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of Governments more than might be expected, it is the
progress which the peaceful arts of agriculture, manufac-
ture and commerce have made beneath such a long accu-
mulating load of discouragement and oppression. It serves
to shew, that instinct in animals does not act with stronger
impulse than the principles of society and civilization ope-
rate in man. Under all discouragements, he pursues his
object, and yields to nothing but impossibilities.



Of the Old and New Systems of Government.

NOTHING can appear more contradictory than the principles
on which the old Governments began, and the condition to
which society, civilization, and commerce, are capable of
carrying mankind. Government on the old system is an
assumption of power for the aggrandizement of itself; on
the new, a delegation of power for the common benefit of
society. The former supports itself by keeping up a sys-
tem of war ; the latter promotes a system of peace, as the
true means of enriching a nation. The one encourages
national prejudices; the other promotes universal society,
as the means of universal commerce. The one measures its
prosperity by the quantity of revenue it extorts ; the other
proves its excellence by the small quantity of taxes it re-

Mr. Burke has talked of old and new Whigs. If he can
amuse himself with childish names and distinctions, I shall
not interrupt his pleasure. It is not to him, but to the Abbe
Sieyes, that I address this chapter. I am already engaged
to the latter gentleman to discuss the subject of monarchical
Government; and as it naturally occurs in comparing the
old and new systems, 1 make this the opportunity of pre-
senting to him my observations. I shall occasionally take
Mr. Burke in my way.

Though it might be proved that the system of Govern-
ment now called the NEW is the most ancient in principle of
all that have existed, being founded on the original inherent
Rights of Man; yet, as tyranny and the sword have sus-
pended the exercise of those rights for many centuries past,
it serves better the purpose of distinction to call it the new,
than to claim the right of calling it the old.

The first general distinction between those two systems,
is, that the one now called the old is hereditary, either in
whole or in part ; and the new is entirely representative.
It rejects all hereditary Government:

First, as being an imposition on mankind.


Secondly, As inadequate to the purposes for which Go-
vernment is necessary. .

With respect to the first of these heads It cannot be
proved by what right hereditary Government could begin:
neither does there exist wilhin the compass of mortal power
a right to establish it, Man has no authority over posterity
in matters of personal right; and therefore, no man, or body
of men, had, or can have, a right to set up hereditary Go-
vernment. Were even ourselves to come again into exist-
ence, instead of being succeeded by posterity, we have not
now the right of taking from ourselves the rights which
would then be our's. On what ground, then, do we pretend
to take them from others?

All hereditary Government is in its nature tyranny. An
heritable Crown, or an heritable Throne, or by what other
fanciful name such things may be called, have no other sig-
nificant explanation, than that mankind are heritable pro-
perty. To inherit a Government, is to inherit the People,
as if they were flocks and herds.

With respect to the second head, that of being inadequate
to the purposes for which Government is necessary, we have
only to consider what Government essentially is, and com-
pare it with the circumstances to which hereditary succes-
sion is subject.

Government ought to be a thing always in full maturity,
It ought to be so constructed as to be superior to all the ac-
cidents to which individual man is subject; and therefore,
hereditary succession, by being subject to them all, is the
most irregular and imperfect of all the systems of Govern^

\ We have heard the Rights of Man called a levelling sys-
tem ; but the only system to which the word levelling is!
truly applicable, is the hereditary monarchical system. It is
a system of mental levelling. It indiscriminately admits
every species of character to the same authority. Vice and
virtue, ignorance and wisdom, in short, every quality, good
or bad, is put on the same level. Kings succeed each other,
not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies not what their
mental or moral characters are. Can we then be surprised
at the abject state of the human mind in monarchical coun-
tries, when the Government itself is Jtormed on such an ab-
ject levelling system ?-^-It has no fixed character. To-day
it is one thing ; to-morrow it is something else. It changes
with the temper of every succeeding individual, and is sub-
ject to all the varieties of each. His Government through


the medium of passions and accidents. It appears under all
the various characters of childhood, decrepitude, dotage, a
thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in crutches. It reverses
the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally puts chil-
dren over men, and the conceits of non-age over wisdom
and experience. In short, we cannot conceive a more ridi-
culous figure of Government, than hereditary succession, iii
all its cases, presents.

Could it be made a decree in nature, or an edict registered
in Heaven, arid man could know it, that virtue and wisdom
should invariably appertain to hereditary succession, the ob-
jections to it would be removed ; but when we see that
Nature acts as if she disowned and sported with the here-
ditary system ; that the mental characters of successors, in
all countries, are below the average of human understand-
ing ; that one is a tyrant, another an idiot, a third insane,
and some all three together, it is impossible to attach con-
fidence to it, when reason in man has power to act.

