Thomas Paine was likely the most ardent and radical republican of his time, transcending virtually all of his peers. Even so, he tended to separate his trademark disdain for hereditary monarchy in general with attacks against specific monarchs. As he believed, such focus on a single individual was too short-sighted, and merely scratched the surface when it came to the evils of monarchy in general.

In accord with this disposition, Paine defended Louis XVI as a moderate king in comparison to his more despotic counterparts in The Rights of Man, but argued at the same time that his behavior could no longer be tolerated on account of the king’s actions in 1791.

Shortly after the Flight Varennes – where the king and his family renounced support for reforms imposed upon him by the National Assembly, and fled eastward to the border of the Austrian Netherlands – he argued that the king’s deeds had instituted a republic by default.

In contrast, some of the most radical Jacobins in France, such as Maximilien Robespierre, remained committed for the time being to a constitutional monarchy that featured a king within a republican system. As Paine wrote,

“I am not the personal enemy of Kings; on the contrary, no person can be more sincere than myself, in wishing to see them in the happy and honourable state of plain individuals. But I am the declared, open, and intrepid enemy of that which is called Monarchy, and I am so on account of principles which nothing can alter or corrupt;—my predilection for humanity, my anxiety for the dignity and honour of the human species, my disgust at seeing men directed by infants and governed by brutes, and the horror inspired by all the evils which Monarchy has scattered over the earth; and by the misery, the exactions, the wars and the massacres with which it has wounded humanity. In short, it is against the whole hell of Monarchy that I have declared war.”

Dave Benner

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