An Essay for the Use of New Republicans
AN ESSAY FOR THE USE OF NEW REPUBLICANS IN THEIR OPPOSITION TO MONARCHY
Philip Foner's introduction:
The following Essay was first published in Le Patriote Francois of October 20, 1792. The setting in France at the time Paine wrote this article was extremely exciting. On September 20, 1792, at Valmy, the French army was able to stop the invading enemies and force them to retreat. On that same day, the National Convention met in Paris and, a day later, royalty was abolished in France. The next day it was decreed that September 22 should be regarded as the beginning of the First Year of the French Republic. A few days after this address was published, Paine was delegated to congratulate the Convention on the steps taken after September 20th. His statement went: "Citizen President: In behalf of my fellow-deputies and of the General Council of the Commune of Calais I have the honor of congratulating the Convention on the abolition of Royalty. At the same time, I must, in the midst of the popular rejoicing, express my regret that the folly of our ancestors should compel us to treat with such solemnity the laying of a phantom."
THE attainment of any important possession that we have long been ardently coveting is at once a source of subsequent self-congratulation. Indeed, the feeling that we have triumphed so absorbs us that we immediately lose the sense of the cause of our success. But, after dwelling awhile on our new happiness, we verify all the incidents that have produced it, and the examination of each of them separately still further enhances our satisfaction. It is our present purpose to develop fully the reasons why our readers should participate in our enjoyment.
All French citizens have joined in celebrating the downfall of Royalty and the creation of a Republic, yet, among those who applaud, there are some persons who have not an entirely clear comprehension of their former situation or of that upon which they are now entering.
All Frenchmen have shuddered at the perjuries of the King, the plots of his Court and the profligacy of his brothers; so that the race of Louis was deposed from the throne of their hearts long before it was deposed by legislative decree. We do not effect much, however, if we merely dethrone an idol; we must also break to pieces the pedestal upon which it rested. It is the office of royalty rather than the holder of the office that is fatal in its consequences. But everyone has not a vivid conception of this fact.
Yet all Frenchmen should be able in the present conjuncture to prove the absurdity of Royalty and the reasonableness of a Republic, whenever these forms of government are discussed; because if you now enjoy freedom and happiness, you should be conscious of the reasons for your contentment.
As a distinction is drawn frequently between Royalty and Monarchy, we had better examine into the question of the pertinency of this distinction.
The system of Royalty has begun in the same fashion in all countries and among all peoples. A band of robbers, gathered together under a leader, throw themselves on a country and make slaves of its people; then they elect their leader king. Next comes another robber chief, who conquers and kills the first, and makes himself king in his stead. After a time, the recollection of all this violence is obliterated, and the successors of the robber are held to reign quite legitimately. They are shrewd enough to confer a few benefits now and then on their subjects; they corrupt those about them, and, to give an air of sanctity to their origin, they devise pedigrees that are purely fictitious; afterward, they are aided by the dishonesty of the priests, and religion befriends their usurped power, which will henceforth be regarded as their hereditary possession.
The consequences that flow from Royalty are such as might be expected from its source. The annals of monarchy abound in such hideous wickedness, such horrible cruelties that only by reading them can we form any idea of the baseness of which human nature is capable. The pictures that we there behold of kings and their ministers and courtiers are so horrifying that humanity is forced to turn away from them with a shudder.
And yet what else could be expected? Kings are monsters in the natural order, and what can we expect from monsters but miseries and crimes? Now, what is Monarchy? Whatever effort may have been made to conceal its true nature and to familiarize the people with that hateful term, its real meaning cannot be disguised: it signifies absolute power vested in a single person, although that person be a fool, a traitor or a tyrant. Do we not outrage national honor when we suggest the possibility of any people being ruled by such a person as I have denoted?
But, apart from the defects of the individual, government by a single
person is vicious in itself. A prince is too small a person himself to be capable of governing even the smallest state. What an absurdity it is, then, to believe in his capacity for the government of a great nation!
However, you will say, there have been kings who were men of genius.
Granted: but such intelligent rulers have been a greater curse to nations than those who were intellectually deficient. Kings of that class have always been ambitious, and have compelled their subjects to pay dearly for the conquests and Te-deums that were celebrated over the land while its inhabitants were dying of hunger. We have only to turn to the career of Louis XIV and of other sovereigns in proof of the truth of this statement.