It is not to the Abbe Syeyes that I need apply this reason-
ing ; he has already saved me that trouble, by giving his
own opinion upon the case. " If it be asked," says he,
" what is my opinion with respect to hereditary right, I an-
swer, without hesitation, That, in good theory, an hereditary
transmission of any power or office, can never accord with
the Jaws of a true representation. Hereditaryship is, in this
sense, as much an attaint upon principle, as an outrage upon
society. But let us," continues he, " refer to the history of
all elective monarchies and principalities: Is there oue in
which the elective mode is not worse than the hereditary

As to debating on which is the worst of the two, is ad-
mitting both to be bad; and herein we are agreed. The
preference which the Abbe has given, is a condemnation of
the thing he prefers. Such a mode of reasoning on such a
subject is inadmissible, because it finally amounts to an accu-
sation upon Providence, as if she had left to man no other
choice with respect to Government than between two evils,
the best of which he admits to be " an attaint upon prin-
ciple, and an outrage upon society'''

Passing over, for the present, all the evils and mischiefs
which monarchy has occasioned in the world, nothing can
more effectually prove its uselessness in a state of civil Go-
vernment^ than making it hereditary. Would we make any
office hereditary that required wisdom and abilities to fill it?
and where wisdom and abilities are not necessary, such


an office, whatever it may be, is superfluous or insigni-

Hereditary succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It
puts it in the most ridiculous light, by presenting it as an
office, which any child or idiot may fill. It requires some
talents to be a common mechanic ; but to be a King, re-
quires only the animal figure of a man a sort of breathing
automaton. This sort of superstition may last a few years
more, but it cannot long resist the awakened reason and in-
terest of man.

As to Mr. Burke, he is a stickler for monarchy, not alto-
gether as a pensioner, if he is one, which I believe, but as a
political man.

He has taken up a contemptible opinion of mankind, who,
in their turn, are taking up the same of him. He considers
them as a herd of beings that must be governed by fraud,
effigy, and shew ; arid an idol would be as good a figure of
monarchy with him, as a man. I will, however, do him the
justice to say, that, with respect to America, he has been
very complimentary. He always contended, at least in my
hearing, that the people of America were more enlightened
than those of England, or of any country in Europe; and
that therefore the imposition of shew was not necessary iii
their Governments.

Though the comparison between hereditary and elective
monarchy, which the Abbe has made, is unnecessary to the
case, because the representative system rejects both; yet,
were I to make the comparison, I should decide contrary to
what he has done.

The civil wars which have originated from contested
hereditary claims, are more numerous and have been more
dreadful, and of longer continuance, than those which have
been occasioned by election. All the civil wars in France
arose from the hereditary system ; they were either pro-
duced by hereditary claims, or by the imperfection of the
hereditary form, which admits of regencies, or monarchic s
at nurse. With respect to England, its history is full of the
same misfortunes. The contests for succession between the
houses of York and Lancaster, lasted a whole century ; and
others of a similar nature, have renewed themselves since
that period. Those of 1715 and 1745, were of the same
kind. The succession war for the crown of Spain, em-
broiled almost half Europe. The disturbances in Holland
are generated from the hereditaryship of the Stadtholder.
A Government calling itself free, with an hereditary office,


is like a thorn in the flesh, that produces a fermentation
which endeavours to discharge it.

But I might go further, and place also foreign wars, of
whatever kind, to the same cause. It is by adding the evil
of hereditary succession to that of monarchy, that a perma-
nent family interest is created, whose constant objects are
dominion and revenue. Poland, though an elective mo-
narchy, has had fewer wars than those which are hereditary ;
and it is the only Government that has made a voluntary
essay, though but a small one, to reform the condition of the

Having thus glanced at a few of the defects of the old, or
hereditary systems of Government, let us compare it with
the new or representative system.

The representative system takes society and civilization
for its basis ; nature, reason, and experience for its guide.

Experience, in all ages, and in all countries, has demon-
strated, that it is impossible to controul Nature in her dis-
tribution of mental powers. She gives them as she pleases.
Whatever is the rule by which she, apparently to us, scatters
them among mankind, that rule remains a secret to man.
It would be as ridiculous to attempt to fix the hereditary-
ship of human beauty, as of wisdom. Whatever wisdom
constituently is, it is like a seedless plant ; it may be reared
when it appears, but it cannot be voluntarily produced.
There is always a sufficiency somewhere in the general
mass of society for all purposes ; but with respect to the
parts of society it is continually changing its place. It rises
in one to-day, in another to-morrow, and has most probably
visited in rotation every family of the earth, and again with-

As this is the order of nature, the order of Government
must necessarily follow it, or Government will, as we see it
does, degenerate into ignorance. The hereditary system,
therefore, is as repugnant to human wisdom, as to human
rights ; and is as absurd as it is unjust.

