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It is an insult to every man of years, of
character, and of talents, in a country. The moment we begin to reason
upon the hereditary system, it falls into derision; let but a single
idea begin, and a thousand will soon follow. Insignificance, imbecility,
childhood, dotage, want of moral character; in fine, every defect
serious or laughable unite to hold up the hereditary system as a figure
of ridicule. Leaving, however, the ridiculousness of the thing to the
reflections of the reader, I proceed to the more important part of the
question, namely, whether such a system has a right to exist.

To be satisfied of the right of a thing to exist, we must be satisfied
that it had a right to begin. If it had not a right to begin, it has not
a right to continue. By what right then did the hereditary system begin?
Let a man but ask himself this question, and he will find that he cannot
satisfy himself with an answer.

The right which any man or any family had to set itself up at first to
govern a nation, and to establish itself hereditarily, was no other than
the right which Robespierre had to do the same thing in France. If he
had none, they had none. If they had any, he had as much; for it is
impossible to discover superiority of right in any family, by virtue of
which hereditary government could begin. The Capets, the Guelphs,
the Robespierres, the Marats, are all on the same standing as to the
question of right. It belongs exclusively to none.

It is one step towards liberty, to perceive that hereditary government
could not begin as an exclusive right in any family. The next point
will be, whether, having once begun, it could grow into a right by the
influence of time.

This would be supposing an absurdity; for either it is putting time in
the place of principle, or making it superior to principle; whereas time
has no more connection with, or influence upon principle, than principle
has upon time. The wrong which began a thousand years ago, is as much a
wrong as if it began to-day; and the right which originates to-day, is
as much a right as if it had the sanction of a thousand years. Time with
respect to principles is an eternal now: it has no operation upon them:
it changes nothing of their nature and qualities. But what have we to
do with a thousand years? Our life-time is but a short portion of that
period, and if we find the wrong in existence as soon as we begin to
live, that is the point of time at which it begins to us; and our right
to resist it is the same as if it never existed before.

As hereditary government could not begin as a natural right in any
family, nor derive after its commencement any right from time, we have
only to examine whether there exist in a nation a right to set it up,
and establish it by what is called law, as has been done in England. I
answer NO; and that any law or any constitution made for that purpose is
an act of treason against the right of every minor in the nation, at the
time it is made, and against the rights of all succeeding generations.
I shall speak upon each of those cases. First, of the minor at the time
such law is made. Secondly, of the generations that are to follow.

A nation, in a collective sense, comprehends all the individuals of
whatever age, from just born to just dying. Of these, one part will be
minors, and the other aged. The average of life is not exactly the same
in every climate and country, but in general, the minority in years are
the majority in numbers; that is, the number of persons under twenty-one
years, is greater than the number of persons above that age. This
difference in number is not necessary to the establishment of the
principle I mean to lay down, but it serves to shew the justice of it
more strongly. The principle would be equally as good, if the majority
in years were also the majority in numbers.

The rights of minors are as sacred as the rights of the aged. The
difference is altogether in the different age of the two parties, and
nothing in the nature of the rights; the rights are the same rights;
and are to be preserved inviolate for the inheritance of the minors when
they shall come of age. During the minority of minors their rights are
under the sacred guardianship of the aged. The minor cannot surrender
them; the guardian cannot dispossess him; consequently, the aged part
of a nation, who are the law-makers for the time being, and who, in the
march of life are but a few years ahead of those who are yet minors, and
to whom they must shortly give place, have not and cannot have the right
to make a law to set up and establish hereditary government, or, to
speak more distinctly, _an hereditary succession of governors_; because
it is an attempt to deprive every minor in the nation, at the time such
a law is made, of his inheritance of rights when he shall come of age,
and to subjugate him to a system of government to which, during his
minority, he could neither consent nor object.

If a person who is a minor at the time such a law is proposed, had
happened to have been born a few years sooner, so as to be of the age of
twenty-one years at the time of proposing it, his right to have objected
against it, to have exposed the injustice and tyrannical principles of
it, and to have voted against it, will be admitted on all sides. If,
therefore, the law operates to prevent his exercising the same rights
after he comes of age as he would have had a right to exercise had he
been of age at the time, it is undeniably a law to take away and annul
the rights of every person in the nation who shall be a minor at the
time of making such a law, and consequently the right to make it cannot
exist.

