Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Return of Thomas Paine

A revolutionary hero and anti-monarchist who nevertheless tried to save King Louis XVI from death.
In France, he arrived to a hero’s welcome in Calais, and as their representative he took his seat at the Convention in Paris on September 19, 1792. Two days later the legislature formally abolished royalty in France. In the two months following, the Convention discussed what to do about their former king, Louis XVI. Paine rose to argue against executing him, saying the new French republic had an opportunity to inspire the world with its noble republican government. On January 15, Paine spoke again to the assembly, reminding them of Robespierre’s address two years earlier condemning capital punishment. He recommended sending the king and family into exile, where they would eventually be forgotten. Two days later the legislature voted narrowly in favor of death. Once again, Paine spoke to condemn this decision. The guillotine, he said, rose “from a spirit of revenge rather than from a spirit of justice.” Paine’s Convention enemies were already shouting their disapproval, but he refused to back down, saying,
If after my return to America, I should employ myself in writing the 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.


Lindsay said...

Fascinating! I am also astonished to learn that Robespierre actually gave an address condemning capital punishment. It just confirms so many of my fears about "liberals." When you don't base your convictions on principles, you can justify anything. I find the more I know about history, the more I am tempted to worry about the future!

lara77 said...

I was heartened to read about Paine's comments in defense of King Louis XVI. A man ahead of his time and a man with compassion and justice. I certainly would not have called Robespierre a liberal; maybe a communist or radical but certainly not like many liberals I have known over the years. Robespierre was missing a heart and soul; like Danton he was pure evil.

May said...

Quite brave of Paine to come out and say all that! But I think part of the reason they insisted on killing the King was not simply revenge or political motives but also ideological ones. I think they wanted to do something as outrageous as possible to traditional sensibilities, to mark their break with the past.

BTW, I reviewed that biography of Madame Elisabeth that I was reading on my blog, if you want to see it.