may dislike my free manner of defending doctrines, which I think of such magnitude.

Gent. Nay, stop a little Sir, you must excuse me. I was only acting in character; you must allow Baal, as you say, to plead for himself, for I being a landlord cannot be expected to lose an estate without some defence; therefore, indulge me with the solution of such difficulties as appear to me in the principles and execution of your plan, that if I am a loser I may be satisfied that the public good absolutely requires it.

You build your system, I observe, on the supposition that men have the same right to property of land as they have to liberty, and the light and heat of the sun, which I grant is a very just position, respecting men in a natural, or in their primeval state; but this antient and universal right is so set aside and disused, that it seems quite forgot and expunged from the catalogue of the Rights of Men; besides, there was nobody found murmuring at the want of it.

Auth. It is, indeed, very amazing, that people should never think more seriously of such an essential and inestimable privilege, considering the many express declarations to that purpose, to be met with both in the scriptures and in the best of prophane authors. Permit me, then, to produce two or three of the most remarkable passages: and first, from Leviticus, Chap.25th.

"And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound, on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof: It shall be a Jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."

And again in the same chapter, it is said,

"The land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me."

Thus you see God Almighty himself is a very notorious leveller, and certainly meant to stir up the people every fiftieth year, to insist upon liberty and equality, or the repossession of their just rights, whether their masters or creditors were agreeable or not, or whether they might deem it seditious or no; and we may suppose that such of the latter as were covetous ungodly men would behave very frowardly, and quit their hold with much reluctance, and would be far from promoting such a revolution.

Then we may be certain that as often as such periodical revolutions happened in favour of the Rights of Man, they must arise from, and were procured by the irresistable importunities of the slaves and landless men.

Thus we find personal liberty and landed property very properly linked together by our all-wise creator, nor is the one of much consequence without the other. Indeed, I think all our landless people had better live in slavery, under humane masters, that would provide them with the necessaries of life, than be turned out of their rights as outcasts upon the face of that earth whereon they must neither feed nor rest.

Well, we have heard what God has said on the subject, let us next hear what man says. Locke, in his treatise of govern-ment writes thus:

"Whether we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence. Or, revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the world to Adam, and to Noah and his sons; it is very clear that God, as King David says, Psalm 115, 16, has given the earth to the children of men, given it to mankind in common."

Here we find this great man concurring in the same funda-mental principles, as we shall likewise Puffendorf, in his Whole Duty of Man, according to the law of nature, where he observes, that

"As those are the best members of a community, who without any difficulty allow the same things to their neighbour, that themselves require of him, so those are altogether incapable of society, who, setting a high rate on themselves in regard to others, will take upon them to act any thing towards their neighbour, and expect greater deference, and more respect than the rest of mankind; and, in their intolerant manner, demanding a greater portion unto themselves of those things, to which all men having a common right, they can in reason claim no larger a share than other men: whence this also is an universal duty of the law natural, That no man, who has not a peculiar right, ought to arrogate more to himself than he is ready to allow to his fellows, but that he permit other men to enjoy equal privileges with himself."

Such declarations being frequent in all the best authors, one would think they would rouse the most supine to con-sider their contemptible and degraded situation, who, from being the rightful lords of the creation, and only a little lower than the angels, and crowned by their maker, with glory and honour, tamely prostrate themselves to the earth, to a state worse than a reptile, for any one that will be insolent enough to pass over.

But, Sir, people never thought it was practicable to enjoy an equal property in land. For the mechanics thought they could not themselves cultivate land if they were possessed of it, and that therefore thousands would be selling their portions to others, which would soon reduce things to the same situation as at present. And besides, they could not be at the trouble, nor put themselves so much out of temper, so as like the Jews, to demand a restitution of the land and an abolition of debts every fiftieth year. No, they would rather sit down contently on their dunghills, under all their affronts, with their wives and children starving about them than give offence to their masters by seditiously claiming their rights as men.

But, by giving the land to the parishes, they will be eased at once of all those troublesome apprehensions; one hearty revolution and one jubilee will do the business for ever: for we find societie once possessed of land do not easily give it up, but are very tenacious of their property of which we have many instances, there hardly being a corporation but what has landed property, and have retained the same for many ages.

So here is a simple, easy, practicable scheme, which people may see realised in every corporate body; wherefore, as people will now think themselves qualified to manage their own estates by the agency of their parish officers, for their own advantage, they must of course think landlords of no more use, and will grow weary of them. The payment of rent to a landlord, will be like giving money to a highwayman, and they will pant to be rid of their insupportable burdens all at once. In short, Sir, when the public machine is thus set a going on nature's principles, like nature itself, it will never err to any great degree, but on the least aberrition immediately rebound back to its just equilibrium.

Gent. But, Sir, I am not so partial to corporation government, but I can see many things amiss in them. There is often much party work, and I am afraid the people at large would reap small benefit from their landed property, as is too much the case in most of the corporations already in being.

Auth. The corporations now in being were established in times of ignorance, when very few were qualified to take cognizance of public affairs, wherefore the mass of the burghers were never suffered in their own persons to make choice of their magistrates or agents, but every company or trade chose an elector, and these were to make a kind of sham choice of magistrates and officers, for all this was settled in reality before in the common council; and the same practice to the great ease and content of the sluggish people, is still continued, which I hope you do not think I approve of; for I see no reason why a candidate for a magistracy or other office may not, after proper examination in respect to abilities, be proposed in every distinct company or trade at the same hour, and then in their own persons proceed to election. Candidates would not find it so easy to make a party among the burghers at large, as they do now among a few deputies, electors, or liverymen; but I hope if the people were but once put right (for they never have been so yet) they would be wise enough never to relapse into insignificance again, and find it worth their while to act in person as much as they could, by admitting of no electors or deputies between them and the person or thing to be voted for; for if a parish were found to be too populous to vote conveniently and expeditiously in one place, they would surely have the sense to divide the parish into such a sufficiency of districts or departments as should render business speedy and generally satisfactory.