I come now to speak of government by hereditary succession, as it
applies to succeeding generations; and to shew that in this case, as in
the case of minors, there does not exist in a nation a right to set it
up.

A nation, though continually existing, is continually in a state of
renewal and succession. It is never stationary.

Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and
old persons from the stage. In this ever running flood of generations
there is no part superior in authority to another. Could we conceive an
idea of superiority in any, at what point of time, or in what century of
the world, are we to fix it? To what cause are we to ascribe it? By
what evidence are we to prove it? By what criterion are we to know it? A
single reflection will teach us that our ancestors, like ourselves, were
but tenants for life in the great freehold of rights. The fee-absolute
was not in them, it is not in us, it belongs to the whole family of
man, thro* all ages. If we think otherwise than this, we think either as
slaves or as tyrants. As slaves, if we think that any former generation
had a right to bind us; as tyrants, if we think that we have authority
to bind the generations that are to follow.

It may not be inapplicable to the subject, to endeavour to define what
is to be understood by a generation, in the sense the word is here used.

As a natural term its meaning is sufficiently clear. The father, the
son, the grandson, are so many distinct generations. But when we speak
of a generation as describing the persons in whom legal authority
resides, as distinct from another generation of the same description who
are to succeed them, it comprehends all those who are above the age of
twenty-one years, at the time that we count from; and a generation of
this kind will continue in authority between fourteen and twenty-one
years, that is, until the number of minors, who shall have arrived at
age, shall be greater than the number of persons remaining of the former
stock.

For example: if France, at this or any other moment, contains
twenty-four millions of souls, twelve millions will be males, and twelve
females. Of the twelve millions of males, six millions will be of the
age of twenty-one years, and six will be under, and the authority
to govern will reside in the first six. But every day will make some
alteration, and in twenty-one years every one of those minors who
survives will have arrived at age, and the greater part of the former
stock will be gone: the majority of persons then living, in whom the
legal authority resides, will be composed of those who, twenty-one years
before, had no legal existence. Those will be fathers and grandfathers
in their turn, and, in the next twenty-one years, (or less) another race
of minors, arrived at age, will succeed them, and so on.

As this is ever the case, and as every generation is equal in rights to
another, it consequently follows, that there cannot be a right in any
to establish government by hereditary succession, because it would be
supposing itself possessed of a right superior to the rest, namely,
that of commanding by its own authority how the world shall be hereafter
governed and who shall govern it. Every age and generation is, and must
be, (as a matter of right,) as free to act for itself in all cases, as
the age and generation that preceded it. The vanity and presumption of
governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all
tyrannies. Man has no property in man, neither has one generation a
property in the generations that are to follow.

In the first part of the Rights of Man I have spoken of government by
hereditary succession; and I will here close the subject with an extract
from that work, which states it under the two following heads. (1)

1 The quotation, here omitted, will be found in vol. ii. of
this work, beginning with p. 364, and continuing, with a few
omissions, to the 15th line of p. 366. This "Dissertation"
was originally written for circulation in Holland, where
Paine's "Rights of Man" was not well known.--_Editor._


*****


The history of the English parliament furnishes an example of this kind;
and which merits to be recorded, as being the greatest instance of
legislative ignorance and want of principle that is to be found in any
country. The case is as follows:

The English parliament of 1688, imported a man and his wife from
Holland, _William and Mary_, and made them king and queen of England.
(2) Having done this, the said parliament made a law to convey the
government of the country to the heirs of William and Mary, in the
following words: "We, the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, do,
in the name of the people of England, most humbly and faithfully submit
_ourselves, our heirs, and posterities_, to William and Mary, _their
heirs and posterities_, for ever." And in a subsequent law, as quoted by
Edmund Burke, the said parliament, in the name of the people of England
then living, _binds the said people, their heirs and posterities, to
William and Mary, their heirs and posterities, to the end of time_.

2 "The Bill of Rights (temp.



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