[1792] - Paine charged with sedition

Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man was written in response to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). It was first printed by Joseph Johnson on 21 February 1791 but withdrawn for fear of prosecution. The publisher J. S. Jordan, however, took on the manuscript, which was finally issued on 16 March. By May around 50,000 copies were thought to be in circulation. After spending time in France, Paine returned to England in the summer of 1791 to work on a book entitled Kingship,which later became the second part of the Rights of Man. On this occasion neither Johnson nor Jordan was prepared to take the risk of publishing it. Nonetheless, Paine eventually succeeded in persuading Jordan to print the work by agreeing to add a disclaimer asserting that he was the sole author and publisher. Consequently, Rights of Man: Part the Second, Combining Principles and Practice was published on 16 February 1792.

William Pitt’s government was, however, increasingly eager to act against the developing radicalism in Britain in the early 1790s. In the spring of 1792 Jordan was indicted for sedition as the publisher of Rights of Man: he subsequently pleaded guilty to the charge and was forced to pay a large fine. A couple of weeks later the government issued a royal proclamation against seditious writings and, on 21 May, Paine was summoned to answer a charge of seditious libel. The trial was delayed until December and in the meantime Paine continued to publish writings that attacked government measures. On 13 September, however, he took the decision to leave London and crossed the Channel to France. On 18 December he was tried in absentia and effectively outlawed from Britain for the rest of his life. He died in the United States on 8 June 1809.

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