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IN A FRENCH PRISON

by Thomas Paine

 

I WAS one of the nine members that composed the first committee ofconstitution. Six of them have been destroyed. Syeyes and myself have survived.He by bending with the timesand I by not bending. The other surviver joinedRobespierreand signed with him the warrant of my arrestation. After the fallof Robespierrehe was seized and imprisoned in his turnand sentenced totransportation. He has since apologized to me for having signed the warrantbysayinghe felt himself in danger and was obliged to do it.

Herault Sechellesan acquaintance of Mr. Jeffersonand a good patriotwasmy suppliant as member of the committee of constitution; that ishe was tosupply my placeif I had not accepted or had resignedbeing next in number ofvotes to me. He was imprisoned in the Luxemburg with mewas taken to thetribunal and the guillotineand Ihis principalwas left.

There were but two foreigners in the conventionAnacharsis Cloots and myself.We were both put out of the convention by the same votearrested by the sameorderand carried to prison together the same night. He was taken to theguillotineand I was again left. Joel Barlow was with us when we went to prison.

Joseph Lebonone of the vilest characters that ever existedand who madethe streets of Arras run with bloodwas my suppliant as member of theconvention for the department of the Pas de Calais. When I was put out of theconvention he came and took my place. When I was liberated from prisonandvoted again into the conventionhe was sent to the same prison and took myplace thereand he went to the guillotine instead of me. He supplied my placeall the way through.

One hundred and sixty-eight persons were taken out of the Luxemburg in onenightand a hundred and sixty of them guillotined the next dayof which I knowI was to have been one; and the manner in which I escaped that fate is curiousand has all the appearance of accident.

The room in which I was lodged was on the ground floorand one of a longrange of rooms under a galleryand the door of it opened outward and flatagainst the wall; so that when it was open the inside of the door appearedoutwardand the contrary when it was shut. I had three comradesfellow-prisoners with meJoseph Vanhuileof Brugessince president of themunicipality of that townMichael Robinsand Bastiniof Louvain.

When persons by scores and hundreds were to be taken out of prison for theguillotineit was always done in the nightand those who performed that officehad a private mark or signal by which theyknew what rooms to go toand whatnumber to take. Weas I have saidwere fourand the door of our room wasmarked unobserved by us with that number in chalk; but it happenedif happeningis a proper wordthat the mark was put on when the door was open and flatagainst the walland thereby came on the inside when we shut it at nightandthe destroying angel passed by it. A few days after this Robespierre fellandthe American ambassador arrived and reclaimed me and invited me to his house.

During the whole of my imprisonmentprior to the fall of Robespierretherewas no time when I could think my life worth twenty-four hoursand my mind wasmade up to meet its fate. The Americans in Paris went in a body to theconvention to reclaim mebut without Success. There was no partyamong themwith respect to me. My only hope then rested on the government of America thatit would remember me. But the icy heart of ingratitudein whatever man it maybe placedhas neither feeling nor sense of honor. The letter of Mr. Jeffersonhas served to wipe away the reproachand done justice to the mass of the peopleof America.

THE END