I should likewise expect that they would have the sense to cause the parish accounts to be minutely stated and printed, at least every quarter; and the national accounts to be in the same manner printed, at least every year. And I should like-wise with that the rents or rates might be collected monthly, as the poor rate is now, which, when once paid, would be in full of all demands, both for rent and taxes.

In short, Sir, if I thought the people at large would ever become so despicably destitute of common sense, as to be incapable of conducting such simple transactions with any little accidental variations after being thus fairly put right — I say, instead of exciting my pity as they now do, I would, like their tyrants, hold them in the most sovereign contempt and derision; nay, I would rejoice in seeing them all delivered over to cruel task-masters, planters, negro-drivers, landlords, and all the devils on earth. Moreover, I would endeavour to get into some infernal office myself, and make my thong the most terrible of the terrible.

But I am far from apprehending will ever be the case, for it is impossible for the world to become generally ignorant again, as it was before the art of printing. Knowledge has been constantly encreasing ever since that happy invention, and will infallably continue to do so while the world endures.

Is it not astonishing, Sir, that republicans who long to put the affairs of a nation into the hands of commissioners or delegates, should despair of managing the rents or revenues of a parish in the same popular way? Is national democracy easier than parochial? Or are the pure rights of a man less defensible against landlords, than the rights of society against kings? The landlords are, and always were, the first infringers on the rights of man, and pave the sure way to regal tyranny. If the earth would remain barren and uncultivated, and if men, like brutes, would live in caves rather than build houses, etc., by means of their own agents or commissioners, then by all means let them have landlords. But then I, for my part, as much despair of the management of a nation by delegation, as others do of a parish, and therefore to me, kings seem to be to the full as necessary to a state, as landlords to a parish. Wherefore in the name of common sense, let us either quietly submit to matters of every description, or manfully aspire after perfect freedom from every imposition. For why should we despair of managing small affairs as well as great.

Gent. But I am at a great loss to conceive what will become of all the landed people, gentlemen of the law, gentlemens' servants, many artizans and tradesmen, entirely dependent on the nobility and gentry, and also the soldiers, for you intend all your citizens to be soldiers.

Auth. You will observe, Sir, that I am proceeding in this affair entirely in confidence of the people having common sense, and that they will, when once put right, put their senses forth to use on all occasions; and, I likewise, suppose they may have as much compassion on those affected by the change of affairs, as justice and necessity will admit of. So, in all probability, on that memorable day, that grand jubilee, when every parish, in some country shall take into its posses-sion its indubitable rights, I mean the land with all its appur-tenances, as structures, buildings, and fixtures, and mines, woods, waters, etc., contained within itself: I say, though according to right and system they must seize upon these, I expect they would leave every person in possession of his money and moveable effects to dispose of at his pleasure. The quondam landlords might therefore be reasonably expected to subsist comfortably upon these effects, all their lives with economy, I am sure few of the rest of the people would have as much at that day to their share; and as to their children, they would doubtless suit their education to their prospects, which would be no other than to live as sober, industrious citizens, maintained by their own industry. And what should hinder them by trading or farming to encrease their effects under so mild and cherishing a government, as well as others? The same may be said of gentlemen of the law, and other eminent artists or tradesmen, who might suffer by the change; as for the private soldiers and subalterns, I would wish them to be sent every man to his own parish, there to receive his pay for life, and be employed in training his fellow-parishioners; and the general officers, I hope, the government would provide for in like ample manner. And with respect to other individuals, whether servants, mechanics, or revenue officers, who, having no effects accumulated, and might be reduced by any cause whatever, either at this or any future period to require assistance, I hope their respective parishes would prove generous, and sympathizing benefit societies for support of them all, until they could again provide for themselves; and the parishes, no doubt, would contrive to make such persons contribute, if in health, towards the public good by their labours and to this they surely would not object.

Gent. But, friend, what do you expect by all this? Though your scheme should succeed, you cannot expect an estate for your trouble, and both you and your posterity for ever must be content to herd with the common mass, without any hopes of flattering distinction: but if your plan should not succeed, then you must expect a spiteful and powerful opposition in all you go about, from those you are seeking to overthrow.

Mr Paine acts more cautiously, and does not hurt the feelings of any gentleman that is unconnected with govern-ment, and so, of course, may retain their good will, notwith-standing all the lengths he goes; and may, even with a good grace, consistent with his reform, enjoy a very handsome estate, and with all his boasted liberty and equality, may roll in his chariot on the labours of his tenants.

Auth. The contempt and ungenerous rebuffs of the opulent I have already pretty well experienced, and do yet expect; but the feelings occasioned by beholding the struggles of temperance, frugality, and industry, after an honest liveli-hood, which ought to be easily attainable by every one, have always been sufficiently powerful to enable me to despise them. Yes, those sympathetic feelings were impressed deep on my heart, being first excited by the many difficulties my poor parents experienced in providing for, and endeavouring to bring up their numerous family with decency and credit, which I thought very hard, as none could be more temperate, frugal, nor industrious.

I began, Sir, to look round to know the cause of this piercing grievance, and I found thousands rioting in all the abominations of luxury and dissipation, as if there had been no being in heaven or earth but themselves, and as if they had been created for the sole purpose of destroying the fruits of the earth; and again, I beheld myriads in a much worse condition than my own family. Then I began to read, and I found the savages in Greenland, America, and at the Cape of Good Hope, could all by their hunting and fishing procure subsistence for their families. Then I enquired whether men left the rude state of a savage voluntarily for greater comforts in a state of civilisation, or whether they were conquered, and compelled into it for the benefit of their conquerors. My experience compelled me to conclude the latter, for I could observe nothing like the effects of a social compact; where-fore, I concluded that all our boasted civilisation is founded alone on conquest; nor will any men leave their rude state to be treated with contempt, pay rents and taxes, and starve among us. Savages may sometimes suffer want though that is but rare, but the poor tamed wretch drags on a despic-able, miserable, and toilsome existence, from generation to generation. This surely looks exceeding bad, that among men in such high refinement and so capable of rendering each other happy, by being reciprocally useful to each other: thousands should nevertheless be in so wretched a state, that savages would not change conditions with them.

