Curious Argument, between Thomas Paine and the noted Peter Pindar: Peter set|teth a Wit Noose, and catcheth Thomas, in one of his own Logic Traps.
I HEARD Thomas Paine once assert, in the presence of Mr. Wolcott, better known, in this country, by the face|tious name of Peter Pindar, that the mi|nority, in all deliberative bodies, ought, in all cases, to govern the majority. Pe|ter smiled. You must grant me, said Un|common Sense, that the proportion of Page 179 men of sense, to the ignorant among man|kind, is at least as twenty, thirty, or even forty nine, to an hundred. The majority of mankind are consequently most prone to errour; and, if we would atchieve right, the minority ought, in all cases, to govern. Peter continued to smile archly. If we look to experience, continued Paine, for there are no conclusions I more prize than those drawn, not from speculation, but plain matter of fact, we shall find an examination into the debates of all delib|erative bodies, in our favour. To pro|ceed no farther than your country, Mr. Wolcott, I love to look at home. Sup|pose the resolutions of the houses of lords and commons had been determined by this salutary rule; why, the sensible mi|nority would have governed. George Washington would have been a private citizen; and the United States of Ameri|ca mere colonies, dependent on the Brit|tish crown. As a patriotic Englishman, Page 180 will you not confess, that this would have been better than to have these United States independent, with the illustrious Washington at their head, by their wis|dom confounding the juggling efforts of your ministry to embroil them; and to have the comfortable prospect before you, that from the extent of their territory, their maritime resource, their natural en|crease, the asylum they offer to emigrants, in the course of two centuries, Scotland and Ireland, if the United States have not too much real pride to attempt it, may be reduced to the same dependence upon them, as your West India islands now have upon you: and even England, haughty England, thrown in as a make weight, in the future treaty between them and the French nation. Peter, who had listened with great seeming attention, now mildly replied. I will not say but that your arguments are cogent, though not entirely convincing. As it is a subject Page 181 rather out of my line, I will, for form sake, hold the negative of your proposi|tion, and leave it to the good company, which is right. Agreed, said Paine, who saw himself surrounded by his admirers. Well, gentlemen, said Peter, with all the gravity of a speaker of the house of com|mons; you, that are of the opinion that the minority, in all deliberative bodies, ought, in all cases, to govern the majority, please to rise in the affirmative. Paine im|mediately stood up himself, and, as he had foreseen, we all rose in his favour. Then I rise in the negative, cried Peter. I am the wise minority, who ought, in all cases, to govern your ignorant majority; and, consequently, upon your own princi|ples, I carry the vote. Let it be re|corded.
This unexpected manoeuvre raised a hearty laugh. Paine retired from the presence of triumphant wit, mortified with being foiled at his own weapons.