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performed by volunteer characters, who accept no pay for them; but the routine of office is always regulated to such a general standard of abilities as to be within the compass of numbers in every country to perform, and therefore cannot merit very extraordinary recompense. "Government," says Swift, "is a plain thing, and fitted to the capacity of many heads."
It is inhuman to talk of a million sterling a-year, paid out of the public taxes of any country, for the support of any individual, whilst thousands, who are forced to contribute thereto, are pining with want and struggling with misery. Government does not consist in a contrast between prisons and palaces, between poverty and pomp; it is not instituted to rob the needy of his mite, and increase the wretchedness of the wretched.
PAINE OPPOSES THE EXECUTION OF LOUIS XVI.
[Speech in the French National Convention. 1792.]
NITIZEN PRESIDENT: My hatred and abhorrence of absolute monarchy are sufficiently known; they originated in principles of reason and conviction, nor, except with life, can they ever be extirpated; but my compassion for the unfortunate, whether friend or enemy, is equally lively and sincere.
I voted that Louis should be tried, because it was necessary to afford proofs to the world of the perfidy, corruption and abomination of the French government.
The infinity of evidence that has been produced exposes them in the most glaring and hideous colors.
Nevertheless I am inclined to believe that if Louis Capet had been born in an obscure condition, had he lived within the circle of an amiable and respectable neighborhood, at liberty to practise the duties of domestic life, had he been thus situated I cannot believe that he would have shown himself destitute of social virtues; we are, in a moment of fermentation like this, naturally little indulgent to his vices, or rather to those of his government; we regard them with additional horror and indignation; not that they are more heinous than those of his predecessors, but because our eyes are now open, and the veil of delusion at length withdrawn; yet the lamentably degraded state to which he is actually reduced is surely far less imputable to him than to the constituent assembly which, of its own authority, without consent or advice of the people, restored him to the throne.
I was present at the time of the flight or abdication of Louis XVI., and when he was taken and brought back. The proposal of restoring to
nim the supreme power struck me with amazement; and although at that time I was not a citizen, yet as a citizen of the world, I employed all the efforts that depended on me to prevent it.
The people have beat down royalty, never, never to rise again; they have brought Louis Capet to the bar, and demonstrated in the face of the whole world, the intrigues, the falsehood, corruption, and rooted depravity of his government: there remains then only one question to be considered, what is to be done with this man?
For myself, I freely confess that when I reflect on the unaccountable folly that restored the executive power to his hands, all covered as he was with perjuries and treason, I am far more ready to condemn the constituent assembly than the unfortunate prisoner, Louis Capet.
But, abstracted from every other consideration, there is one circumstance in his life which ought to cover or at least to palliate a great number of his transgressions, and this very circumstance affords the French nation a blessed occasion of extricating itself from the yoke of its kings without defiling itself in the impurities of their blood.
It is to France alone, I know, that the United States of America owe that support which enabled them to shake off an unjust and tyrannical yoke. The ardor and zeal which she displayed to provide both men and money were the natural consequences of a thirst for liberty. But as the nation at that time, restrained by the shackles of her own Government, could only act by means of a monarchical organ, this organ, whatever in other respects the object might be, certainly performed a good, a great action.
Let then these United States be the safeguard and asylum of Louis Capet. There, hereafter, far removed from the miseries and crimes of royalty, he may learn from the constant aspect of public prosperity, that the true system of government consists in fair, equal and honorable representation. In relating this circumstance, and in submitting this proposition, I consider myself as a citizen of both countries.
I submit it as a citizen of America who feels the debt of gratitude which he owes to every Frenchman. I submit it also as a man who cannot forget that kings are subject to human frailties. I support my proposition as a citizen of the French republic, because it appears to me the best, the most politic measure that can be adopted.
As far as my experience in public life extends, I have ever observed that the great mass of the people are invariably just, both in their intentions and in their objects; but the true method of accomplishing that effect, does not always show itself in the first instance. For example, the English nation has groaned under the despotism of the Stuarts. Hence Charles the Ist lost his life; yet Charles the IId was restored to all the full plenitude of power which his father had lost. Forty years had
not expired when the same family strove to re-establish their ancient oppression; so the nation then banished from its territories the whole race. The remedy was effectual: the Stuart family sunk into obscurity, confounded itself with the multitude, and is at length extinct.
The French nation has carried her measures of government to a greater length. France is not satisfied with exposing the guilt of the monarch, she has penetrated into the vices and horrors of the monarchy. She has shown them clear as daylight, and forever crushed that system; and he whoever he may be, that should ever dare to reclaim those rights, would be regarded not as a pretender, but punished as a traitor.
Two brothers of Louis Capet have banished themselves from the country, but they are obliged to comply with the spirit and etiquette of the courts where they reside.
They can advance no pretensions on their own account, so long as Louis shall live.