Such studies, Sir, as these, were what stirred me up with an irresistible enthusiasm, to lay before the world a plan of society, so consonant to the Rights of Man, that even savages should envy, and wish to become members thereof.


Embroidery of Spence coin, Newcastle, 2014


The End of Oppression

by Thomas Spence

(first published 1795)


Young Man. I hear there is another RIGHTS OF MAN by Spence, that goes farther than Paine's.


Old Man. Yet it goes no farther than it ought.


Y.M. I understand it suffers no private Property in Land, but gives it all to the Parishes.


O.M. In so doing it does right, the earth was not made for Individuals.


Y.M. But people of all conditions have been so accustomed to think that the completion of all earthly felicity consists in the possession of Landed Property, that it is not likely they will generally be brought to give up the darling hopes of one time or other possessing a snug Estate.


O.M. It is true, if there were no injustice attending the state of a Landlord, it is the most desirable and enviable state in the world, even infinitely more so than that of a King, or any Placeman or Pensioner whatsoever.


Y.M. It is indeed. Every body knows that well. For the Landlord is entirely supreme, independent, and arbitrary, in his own Domains, hence the title Lord, and nothing binds him but his own Leases, which he for his own interest grants. He is in no danger of losing his revenues, for he pays himself in a most haughty and lordly manner, without process, and without hardly condescending to ask. And when his rents are brought to him on the very hour they are due, his Dignity will not permit him to be thankful.


O.M. Why, I find you are at least half a Spensonian: You understand something of the nature of the enemy: and I dare say we shall not differ much in opinion.


Y.M. I have heard, read, and seen enough of their oppressions to make me wish them at an end, if possible.


O.M. Whether it be possible we shall see by and by. But for the reasons before-mentioned, unless it be necessary that there should be in a State Freemen and Slaves, lordly Men, and mean Men, Landlords cannot be suffered.


Y.M. But most people believe it would be unjust to deprive Landed Men of their Property, as many of them have purchased their Estates.


O.M. Landed Property always was originally acquired, either by conquest or encroachment on the common Property of Mankind. And as those public Robbers did never show any degree of conscience or moderation and enslaved for ages, should in the day of reclamation, through an effeminate and foolish tenderness, neglect the precious opportunity of recovering at once the whole of their Rights.


Y.M. But I am speaking of the seeming hardships of depriving modern Purchasers of their Property.


O.M. Those modern Purchasers are not ignorant of the manner in which Landed Property was originally obtained, neither are they sorry for it, nor for any other imposition by which they can get Revenue. And every one knows that buying stolen Goods is as bad as stealing.


Y.M. You are entirely right. The conduct of our rich Men is not such as to create much respect for their Property. The whole of their study is to create Monopolies and to raise Rents and Revenues; and, like the Grave, their endless cry is, Give! Give!


O.M. And what was originally obtained by the Sword, they determine to detain by the Sword. Are not they and their Minions now in Arms under the name of Yeomanry, Volunteers etc? And what means the inveterate War commenced by the Aristocracy of the World against France? They know that Mankind once enlightened will not brook their lordliness, nor be content with their Rights by piece-meal; therefore they exert every nerve to prevent light from spreading, and the union of the People.


Y.M. Indeed there cannot be any thing said for them. They exhibit to us too plainly all the properties and practices of Robbers. Plunder, spoil and contributions they will at all events have though their ill-gotten Lands should swim with blood; fully declaring themselves the true Heirs and Successors of the ancient Nimrods from whom they hold.


O.M. Then let all Men say, Spence has done right in rooting up such a combination of Spoilers, and setting the world free from all exactions, imposts, and abuses, at once and for ever.


Y.M. It is amazing that Paine and the other Democrats should level all their Artillery at Kings, without striking like Spence at this root of every abuse and of every grievance.


O.M. The reason is evident: They have no chance of being Kings; but many of them are already, and the rest foolishly and wickedly hope to be sometime or other Landlords, lesser or greater.


Y.M. But do you think Mankind will ever enjoy any tolerable degree of Liberty and Felicity, by having a Reform in Parliament, if Landlords be still suffered to remain?


O.M. You should first ask if the Landed Interest will let you have a reform, which they will take care to prevent. For a Convention or Parliament of the People would be at eternal War with the Aristocracy. But granting they should so far forget their interest, they would soon recollect their mistake, and set about their true interest again, which is to counteract every species of public good. And full well are they furnished with every requisite for the diabolical Work. The perpetual influx of wealth by their Rents without toil or study, leaves them at full Liberty and Leisure to plot, and supplies them also with the means of fighting successfully against the interests of the working part of the Community, and turn their labours to their own advantage.


Y.M. Yes, it is natural to expect that whether in the legislature or out of it, their whole study will be under every kind of Government, to encrease the prices of what their Estates produce, that their rents may rise. What shall we then account such a body of People, whose interests are only their own, and so opposite to all others, but a public Enemy, a Banditti that must always be watched and sometimes resisted.


O.M. There you are wrong with your watching and resisting. Who is to watch and resist? Must not all the rest of the world do something for their Bread? And are they not disarmed by the Game Laws, awed by the Military, and by Monopolies, State Tricks, Rents and Taxes reduced to continual Drudgery and Starvation? How many days do you think such a brood of Beggars could maintain themselves in a state of Insurrection against their Oppressors? They must away to their work again. The cries of the famished Families break up their Campaigns before they are well begun, and they must again return to the yoke, like other starved animals, for mere subsistence.


Y.M. O hopeless state of Mankind!


O.M. No, it is not yet hopeless, though the enemy like a numerous Army, be garrisoned and quartered every where among us, and have all the strong Holds, all the Arms, and every advantage that triumphant and cruel Invaders could wish for, yet will a true and universal knowledge of Spence's plain and simple System overturn them, and sweep all their Greatness and Lordliness away in one Day, and leave the world in perpetual and perfect Peace.


