Front Page Titles (by Subject) XI.: ANTI-MONARCHAL ESSAY. - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. III (1791-1804)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
XI.: ANTI-MONARCHAL ESSAY. - Thomas Paine, The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. III (1791-1804) 
The Writings of Thomas Paine, Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894). Vol. 3.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
FOR THE USE OF NEW REPUBLICANS.1
When we reach some great good, long desired, we begin by felicitating ourselves. We triumph, we give ourselves up to this joy without rendering to our minds any full account of our reasons for it. Then comes reflexion: we pass in review all the circumstances of our new happiness; we compare it in detail with our former condition; and each of these thoughts becomes a fresh enjoyment. This satisfaction, elucidated and well-considered, we now desire to procure for our readers.
In seeing Royalty abolished and the Republic established, all France has resounded with unanimous plaudits.2 Yet some who clap their hands do not sufficiently understand the condition they are leaving or that which they are assuming.
The perjuries of Louis, the conspiracies of his court, the wildness of his worthy brothers, have filled every Frenchman with horror, and this race was dethroned in their hearts before its fall by legal decree. But it is little to throw down an idol; it is the pedestal that above all must be broken down; it is the regal office rather than the incumbent that is murderous. All do not realize this.
Why is Royalty an absurd and detestable government? Why is the Republic a government accordant with nature and reason? At the present time a Frenchman should put himself in a position to answer these two questions clearly. For, in fine, if you are free and contented it is yet needful that you should know why.
Let us first discuss Royalty or Monarchy. Although one often wishes to distinguish between these names, common usage gives them the same sense.
Bands of brigands unite to subvert a country, place it under tribute, seize its lands, enslave its inhabitants. The expedition completed, the chieftain of the robbers adopts the title of monarch or king. Such is the origin of Royalty among all tribes—huntsmen, agriculturists, shepherds.
A second brigand arrives who finds it equitable to take away by force what was conquered by violence: he dispossesses the first; he chains him, kills him, reigns in his place. Ere long time effaces the memory of this origin; the successors rule under a new form; they do a little good, from policy; they corrupt all who surround them; they invent fictitious genealogies to make their families sacred1 the knavery of priests comes to their aid; they take Religion for a life-guard: thenceforth tyranny becomes immortal, the usurped power becomes an hereditary right.
The effects of Royalty have been entirely harmonious with its origin. What scenes of horror, what refinements of iniquity, do the annals of monarchies present! If we should paint human nature with a baseness of heart, an hypocrisy, from which all must recoil and humanity disavow, it would be the portraiture of kings, their ministers and courtiers.
And why should it not be so? What should such a monstrosity produce but miseries and crimes? What is monarchy? It has been finely disguised, and the people familiarized with the odious title: in its real sense the word signifies the absolute power of one single individual, who may with impunity be stupid, treacherous, tyrannical, etc. Is it not an insult to nations to wish them so governed?
Government by a single individual is vicious in itself, independently of the individual’s vices. For however little a State, the prince is nearly always too small: where is the proportion between one man and the affairs of a whole nation?
True, some men of genius have been seen under the diadem; but the evil is then even greater: the ambition of such a man impels him to conquest and despotism, his subjects soon have to lament his glory, and sing their Te-deums while perishing with hunger. Such is the history of Louis XIV. and so many others.
But if ordinary men in power repay you with incapacity or with princely vices? “But those who come to the front in monarchies are frequently mere mean mischief-makers, commonplace knaves, petty intriguers, whose small wits, which in courts reach large places, serve only to display their ineptitude in public, as soon as they appear.”∗ In short, monarchs do nothing, and their ministers do evil: this is the history of all monarchies.
But if Royalty as such is baneful, as hereditary succession it is equally revolting and ridiculous. What! there exists among my kind a man who pretends that he is born to govern me? Whence derived he such right? From his and my ancestors, says he. But how could they transmit to him a right they did not possess? Man has no authority over generations unborn. I cannot be the slave of the dead, more than of the living. Suppose that instead of our posterity, it was we who should succeed ourselves: we should not to-day be able to despoil ourselves of the rights which would belong to us in our second life: for a stronger reason we cannot so despoil others.