As the republic of letters brings forward the best literary
productions, by giving to genius a fair and universal chance ;
so the representative system of Government is calculated to
produce the wisest laws, by collecting wisdom from where
it can be found. I smile to myself when I contemplate the
ridiculous insignificance into which literature and all the
sciences would sink, were they made hereditary ; and I
carry the same idea into Governments. An hereditary go-
vernor is as inconsistent as an hereditary author. I know



not whether Homer or Euclid had sons ; but I will venture
an opinion, that if they had, and had left their works unfi-
nished, those sons could not have completed them.

Do we need a stronger evidence of the absurdity of here-
ditary Government, than is seen in the descendants of those
men, in any line of life, who once were famous? Is there
scarcely an instance in which there is not a total reverse of
the character ? It appears as if the tide of mental faculties
flowed as far as it could in certain channels, and then for-
sook its course, and arose in others. How irrational then,
is the hereditary system which establishes channels of power,
in company with which wisdom refuses to flow ! By con-
tinuing this absurdity, man is perpetually in contradiction
with himself; he accepts, for a King, or a Chief Magistrate,
or a Legislator, a person whom he would not elect for a

It appears to general observation, that revolutions create
genius and talents ; but those events do no more than bring
them forward. There is existing in man, a mass of sense
lying in a dormant state, and which, unless something ex-
cites it to action, will descend with him, in that condition,
to the grave. As it is to the advantage of society that the
whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction
of Government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a
quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity
which never fails to appear in revolutions.

This cannot take place in the insipid state of hereditary
Government, not only because it prevents, but because it
operates to benumb. When the mind of a nation is bowed
down by any political superstition in its Government such
as hereditary succession is, it loses a considerable portion of
its powers on all other subjects and objects. Hereditary suc-
cession requires the same obedience to ignorance, as to
wisdom ; and when once the mind can bring itself to pay
this indiscriminate reverence, it descends below the stature
of mental manhood. It is fit to be great only in little things.
It acts a treachery upon itself, and suffocates the sensations
that urge the detection.

Though the ancient Governments present to us a mise-
rable picture of the condition of man, there is one which
above all others exempts itself from the general description.
I mean the democracy of the x<Uhenians. We see more to
admire, and less to condemn, in that great, extraordinary
people, than in any thing which history affords.

Mr. Burke is so little acquainted with constituent princi-


pies of Government, that he confounds democracy and re-
presentation together. Representation was a thing unknown
in the ancient democracies. In those the mass of the People
met and enacted laws (grammatically speaking) in the first
person. Simple democracy was no other than the common-
hall of the ancients. It signifies the form, as well as the
public principle of the Government. As these democracies
increased in population, and the territory extended, the
simple democratical form became unwieldy and impracti-
cable; and as the system of representation was not known,
the consequence was, they either degenerated convulsively
into monarchies, or became absorbed into such as then ex-
isted. Had the system of representation been then under-
stood, as it now is, there is no reason to believe that those
forms of Government, now called monarchical and aristo-
cratical, would ever have taken place. It was the want of
some method to consolidate the parts of society, after it be-
came too populous, and too extensive for the simple demo-
cratical form, and also the lax and solitary condition of
shepherds and herdsmen in other parts of the world, that
afforded opportunities to those unnatural modes of Govern-
ment to begin.

As it is necessary' to clear away the rubbish of errors, into
which the subject of Government has been thrown, I shall
proceed to remark on some others.

It has always been the political craft of courtiers and
Court Governments, to abuse something which they called
republicanism ; but what republicanism was, or is, they
never attempt to explain. Let us examine a little into this

The only forms of Government are, the democratical, the
aristocratical, the monarchical, and what is now called the

What is called a republic, is not any particular form of
Government. It is wholly characteristical of the purport,
matter, or object for which Government ought to be insti-
tuted, and on which it is to be employed, RES-PUBLICA, the
public affairs, or the public good ; or, literally translated,
the public thing. It is a word of a good original, referring
to what ought to be the character and business of Govern*
ment; and in this sense it is naturally opposed to the word
monarchy, which has a base original signification. It means
arbitrary power in an individual person; in the exercise of
which, himself, and not the res-publica, is the object.

Every Government that does not act on the principle of a


Republic, or in other words, that does not make the res-
publica its whole and sole object, is not a good Government.
Republican Government is no other than Government esta-
blished and conducted for the interest of the public, as well
individually as collectively. It is not necessarily connected
with any particular form, but it most naturally associates
with the representative form, as being best calculated to se-
cure the end for which a nation is at the expence of sup-
porting it.