What, however, of those rulers who have no claim to ability, and who substitute for it the vices that seem inherent in Royalty? We have the following description of them in the Contract Social of J. J. Rousseau:
"The men who take the foremost place in monarchies are often simply base marplots, ordinary rogues, mean intriguers. The trivial intellectual qualities that have raised these people to high positions in courts but serve to make more apparent to the public their real insignificance." In a word, the story of all monarchies supplies proof that, while monarchs do nothing, their ministers do nothing but evil.
While Royalty is harmful from its very nature, hereditary Royalty is, in addition, absurd and disgusting. Just think of it! Yonder is a man who claims that he has a hereditary right to rule me! Where did he get it? From his ancestors, he says, and from mine. But how could they give him a right they did not possess? No man has power over posterity. I can no more be the slave of those who went before me than I can of those who now exist. If we returned to life, we could not rob ourselves of the rights acquired in a second existence; still less could we rob
posterity of their rights.
A hereditary crown! A throne to be handed over to a successor! Why, it is to treat our posterity as a herd of cattle who are entirely destitute of either rights or will. No more infamous and indecent illusion ever disgraced humanity than that the people is a herd which may be transmitted from one king to another.
From one point of view, we should not, perhaps, censure kings for their savage cruelty, their brutality and their oppressions; it is not they who are in fault; it is hereditary succession: a swamp breeds serpents; hereditary succession breeds oppressors.
The following is the system of logic upon which are founded the claims of Royalty: "I," says the hereditary prince, "owe my authority to my birth; I owe my birth to God; therefore, I owe nothing to men." When he has a subservient minister, he then proceeds to commit all the crimes of which tyranny is capable, and he never has any idea that he is acting wrongfully. We have plenty of evidence of this fact in the history of all countries.
You must also see clearly that there must be an entire absence of sympathy between ruler and people. What renders us kind and humane? Is it not sympathy, the power which I have of putting myself in my neighbor's place? How can a monarch have sympathy? He can never put himself in anybody's place, for the simple reason that he can never be in any place but his own.
A monarch is naturally and preeminently an egotist. We have innumerable proofs which show that such a person is altogether separated from humanity. When Charles II was asked to punish Lauderdale for his cruelty to the Scots, his reply was: "Lauderdale may have oppressed the Scots, but he has always supported my interests." A frequent expression of Louis XIV was: "If I were to comply with the will of my people, I should not be King." He lost his temper when anyone spoke of the "safety of the State," or "the calamities of the State."
We might not object to the hereditary succession of kings, if we could always be certain that the throne should be occupied by a wise and virtuous prince. If, however, we but consider the character of those who sit on the thrones of Europe at the present hour, what do we discover? We find that the men who fill them are either fools or tyrants or traitors or libertines, and that in some of them are combined all imaginable vices. It would thus seem that nature and destiny have agreed in the present age to supply us with tangible evidence of the atrocious wickedness and folly of Royalty.
Yet, after all, there is nothing distinctive about the present age in this relation. Hereditary succession is so essentially vicious that it is impossible for the people to hope for the advent of a virtuous prince. A person educated in the belief that he has a right to command others is inevitably bound by his surroundings to lose all sense of reason and justice.
In fact, were not this notion of hereditary kings a serious matter, we might feel inclined to laugh at the absurdity of such an institution. We have to imagine that, as in the case of racehorses, a prince has certain peculiar characteristics that destine him for the throne, just as the courser has certain physical qualities which destine him for the race-track. But in the case of the noble race of Andalusian steeds, certain precautions are taken to insure its genuineness. Surely, in the case of princes, except similar precautions are adopted, no matter how much they violate the laws of decency, it is impossible to discover whether the offspring of a queen is a legitimate prince or a bastard.
Everything connected with hereditary Royalty bears the mark of infamy or folly. Just consider: a person cannot be a mere workman without some sort of ability; to be a king all that a man requires is to be born. The story told by Montaigne of the dog Barkouf who was appointed governor of a province by an Asiatic monarch, excites our amusement. We laugh at the folly of the Egyptians, who set up a pebble on a throne and acknowledged it as their King. But a pebble or a dog would be less harmful to the people who bowed before them than are kings to the nations that pay them servile homage.
