No KIngs in America! Paine's Appeal to the Bible
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” argued Thomas Paine.
But let common sense have its day in the fertile ground of free speech, let every man have access to the Holy Writ and freedom of religion, so that he might read and consider what generations past have not been permitted to read and consider, and the tide will turn.
In America it did. One of the monumental tide turners was Thomas Paine. His weapons were reason, revelation, and an extraordinary literary gift.
In January of 1776, Thomas Paine put that gift to work when he published a booklet filled with what George Washington called, “unanswerable reasoning”; and what others argued were just the right words to stroke the common man´s heart, and inflame the common man´s nobler passions to believe in, and fight for independence. The booklet´s name was “Common Sense.” In a day when the population was under 3 million, it reportedly sold 1.5 million copies. Other than the Holy Bible, “Common Sense” was America´s first bestseller.
His stand against monarchy, in this day and age of secularism, is something to behold.
“‘Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against”, he writes. And then he gives the how and why as to why this was so, in what could have easily passed for a Sabbath Day sermon.
“In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion. Holland without a king hath enjoyed more peace for this last century than any of the monarchical governments in Europe. Antiquity favors the same remark; for the quiet and rural lives of the first patriarchs hath a happy something in them, which vanishes away when we come to the history of Jewish royalty.
“Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry. The Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the Christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of his splendor is crumbling into dust!
“As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchical parts of scripture have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. Render unto Cesar the things which are Cesar´s, is the scripture doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchical government, for the Jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of vassalage to the Romans.
“Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases, where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts. And when a man seriously reflects on the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings, he need not wonder, that the Almighty ever jealous of his honor, should disapprove of a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of heaven.
“Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. The history of that transaction is worth attending to.
“The children of Israel being oppressed by the Midianites, Gideon marched against them with a small army, and victory, thro' the divine interposition, decided in his favour. The Jews elated with success, and attributing it to the generalship of Gideon, proposed making him a king, saying, Rule thou over us, thou and thy son and thy son´s son. Here was temptation in its fullest extent; not a kingdom only, but an hereditary one, but Gideon in the piety of his soul replied, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. THE LORD SHALL RULE OVER YOU. Words need not be more explicit; Gideon doth not DECLINE the honor, but denieth their right to give it; neither doth he compliment them with invented declarations of his thanks, but in the positive stile of a prophet charges them with disaffection to their proper Sovereign, the King of heaven.
“About one hundred and thirty years after this, they fell again into the same error. The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the Heathens, is something exceedingly unaccountable; but so it was, that laying hold of the misconduct of Samuel's two sons, who were entrusted with some secular concerns, they came in an abrupt and clamorous manner to Samuel, saying, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways, now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations.
“And here we cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, i.e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much unlike them as possible. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, give us a king to judge us; and Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, THAT I SHOULD RULE OVER THEM. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other Gods: so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice, howbeit, protest solemnly unto them and show them the manner of kings that shall reign over them, i.e. not of any particular king, but the general manner of the kings of the earth, whom Israel was so eagerly copying after. And notwithstanding the great distance of time and difference of manners, the character is still in fashion.
“And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people, that asked of him a king. and he said, this shall be the manner of the king that shall reign over you; he will take your sons and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horseman, and some shall run before his chariots (this description agrees with the present mode of impressing men) and he will appoint him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground and reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots; and he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks and to be bakers (this describes the expense and luxury as well as the oppression of kings) and he will take your fields and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants; and he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give them to his officers and to his servants (by which we see that bribery, corruption, and favouritism are the standing vices of kings) and he will take the tenth of your men servants, and your maid servants, and your goodliest young men and your asses, and put them to his work; and he will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants, and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen, AND THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY. This accounts for the continuation of monarchy; neither do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the origin; the high encomium given of David takes no notice of 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, nay, but we will have a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. Samuel continued to reason with them, but to no purpose; he set before them their ingratitude, but all would not avail; and seeing them fully bent on their folly, he cried out, I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain (which then was a punishment, being in the time of wheat harvest) that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, IN ASKING YOU A KING. So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy god that we die not, for WE HAVE ADDED UNTO OUR SINS THIS EVIL, TO ASK A KING.
“These portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchical government, is true, or the scripture is false. And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of kingcraft, as priestcraft, in withholding the scripture from the public in [certain European] countries.”
No wonder then, Paine goes on to proclaim what rang in every American heart in his day:
“But where some say is the king of America? I´ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”
Who is the King of America? Paine answers, “God.” And what is his Constitution? “[T]he divine law, the Word of God.”
In this day and age when Christians are being told to be silent, when monuments honoring the Ten Commandments are being hauled out of public buildings by officers of the law, and Christians are being hauled off to jail for protesting their removal; it seems like it is time for Christians to learn to be more effective, more assertive, and more persuasive in revealing the true source of our laws and our liberties.
Pulling out a copy of Thomas Paine´s “Common Sense,” to read, and share, and put back in the classroom, might just be a good place to start.
What a revelation for our neighbors, and our children´s schoolteachers to find out that the Biblical revelation to have “no other God´s before me” motivated the Founders of our nation to throw off monarchy and other tyrannical forms of government.
Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.” Emphasis in the original.
A tribute to Paine´s character, though a man of diminutive means, he never accepted so much as a penny for his writing of “Common Sense,” but donated all the profits to the revolution, a tradition he never departed from in all his book publishing.