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TO THE AUTHORS OF THE REBPULICAN.
M. Duchastelet has mentioned to me the intention of some persons to commence a work under the title of The Republican.
As I am a citizen of a country, which knows no other Majesty than that of the People—no other Government than that of the Representative Body—no other Sovereignty than that of the Laws, and which is attached to France both by alliance and by gratitude, I voluntarily offer you my services in support of principles as honourable to a nation, as they are adapted to promote the happiness of mankind. I offer them to you with the more zeal, as I know the moral, literary, and political character of those who are engaged in the undertaking, and find myself honoured in their good opinion.
But I must, at the same time, observe, that from my ignorance of the French language, my works must necessarily undergo a translation; they can, of course, be but of little utility, and my offering must consist more of wishes than services. I must add, that I am obliged to pass part of this summer in England and Ireland.
As the Public has done me the unmerited favour of recognizing me under the appellation of " Common Sense," which is my usual signature, I shall continue it in this publication to avoid mistakes, and to prevent my being supposed the author of works not my own. As to my political principles, I shall endeavour, in this letter, to trace their general features in such a manner as that they cannot be misunderstood.
It is desirable in most instances to avoid that which may give even the least suspicion with respect to the part meant to be adopted, and particularly on the present occasion, where a perfect clearness of expression is necessary to the avoidance of any possible misinterpretation. I am happy, therefore, to find, that the work in question is entitled" The Republican." This word expresses perfectly the idea which we ought to have of Government in general—Res Publica —the public affairs of a nation.
As to the word Monarchy, though the address and intrigue of courts have rendered it familiar, it does not contain the less of reproach or of insult to a nation. The word, in its immediate and original sense, signifies the absolute power of a single individual, who may prove a fool, an hypocrite, or a tyrant. The appellation admits of no other interpretation than that which is here given. France is, therefore, not a Monarchy; it is insulted when called by that name. The servile spirit which characterizes this species of Government is banished from France, and this country, like America, can now afford to Monarchy no more than a glance of disdain.
Of the errors which monarchic ignorance or knavery has spread through the world, the one which bears the marks of the most dexterous invention is the opinion that the system of Republicanism is only adapted to a small country, and that a Monarchy is suited, on the contrary, to those of greater extent. Such is the language of courts, and such the septiments which they have caused to be adopted in monarchical countries; but the opinion is contrary, at the same time, to principle, and to experience.
The Government, to be of real use, should possess a complete knowledge of all the parties—all the circumstances, and all the interests of a nation. The monarchic system, in consequence, instead of being suited to a country of great extent, would be more admissible in a small territory, where an individual may be supposed to know the affairs and interests of the whole. But when it is attempted to extend this individual knowledge to the affairs of a great country, the capacity of knowing bears no longer any proportion to the extent or multiplicity of the objects which ought to be known, and the Government inevitably falls from ignorance into tyranny. For the proof of this position we need only look to Spain, Russia, Germany, Turkey, and the whole of the Eastern Continent—Countries, for the deliverance of which I offer my sincere wishes.
On the contrary, the true Republican system, by Election and Representation, offers the only means which are known, and, in my opinion, the only means which are possible, of proportioning the wisdom and the information of a Government to the extent of a country.
The system of Representation is the strongest and most powerful centre that can be devised for a nation. Its attraction acts so powerfully, that men give it their approhation even without reasoning on the cause; and France, however distant its several parts, finds itself at this moment an whole in its central Representation. The citizen is assured that his rights are protected, and the soldier feels that he is no longer the slave of a despot, but that he is become one of the nation, and interested of course in its defence.
The States at present styled Republican, as Holland, Genoa, Venice, Berne, &c. are not only unworthy of the name, but are actually in opposition to every principle of a Republican Government, and the countries submitted to their power are, truly speaking, subjected to an Aristocratic slavery.
It is, perhaps, impossible in the first steps which are made in a Revolution, to avoid all kind of error, in principle or in practice, or in some instances, to prevent the combination of both. Before the sense of a nation is sufficiently enlightened, and before men have entered into the habits of a free communication with each other of their natural thoughts, a certain reserve—a timid prudence seizes on the human mind, and prevents it from attaining its level, with that vigour and promptitude which belong to right.—An example of this influence discovers itself in the commencement of the present Revolution; but happily, this discovery has been made before the Constitution was completed, and in time to provide a remedy.
The hereditary succession can never exist as a matter of right; it is a nullity—a nothing. To admit the idea is to regard men as a species of property belonging to some individuals, either born or to be born! It is to consider our descendants and all posterity as mere animals, without a right or a will! It is, in fine, the most base and humiliating idea that ever degraded the human species, and which, for the honour of humanity, should be destroyed for ever.
The idea of hereditary succession is so contrary to the Rights of Man, that if we were ourselves to be recalled to existence, instead of being replaced by our posterity, we should not have the right of depriving ourselves beforehand of those rights which would then properly belong to us. On what ground, then, or by what authority, do we dare to deprive of their rights those children who will soon be men? Why are we not struck with the injustice which we perpetrate on our descendants, by endeavouring to transmit them as a vile herd, to masters whose vices are all that can be foreseen?
Whenever the French Constitution shall be rendered conformable to its Declaration of Rights, we shall then be enabled to give to France, and with justice, the appellation of a civic Empire; for its Government will be the empire of laws founded on the great republican principles of Elective Representation, and the Rights of Man.—But Monarchy and Hereditary Succession are incompatible with the basis of its constitution.
I hope that I have at present sufficiently proved to you that I am a good republican; and I have such a confidence in the truth of these principles, that I doubt not they will soon be as universal in France as in America. The pride of human nature will assist their evidence, will contribute to their establishment, and men will be ashamed of Monarchy.
I am, with respect, Gentlemen,
THOMAS PAINE. TO THE ABBE SYEYES.
Sir, Paris, July 8, 1701.
At the moment of my departure for England, I read in the Mouiteur of Tuesday last, your letter, in which you give the challenge on the subject of Government, and offer to defend what is called the Monarchical system against the Republican system.
I accept of your challenge with pleasure; and I place such a confidence in the superiority of the Republican system over the nullity of system, called Monarchy, that I engage not to exceed the extent of fifty pages, and to leave you the liberty of taking as much latitude as you may think proper.
The respect which I bear your moral and literary reputation, will be your security for my candour in the course of this discussion; but, notwithstanding that I shall treat the subject seriously and sincerely, let me premise, that I consider myself at liberty to ridicule as they deserve, Monarchical absurdities, whensoever the occasion shall present itself.
By Republicanism, I do not understand what the name signifies in Holland, and in some parts of Italy. I understand simply a government by representation—a government founded upon the principles of the Declaration of Rights; principles to which several parts of the French Constitution arise in contradiction. The Declaration of the Rights of France and America are but one and the same thing in principles, and almost in expressions; and this is the Republicanism which I undertake to defend against what is called Monarchy and Aristocracy.
I see with pleasure, that in respect to one point we are already agreed; and that is, the extreme danger of a civil list of thirty millions. I can discover no reason why one of the parts of the Government should be supported with so extravagant a profusion, whilst the other scarcely receives what is sufficient for its common wants.
This dangerous and dishonourable disproportion, at once supplies the one with the means of corrupting, and throws the other into the predicament of being corrupted. In America there is but little difference, with regard to this