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latter makes too little progress among you. The duties on foreign merchandise, which you think necessary in your country, because you cannot levy direct taxes there, I consider as opposed to freedom of trade, when they are resorted to as sources of revenue; but I fear lest they should come to be looked upon among you, in the same light that they are throughout Europe, as a fine stroke of policy, intended to increase national commerce and wealth at the expense of foreign commerce and wealth, which is arrant folly.
I have reason to think, that you may follow our example on this point, since reading a pamphlet printed at Philadelphia, and, as the titlepage bears, read before the Society for Political Inquiry, at your house, yourself being present. In this, the author recommends duties and prohibitions to secure navigation from port to port in America; as if, with all her advantages in this line, she had any cause to fear the rivalry of foreign nations; as if she had not many more profitable modes of employing her capital and her men; as if the restraints upon her own commerce, and that of foreign nations, resulting from such legislation, would not cause her to lose more than she could expect to gain; as if she needed any other commercial regulations, than would naturally grow out of a good market for her staple commodities, her fisheries, and the like.
When you spoke to me of duties on imports, which you said you were obliged to impose, in order to defray the public expenses and for the payment of the national debt, and which you should repeal as soon as you could do without them and could levy a land-tax, although I did not approve such a practice, yet I looked upon it as honest, and perhaps necessary for a time. You impose duties that you may raise money; this is plain. But the author of
your pamphlet levies imposts to secure to America her navigation, and a balance of trade in her favor. He already follows in the steps of European governments, who have disguised all the tyranny they have exercised over commerce, under these false pretences; and I confess, I should be very sorry to see you pursuing the same crooked course.
You have learned from the common channels of news what great changes have taken place here. On this head there is too much to be said, to make it the subject of a letter. The most important events, and the acts of M. de Calonne, of the Assembly of Notables, and of the new administration, may all be found in great printed books, some copies of which will doubtless cross the Atlantic and reach your hands. If you take any interest in these things, they will afford you greater facilities of information respecting them, than a letter could do. The only thing I can tell you, which may be interesting to you, is, that our new Minister of Finance, the Archbishop of Toulouse, is a very well informed and intelligent man, well skilled in managing affairs and men, familiar with all sound principles, and having resolution to put them in practice. You must know, that entire freedom of trade finds a place among the maxims of his administration, and that he will subject it to no restriction, but such as he may be forced to lay upon it by circumstances, which he will always endeavour to remove and alter, as far as may be in his power. You are not ignorant, perhaps, that I can testify as to his way of thinking, since I have learned it in an acquaintance of nearly forty years, which still subsists.
Here is some hope for our country; but previous disorders, and other causes, which I shall not mention to you, may thwart or retard, more or less, the measures
of this new administration, and a crisis is at hand that may lay all our hopes in the dust. But no matter; I still hope, as you know, in the further progress of the human race; and I have taken it into my head to embody this sentiment in a little allegory, which I send you.
Our Lady of Auteuil * enjoyed highly all the good news you communicated to us about yourself, and especially the letter you addressed to her. She will answer you, as will also the Abbé de la Roche. Her cats † have somewhat diminished in numbers, thanks to the bull-dog your grandson left with us. The trouble is, that no one will rid us of Boulet, which is the French name she has given him. Here he still is for our sins. His mistress places him at her side, on one of her fourteen chaises-longues, and he is the master of the house, we his humble servants obliged to open the door for him about forty or fifty times in an evening. But she received him from your grandson, and that is a good reason for us to bear patiently all the trouble he inflicts on us.
We are looking impatiently for news of the proceedings of your convention for uniting together the parties in your political State; a union, without which you can have neither perfect prosperity nor real tranquillity. The work of your excellent countryman, Mr. Jefferson, which I have translated, has been much liked here. It has been very well received, and I consider its principles very sound, and the facts well arranged. If any thing appears in your country, which you at all like, especially relating to subjects connected with commerce, or to your constitution, I shall be much obliged to you, if you will take advantage of some opportunity to send it to me.
* Madame Helvétius.
+ See An Humble Petition presented to Madame Helvétius by her Cats, Vol. II. p. 214.
* Notes on Virginia.
Mr. Paine came to me in due time. He may have written you word, that I had restored to him his iron bridge, which our revenue officers had seized at Havre as contraband goods, or subject to duties; but it appeared on examination, that the custom-house had really neither prohibited nor taxed bridges, which have hitherto been built only in the very places where they were to be used. The custom-house officers had not foreseen, that it might one day happen, that a bridge should be constructed in Philadelphia or New York, to be thrown over the Seine at Paris. They are now aware of the fact, and will not forget this article in the new tariff. They must also enter houses on the list, if you acquire the habit of making them for Europeans.
Yesterday the Parliament of Paris, (urged for three weeks and more to record a stamp tax, with a new land tax, in order, by new financial resources, to cover the enormous deficit, which M. de Calonne had suffered to take place in our affairs,) moved and seemed to adhere to the following resolution; “That this Parliament has not the power nor right to accept and sanction new imposts; that this right pertains only to the States-General of the kingdom, which the King is besought to convoke immediately.” What an important change you here see in the maxims of our sovereign courts, which have, at least for several ages, exercised and maintained the right, which they seem now to renounce. The most acute politicians can foresee but imperfectly to what this demand, and an Assembly of the States-General, should it take place, will lead. The event alone can enlighten us on this point. It may be seen by this fact, as well as by many others, that a
great change has taken place in the ideas, which nations have entertained of governments, and the relations between the governing and the governed parties. I must still believe, in accordance with my principles concerning the perfectibility of the human race, that every thing is for the best, to which we are ever tending, though we sometimes seem to recede from it.
We do not hear often enough from Mr. Franklin, your grandson. I wish to know how he likes Philadelphia, and whether he does us the honor to feel any regrets on our behalf; I mean, as respects our way of life; for, as regards ourselves individually, he would be very ungrateful not to do so, since he owes some remembrance to persons, who have known both his talents and his amiable character, and have appreciated them. I beg that he will rank me in this number, and accept my compliments. Monsieur and Madame Marmontel, and all my family, desire to be remembered to you, and charge me to express to you the pleasure they feel in the good news you gave us of your health and situation. I shall never forget the happiness I have enjoyed in knowing you, and seeing you intimately. I write to you from Auteuil, seated in your arm-chair, on which I have had engraved Benjamin Franklin hîc sedebat, and having by my side the little bureau, which you bequeathed to me at parting, with a drawer full of nails to gratify the love of nailing and hammering, which I possess in common with you. But, believe me, I have no need of all these helps to cherish your endeared remembrance, and to love you, “Dum memor ipse mei, dum spiritus hos reget artus."
THE ABBÉ MORELLET.