To Messiurs Condorcet, Bonneville, and Lanthenas1 June, 1791.
To Messiurs Condorcet, Bonneville, and Lanthenas1 June, 1791.
I have been informed by M. Duchatelet that it is the purpose of certain persons to begin the publication of a work entitled Le Republicain.
Being the citizen of a land that recognizes no majesty but that of the people, no government except that of its own representatives, and no sovereignty except that of the laws, I tender you my services in helping forward the success of those principles which honor a nation and contribute to the advancement of the entire world; and I tender them not only because my country is bound to yours by the ties of friendship and gratitude, but because I venerate the moral and political character of those who have taken part in the present enterprise, and feel proud of being their associate. Unfortunately all my productions have been composed in English, and can be of slight advantage to the cause, except through the medium of translation, so that, I suppose, the services I would render can never be commensurate with my desires. Moreover, I shall have to spend a portion of this summer in England and Ireland.
The public are generally aware that I subscribe the words COMMON SENSE to whatever I publish, and, therefore, I shall use this pen-name in my contributions to your work, so that no one may commit the error of attributing to me productions in which I have had no share. At the same time, I shall try to render my opinions on the political situation so self-evident that their tendency cannot be mistaken. If such definiteness of expression be always desirable, it is especially necessary in the present circumstance, because we are confronting a situation concerning which there should be no possibility of misunderstanding our ideas. For this reason the title of your publication gives me much satisfaction. The words “The Republican” imply that it is solely concerned about the Res-publica, namely, the interests of the state, and that includes all the ideas we should entertain of government in general.
The very word “Monarchy” signifies, in its primary meaning, the despotic rule of one individual, though that individual be a madman, a tyrant, or a hypocrite; kings and courtiers have, indeed, succeeded in giving it a gentler meaning but, for all that, the very term is in itself an insult to a people, for it is susceptible of no other significance than that which I have attached to it. In this relation, then, France is not a monarchy, and to style it so is to insult her. The abject servitude which is the concomitant of monarchical government no more exists in France now than it does in America, and therefore she should regard it as a thing to be scorned.
One of the absurd notions which the dishonesty or the ignorance of the supporters of monarchy have scattered through the world is that, while the republican form of government may be suited to a small country, the monarchical is the only one that harmonizes with a large one. But this opinion, though by the agencies of courts it has been spread broadcast through monarchical countries, is in accordance neither with principle nor with experience.
No government can be considered to have completely fulfilled its functions if it is not thoroughly acquainted with all the varied interests and all the different parts of the nation. For this reason it might be said that monarchy is adapted rather to a small country in which the monarch may easily become familiar with the affairs of the entire population. On the other hand, how can a single individual become familiar with the affairs of an extensive territory embracing a multiplicity of diverse interests? His helpless ignorance of matters that affect the people must necessarily lead to the establishment of a tyrannical form of government. As evidence of the truth of this proposition, we have only to point to Spain, Russia, Germany, Turkey and the whole of Asia. That I may live to see the freedom of these lands is my ardent desire.
In fact, the only system of government that can insure anything like adequate attention to every portion of an extended territory is the government that has its source in popular representation.
Such representation is the most potent and vigorous organ of the opinion of a nation. It acts so powerfully on the minds of citizens that they approve of it even without knowing why. Every part of France, no matter how far away it may be from its center, is aware that that center constitutes France, and that in its center it has its integral being. This is the feeling of the citizen, however remote may be his abode: he knows that his rights are protected, and, if he is a soldier, he is assured that he is not enslaved by a tyrant, but that he is the citizen of a free nation, and, therefore, bound to defend it.
It is true that certain countries, such as Holland, Berne, Genoa, Venice, etc., call themselves Republics; but these countries do not merit such a designation. All the principles upon which they are founded are in direct contradiction to every republican sentiment, and they are really in a condition of absolute servitude to an aristocracy.
During the early period of a revolution mistakes are likely enough to be committed-mistakes in principle or in practise; or perhaps, mistakes both in principle and practise. When men are in the early stage of freedom, they are not all sufficiently instructed to be able to inform one an- other mutally of their several opinions, and so they become the victims of a sort of timidity that hinders them from reaching at a single bound that elevation which they have the right to attain. We have witnessed symptoms of this imperfection at the beginning of the present Revolution. Fortunately, they were manifested before the Constitution was fully established, so that whatever defects were apparent could be corrected.
Hereditary succession is never founded on right; consequently, it has no real existence. To sanction such a fallacy is to sanction the fallacy of the right of certain individuals, either now born or about to be born, to the possession of human beings as their property! It is to declare that our posterity is to be classed with the animal creation, destitute alike of will and of right! Such a conception debases human nature and should forever be effaced from the soul of that humanity which it dishonors.
Nay, so opposed to the rights of man is hereditary succession that even if we, instead of our descendants, should at some future period return to life, we should not then have the right to abdicate those rights which would be our own peculiar possession. On what argument, therefore, can we base our claim to rob of their rights children who will one day become men ? How is it we are unable to see the wrong we inflict upon our posterity when we attempt to prolong the rule o-L- those infamous despots the continuance of whose vices, and of whose vices alone, we can surely foretell?
Only when the French Constitution conforms to the Declaration of Rights can France be justly entitled to be called a civic empire; because then only will its government be the empire of laws based upon the grand republican principles of Elective Representation and the Rights of Man. On the other hand, Monarchy and Hereditary succession are totally inconsistent with the very fundamental principles of constitutional government.
I venture to think that the preceding opinions will show you that I am a sound Republican. Indeed, my conviction of the stability of these principles is so firm that I look forward to their triumph in France as well as in America. The pride of human nature will emphasize their truth, contribute to their success and inspire mankind with a feeling of shame at the thought of the very existence of Monarchy.
I remain, Messieurs, with great respect, Your friend
- Nicolas de Bonneville was a prominent French publicist and litterateur; Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet was an eminent French philosopher, mathematician and liberal,
and M. Lanthenas later translated Paine’s Rights of Man into French-Editor.