An hereditary crown! A transmissible throne! What a notion! With even a little reflexion, can any one tolerate it? Should human beings then be the property of certain individuals, born or to be born? Are we then to treat our descendants in advance as cattle, who shall have neither will nor rights of their own? To inherit government is to inherit peoples, as if they were herds. It is the basest, the most shameful fantasy that ever degraded mankind.
It is wrong to reproach kings with their ferocity, their brutal indifference, the oppressions of the people, and molestations of citizens: it is hereditary succession that makes them what they are: this breeds monsters as a marsh breeds vipers.
The logic on which the hereditary prince rests is in effect this: I derive my power from my birth; I derive my birth from God; therefore I owe nothing to men. It is little that he has at hand a complacent minister, he continues to indulge, conscientiously, in all the crimes of tyranny. This has been seen in all times and countries.
Tell me, then, what is there in common between him who is master of a people, and the people of whom he is master? Are these masters really of their kind? It is by sympathy that we are good and human: with whom does a monarch sympathize? When my neighbor suffers I pity, because I put myself in his place: a monarch pities none, because he has never been, can never be, in any other place than his own.
A monarch is an egoist by nature, the egoist par excellence. A thousand traits show that this kind of men have no point of contact with the rest of humanity. There was demanded of Charles II. the punishment of Lauderdale, his favorite, who had infamously oppressed the Scotch. “Yes,” said Charles coolly, “this man has done much against the Scotch, but I cannot see that he has done anything against my interests.” Louis XIV. often said: “If I follow the wishes of the people, I cannot act the king.” Even such phrases as “misfortunes of the State,” “safety of the State,” filled Louis XIV. with wrath.
Could nature make a law which should assure virtue and wisdom invariably in these privileged castes that perpetuate themselves on thrones, there would be no objection to their hereditary succession. But let us pass Europe in review: all of its monarchs are the meanest of men. This one a tyrant, that one an imbecile, another a traitor, the next a debauchee, while some muster all the vices. It looks as if fate and nature had aimed to show our epoch, and all nations, the absurdity and enormity of Royalty.
But I mistake: this epoch has nothing peculiar. For, such is the essential vice of this royal succession by animal filiation, the peoples have not even the chances of nature,—they cannot even hope for a good prince as an alternative. All things conspire to deprive of reason and justice an individual reared to command others. The word of young Dionysius was very sensible: his father, reproaching him for a shameful action, said, “Have I given thee such example?” “Ah,” answered the youth, “thy father was not a king!”
In truth, were laughter on such a subject permissible, nothing would suggest ideas more burlesque than this fantastic institution of hereditary kings. Would it not be believed, to look at them, that there really exist particular lineages possessing certain qualities which enter the blood of the embryo prince, and adapt him physically for royalty, as a horse for the racecourse? But then, in this wild supposition, it yet becomes necessary to assure the genuine family descent of the heir presumptive. To perpetuate the noble race of Andalusian chargers, the circumstances pass before witnesses, and similar precautions seem necessary, however indecent, to make sure that the trickeries of queens shall not supply thrones with bastards, and that the kings, like the horses, shall always be thoroughbreds.
Whether one jests or reasons, there is found in this idea of hereditary royalty only folly and shame. What then is this office, which may be filled by infants or idiots? Some talent is required to be a simple workman; to be a king there is need to have only the human shape, to be a living automaton. We are astonished when reading that the Egyptians placed on the throne a flint, and called it their king. We smile at the dog Barkouf, sent by an Asiatic despot to govern one of his provinces.∗ But monarchs of this kind are less mischievous and less absurd than those before whom whole peoples prostrate themselves. The flint and the dog at least imposed on nobody. None ascribed to them qualities or characters they did not possess. They were not styled ’Father of the People,’—though this were hardly more ridiculous than to give that title to a rattle-head whom inheritance crowns at eighteen. Better a mute than an animate idol. Why, there can hardly be cited an instance of a great man having children worthy of him, yet you will have the royal function pass from father to son! As well declare that a wise man’s son will be wise. A king is an administrator, and an hereditary administrator is as absurd as an author by birthright.
