Front Page Titles (by Subject) XV.: SHALL LOUIS XVI. HAVE RESPITE? - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. III (1791-1804)
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XV.: SHALL LOUIS XVI. HAVE RESPITE? - 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.
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SHALL LOUIS XVI. HAVE RESPITE?
SPEECH IN THE CONVENTION, JANUARY 19, 1793.1
(Read in French by Deputy Bancal.)
Very sincerely do I regret the Convention’s vote of yesterday for death.
Marat [interrupting]: I submit that Thomas Paine is incompetent to vote on this question; being a Quaker his religious principles are opposed to capital punishment. [Much confusion, quieted by cries for “freedom of speech,” on which Bancal proceeds with Paine’s speech.]
I have the advantage of some experience; it is near twenty years that I have been engaged in the cause of liberty, having contributed something to it in the revolution of the United States of America. My language has always been that of liberty and humanity, and I know that nothing so exalts a nation as the union of these two principles, l under all circumstances. I know that the public mind of France, and particularly that of Paris, has been heated and irritated by the dangers to which they have been exposed; but could we carry our thoughts into the future, when the dangers are ended and the irritations forgotten, what to-day seems an act of justice may then appear an act of vengeance. [Murmurs.] My anxiety for the cause of France has become for the moment concern for her honor. If, on my return to America, I should employ myself on a history of the French Revolution, I had rather record a thousand errors on the side of mercy, than be obliged to tell one act of severe justice. I voted against an appeal to the people, because it appeared to me that the Convention was needlessly wearied on that point; but I so voted in the hope that this Assembly would pronounce against death, and for the same punishment that the nation would have voted, at least in my opinion, that is for reclusion during the war, and banishment thereafter.1 That is the punishment most efficacious, because it includes the whole family at once, and none other can so operate. I am still against the appeal to the primary assemblies, because there is a better method. This Convention has been elected to form a Constitution, which will be submitted to the primary assemblies. After its acceptance a necessary consequence will be an election and another assembly. We cannot suppose that the present Convention will last more than five or six months. The choice of new deputies will express the national opinion, on the propriety or impropriety of your sentence, with as much efficacy as if those primary assemblies had been consulted on it. As the duration of our functions here cannot be long, it is a part of our duty to consider the interests of those who shall replace us. If by any act of ours the number of the nation’s enemies shall be needlessly increased, and that of its friends diminished,—at a time when the finances may be more strained than to-day,—we should not be justifiable for having thus unnecessarily heaped obstacles in the path of our successors. Let us therefore not be precipitate in our decisions.
France has but one ally—the United States of America. That is the only nation that can furnish France with naval provisions, for the kingdoms of northern Europe are, or soon will be, at war with her. It unfortunately happens that the person now under discussion is considered by the Americans as having been the friend of their revolution. His execution will be an affliction to them, and it is in your power not to wound the feelings of your ally. Could I speak the French language I would descend to your bar, and in their name become your petitioner to respite the execution of the sentence on Louis.
[Prolonged uproar. Paine, still standing in the tribune beside his interpreter, Deputy Bancal, declared the sentiments to be his.]
Your Executive Committee will nominate an ambassador to Philadelphia; my sincere wish is that he may announce to America that the National Convention of France, out of pure friendship to America, has consented to respite Louis. That people, by my vote, ask you to delay the execution.
Ah, citizens, give not the tyrant of England the triumph of seeing the man perish on the scaffold who had aided my much-loved America to break his chains!
Not included in any previous edition of Paine’s “Works.” It is here printed from contemporary French reports, modified only by Paine’s own quotations of a few sentences in his Memorial to Monroe (xxi.).—Editor.
It is possible that the course of the debate may have produced some reaction among the people, but when Paine voted against submitting the king’s fate to the popular vote it was believed by the king and his friends that it would be fatal. The American Minister, Gouverneur Morris, who had long been acting for the king, wrote to President Washington, Jan. 6, 1793: “The king’s fate is to be decided next Monday, the 14th. That unhappy man, conversing with one of his Council on his own fate, calmly summed up the motives of every kind, and concluded that a majority of the Council would vote for referring his case to the people, and that in consequence he should be massacred.” Writing to Washington on Dec. 28, 1792, Morris mentions having heard from Paine that he was to move the king’s banishment to America, and he may then have informed Paine that the king believed reference of his case to popular vote would be fatal. Genet was to have conducted the royal family to America.—Editor.
See Guizot, “Hist. of France,” vi., p. 136. “Hist. Parliamentaire,” xxiii., p. 250. Louis Blanc says that Paine’s appeal was so effective that Marat interrupted mainly in order to destroy its effect.—”Hist. de la Rev.,” tome vii., 396.—Editor.