Trial of Thomas Paine, For a Libel

Thomas PAINE

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"THOMAS PAINE WROTE LIKE NO ONE ELSE: HE WROTE FOR EVERYONE": ONE OF THE FIRST EDITIONS OF THE TRIAL OF THOMAS PAINE, PUBLISHED IN LONDON AFTER PAINE WAS FOUND GUILTY FOR RIGHTS OF MAN, PART II

PAINE, Thomas. The Trial of Thomas Paine, For a Libel, Contained in the Second Part of Rights of Man, Before Lord Kenyon, and a Special Jury, At Guildhall, December 18, 1792. With the Speeches of the Attorney General and Mr. Erskine, at Large. London: C. and G. Kearsley, 1792. Slim octavo, modern half calf and blue-gray boards; pp. (ii), (1) 2-45.

One of the first editions of the first contemporary record of the infamous December 1792 British trial in which Paine was found guilty of seditious libel for The Rights of Man, Part Two, "his most important statement of political principles" (New Yorker).

"Thomas Paine wrote like no one else: he wrote for everyone… So ripping was Paine's prose, and so vast was its reach, that Adams once complained to Jefferson, 'History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine." Following Paine's crucial role in the Revolution, he returned to England where, in 1792, he followed the first part of The Rights of Man with "The Rights of Man, Part the Second, his most important statement of political principles, in which he explained and insisted on natural rights, equality and popular sovereignty… Paine's Second Part was outsold only by the Bible. But… Paine was charged with seditious libel and everywhere his ideas were suppressed and his followers persecuted" (New Yorker). A government campaign urged local clergy and magistrates to denounce Paine and hired spies to tail "him constantly on London's streets" (Keane, 337). Paine's friends urged him to seek refuge in exile in France, and "in September 1792, that's just what Paine did" (New Yorker).

Back in England, "the trial of Thomas Paine was unique in that the defendant was not in custody and not even within the jurisdiction of the trial court. The trial took place in London on December 18, 1792. The indictment charged Paine with the publication of a seditious libel in the form of his pamphlet entitled The Rights of Man" (Raby, 61). Attorney-general Archibald Macdonald "explained in the trial that he had not prosecuted the first part, because he thought that it would only reach the 'judicious reader.' The second had been industriously circulated in all shapes and sizes… The real reason was obvious. The respectable classes had taken alarm at the events in France…The Rights of Man was thus adopted as the manifesto of the party which sympathized with the French revolution" (DNB). "Despite the brilliance of Paine's attorney, Thomas Erskine, Paine was found guilty, declared an outlaw and the Rights of Man contraband" (Gimbel 78). Paine's Rights of Man remains "the clearest of all expositions of the basic principles of democracy" (PMM 241). Issued in London within days of the trial: with the same publisher issuing another printing with "Genuine Edition" on the title page, no priority established. Precedes the subsequent year's American edition. With tiny gutter-edge pinholes from original stitching. ESTC N13831. Gimbel-Paine, 125.

Text fresh with only faintest occasional soiling. An exceptional about-fine copy.

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