Royalty is thus as contrary to common sense as to common right. But it would be a plague even if no more than an absurdity; for a people who can bow down in honor of a silly thing is a debased people. Can they be fit for great affairs who render equal homage to vice and virtue, and yield the same submission to ignorance and wisdom? Of all institutions, none has caused more intellectual degeneracy. This explains the often-remarked abjectness of character under monarchies.
Such is also the effect of this contagious institution that it renders equality impossible, and draws in its train the presumption and the evils of “Nobility.” If you admit inheritance of an office, why not that of a distinction? The Nobility’s heritage asks only homage, that of the Crown commands submission. When a man says to me, ’I am born illustrious,’ I merely smile; when he says ’I am born your master,’ I set my foot on him.
When the Convention pronounced the abolition of Royalty none rose for the defence that was expected. On this subject a philosopher, who thought discussion should always precede enactment, proposed a singular thing; he desired that the Convention should nominate an orator commissioned to plead before it the cause of Royalty, so that the pitiful arguments by which it has in all ages been justified might appear in broad daylight. Judges give one accused, however certain his guilt, an official defender. In the ancient Senate of Venice there existed a public officer whose function was to contest all propositions, however incontestible, or however perfect their evidence. For the rest, pleaders for Royalty are not rare: let us open them, and see what the most specious of royalist reasoners have said.
Take note, for the rest, that those who talk in this way are men who believe that the King and the Executive Power are only one and the same thing: readers of La Feuille Villageoise are more advanced.1
Others use this bad reasoning: “Were there no hereditary chief there would be an elective chief: the citizens would side with this man or that, and there would be a civil war at every election.” In the first place, it is certain that hereditary succession alone has produced the civil wars of France and England; and that beyond this are the pretended rights of royal families which have twenty times drawn on these nations the scourge of foreign wars. It is, in fine, the heredity of crowns that has caused the troubles of Regency, which Thomas Paine calls Monarchy at nurse.
But above all it must be said, that if there be an elective chief, that chief will not be a king surrounded by courtiers, burdened with pomp, inflated by idolatries, and endowed with thirty millions of money; also, that no citizen will be tempted to injure himself by placing another citizen, his equal, for some years in an office without limited income and circumscribed power.
In a word, whoever demands a king demands an aristocracy, and thirty millions of taxes. See why Franklin described Royalism as a crime like poisoning.
Royalty, its fanatical eclat, its superstitious idolatry, the delusive assumption of its necessity, all these fictions have been invented only to obtain from men excessive taxes and voluntary servitude. Royalty and Popery have had the same aim, have sustained themselves by the same artifices, and crumble under the same Light.
Translated for this work from Le Patriote Francois, “Samedi 20 Octobre, 1792, l’an 1er de la Republique. Supplement au No. 1167,” in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. It is headed, “Essai anti-monarchique, à l’usage des nouveaux républicains, tiré de la Feuille Villageoise.” I have not found this Feuille, but no doubt Brissot, in editing the essay for his journal (Le Patriote Francois) abridged it, and in one instance Paine is mentioned by name. Although in this essay Paine occasionally repeats sentences used elsewhere, and naturally maintains his well-known principles, the work has a peculiar interest as indicating the temper and visions of the opening revolution.—Editor.
Royalty was abolished by the National Convention on the first day of its meeting, September 21, 1792, the revolutionary Calendar beginning next day. Paine was chosen by his fellow-deputies of Calais to congratulate the Convention, and did so in a brief address, dated October 27, which was loaned by M. Charavay to the Historical Exposition of the Revolution at Paris, 1889, where I made the subjoined translation:
The Boston Investigator’s compilation of Paine’s Works contains the following as “supposed to be Mr. Paine’s”:
[∗]J. J. Rousseau, Contrat Social.—Author.
[∗]See the first year of La Feuille Villageoise, No. 42.—Author. [Cf. Montaigne’s Essays, chap. xii.—Editor.]
The reader should bear in mind that this phrase, now used vaguely, had for Paine and his political school a special significance; it implied a fundamental Declaration of individual rights, of supreme force and authority, invasion which, either by legislatures, law courts, majorities, or administrators, was to be regarded as the worst treason and despotism.—Editor.
See No. 50.—Author.