Various forms of Government have affected to style them-
selves a republic. Poland calls itself a republic, which is
an hereditary aristocracy with what is called an elective
monarchy. Holland calls itself a republic, which is chiefly
aristocratical, with an hereditary Stadtholdership. But the
Government of America, which is wholly on the system of
representation, is the only real republic in character and in
practice that now exists. Its Government has no other ob-
ject than the public business of the nation, and therefore it
is properly a republic ; and the Americans have taken care
that THIS, and no other, shall always be the object of their
Government, by their rejecting every thing hereditary, and
establishing Government on the system of representation

Those who have said that a republic is not a form of
Government calculated for countries of great extent, mis-
took, in the first place, the business of a Government for a
form of Government ; for the res-publica equally appertains
to every extent of territory and population. And, in the
second place, if they meant any thing with respect to form,
it \vas the simple democratical form, such was the mode of
Government in the ancient democracies, in which there was
no representation. The case, therefore, is not that a repub-
lic cannot be extensive, but that it cannot be extensive on
the simple democratical form; and the question naturally
presents itself, What is the best form of Government for con-
ducting the RES-PUBLICA, or Me PUBLIC BUSINESS of a
nation, after it becomes too extensive and populous for the
simple democratical form ?

It cannot be monarchy, because monarchy is subject to an
objection of the same amount to which the simple demo-
cratical form was subject.

It is probable that an individual may lay down a system
of principles on which Government shall be constitutionally
established to any extent of territory. This is no more than
an operation of the mind, acting by ils own power. But



the practice upon those principles, as applying to the va-
rious and numerous circumstances of a nation, its agricul-
ture, manufacture, trade, commerce, &c. &c. requires a
knowledge of a different kind, and which can be had only
from the various parts of society. It is an assemblage of
practical knowledge, which no one individual can possess;
and therefore the monarchical form is as much limited, in
useful practice, from the incompetency of knowledge, as was
the democratical form, from the multiplicity of population.
The one degenerates, by extension, into confusion ; the
other, into ignorance and incapacity, of which all the great
monarchies are an evidence. The monarchical form, there-
fore, could not be a substitute for the democratical, because
it has equal inconveniences.

Much less could it when made hereditary. This is the
most effectual of all forms to preclude knowledge. Neither
could the high democratical mind have voluntarily yielded
itself to be governed by children and idiots, and all the
motley insignificance of character, which attends such a
mere animal system, the disgrace and the reproach of reason
and of man.

As to the aristocratical form, it has the same vices and
defects with the monarchical, except th&t the chance of
abilities is better from the proportion of numbers, but there
is still no security for the right use and application of them*.

Referring, then, to the original simple democracy, it
affords the true data from which Government on a large
scale can begin. It is incapable of extension, not from its
principle, but from the inconvenience of its form; and mo-
narchy and aristocracy, from their incapacity. Retaining,
then, democracy as the ground, and rejecting the corrupt
systems of monarchy and aristocracy, the representative
system naturally presents itself, remedying at once the de-
fects of the simple democracy as to form, and the incapacity
of the other two with respect to knowledge.

Simple democracy was society governing itself without
the aid of secondary means. By ingrafting representation
upon democracy, we arrive at a system of Government ca-
pable of embracing and confederating ail the various in-
terests and every extent of territory and population ; and

* For a character of aristocracy, the reader is referred to RIGHT*
OP MAN, Part I. page 38.


that also with advantages as much superior to hereditary-
Government, as the republic of letters is to hereditary lite-

It is on this system that the American Government is
founded. It is representation ingrafted upon democracy.
It has fixed the form by a scale parallel in ail cases to the
extent of the principle. What Athens was in miniature,
America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of
the ancient world ; the other is becoming the admiration,
the model, of the present. It is the easiest of all the forms
of Government to be understood, and the most eligible in
practice ; and excludes at once the ignorance and insecurity
of the hereditary mode, and the inconvenience of the simple

It is impossible to conceive a system of Government capa-
ble of acting over such an extent of territory, and such a
circle of interests, as is immediately produced by the opera-
tion of representation. France, great and populous as it is,
is but a spot in the capaciousness of the system. It adapts
itself to all possible cases. It is preferable to simple demo-
cracy even in small territories. Athens, by representation,
would have outrivalled her own democracy.

That which is called Government, or rather that which
we ought to conceive Government to be, is no more than
some common centre, in which all the parts of society unite.
This cannot be accomplished by any method so conducive
to the various interests of the community, as by the repre-
sentative system. It concentrates the knowledge necessary
to the interest of the parts, and of the whole. It places
Government in a state of constant maturity. It is, as has
been already observed, never young, never old. It is subject
neither to nonage, nor dotage. It is never in the cradle, nor
on crutches. It admits not of a separation between know-
ledge and power, and is superior, as Government always
ought to be, to all the accidents of individual man, and is
therefore superior to what is called monarchy.

A nation is not a body, the figure of which is to be re-
presented by the human body ; but is like a body contained

Online LibraryThomas PaineThe political and miscellaneous works of Thomas Paine .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 56 of 65)