Y.M. Some seem to apprehend the mismanagement of the Parish Revenues, and so discourage People from thinking of that System.


O.M. That is the natural work of the Enemy, and must be expected. But it does not become Democrats to doubt concerning it. For if Men cannot manage the Revenues and affairs of a Parish, what must they do with a State? It is almost as absurd to answer such quibbles as to make them. How strange that Men will turn the world upside down to get the management of a Nation, and yet pretend to despair concerning a Parish!!! It is too bad. The villainy is too barefaced. I am weary with combatting the vile sophistry of Scoundrels that are Oppressors, and of Scoundrels that would be Oppressors. But in Spence's Pigs' Meat, you will find the Parish System represented in such a variety of ways, and so plainly evidencing to every Reader, the easy and practicable transition from this scene of Oppression and Woe, to perfect Freedom and Felicity, that I must refer you to that incomparable Work for complete satisfaction on the Subject.


Y.M. I thank you. I will take the first opportunity of perusing that excellent Book. But in the mean time, for the sake of conversation, let us suppose that a whole Nation no matter whether America, France, Holland, or any other, but as to England, it is entirely out of the Question, were fully convinced of the excellence of this System, and universally wishing its establishment, I should be glad to know the most easy method of doing so, and with least bloodshed.


O.M. In a Country so prepared, let us suppose a few Thousands of hearty determined Fellows well armed and appointed with Officers, and having a Committee of honest, firm, and intelligent Men to act as a provisionary Government, and to direct their Actions to the proper Object. If this Committee published a Manifesto or Proclamation, directing the People in every Parish to take, on receipt thereof, immediate possession of the whole Landed Property within their district, appointing a Committee to take charge of the same, in the name and for the use of the Inhabitants; and that every Landholder should immediately, on pain of Confiscation and Imprisonment, deliver to the said parochial Committee, all Writings and Documents relating to their Estates, that they might immediately be burnt; and that they should likewise disgorge at the same time into the Hands of the said Committee, the last payments received from their tenants, in order to create a parochial Fund for immediate use, without calling upon the exhausted People. If this Proclamation was generally attended to, the business was settled at once; but if the Aristocracy arose to contend the matter, let the People be firm and desperate, destroying them Root and Branch, and strengthening their Hands by the rich Confiscations. Thus the War would be carried on at the expence of the wealthy enemy, and the Soldiers of Liberty beside the hope of sharing in the future felicity of the country, being well paid, would be steady and bold. And wherever the Lands were taken possession of by the People, (which by all means should be as early accomplished as possible) the grand resource of the Aristocracy, the Rents, would be cut off, which would soon reduce them to Reason, and they would become as harmless as other men.


Y.M. If People could but thus become honest and wise enough to cut off at once the resources of the enemy, they might soon get rid of Oppression. But it is a pity they do not perceive the immediate and inexpressible blessings that would infallably result from such a Revolution.


O.M. The good Effects of such a charge, would be more exhilirating and reviving to the hunger-bitten and despairing Children of Oppression, than a benign and sudden Spring to the frost-bitten Earth, after a long and severe Winter. Only think of the many millions of Rents that are now paid to those self-created Nephews of God Almighty, the Landed Interest, which is literally paid for nothing but to create Masters. — I say only think of all this Money, circulating among the People, and there promoting Industry and Happiness, and all the arts and callings useful in Society; would not the change be unspeakable? This would neither be a barren Revolution of mere unproductive Rights, such as many contend for, nor yet a glut of sudden and temporary Wealth as if acquired by conquest; but a continual flow of permanent Wealth established by a System of Truth and Justice, and guaranteed by the interest of every Man, Woman, and Child in the Nation. The Government also of such a People could no longer be oppressive. The democratic Parishes would take care how they suffered their Money to be lavished away upon State speculations. And their Senators, who could not be Men of landed Property, would be found to be much more honest and true to the services of their Constituents than our now-a-days so much boasted Gentlemen of independent Fortunes.


When a People create Landlords, they create a numerous host of hereditary Tyrants and Oppressors, who not content with their Lordly Revenues of Rents, seize also upon the Government, and parcel it out among themselves, and take as enormous salaries for the Places they occupy therein, as if they were poor Men; so that the Rents which the foolish People foolishly pay for nothing, and the poor dull Ass the Public, become thus loaded, as it were, with two pair of Panyers. So then, whoever will be so silly good-natured and over-generous as to pay Rents to a set of Individuals, must not be surprized, if their Masters by all ways and means and pretences should keep them to it, and give Scope sufficient to their liberal propensities.








TITLE PAGE of first edition of 'The End of Oppression',

with contemporary handwritten notes. They read:

TOP: pp. 6. 7. passages cited by Ld Morningham in the H. of Commons.

MIDDLE: By T. Spence (Few issued)

BOTTOM: X This poor deluded fellow after being repeatedly imprisoned and discharged, kept a book-shop in Oxford St. near St. Giles, and afterwards a stall near the Pantheon, whither he conveyed his stock every morning in a sort of caravan but, still indulging his propensity for political satire, he was taken into custody and may still be in durance.






(men dancing round head of Prime Minister Pitt mounted on pole)




This Song was written by Spence when a Prisoner in Newgate,

under a Charge of High Treason, 1794.


Tune — Maid of the Mill



There are many fine schemes contrived by the Great,

To deceive Silly Souls d'ye see ?

And render them passive for pure Conscience Sake,

And mould them to fell Tyranny.

Yet for all their fine Arts with their Priests in their Aid

Their Threats and their deep Policy,

I'll laugh them to Scorn while loudly I sing,

The Rights of Man Boys for me.


This World for the poor they say never was made.

Their portion in the Heavens be,

And more, that they envy them their happy Lot,

So certain's their Felicity.

But thank them for nought if the Heavens they could let,

Few Toys there the Poor would e'er see,

For Rents they must toil and for Taxes to boot,

The Rights of Man then for me.


