“Dissertation on First Principles of Government” by Thomas Paine (1795)

“Dissertation on First Principles of Government” by Thomas Paine (1795)

  • One subject is near & dear to most people’s hearts, government because no matter if they are poor or rich, their prosperity is tied to it
    • Should know its principles
  • There has been precious little development in improving governments excluding the American Revolution
    • European government were established along time ago when people were way more ignorant than today & government hasn’t kept up with the times
    • These governments were established on false principles & use their power to hide this fact & enslave & plunder
  • Let’s examine the two forms of governments
    1. Government by hereditary succession
    2. Government by election & representation
      • can be a mixture of the two
  • Hereditary systems have a few different names (Monarchy, Royalty, Aristocracy, etc.)
    • It has no right to exist & is ridiculous
      • Couldn’t begin as a natural right only given to one family. Nor can a law be established to set up a family to rule by Democracy
  • A nation has people of all ages. Some are dying & some are just being born. The age of majority establishes whens your voice will be counted
    • A vote to elect a king by a nation can be held. But those who are unable to vote being under age are subject to the choices of their elders
    • The shorter the duration of the effect of a vote on things the better because if it lasts long, the voiceless will be eligible to vote & they will have no ability to change what’s already been decided
    • As minors, they’re under the guardianship of their elders. But they should have the ability to determine leaders if democratically elected
  • Distinct generations should have a say in their government
    • But even if a man was elected king, those who weren’t born yet or were minors cant have had a say in his election
      • To make royalty hereditary, even by Democracy, is to give the first deciding generation a say & enslave subsequent generations to hereditary monarchs to come
  • Paine quotes his own work, “Rights of Man”
    • When a family establishes itself as rulers, it’s despotism
    • When a nation chooses a family, it doesn’t appear to be despotism. The first ruler is democratically chose but later generations of rulers to come will rule over people who had no say in the matter
      • This is a form of despotism
    • English History backs this up with the case of choosing William & Mary in 1688
      • The deal was binding the English people to the King’s & Queen’s lineage forever
      • Initially chose with consent but condemning future generations to despotism, treasonous to posterity
  • With election & representation, we must contemplate
    • Man is the origin & evidence of the right – his existence is the right & body is the deed/title
    • Only true basis is equality of rights – one man, one vote
      • Nothing based on land ownership or amount of money held
        • This is Aristocracy, implying inequality of right & who has the right to establish the inequality?
        • Would the rich exclude themselves? Would the poor?
        • Rich has no right to exclude poor & poor have no right to exclude the rich –> robbery of rights
        • Property/money as exclusionary is arbitrary – how much property? How much money?
          • Any amount is arbitrary & ridiculous
        • Any exclusion from right of voting is a stigma on the character of the one excluded
          • Who has the right to say that about anyone?
    • To remove the right is to make a man a slave only justified if the man is a criminal
      • Danger is that if you exclude men, they’ll rebel against that exclusion – they at least have that right
    • It was easy to rule authoritatively when men thought they had no rights or that rights only belonged to a certain class
      • Those days are over, especially since they’ve realized that the true source of wealth in a country comes from farming & manufacturing. Once this was clear, it was impossible to keep them as “inferior”
      • Property will always be unequal
        • Industry, superiority of talents, good management, frugality, good luck, bad luck will always cause differences
        • No need to use terms like “greed” & “oppression” in this vein
        • Some men just hate working hard or looking lowly to earn money. They’ll refer to their method as “honest” while others are “criminal”
    • Banks & commercial organizations have ownership based on percentage of ownership in company, not individually. This shouldn’t be the case for government
  • The protection of a man’s person is more sacred than his property & his performance of work/service & maintaining his family – all the nature of property
    • Best way to secure property is to remove from every part of community, as much as possible, every cause of complaint, every motive to violence – can only be done by equality of rights
    • When rights are secure – property is secure. But when property is made a pretense for unequal or exclusive rights, it weakens the right to hold the property, provokes tumult/indignation because it’s unnatural to believe property can be secure under such a system
  • Titles are also ridiculous
    • Some men earn fame by merit (Aristotle, Plato, Socrates) but when a government manufactures nobles, they are counterfeit
      • All original aristocrats were brigands & sycophants who plundered the land with the king’s permission for being so loyal
      • They acquired property & titles on this basis, getting a monopoly of influence & rights (House of Lords)
    • Titles have a debilitating effect on the moral & physical attribute of these men. They turn into mental & physical children
  • Rights are not a gift from one man to another
    • Who would be the first giver?
    • By what principle or authority?
      • Can only come from God/nature & to each person, equally
    • By learning one’s rights, one understands one’s duties. We must protect each other’s rights – departing from this causes decay & discrimination of rights of individuals
    • If property is the criterion, it’s a departure from liberty because it attaches rights to matter & man is the agent of the matter
      • Property becomes the apple of discord, causing & justifying wars
      • When property is used as an instrument to take rights away from the property-less, it’s used for unlawful purposes, much like firearms do
  • Institution of Civil Society is there to equalize powers to guarantee equal rights
    • Laws apply to this purpose, decided by men with equal rights to form a government
    • Only legitimately done by elected representative government
  • Whether men’s rights are equal is not a matter of opinion but of right & of principle
    • Society is the guardian, but not the giver
    • Only system of government consistent with the principle is democracy & a representative system
    • All parts of government must be conformable with the principle of equal rights – must be religiously adhered to with very little error
  • Consistent with equal individual rights, every man has the right to give an opinion but not the right that his opinion should govern the rest
    • Man must yield when in the minority just as he’d expect others to do if he were in the majority
    • Principle is often violated by the minority (those who hold property & use that fact to exclude others)
    • Nothing can justify insurrection if rights are equal & opinions are free
  • The best method to propose constitutions & government design isn’t clear
    • Worst method is based on individual passions
      • 2 deliberative bodies might slow down panic
  • There’s not necessarily 1 form of representative government but the principle of equal rights can be applied in manyways
    • Divisions of power
      1. Power willing & decreeing laws (Legislative), representing intellectual faculties of a human. It reasons & determines what’s to be done
      2. Power executing & putting laws into practice (Executive), representing mechanical parts of human body. It puts determination into practice.
    • Executive – official, subordinate to legislative as the body to the mind. No deliberative power, no discretionary power, obliged to conform to laws
      • Executives can be appointed & composed in different ways
        • Don’t invest power in same people for too long
  • Preserving liberty – must be established as well as preserved
    • Must distinguish between
      • A – Means of overthrowing despotism in order to establish liberty
        • Means justified by necessity. Insurrections, revolutionary parties must permit themselves discretionary exercise of power regulated by circumstance not principles
      • B – Means to be used after despotism is overthrown
        • Constitution in place & enforce. This would prevent violence (as in the French Revolution). France lapsed into violence with any principles in place.

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