From Common Sense by Thomas Paine, OF MONARCHY AND HEREDITARY SUCCESSION
Men were originally created equal, and that quality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance. That some people are rich and some are poor is explainable even though it follows misery and oppression. Selfish preservation is what keeps a man from being so poor he’s destitute, but it’s also what makes him fearful of taking the risks needed to be wealthy.
In other words, everyone is born with the same natural rights, and personal decisions are what determines a person’s wealth.
In the early ages of the world, according to biblical history, there were no kings. As a result, there were no wars. The pride of kings that throws humankind into confusion and chaos. Holland, which doesn’t have a king, has enjoyed more peace for this last century than any of the monarchical governments in Europe. A look back on history supports this argument. The first patriarchs had happy, quiet, rural lives that vanished with the arrival of Jewish royalty.
People who did not know God introduced the government by kings, and the children of Israel copied their custom. It was the most prosperous invention the devil ever created for the promotion of idolatry. The same unfaithful people paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and Christians today have taken it a step further by doing the same with living kings. How sacrilegious is the title of “Your Majesty” given to a worm who in the midst of his splendor is crumbling into dust! The same people who created kings paid homage to the dead kings, and in the Christian world, they went a step further by doing the same for their living kings.
Raising up one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified, and it cannot be defended on the authority of Scripture. For the will of God is declared by Gideon and the Prophet Samuel, who expressly disapproves of government by kings. All teachings of Scripture warning against having kings are conveniently glossed over by monarchical governments, but they are paid close attention to by governments of other forms. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” is the Scripture doctrine of governments, but that passage is not in support of monarchical government. It was spoken at a time when the Jews were without a king and in a state of slavery to the Romans.
Three thousand years had passed from the Mosaic account of creation until the Jews, under a national delusion, requested a king. Up until that point (except in extraordinary cases where God interjected), their form of government was a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. They didn’t have any kings, and it was considered sinful to acknowledge any being under that title except God. When a person seriously considers the idolatrous impact of calling a person “king,” they don’t have to wonder why God, ever jealous of his honor, would disapprove of a form of government that is so slanderous to his name.
Monarchy is included in the Bible as one of the sins of the Jews, and it became a curse on them. This history is worth looking into here.
Israel was being attacked by the Midianites when Gideon counterattacked with a small army and gained victory by the favor of God. The Jews celebrated the success, attributed it to the leadership of Gideon, and proposed making him a king. This was the ultimate temptation, because he was being offered not just a kingdom but a hereditary one. Gideon was wise enough to reply, “I will not rule over you; neither will my sons rule over you.” The words could not have been clearer. Gideon did not decline their offer but denied their right to give it. Also, he did it in the proper style of a prophet, reminding them of their proper Sovereign, the King of heaven.
About 130 years later, the Israelites fell into the same error again. The preference the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of ungodly people is something that cannot be explained. At one point, Samuel’s two corrupt sons were in control of some matters that were not religious. The people complained to Samuel, saying his sons did not live up to his reputation, and they requested a king like all the other nations. Here you can see that their motives were wrong because they wanted to be like other countries, the ungodly nations, where their honor was to be as much unlike them as possible. Samuel wasn’t happy when they said, “Give us a king,” and when he prayed to the Lord about it, the Lord said to him, “Listen to the people in everything they say because they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me that I should not rein over them. Despite everything I have done for them since the day I brought them out of Egypt, even until this day they have forsaken me and worshipped other gods. Now they do the same to you. So grant them their request and give them a king that will reign over them.”
The Lord did not mean any particular king but to establish the kingdom that Israel was copying from other nations. Today, even after all this time and subsequent changes of circumstance, this practice is still in use. Samuel told the people all the things the Lord said to him, and he said, “This will be the way of the king that will rule over you. He will make your sons his servants, and he will appoint captains over thousands and captains over fifties and make them commanders to reap his harvest and to make them his instruments of war and personal servants. He will take your daughters to be sex slaves and cooks and bakers. [This describes the expense and luxury as well as the oppression of kings.] He will take your farms, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. He will collect taxes on everything you produce to pay his officers and his servants [a statement by which we see that bribery, corruption, and favoritism are how kings operate]. He will take your workers and servants even your best men. He will take your livestock and your farm animals to work for him. You will be his servants, and when that happens, you will cry out to God because of the king you have chosen, and on that day, the Lord will not hear you.
This biblical history is what accounts for the continuation of monarchy. Just because there are a few good kings who have lived since that time period doesn’t justify the form or do away with the sinfulness of its origin. The high regard given to kings because of the successful reign of King David does not recognize him officially as a king but only as a man after God’s own heart. Nevertheless, the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, we want a king over us so that we can be like the other nations and so that he can lead us to fight our battles.” Samuel tried to reason with them, but they would not concede, so he pointed out their lack of gratitude. They still could not be convinced, so he told them, “I will pray to God and he will deliver his punishment to you so that you will see the wickedness that you did in the view of God by asking for a king.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain. All the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. After that, the people said to Samuel, “Pray for us that we don’t die. We have added this to our list of sins.” These portions of Scripture are very specific. There is only one meaning. God has spoken against the practice of monarchical government because monarchy is the religion of government.