Then cheer up all you who have long been oppress'd

Aspire unto sweet Liberty;

No Fetters were form'd for a Nation to bind

Who have the brave Wish to be free.

To Reason attend and blush at your Chains,

And throw off all vile Slavery,

And let each Man sing till loud Echoes ring.

The Rights of Man Boys for me.


As for me though in Prison I oft have been cast

Because I would dare to be free,

And though in black Newgate* I did pen this Song

My Theme I've not alter'd you see.

In jail or abroad whatever betide

My Struggles for Freedom shall be

Whatever Fate bring I will think, speak and sing,

The Rights of Man Boys for me.



The composer of the above song, was the first, who as far as he knows, made use of the phrase "RIGHTS OF MAN", which was on the following remarkable occasion: A man who had been a farmer, and also a miner, and who had been ill-used by his landlords, dug a cave for himself by the seaside, at Marsdon Rocks, between Shields and Sunderland, about the year 1780, and the singularity of such a habitation, exciting the curiosity of many to pay him a visit; our author was one of that number. Exulting in the idea of a human being, who had bravely emancipated himself from the iron fangs of aristocracy, to live free from impost, he wrote extempore with chaulk above the fire place of this free man, the following lines:

'Ye landlords vile, whose man's peace mar, Come levy rents here if you can;

Your stewards and lawyers I defy,

And live with all the RIGHTS OF MAN.'

The Town Moor, Newcastle. The saving of the Moor from enclosure inspired the young Spence



BOOKSELLER, THE CORNER OF CHANCERY-LANE, LONDON; Who was committed to CLERKENWELL PRISON, On MONDAY the 10th of DECEMBER, 1792, For Selling the Second Part of Paine's Rights of Man: And a BILL of INDICTMENT found against him.


To which is added an extract of a Letter from His Grace the Duke of Richmond, To the Chairman of the Committee of the County of Sussex, convened at Lewis, January 18, 1783, for the Purpose of presenting a Petition to the House of Commons, to take into consideration the unequal State of Representation in Parliament, &c. 

by Thomas Spence (1792)

[..]= unclear text


THE annals of prosecutions do not present to the world a more extraordinary case than that of the unfortunate man who is the subject of the following pages. It is not, however, for us, in the present stage of this business, to declaim either against the laws of the British empire, or the persons to whom those laws are entrusted. An innocent man has nothing to fear from the scourge of truth—'tis the guilty only that need tremble at investigation. The notorious character, of whatever species, pleasingly exults in the obscurity of his depraved actions—but when the keen eye of discovery penetrates his horrid mansion, he would chearfully give a thousand worlds to escape enquiry: It may be well for individuals, both of high and low degree, to mark these observations.


Not to detain the reader with a long introduction, we shall take the liberty of prefacing this narrative with a fictitious one, where the scenes might have occurred in another country, and leave Englishmen to make what comments they please. Suppose then the following occurrences in Sweden or any other country, under whatever governments your own minds may conceive.

It is presumed the laws of every government is very explicit, particularly with respect to transgressions and punishments; this has been the boast of Britons, and we shall think but little of France, till she has, by intrinsic merit, acquired that degree of eminence. In Sweden, however, we suppose that a certain publication of exclamation and declamation were sent into the world (such as Mr. Burke's for instance) violently condemning the principles of the British Revolution in 1688, and consigning the abettors of that Revolution to destruction; that another person, of opposite political principles, were hardy enough to attack the bold declaimer; and while justifying such a Revolution, was to make some very severe and pointed strictures on the government of Sweden. Suppose then the legislature of Sweden finding the last writer had exposed some of their malpactices, and were to be fearful the contagion would spread, whereby they might be deprived of their noble feasting, &c. &c.—in consequence of which they determined to institute an action against their bold competitor, in order to try the merits of the work, and, if possible, to condemn it by due course of law;—suppose they were to take advantage, by proclamations, &c. and prosecute poor individuals who might be found selling the intended proscribed work, before it was actually proscribed by a fair and regular trial—would not the indignation of every English spectator be raised at the littleness, the meanness, the wretchedness, of the Swedish legislators, who dared to violate the rights of man in so flagrant a manner? Oh Albion, how great are thy superior privileges!

Immediately on the institution of a celebrated Society at the Crown and Anchor, for preserving places and pensions, Mr. Spence, being a poor man, and less likely to oppose the lordly menaces of violent Aristocracy, was repeatedly surrounded, insulted, and even threatened with his life, and the destruction of his little all, if he did not give up part of his bread, and decline selling the Rights of Man, and other political tracts. The eagerness of the public mind for political investigation, almost rendered it useless for him to keep any other articles: and therefore, to a poor man, it was indeed a very [...] us sacrifice, unless they had threatened him likewise with an ample [..?] compensation. Indeed their conduct was contemptible, for no one of the opposite party ever offered him the most modest reproach for selling even Mr. Burke's pamphlets! It may be observed, that Mr. Spence, being so exposed, with only a stall in the open street, these petty beings, thought they might presume on his unprotected situation. Even a pious Rector had the audacity to attack the defenceless man, and endeavoured to avail himself of the natural influence of his profession over the landlord, by urging him to turn Mr. Spence out of the stall. Oh, Depravity, where is thy blush!

On Thursday morning, Dec. 6, 1792, two runners, at the instance of a Mr. Reeves *, came to T. Spence's stall, and bought, by mistake, Spence's Rights of Man, instead of Paine's Rights of Man. Immediately on which they took him, with their usual ceremony, before the civil magistrate at the police office in Hatton Garden, and laid their information against him. To the honour of the magistrate, however, he declined committing Mr. Spence, as he could find no statute to justify him in it. Mr. Spence told him in his defence, that he might as well commit every one who sold Gulliver's Travels, More's Eutropi [...], Lock on Government, Puffendorf on the Law of Nature, &c. &c. all of which treated the subject of Government in a manner vastly opposite to the British system. Here, however, we must observe, that no compensation was made to Mr. Spence for tearing him, like a criminal, from his business, &c. &c.

