Mandeville, LA – From one of my [r]epublican Thought of The Day entries. “My [r]epublican Thought Of The Day. Imploring today’s Jacobin-like “conservatives” to hone their manners, read Livy or Cicero and ignite the pursuit of civic virtue provokes profanity-laced reactions that you would expect from “liberals”. One should read the tale of Thomas Paine’s nearly fatal effort to convince the original Jacobins of France with similar sentiments.”
The following is excerpted from the 1916 presentation of “Thomas Paine-Apostle of Liberty” and recounts Paine’s near fatal attempt to spare the life of King Louis XVI.
M. Guizot: “The last effort was about to be attempted to save the life of the King by delaying execution. The anger of the Jacobins was extreme; they refused to listen to a speech from Thomas Paine, the American, till respect for his courage gained him a hearing. . . . The prayer and the hope were as vain as they were affecting.”
Hon. Elihu B. Washburne: “It was on the 19th day of January, 1793, that Paine mounted the tribune to speak to this question. This trial ofLouis XVI. by the National Convention is one of the most remarkable on record. The session was made permanent, and the trial went on day and night. After a lapse of nearly one hundred years, the painful and dramatic scenes stand out with still greater prominence. The Salledes Machines, in the Pavilion de Flores at the Tuileries, had been converted into a grand hall for the sittings of the Convention. The galleries were immense and could seat fourteen hundred spectators. In an immense city like Paris, convulsed with a political excitement never equaled, the trial of a king for his life produced the most profound emotions that ever agitated any community. All classes and conditions were carried away by the prevailing excitement, and the pressure for places exceeded anything ever known.
“The appearance of Thomas Paine at the tribune, with a roll of manuscript in his hand, created a sensation in the Convention. By his side stood Bancal, who was there to translate the speech into French and read it to the Convention. The first declaration of the celebrated foreigner produced a commotion on the benches of the Montagne. Coming from a democrat like Thomas Paine, a man so intimately allied with the Americans, a great thinker and writer, there was fear of their influence on the Convention.
“The most violent exclamations broke out, drowning the voice of Bancal, the unfortunate interpreter, and creating an indescribable tumult. Never was a man in a more embarrassing condition than Paine was at this time. Though not understanding the language, he yet realized the fury of the storm which raged around him. Standing at the tribune in his half Quaker coat, and genteelly attired, he remained undaunted and self-possessed during the tempest. This speech of Paine breathed greatness of soul and generosity of spirit and will forever honor his memory.”
Paine’s speech, says Conway, is “unparalleled for argument and art and eloquence.”
Charlotte M. Yonge: “A brave remonstrance.”
“My [r]epublican Thought Of The Day. Imploring today’s Jacobin-like “conservatives” to hone their manners, read Livvy or Cicero and ignite the pursuit of civic virtue provokes profanity-laced reactions that you would expect from “liberals”. One should read the tale of Thomas Paine’s nearly fatal effort to convince the original Jacobins of France with similar sentiments.”
Hon. Thomas E. Watson: “Among the brave who would not bend to the storm was Thomas Paine. Man enough to defy ‘kings and priests, he was man enough, likewise, to defy a howling mob.”
E. Belford Bax: “Paine, up to the last, manfully voted in the sense in which he had always spoken, for the life of the king at the imminent risk of his own.”
. Writing of the events which preceded and attended the trial and execution of Louis XVI, Prince Talleyrand, a profound admirer ofPaine, says: “It was no longer a question that the king should reign, but that he himself, the queen, their children, his sister, should be saved. It might have been done. It was at least a duty to attempt it.” It was a duty, however, whose performance carried with it the probable penalty of death. Danton, France’s greatest and bravest son, wished to save the life of the king, but dared not to vote in favor of it. “Although I may save his life,” he said, “I shall vote for his death. I am quite willing to save his head, but not to lose my own.” Even the king’s cousin, Philip of Orleans, voted for his kinsman’s death. Paine did not shirk his duty. He, too, loved life, but he loved honor more, and so, defying death, voted and pleaded for the life of the fallen monarch.
“Ah, that man who stood there alone in that breathless hall with such mighty eloquence warming over his lofty brow! That man was one of that illustrious band who had been made citizens of France—France the redeemed and newborn! Yess with Mackintosh, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and Washington, he had been elected a citizen of France. With these great men he hailed the French revolution as the dawn of God’s millennium. He had hurried to Paris, urged by the same deep love of man that accompanied him in the darkest hours of the American revolution, and there, there pleading for the traitor-king, alone in that breathless hall he stood, the author-hero, Thomas Paine, . pleading—even amid that sea of scowling faces— for the life of King Louis.”—George Lippard.