If monarchy wasn’t bad enough, we added to it hereditary succession. Monarchy being the degradation of ourselves, it follows that hereditary succession is the degradation of future generations. Since all men are created equal, it logically follows that no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual rule over all others forever. Even if he himself might deserve some level of honor, his descendants might be unworthy to inherit his rule. One of the strongest natural proofs of the lie of hereditary right of kings is that nature disapproves of it. Otherwise, she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving humankind an ass for a lion. In other words, if the monarchy were meant to be, there wouldn’t be so many corrupt, evil kings.
In the same vein, just as no man could possess any other public honors than those that are given to him; the givers of those honors have no power to give away the rights of their descendants. So even though they might say, “We choose you to be our leader,” they could not without severe injustice say to their children, “Your children and your children’s children shall reign over ours forever.” Such an unwise, unjust, and unnatural agreement might put them under the government of a dishonest man or fool in the next generation. Most wise men in their private thoughts have treated hereditary right with disrespect, yet it is one of those evils that, once established, is not easily removed because many people submit from fear, others from superstition, and even more people out of fear of the king.
All of this assumes the idea that kings have some noble, honest origin, when, more than likely, if we were to trace the monarchy back to its origins, we’d find that it all began with a gang of thieves who wanted to increase their power and ability to take more. They probably saw an opportunity to offer safety to quiet and defenseless people in exchange for frequent contributions back to them. The people who supported these early kings could never have imagined the idea of giving hereditary right to his descendants, because such a perpetual exclusion of themselves was incompatible with the free and unrestrained principles they professed to live by. Hereditary succession in the early stages of monarchy wasn’t so much a demand as it was something mutually beneficial. There aren’t any records from that time, so it’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s clear that after a few generations, lies began to take hold as fact. Therefore, when the king was near death and people grew nervous, a solution was offered to make succession orderly. It seemed like an easy solution, and it was convenient. Then it became a right.
Since England became an independent nation it’s had a few good kings, but there have been many more bad ones. Overall, nobody can say that the monarchy has been a good thing for the country. It hasn’t been any better than if a weak French robber had established himself as King of England and it certainly didn’t come from God. But it’s useless to spend much time discussing the absurdity of hereditary succession. If someone is so naïve as to believe it’s good, he might as well worship a donkey. I won’t entertain the stupidity.
But the question remains: How did kings come about? There are only three possible answers: by random selection, by election, or because someone seized it. Saul was chosen randomly as king, but his succession was not hereditary, and there’s no indication that was ever the intention. If the first king of any country was by election, that would establish the precedent for the selection of the next king. So to say, the rights of all future generations would be made by a previous generation and that their choice would not only be for a king but for a family of kings forever has no basis in the Bible and is morally wrong. Such a belief does away with the free will of man and can do no good. Nobody is perfect, so for the first people to subject other people to a king is purely evil and lacking in authority. Hereditary succession is the definition of evil. Not even the most ignorant teacher could agree with the idea.
Then there’s the idea that someone seized the role of king. In fact, this did happen. It’s a matter of fact that the first king of England seized his throne. But this was so long ago it doesn’t matter.
The way he became king is irrelevant compared with the idea of hereditary succession. This wasn’t the decision of good and wise men or by God. It opens the door to the foolish, the wicked, and those lacking in decency based on oppression. Men who inherit power and assume others are beneath them grow overbearing and dominant in power. It’s as if their minds have been poisoned by importance. The world they act in is completely divorced from the reality of the rest of the world. They have no idea of the true needs of people because they are so drunk with power and because of the corrupting nature of that power, they end up being completely unfit for wielding it.
Another evil element of hereditary succession is the idea that a child can be king when, in reality, those who are attending and advising the child king are acting under the cover of a king and have extreme temptation to betray this trust. The same thing happens when a king gets very old and can’t make decisions on his own. In both these cases, the common people become prey to people close to the king.
The closer any government approaches to a republic, the less business there is for a king. It’s somewhat difficult to find a proper name for the government of England. Sir William Meredith calls it a republic, but in its present state it’s unworthy of the name because of the corrupt influence of the crown. By having all the branches of government at his disposal, the king assumes all the power. He’s taken all integrity from the House of Commons (the republican part in the Constitution) so that the government of England is nearly as monarchical as it is in France or Spain. The names are meaningless. It’s the republican, not the monarchical, part of the Constitution of England—for example, the liberty of choosing the House of Commons from the people—that the Englishmen appreciate and honor. It’s easy to see that when republican virtues fail, slavery ensues. What is the defect with the Constitution of England except that the monarchy has poisoned the republic and the crown overshadows the Commons?
In England, the King has little more to do than to make war and give away land, which in plain terms is to impoverish the nation and keep it together with false promises. It’s a great business for a man to be allowed £800,000 a year as a salary and be worshipped as part of the bargain! One honest man is worth more to society in the sight of God than all the crowned criminals that ever lived.
What does any of this have to do with today? The answer lies in another question. What’s the difference between an oppressive government regardless whether it’s a kind, a dictatorship or even a democracy if the results are the same?
What makes a government oppressive? Isn’t the answer a government that’s involved in all areas of personal lives? Doesn’t that start with a belief that somehow government is the answer to problems? Whatever form that takes?
Then there’s one of the points this all started with. Who’s responsible for a destructive government? Couldn’t you make the argument that it begins when people look to government to solve problems? That the downfall of government begins with the downfall of society?
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