Common Sense vs. Kings

Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine


As the current President of the United States continues on a course that resembles the attitudes and actions of a king more than a president, or more specifically of a tyrant (one who rules arbitrarily) than a king (one, who thou powerful, nevertheless subjects himself and his administration to the law and its limits), one cannot help but recall that America’s founding was, in part, a firm, and the Founders had hoped final, rejection of both the idea of a king, and of the tyrannical abuses of power that go hand in hand with kings.

Of all the powerful arguments against a belief in kings, Thomas Paine’s 1776 work, “Common Sense,” was by far the most popular. In it Paine rejected kings and tyrannical prerogatives via an appeal to scripture, reason and history, but primarily scripture. He noted:

The Almighty hath here (in the Bible) entered his protest against monarchical government.

Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. [Before] then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases) was a kind of republic, administered by a judge, and the elders of the tribes [who were freely elected, and a Seventy, who were the equivalent of a Senate]. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts.

“Government by kings,” said Paine, was not the invention of God – as skeptics contend today – but “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.”

Get your copy of Thomas Paine : Collected Writings : Common Sense / The Crisis / Rights of Man / The Age of Reason / Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters (Library of America)

Israel first dabbled with the idea of kings, he stated, when they solicited the great general Gideon for such a post. “Rule thou over us, thou and thy son, and thy son’s son.” But Gideon, a type and a shadow of another great general, Washington, rigorously refused this tempting offer; said he, “[Only] the Lord shall rule over you.” Gideon, not only “declined the offer,” but he “denied their right to give it, ” for absolute power in the hands of any man was an affront to God.

God must be the only King, and that was important. Paine continued:

“But where, say some, 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 monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute government the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.”

This belief that God and His law were Supreme, repudiated monarchy and inspired the colonists to believe that no man or group of men should ever be trusted with unchecked power. It taught the colonists a principle, every American ought to remember, that even good men are corrupted by untrammeled centralized power and the results of such blind trust are catastrophic!
After Paine laid out in considerable detail the story of Israel’s foolish embrace of Kings, and the attending results he gives a number of summary thoughts among which are these:

  1. “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.”
  2. “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.”

Steve FarrellSteve Farrell is the Founder and Editor In Chief of The Moral Liberal, one of the original pundits at (1999-2008), and the author of the inspirational novel, Dark Rose.