The history of monarchy in France was a system pregnant with crimes and murders, cancelling all natural ties, even those by which brothers are united. We know how often they have assassinated each other to pave a way to power. As those hopes which the emigrants had reposed in Louis XVI. are fled, the last that remains rests upon his death, and their situation inclines them to desire this catastrophe, that they may once again rally round a more active chief, and try one further effort under the fortune of the ci-devant Monsieur and d'Artois. That such an enterprise would precipitate them into a new abyss of calamity and disgrace, it is not difficult to foresee; yet it might be attended with mutual loss, and it is our duty, as legislators, not to spill a drop of blood when our purpose may be effectually accomplished without it. It has been already proposed to abolish the punishment of death, and it is with infinite satisfaction that I recollect the humane and excellent oration pronounced by Robespierre on that subject in the constituent assembly. This cause must find its advocates in every corner where enlightened politicians and lovers of humanity exist, and it ought above all to find them in this assembly.
Bad governments have trained the human race, and inured it to the sanguinary arts and refinements of punishment; and it is exactly the same punishment that has so long shocked the sight and tormented the patience of the people which now in their turn they practise in revenge on their oppressors.
But it becomes us to be strictly on our guard against the abomination and perversity of such examples. As France has been the first of European nations to amend her government, let her also be the first to abolish the punishment of death, and to find out a milder and more effectual substitute.
In the particular case now under consideration, I submit the following propositions,-1st. That the national convention shall pronounce the sentence of banishment on Louis and his family: 2d. That Louis Capet shall be detained in prison till the end of the war, and then the sentence of banishment to be executed.
IN A FRENCH PRISON, 1794.
[From a Letter written after Paine's return to America.]
WAS one of the nine members that composed the first committee of constitution. Six of them have been destroyed. Syeyes and myself have survived. He by bending with the times, and I by not bending. The other surviver joined Robespierre, and signed with him the warrant of my arrestation. After the fall of Robespierre, he was seized and imprisoned in his turn, and sentenced to transportation. He has since apologized to me for having signed the warrant, by saying, he felt himself in danger and was obliged to do it.
Herault Sechelles, an acquaintance of Mr. Jefferson, and a good patriot, was my suppliant as member of the committee of constitution; that is, he was to supply my place, if I had not accepted or had resigned, being next in number of votes to me. He was imprisoned in the Luxemburg with me, was taken to the tribunal and the guillotine, and I, his principal, was left.
There were but two foreigners in the convention, Anacharsis Cloots and myself. We were both put out of the convention by the same vote, arrested by the same order, and carried to prison together the same night. He was taken to the guillotine, and I was again left. Joel Barlow was with us when we went to prison.
Joseph Lebon, one of the vilest characters that ever existed, and who made the streets of Arras run with blood, was my suppliant as member of the convention for the department of the Pas de Calais. When I was put out of the convention he came and took my place. When I was liberated from prison, and voted again into the convention, he was sent to the same prison and took my place there, and he went to the guillotine instead of me. He supplied my place all the way through.
One hundred and sixty-eight persons were taken out of the Luxemburg in one night, and a hundred and sixty of them guillotined the next day, of which I know I was to have been one; and the manner in which I escaped that fate is curious, and has all the appearance of accident.
The room in which I was lodged was on the ground floor, and one of
a long range of rooms under a gallery, and the door of it opened outward and flat against the wall; so that when it was open the inside of the door appeared outward, and the contrary when it was shut. I had three comrades, fellow-prisoners with me, Joseph Vanhuile, of Bruges, since president of the municipality of that town, Michael Robins, and Bastini, of Louvain.
When persons by scores and hundreds were to be taken out of prison for the guillotine, it was always done in the night, and those who performed that office had a private mark or signal by which they knew what rooms to go to, and what number to take. We, as I have said, were four, and the door of our room was marked unobserved by us, with that number in chalk; but it happened, if happening is a proper word, that the mark was put on when the door was open and flat against the wall, and thereby came on the inside when we shut it at night, and the destroying angel passed by it. A few days after this Robespierre fell, and the American ambassador arrived and reclaimed me and invited me to his house.
During the whole of my imprisonment, prior to the fall of Robespierre, there was no time when I could think my life worth twenty-four hours, and my mind was made up to meet its fate. The Americans in Paris. went in a body to the convention to reclaim me, but without success. There was no party among them with respect to me. My only hope then rested on the government of America that it would remember me. But the icy heart of ingratitude, in whatever man it may be placed, has neither feeling nor sense of honor. The letter of Mr. Jefferson has served to wipe away the reproach, and done justice to the mass of the people of America.
MAN AND HIS MAKER.
[The Age of Reason. Part I. 1794.]
T is by his being taught to contemplate himself as an outlaw, as an outcast, as a beggar, as a mumper, as one thrown, as it were, on a dunghill, at an immense distance from his Creator, and who must make his approaches by creeping and cringing to intermediate beings, that he conceives either a contemptuous disregard for everything under the name of religion, or becomes indifferent, or turns, what he calls, devout. In the latter case, he consumes his life in grief, or the affectation of it; his prayers are reproaches; his humility is ingratitude; he calls himself a worm, and the fertile earth a dunghill; and all the blessings of life by the thankless name of vanities; he despises the choicest gift of God to