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Title pageAbout the Book

Cooper, Thomas.

A Reply to Mr. Burke's Invective Against Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Watt, in the House of Commons, on the 30th of April, 1792.

Manchester: Printed by M. Falkner and co., 1792.

By 1792, Britain was faced with the full reality of revolution in France. With a violent revolution having overturned a traditional monarchy, conservatives and radicals in Britain were being forced to choose sides and defend their viewpoints. In April 1792, two English radicals, Thomas Cooper and James Watt (son of the famed inventor), visited Paris on behalf of a Manchester Corresponding Society. On April 13, Cooper delivered an address of admiration and friendship to the Society of Friends of the Constitution in the old convent of the Jacobins. The pair remained in the tumultuous capital for four months. During this time, they associated themselves with the Girondists, received honorary citizenship, argued with Robespierre, and in the end left Paris in haste after a warning that their lives were in danger. Their visit had already caused a storm in England. Edmund Burke, the conservative standard-bearer and author of the famous Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), launched a vitriolic attack on Cooper and Watt in the House of Commons. Burke castigated the Revolution and accused the pair of treating with the natural enemy and traitors to the French monarchy. Thomas Cooper, at the start of a long career as an iconoclast, was not one to allow such an attack to go unanswered. Before the end of the year, Cooper's Reply to Mr. Burke's Invective against Mr. Cooper, and Mr. Watt, in the House of Commons on the 30th of April, 1792 appeared. This pamphlet included not only Cooper's response to Burke, but also much of the correspondence between the Manchester Society and its Parisian counterpart as well as a full publication of the original address in Paris.

Cooper begins his defense with the dismissal of all charges of treason on either side of the English Channel. Britain and France were not at war, and the Society visited was a private organization with no position in government and therefore its members could not be traitors. Others across the country had corresponded with fellow radicals in France and had not received such treatment. Even further, Burke himself had corresponded with Benjamin Franklin, and that while the nation was indeed at war with the Americans. Then he avails himself of the opportunity - offered him when Burke had said that people such as Cooper sought to overthrow the Constitution - to embark upon a remarkable attack, based upon republican theory, against the privilege that makes it impossible for that Constitution to operate in favor of all its citizens. The American example has proven that society can function with, in the fearful phrase of James I, "no bishops, no nobles, no King." In a detailed and direct exposition, he lays out why the institutions of monarchy and aristocracy are not only useless, but also indeed harmful to the society. These "hereditary functions" are costly, economically divisive, morally corrupting, and dangerous to the safety and tranquility of the nation. Stating that "war they create and by war they were created," Cooper takes his readers on a tour through the violence of British history, from the Norman Conquest to the American War. For good measure, since he feels that "people are asleep" on the issue, he gives a lengthy condemnation of standing armies, outlining their history and their dangers from Richard II to the present. He is especially articulate on the Restoration period and the reign of William III. He praises the soldiers themselves calling them the "flower of the nation," but regrets that their energies are lost to Britain when they become ill-treated "machines." Concluding his theoretical section, Cooper argues that these institutions are dedicated to preventing innovation and reform. He desires instead true reform, with everyone voting, even the poor who he considers also pay taxes even if only with their labor and their resilience. He reserves his final pages for a heated condemnation of Edmund Burke, assaulting his consistency, his integrity, and his role of servant of the aristocracy.

The exchange between Burke and Cooper indicated the tensions that the French Revolution had brought to Britain, and later were to bring to the United States. Six thousand copies of Cooper's reply were printed and distributed. Plans for a second, inexpensive edition were shelved under pressure from the Attorney General who feared the wider distribution of such rhetoric. Events moved very quickly to outstrip debate, however. The late 1792 arrest in Paris of Thomas Paine as a royalist indicated that Cooper and Watts had been in danger at the hands of the more radical Jacobins. On January 21, 1793, the French king was executed and a republic declared. Within a month, Britain, along with most of Europe, was at war with France. Dissent in Britain became very difficult, especially after Prime Minister William Pitt suspended habeas corpus in May 1793 and the Whig party split shortly thereafter. Thomas Cooper had by then already visited the United States, and in the following year he settled with his family in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.

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