“In that maelstrom of thought, in that pandemonium of words, in that whirlwind of passion, pleading for the life of the king, Thomas Paine,not counting his own life, well knowing the consequences of his act, Thomas Paine stood there and pleaded that the life of the king might be spared.” —Dr. J. E. Roberts.
A. F. Bertrand De Moleville (French Minister of State): “It must be recorded to the eternal shame of this assembly, that Thomas Paine . . . proved himself the wisest, the most humane, the boldest—in a word, the most innocent among them.”
Victor Hugo: “Thomas Paine, an American and merciful.”
“The state of things in the prisons [for over four months] was a continued scene of horror. No man could count upon life for twenty-four hours. To such a pitch of rage and suspicion were Robespierre and his committee arrived, that it seemed as if they feared to leave a man to live. “
“When tidings came of the king’s trial and execution, whatever glimpses they [ Paine’s adherents in England] gained of their outlawed leader showed him steadfast as a star caught in one wave and another of that turbid tide. Many, alas, needed apologies, but Paine required none. That one Englishman, standing on the tribune for justice and humanity, amid three hundred angry Frenchmen in uproar, was as sublime a sight as Europe witnessed in those days.”—Dr. Conway.
“The rank and file, followed their Thomas Paine with a faith that crowned heads might envy. The London men knew Paine thoroughly. The treasures of the world would not draw him, nor any terrors drive him, to the side of cruelty and inhumanity. Their eye was upon him. HadPaine, after the king’s execution, despaired of the republic there might have ensued some demoralization among his followers in London. But they saw him by the side of the delivered prisoner of the Bastile, Brissot, an author well known in England, by the side of Condorcet and others of Franklin’s honored circle engaged in a death struggle with the firebreathing dragon called ‘The Mountain.’ That was the same unswerving man they had been following, and to all accusations against the revolution their answer was—Paine is still there.”—Ibid.
While Paine allied himself to no particular faction of the convention, his sympathies were with the Girondins. Lamartine says: “Paine, the friend of Madame Roland, Condorcet and Brissot, had been elected by the town of Calais; the Girondins
consulted him and placed him on the committee of surveyance.” The Girondins comprised, for the most part, the wisest and the best of France’s legislators. Had they remained in power the excesses of the revolution would, to a great extent, have been avoided. But in an evil hour the Jacobins gained the ascendancy and while they ruled madness reigned supreme. The Girondins were slaughtered or expelled. In one night twenty-two of them —every one a noted statesman or orator—the very flower of French manhood, “the eloquent, the young, the beautiful, the brave,” as Riouffe, their fellow prisoner, lovingly describes them, were taken before a Jacobin tribunal and condemned to death. Carlyle thus graphically and pathetically tells us how they died:
“All Paris is out; such a crowd as no man had seen. The death-carts, Valaze’s cold corpse [he had committed suicide] stretched among the yet living twenty-one, roll along. Bareheaded, hands bound, in their shirt sleeves, coat flung loosely round the neck; so fare the eloquent of France; bemurmured, beshouted. To the shouts of Vive la Republique, some of them keep answering with countershouts of Vive la Republique. Others, as Brissot, sit sunk in silence. At the foot of the scaffold they again strike up, with appropriate variations, the hymn of the Marseilles. Such an act of music; conceive it well! The yet living chant there; the chorus so rapidly wearing weak! Samson’s axe is rapid; one head per minute, or a little less. The chorus is wearing weak; the chorus is worn out; farewell, forevermore, ye Girondins. Te-‘Deum Fauchet has become silent; Valaze’s dead head is lopped; the sickle of the guillotine has reaped the Girondins all away.”
“How Paine loved those men—Brissot, Condorcet, Lasource, Duchatel, Vergniaud, Gensonne! Never was man more devoted to his intellectual comrades. Even across a century one may realize what it meant to him, that march of his best friends to the scaffold.”—Dr.Conway.
Eight days after the execution of the Girondins another of Paine’s friends, Madame Roland, the “Inspiring Soul” of the Girondins — one of the greatest, one of the fairest, one of the bravest, and one of the noblest women that ever came to brighten our planet—died on the same scaffold. Beautiful in life, Madame Roland rose to sublimity in death. Standing on the scaffold, robed in white, she seemed like a lovely bride before the altar. She asked for pen and paper to record “the strange thoughts that were rising in her” as she gazed into the eyes of death. This request denied, she turned toward the statue of liberty and, with tearful eyes, exclaimed, “O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!” Then, seeing the one who was to have preceded her to the guillotine trembling with fear, she begged and obtained permission to take his place—to die first—that she might soften the terrors of death by showing him “how easy it is to die.” This is her picture—painted by Carlyle: “Noble white vision, with its high queenly face, its soft proud eyes, long black hair flowing down to the girdle; and as brave a heart as ever beat in woman’s bosom! Like a white Grecian statue, serenely complete, she shines in that black wreck of things;—long memorable.”
