Thomas Paine opposes executing the king (1793)


Speaking before the National Convention in January 1793, the American writer Thomas Paine explains why he is opposed to the execution of the king:


“Citizens… I most sincerely regret the vote that was adopted yesterday in the Convention for the death penalty.

I personally have the advantage of some experience. It is about twenty years since I committed myself to the cause of liberty, contributing to the revolution of the United States of America. My language has always been the language of liberty and humanity, and I know from experience that nothing exalts the soul of a nation so much as the union of these two principles in all circumstances.

I know that the public spirit of France, and particularly that of Paris, has been fired up and inflamed by the dangers to which people there have been exposed. But if we carry our ideas before us, and towards the end where these dangers and the inflammation they have produced will be forgotten, then we will be able to see that what today seems to us to be an act of justice, will seem then only to be an act of vengeance.

My concern for the cause of France has now become my concern for her honour. And if I had the opportunity, after my return to America, to write the story of the French Revolution, I would prefer to have to remember a thousand errors dictated by humanity than just one inspired by an overly severe justice.

I voted against the ‘appeal to the people’ because it seemed to me that the Convention, where this question was concerned, had exhausted itself for no reason. But I voted in this way in the hope that the Assembly would pronounce against Louis the same punishment that the nation would have voted for, at least in my opinion… imprisonment during the war and banishment after peace had been made. This is the most effective punishment, since it includes the entire family at the same time, which is not possible with any other punishment…

France now has only one ally, the United States of America, and this ally is the only nation that can supply her with naval provisions… Now here, unfortunately, the person who is the subject of the current discussion is seen, in the United States, as their greatest friend, as the one who obtained their freedom for them. I can assure you that his execution will spread a universal affliction there. It is in your power to spare your closest friends from this affliction. If I could speak French, I would descend to the podium, and in the name of all my American brothers, I would present a petition to defer the execution of Louis.”