The Rights of Man HTML version

II. Of The Origin Of The Present Old Governments
It is impossible that such governments as have hitherto existed in the world, could have
commenced by any other means than a total violation of every principle sacred and
moral. The obscurity in which the origin of all the present old governments is buried,
implies the iniquity and disgrace with which they began. The origin of the present
government of America and France will ever be remembered, because it is honourable to
record it; but with respect to the rest, even Flattery has consigned them to the tomb of
time, without an inscription.
It could have been no difficult thing in the early and solitary ages of the world, while the
chief employment of men was that of attending flocks and herds, for a banditti of ruffians
to overrun a country, and lay it under contributions. Their power being thus established,
the chief of the band contrived to lose the name of Robber in that of Monarch; and hence
the origin of Monarchy and Kings.
The origin of the Government of England, so far as relates to what is called its line of
monarchy, being one of the latest, is perhaps the best recorded. The hatred which the
Norman invasion and tyranny begat, must have been deeply rooted in the nation, to have
outlived the contrivance to obliterate it. Though not a courtier will talk of the curfew-bell,
not a village in England has forgotten it.
Those bands of robbers having parcelled out the world, and divided it into dominions,
began, as is naturally the case, to quarrel with each other. What at first was obtained by
violence was considered by others as lawful to be taken, and a second plunderer
succeeded the first. They alternately invaded the dominions which each had assigned to
himself, and the brutality with which they treated each other explains the original
character of monarchy. It was ruffian torturing ruffian. The conqueror considered the
conquered, not as his prisoner, but his property. He led him in triumph rattling in chains,
and doomed him, at pleasure, to slavery or death. As time obliterated the history of their
beginning, their successors assumed new appearances, to cut off the entail of their
disgrace, but their principles and objects remained the same. What at first was plunder,
assumed the softer name of revenue; and the power originally usurped, they affected to
From such beginning of governments, what could be expected but a continued system of
war and extortion? It has established itself into a trade. The vice is not peculiar to one
more than to another, but is the common principle of all. There does not exist within such
governments sufficient stamina whereon to engraft reformation; and the shortest and
most effectual remedy is to begin anew on the ground of the nation.
What scenes of horror, what perfection of iniquity, present themselves in contemplating
the character and reviewing the history of such governments! If we would delineate
human nature with a baseness of heart and hypocrisy of countenance that reflection
would shudder at and humanity disown, it is kings, courts and cabinets that must sit for