An irrational animal or a piece of lifeless rock is less dangerous to a nation than a human idol. Hardly a single example can be adduced where a man of genius has left behind him children worthy of their parentage. And yet the authority vested in a sovereign, must descend to his son! It is like saying that a wise father always has a wise son! A good governor by inheritance is as likely as a good author by inheritance.
Common sense, therefore, is as much outraged by the idea of Royalty as common right is. Still, it is more than an absurdity; it is a plague, because a nation that prostrates itself in presences of an absurdity is degraded. Can that people which reveres equally vice and virtue, ignorance and wisdom, ever have the capacity for managing important affairs? For this reason, it will be noticed that the inhabitants of a monarchical country are often intellectually degenerate and are distinguished for their servile disposition.
Another consequence of this baleful institution is that it destroys equality and introduces what is called "Nobility." Evil a thing as Nobility is, it is less so than government by inheritance. All that the noble asks of me is that I recognize his superiority because of his birth, while the King requires my submission: I am amused by the noble; I feel like setting my foot upon the King.
It was thought that when the Convention voted the abolition of Royalty, someone would speak in its favor. In this relation, a certain philosopher, who believed that no decree should be issued without a preliminary discussion of the question, moved for the appointment of an orator who should bring forward all the arguments that could be adduced in favor of Royalty, so that everything that could be said in its justification should be made clear to the world. It was on the principle that counsel is assigned to the defense, no matter how strong is the evidence of the prisoner's guilt. In the Republic of Venice there was an official whose function it was to assail all testimony, however indisputable. Royalty, however, has plenty of defenders. It is only fitting that we should examine the cogency of their arguments.
- The people need a King to protect them from the tyranny of the powerful.
Let the Rights of Man be established, Equality enthroned, a sound Constitution drafted, with its powers clearly defined; let all privileges, distinctions of birth and monopolies be annulled; establish liberty of trade and industry, the freedom of the press, equal division of family inheritances, publicity of all government measures, and you will be certain to have excellent laws, and may dispel from your mind the dread of the powerful; for, whether they like it or not, all citizens will then be subject to the law.
- A King will prevent the Legislature from usurping authority.
If representatives, who cannot act as administrators or judges, are often renewed, if their functions are determined by law, if the people can summon at any moment their national conventions and primary assemblies, the tyranny of a legislature would have only a very short existence, especially among a people capable of self-defense, who can read, and have newspapers, guns and pikes. Why assume an evil solely for the purpose of providing a remedy?
- To strengthen the executive power, we should have a King.
Such a proposition might have a certain force when we had nobles, priests, parliaments, and other privileged classes. Now, however, the law is all powerful, and as it is the expression of the general will, it is the interest of everyone to see that it is executed. On the contrary, the presence of a hereditary king tends to weaken the executive power, as was clearly demonstrated recently when we attempted to unite Royalty and Liberty in marriage bonds.
For that matter, those who hold this opinion are persons who identify the king with the Executive Power. My readers, I fancy, entertain more enlightened sentiments.
The following is another not uncommon fallacy: "We must have either an
hereditary chief or an elective chief. If we have an elective chief, the citizens will quarrel about the candidates, and every election will be followed by a civil war." In the first place, such civil wars as have arisen in England and France were the result, not of election, but of hereditary succession; and, in addition, the scourge of foreign war has, for a score of times, devastated these kingdoms, because of the claims asserted by certain royal families. In fine, all the disturbances that occurred during the Regency had their source in hereditary succession.
The great point, however, to be considered is this: an elective chief will not be followed by a train of courtiers, will not be surrounded with royal pageantry, will not be puffed up with servile adulation, and will not have an income of thirty millions; and besides, his fellow-citizens will not elect him to an office of several years' duration without limiting his authority and keeping his income within due bounds.
Moreover, the presence of a king entails the presence of an aristocracy and of taxation reaching thirty millions. This is doubtless why Franklin styled Royalism a crime as bad as poisoning.
The sole reason why Royalty, with all its visionary splendor, its assumed necessity, the superstitious idolatry that follows in its train, was created was for the purpose of exacting from its victims excessive taxation and willing submission.
Royalty and Popery have had the same goal to attain and have been supported by the same deceptions; they are now falling into the same decay under the rays of the same Light.