Thomas Paine's Letter to the French Directory

Valerian Gribayedoff

(From the European Magazine, November, 1798, page 353.)

Citizens, Directors:

The Irishmen who went with General Humbert, bearing your commission, have been taken and hanged. Those who have gone on the second naval expedition are exposed to the same fate. The following facts have a striking connection with the plan which I hasten to present to you.

General Lee, of the American Army, was taken prisoner by the English in 1776; they threatened to hang him. Congress, having no prisoners of the same rank, caused six lieutenant-colonels, prisoners, to be kept as hostages for him, and to be treated in every event in the same manner in which their general might be treated by the English. This conduct produced the desired effect. The general, instead of being hanged, was first set at liberty on his own parole, and afterward exchanged.

The Directory, among their prisoners of war in France, have many Irish officers who are attached to the British Government, and it is just that these Irish officers, bearing English commissions, should be kept as hostages for the Irish officers who have French commissions.

In another point of view, our descent ought to be assimilated to another descent, and the English officers taken at Ostend ought to be retained as hostages for the French officers taken in the descent upon Ireland. It is necessary likewise to observe that for more than a century the Irish have been used to go into the service of France, and to take French commissions, and that these commissions have always been respected by the British Government. The Irishmen who went with the expedition have in their favor a custom admitted and settled, and they serve under French generals. This differs greatly from the Emigrants at Quiberon. The Emigrants there were a separate body, acting solely under emigrant officers.

Thomas Paine.