Paine (21 November 1792)

An Englishman acclaimed as a hero of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine had been elected to the Convention by radicals in Paris. However, his international perspective and Anglo–American background (including a Quaker upbringing) inclined him temperamentally to ally with the Girondins, who were less radically republican and who looked more favorably upon the King as an individual and an institution, and who not coincidentally often spoke some English. His speech was written in English and it was read to the Convention (in French) the day after the discovery of the letters in the King’s "locked chest." Accordingly, it called for a full investigation and trial of the King, based on his policies rather than his person. Nonetheless, compassion for the individual remained a possibility.


I think it necessary that Louis XVI should be tried; not that this advice is suggested by a spirit of vengeance, but because this measure appears to me just, lawful, and conformable to sound policy. If Louis is innocent, let us put him to prove his innocence; if he is guilty, let the national will determine whether he shall be pardoned or punished. . . .

Louis XVI, considered as an individual, is an object beneath the notice of the Republic; but when he is looked upon as a part of that band of conspirators, as an accused man whose trial may lead all nations in the world to know and detest the disastrous system of monarchy and the plots and intrigues of their own courts, he ought to be tried.

If the crimes for which Louis XVI is arraigned were absolutely personal to him, without reference to general conspiracies and confined to the affairs of France, the plea of inviolability, that folly of the moment, might have been urged in his behalf with some appearance of reason; but he is arraigned not only for treasons against France, but for having conspired against all Europe, and if France is to be just to all Europe we ought to use every means in our power to discover the whole extent of that conspiracy. France is now a republic; she has completed her revolution; but she cannot earn all its advantages so long as she is surrounded with despotic governments. Their armies and their marine oblige her also to keep troops and ships in readiness. It is therefore her immediate interest that all nations shall be as free as herself; that revolutions shall be universal; and since the trial of Louis XVI can serve to prove to the world the flagitiousness of governments in general, and the necessity of revolutions, she ought not to let slip so precious an opportunity.

The despots of Europe have formed alliances to preserve their respective authority and to perpetuate the oppression of peoples. This is the end they proposed to themselves in their invasion of French territory. They dread the effect of the French Revolution in the bosom of their own countries; and in hopes of preventing it, they are come to attempt the destruction of this revolution before it should attain its perfect maturity. Their attempt has not been attended with success. France has already vanquished their armies; but it remains for her to sound the particulars of the conspiracy, to discover, to expose to the eyes of the world, those despots who had the infamy to take part in it; and the world expects from her that act of justice.

As to "inviolability," I would not have such a word mentioned. If, seeing in Louis XVI only a weak and narrow-minded man, badly reared, like all his kind, given, as it is said, to frequent excesses of drunkenness a man whom the National Assembly imprudently raised again on a throne for which he was not made—he is shown hereafter some compassion, it shall be the result of the national magnanimity, and not the burlesque notion of a pretended "inviolability."

Source: Source: Moncure Daniel Conway, ed., The Writings of Thomas Paine, vol 3 (New York: AMS Press, 1967) 115–118.