Monday, the 10th of December, between two and three o'clock, two of the Bow-street runners came to Mr. Spence, and purchased Paine's Rights of Man; after which in the most unprecedented manner, without even shewing the least authority, they obliged him to put up the shutters of his stall, and hustled him into an hackney-coach, which they ordered to be driven to Bow-street. During the bustle and the journey, Mr. Spence, feeling, very properly, the indignity offered both to law and justice by these proceedings, remonstrated with the prostituted ruffians, and modestly asked them whether he was to consider himself in Spain, Turkey, Algiers, or England? It appeared to him as though he were enchanted to one of the most despotic spots in the universe. Never perhaps were the rights of citizens so shamefully invaded as in this instance; nor shall we wonder if the complaints of individuals in this respect should drive them to acts of desperation—may the great God however avert such a catastrophe!

When the unfortunate prisoner arrived at Bow-street, the magistrate was at dinner; of course the victim of despotism was carried to a public house near the office, where he was safely guarded, at least three hours, till his worship had finished his repast. In this blessed mansion the runners, by what authority can hardly be guessed, (unless their honourable profession warranted it,) searched Mr. Spence's pockets, and even took from him his pocket book, papers and memorandums relating to his business, &c. which they have never yet returned. The pocketbook contained extracts from Locke, Puffendorf, Swift, Pope, and even the 25th chapter of the book of Leviticus, all of which related to government, and may, according to the present system of proceedings, be equally termed libellous. Perhaps since the days of bloody Queen Mary have no prisoner, under the same circumstances, been treated in so violent a manner as Mr. Spence was during his stay in the public house. Will it be credited that a man, assuming the air of a gentleman, could wantonly insult even the most guilty felon; and yet it is a fact, that a person of such a description seized Mr. Spence by the throat, and had not fear prevented, would willingly have strangled him—uttering the most horrid imprecations that he was not warranted in carrying his inveterate malice to such an extreme. Well, indeed' might Mr. Spence exclaim, What country am I in! Nature shudders at the relation of instances of such depravity in the human race; and those despicable characters scarcely deserve the epithet of human, much less the animating title of Britons! It surely will hardly be credited hereafter that these are the actions of the eighteenth century! Better for Englishmen openly to request a Bastile— they would then at least be on their guard. In the present instance they have been grossly misled into the violation of laws which they have understood were never promulgated, and are treated as traitors for crimes they never dreamt of. The book had not been condemned by a legal process, and they had always been taught that no crime attached itself to selling any publication till it was thus legally proscribed. Is not this the language of almost every person both in the House of Commons and out of it?

It is folly—it is madness for men in these days idly to chatter about their darling hobby horse—Liberty. A great part of them in the midst of such childish exclamations are positively endeavouring to outrun each other; and by nick-named loyalty eagerly striving which shall sacrifice his dearest interest, and the interest of his posterity to the most inflexible despotism that ever disgraced the world. (These observations cannot apply to Englishmen.)

We must now direct the reader's attention to the transactions in the Public Office. After the usual technical formula Mr. Spence requested his worship to inform him by what authority his journeymen were justified in their proceedings? With all the sagacity which the nature of the case inspired, his worship adverted to the Royal Proclamations, and even to the opinion of the Grand Jury. Mr. Spence was naturally led to doubt either the validity of indifinite Proclamations, or the legality of the opinion of the Grand Jury, in justification of arbitrary proceedings, previous to a public trial. However, agreeable to the natural order of things, the prisoner being the weakest party, was obliged to submit.—To the honor, or rather to the disgrace, of the mercenary attendants of Public Offices, Mr. Spence was assailed by a considerable party with threats and violent pushes, that even the American Indians would have thought a disgrace to their savage manners. With all the deliberation and coolness so characteristic of a blood-thirsty crew, the instruments of this extraordinary business delivered an exaggerated evidence, fearing perhaps, they should be deprived of their emoluments by the prisoner's escape. When will man reflect and consider the true dignity of the human species, by acting conformable to his judgment, and despising every thing that may impeach his integrity! This will apply from the highest character in states through every gradation, civil and official, down to the common hangman. With a very ill grace then does it become the implements of abuses to strain every nerve both of violence and injustice, for securing to themselves the wretched enjoyment of places, which in their own consciences they hold contemptible.

The runners (will it be credited?) had the consummate impudence to threaten this unfortunate man with leading him through the streets heavy ironed, if he would not submit to pay the hire of a coach to Clerkenwell Prison; nay, they had the audacity to bring forth irons for the purpose. Mr. Spence, however, with that dignity, which conscious innocence naturally inspires, spurned the monsters and their threats, and told them he would rather submit to be led like a felon, than suffer such an imposition. At length they consented to conduct him to goal without those unnecessary implements, where he arrived about eleven o'clock at night. Here Mr. Spence was ushered in with the usual salutations of the collegia [...]c officers, which consisted of the most abusive menaces and illiberal treatment that their ingenuity could possibly invent. He was asked whether he chose to have a bed; and upon answering in the affirmative, an immediate demand of one shilling was made by one of the turnkeys for that indulgence—he had likewise one penny to pay for the use of a candle, which the turnkey held in his hand; nor did the wretch allow him time to take off his cloaths before he locked him up in a solitary cell.—The bed was so immoderately damp as to oblige him to lay down in his cloaths, and in the morning he found himself so poorly as led him to fear the consequences.

In the morning Mr. Spence was taken from his forlorn dungeon, and sent down into the yard among the most common felons, where he was accosted by the miserable collegians in their usual stile.

The poor wretches always rejoice to see strangers introduced, as it is customary for them to apply to every New Prisoner for garnish, either that they may allay the cravings of hunger, or drown the recollection of their unhappy situations in liquor. To add to his misfortunes, Mr. Spence was obliged to comply with all their demands, or be denied the privilege of citizenship even among them; and it cost him in goal fees, garnish, &c. in the course of thirty hours, previous to being liberated by bail, one pound four shillings, which to a poor man is a great sum.