“What with the arrestations and flights Paine found himself, in June, almost alone. In the convention he was sometimes the’ solitary figure left on the plain, where but now sat the brilliant statesmen of France. They, his beloved friends, have started in procession towards the guillotine, for even flight must end there; daily others are pressed into their ranks; his own summons, he feels, is only a question of a few weeks or days.” — Dr. Conway.
Madame Roland died in November; Paine was imprisoned in December.
Dictionary Of Religious Knowledge: “Here [trial of Louis XVI] his honorable moderation won the enmity of Robespierre, who marked him for a victim.”
Schaaf’s Religious Encyclopedia: “He had the courage to vote against the execution of Louis XVI., and thus incurred the anger of Robespierre, who threw him into prison.”
Chambers’ Encyclopedia Of English LiteraTure: “He offended the Robespierre faction, and in 1794 [December 28, 1793], possibly by the procurement of the American minister, Gouverneur Morris—who disliked the French revolution and the alliance between the new republics—he was imprisoned.”
Col. Thomas W. Higginson: “They urged him (he was in personal danger) to go back to America, the country he had served so long. ‘Go there,’ they said; ‘it is your country.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘for the time, this is my country.’ … So said Thomas Paine, and the doors of the Bastile closed around him.”Rev. John W. Chadwick: “A prisoner deserted by the young Republic at whose birth he had assisted so efficiently, his life in jeopardy for the humanity of his opinions.”
Morning Advertiser (England, Feb. 8, 1794): “His arrest was a species of triumph to all the tyrants on earth. His papers had been examined, and far from finding any dangerous propositions the committee had traced only the characters of that burning zeal for liberty—of that eloquence of nature and philosophy—and of those principles of public morality which-had through life procured him the hatred of despots and the love of his fellow citizens.”
“His arrest and imprisonment, without charges preferred or even the pretense of crime, were acts of perfidy without a parallel except in the history of the French revolution.”—Hon. E. B. Washburne.
Major W. Jackson (and other Americans in Paris): “As a countryman of ours, as a man above all so dear to the Americans; who like ourselves are earnest friends of liberty, we ask you in the name of that goddess cherished by the only two republics of the world, to give back Thomas Paine to his brethren.”
Achille Audibert: “A friend of mankind is groaning in chains—Thomas Paine. . . . But for Robespierre’s villainy the friend of man would now be free.”
At the beginning of the revolution Robespierre was recognized as one of the most moderate and humane of men. In the National Assembly he advocated the abolition of the death penalty. Describing his advent to leadership, Paine’s biographer says: “Mirabeau was on his deathbed, and Paine witnessed that historic procession, four miles long, which bore the orator to his shrine. . . . With others he strained his eyes to see the coming man; with others he sees formidable Danton glaring at Lafayette; and presently sees advancing softly between them the sentimental, philanthropic—Robespierre.”
M. Danton: “What thou hast done for the happiness and liberty of thy country I have in vain attempted to do for mine. They are sending us to the scaffold.”
“It was a strange scene; these two constitution makers, Paine and Danton, and for the last time in the prison of the Luxembourg, both equally destined for the scaffold.”—Hon. E. B. Washburne.
Danton was taken to the guillotine; Paine, by mistake, was left.
The manner of Paine’s escape, as related by Carlyle, was as follows: “The tumbrils move on. But in this set of tumbrils there are two other things notable: one notable person; and one want of a notable person. The notable person is Lieutenant-General Loiserelles, a nobleman by birth and by nature; laying down his life for his son. In the prison of Saint-Lazare, the night before last, hurrying to the grate to hear the death-list read, he caught the name of his son. The son was asleep at the moment. T am Loiserelles,’ cried the old man. . . . The want of the notable person, again, is that of Deputy Paine! Paine has set in the Luxembourg since January; and seemed forgotten; but Fouquier had pricked him at last. The turnkey, list in hand, is marking with chalk the outer doors of to-morrow’s fournee. Paine’s outer door happened to be open, turned back on the wall; the turnkey marked it on the side next him, and hurried on; another turnkey came and shut it; no chalkmark now visible, the fournee went without Paine. Paine’s life lay not there.”
In a letter to Washington, Paine thus narrates the inhuman slaughter of his fellow-prisoners, from whose fate he so narrowly escaped: “The state of things in the prisons [for over four months] was a continued scene of horror. No man could count upon life for twenty-four hours. To such a pitch of rage and suspicion were Robespierre and his committee arrived, that it seemed as if they feared to leave a man to live. Scarcely a night passed in which ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more were not taken out of the prison, carried before a pretended tribunal in the morning, and guillotined be