During the absence of Mr. Spence from his stall, some mischievous person or persons (perhaps delegated from the usual source) had the impudence to write three separate papers and stick them on his shutters, purporting, "That the owner was confined in gaol for selling seditious books; and they hoped it would be a warning to others."

The Public need only be informed that the Grand-Jury, afterwards found a true Bill of Indictment against Mr. Spence, and it remains for him now to await a judicial decision.

To enumerate the numerous persecutions which Mr. Spence has endured previous to the foregoing Process; and since, would take more time than the Editor could well spare.

One instance, however, it would be almost unpardonable to pass over unnoticed. On Thursday the 13th of December, the day his Majesty opened the present session of parliament, a gentleman, or one who aimed to be thought so, came to Mr. Spence's stall, and, seeing a young man with the first part of Paine's Rights of Man in his hand (which by the bye has never been even disputed by the Attorney-General), seized the book, and in a curious (alias Grub-street) dialect, abused Mr. Spence, hustled him about, tore his shirt, and dragged him to an adjoining shop, where, joined by more of his brutal fraternity, he robbed the poor man of two other books. One of the villains hastened to the Police Office to fetch some runners, while the others guarded the persecuted man, uttering violent threats, savage menaces, &c. &c. The spectators, however, to their honour be it mentioned, observing the lengths the ruffians would carry their infamous conduct, calmly interfered and rescued the prisoner from the hands of the most diabolical and lawless banditti that ever threatened the peace of the metropolis. Perhaps these were some of the immaculate members of a certain inquisitorial Society; at least they must be sanctioned by a dark and mysterious group, not less diabolical than themselves.


The present aerea seems as a dream, one can scarcely credit the transactions of every preceding day. Truth is a libel, and falshood is a libel—how then to steer between the two extremes, requires the sagacity of a knave, or the duplicity of a hypocrite. To what a situation is the intellects of man reduced! Were it possible to deprive the numerous hoards of mankind (with very few exceptions) of their rational faculties—to divest them of thinking—to restrain them from speaking—to draw a veil over their occult powers—and cancel their sensibility; it would be perfectly conformable with prevailing politics to attempt the experiment. Infatuation and ignorance—depravity and corruption—violence and intrigue, seem united against the progress of knowledge, and the interest of society. The world, however, has ever been governed by fluctuations, and what one age or one description of beings have estimated as blessings, succeeding ages or a different description of beings have estimated as curses. Perhaps some degree of propriety  has attached itself to each party, and rational minds have only been able to contemplate the consequences, without the power of affording any alleviation to the victims of contention. But may we not anticipate a better age, and a superior degree of civilization; when society will be united under one interest, and man be no more the dupe of faction—when peace will spread her genial wings and leave the human mind to the enjoyment of those blessings which nature has so bountefully bestowed, when industry will be relieved from the almost insurmountable fetters of the present hour, and the only barrier to civil enjoyments will be those of vicious inclinations.

A review of the numerous characters of Europe, who, with minds that would do honour to the higher ranks, but from the largness of their families, and political circumstances are bowed down with poverty and oppression, will fully justify the feeling mind in ardently panting for so glorious an aera.

On Monday the 24th of December, Mr. Spence received the following notice from his landlord by the hands of the landlord's daughter.


Mr. Thomas Spence,

I hereby give you notice to quit and leave the book stall you hold of me at the corner of Chancery-lane, in the county of Middlesex, at Lady-day next. Dated this 24th day of December 1792.

John Harrington.

Witness Mary Harrington.

The young woman remarked to Mr. Spence, on delivering the above, that several of her father's customers had threatened to withdraw their favours and interest, if he suffered Mr. S. to contiue on the premises.— What consolation they can derive from being the means of depriving an honest man of his livelihood, would exceedingly puzzle a generous mind to discover. We may, however, fairly hope that the party who so strongly have supported the efforts of despotism, will impartially reconsider their conduct; and we doubt not but they will find occasion sufficient to blush, and be sorry at the consequences that must inevitably follow their exertions.



Extract of a letter from His Grace the DUKE of RICHMOND, to the Chairman of a Meeting of the County of Sussex, convened at Lewes, January 18, 1793, for the purpose of presenting a petition to the House of Commons, to take into consideration the unequal state of Representation in Parliament.

Whitehall, January 17, 1783.


YOU may easily believe, that being one of those who joined in requesting you to call a county meeting, nothing but illness can prevent me attending it, and it is with infinite regret I submit to the decision of my physicians who pronounce, that it is not safe for me to leave London.

I trust that my sentiments on the subject of Parliamentary Reform, are, in general, sufficiently known, and that, without further assurances, I might be depended upon for giving it every support in my power; but some circumstances make me wish to state them as briefly as possible to the county of Sussex. They are formed on the experience of twenty-six years, which, whether in or out of government, has equally convinced me, that the Restoration of a genuine House of Commons, by a renovation of the Rights of the People, is the only essential remedy against that system of corruption which has brought the nation to disgrace and poverty, and threatens it with the less of Liberty.

I take the grievance of the present state of election to be its gross inequality. All the electors in Great-Britain do not amount to one-sixth part of the whole people and a still greater inequality subsists in elections made by that sixth part; for one-seventh part of themelect a majority, so that one-forty-second part of the nation dispose of the property of the whole, and have their lives and liberties at command. And this forty-second part, far from consisting of the most opulent part of the kingdom, is composed of the small boroughs, most of which are become either the private property of individuals, or arenotoriously sold to the best bidder: so that counties and great cities are, in fact, as well as the great mass of the people swallowed up by this system of corruption.

My ideas of reform undoubtedly go to one that shall be complete and general throughout the kingdom. I see such fatal consequences arise from the present partial and accidental state of election, that I cannot take upon me to propose any new mode that partakes of the same defects. If we do not differ from the abettors of corruption upon the broad principle of inequality in election, and the universal right of the people to be represented, and are contending only for a degree of partiality, more or less, I fear our ground is not sound: if we mean only to substitute partiality for partiality, and are struggling but for its extent, one man's whim may be as good as another's conceit, and we have nothing certain to direct us; and if inequality is still to subsist, the advocates of the present system will have the sanction of time and the risk of changes, to oppose to us, which will have their weight, when it is but for a change of partiality that we contend.

I have thought that a Parliamentary Reform had much more simple and unerring guides to lead us to our end; I mean the true principles of the Constitution, and the Rights of the People. If these exist, I do not consider myself at liberty to speculate upon system. I have no choice, but to give to every man his own.

How far it is wise for those who entirely agree in principle upon the Rights of Men, to endeavour to persuade them, that the recovery of their birth-rights, and most essential interests, "are not reducible to practice, nor attainable by any regular or constitutional efforts of theirs," is what I must leave others to determine. But the truth of this assertion is what I can never subscribe to. I cannot but think that this nation ever has it in its own power, by peaceful and constitutional efforts, to do itself justice; and that nothing can render attempts for this purpose impracticable, but either a general indolence and indifference to all that requires exertion though for thenoblest purposes, or prejudice to favourite systems, as shall divide the people.

To guard against such an imputation falling on me, I most readily agree to an address in the most general terms, not pointing to any specific mode of reform in the petition, or by instructions to our members, or by resolutions, but submitting the remedy, as in my opinion it ought to be, in the first instance, to Parliament itself; which I conceive to be as equal to such a consideration as any Provincial Committee.

Should Mr. WYVIL'S first or second plan be proposed in Parliament, or any thing like it, although I shall lament that we, for a moment, quit our advantageous ground of the Constitution, and the Rights of Men, yet I shall certainly give every support in my power to this or any other amendment, and it certainly will be a considerable improvement, that instead of a forty-second, it should be a thirty-sixth or thirtieth part that shall decide the concerns of the whole people. It will be something material they will have gained, and may become a step to the more easy attainment of their privileges.

I must sincerely hope that that plan may be found attainable; but I never can consent to tell the people, and I hope to God they never will believe, that the recovery of any right, which Nature and the Constitution have given them, is impracticable. On the contrary, convinced myself, I wish them ever to believe, that whenever they please to claim, they will and must have the full extent of their Rights.

I have thought necessary to say thus much on an impression I cannot think indifferent the public should entertain.

The measure, for which you are assembled, meets with my hearty concurrence, and I shall be happy if these my sentiments, which I beg you would communicate to the meeting of the county of Sussex, should meet with their approbation.

It is with the highest esteem and regard, that I have the honour to be, SIR, Your most obedient, and humble servant, RICHMOND, &c.

To Wm. Frankland, esq High Sheriff of the county of Sussex.



Captain Hull, of the horse-grenadiers, waiting one morning on the Duke, about business, was shewn into a large room, where he found his Grace walking about, pensively, and so lost in thought, that at first he took no notice of Hull; but soon after, turning his eyes that way, apologized for not seeing him sooner; on which Captain Hull answered, "He feared he had interrupted his Grace's thoughts about something of more consequence than his business." (for the Duke was a real patriot, virtuous, wise, and valiant) "Not to you and me, Hull," says the Duke, "however, I'll tell you what I was thinking of; I was considering what will be the consequence, fifty years [...], of the bad education of six parts out of seven of our young nobility. They are brought up with a little superficial learning, introduced early into company, pleasure, and dissipation of all sorts; then sent to travel before they know any thing of their own country, or mankind, and the part they ought to act as men; abroad they are flattered, duped, and laughed at, and return home corrupted both in head and heart. While they are thus employed, all the useful sense, learning, and knowledge, will be possessed by the middling class of people, who must of course despise a luxurious, idle, gaming nobility. And as time and accidents will widen the breach between them (unless Providence graciously interferes) confusion in the end must follow: for the idlers will be for arbitrary power, that they may act the tyrant over their inferiors; not considering, by this step they are slaves themselves, and have given up the greatest blessings in life. But the men of learning and Science will list under Liberty, knowing men are by Nature equal, and that all power is delegated from the people for their protection and security; and from hence convulsions may arise, which scarce you or I will live to see." —Vide The Weekly Miscellany for Feb. 8, 1779.

The following copy of his commitment is here printed, in order to convince the public, that he has been guilty of no other crime than what is there alledged against him.

Middlesex to wit. To the Keeper of New Prison at Clerkenwell.

Receive into your custody the body of Thomas Spence, herewith sent you, brought before me, Sir Sampson Wright, Knt. one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the said county, by Robert Berresford, Constable, and charged before me the said Justice, upon the oath of John Delafontaine and the said Robert Berresford, for publishing and selling, at Chancery-lane, in the said county of Middlesex, a certain seditious book or pamphlet called "Rights of Man, part the second, containing Principle and Practice, by Thomas Paine," tending to inflame the minds of his Majesty's subjects, and create disturbances, against the peace, &c. Him therefore safely keep in your said custody for want of sureties, or until he shall be discharged by due course of law, and for so doing this shall be your sufficient warrant. Given under my hand and seal this 10th day of December, 1792.


(True copy)

  • Thomas Roberts, Clerk▪
  • Samuel Newport, keeper


A subscription being opened for the Defence of the poor Man whose Case is described in this Pamphlet, any persons willing to contribute for the purpose, will please to pay their subscriptions to Mr. Hamilton, Bookseller, near Gray's Inn Gate, Holborn, where a book for the purpose lays open.




One of the runners has since called on Mr. Spence and informed him that it was by the desire of Mr. Chairman R—'s, that he took him up, and confessed that he was heartily tired of such business;—that Mr. R. had never the generosity to pay him for the book which he ordered him to purchase for the official information. We leave the chief political inquisitor of England to these [...]erene enjoyments which his newly assumed character so admirably inspires.





'NOV 8 1775'

(date refers to the day Spence delivered his speech in Newcastle, 'Property in Land Every One's Right')














'The End of Oppression', with revolutionaries attending a bonfire of land charters

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