Thomas Paine was an English-American political activist/theorist, p...
Paine waited one year before publishing Agrarian Justice, hoping fo...
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is the French motto that was first co...
François Noël Babeuf, commonly known as Gracchus Babeuf was a Frenc...
The Social condition of France during the 18th century was very mis...
This distinction is central to Paine's overall point. Basically, we...
The origins of social security can be traced to this proposal. The ...
Distinct from welfare, the guaranteed minimum income is for everyone.
Although average life expectancy was about 40 in England at the tim...
He is referring to William Pitt the Younger, a British politician ...
*Fun fact:* 1.00£ in 1795 is equivalent to 121.00£ in 2016. For mor...
Curious fact: Life expectancy at birth rose was about 40 by the lat...
The author believes that society can only change as a whole. Thus t...
This is a core concept of Thomas Paine thought **"the earth, in its...
Thomas Paine Paine viewed private property as necessary. At the sam...
To the Legislature and the Executive Directory
of the French Republic.
THE plan contained in this work is not adapted for any particular
country alone: the principle on which it is based is general. But as
the rights of man are a new study in this world, and one needing
protection from priestly imposture, and the insolence of oppression
too long established, I have thought it right to place this little work
under your safeguard. When we reflect on the long and dense night
in which France and all Europe have remained plunged by their
governments and their priests, we must feel less surprise than grief at
the bewilderment caused by the first burst of light that dispels the
darkness. The eye accustomed to darkness can hardly bear at first the
broad daylight. It is by usage the eye learns to see, and it is the same
in passing from any situation to its opposite.
As we have not at one instant renounced all our errors, we cannot
at one stroke acquire knowledge of all our rights. France has had the
honour of adding to the word Liberty that of Equality; and this word
signifies essentially a principal that admits of no gradation in the
things to which it applies. But equality is often misunderstood, often
misapplied, and often violated.
Liberty and Property are words expressing all those of our
possessions which are not of an intellectual nature. There are two
kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us
from the Creator of the universe,--such as the earth, air, water.
Secondly, artificial or acquired property,--the invention of men. In
the latter equality is impossible; for to distribute it equally it would
be necessary that all should have contributed in the same proportion,
which can never be the case; and this being the case, every individual
would hold on to his own property, as his right share. Equality of
natural property is the subject of this little essay. Every individual in
the world is born therein with legitimate claims on a certain kind of
property, or its equivalent.
The right of voting for persons charged with the execution of the
laws that govern society is inherent in the word Liberty, and
constitutes the equality of personal rights. But even if that right (of
voting) were inherent in property, which I deny, the right of suffrage
would still belong to all equally, because, as I have said, all
individuals have legitimate birthrights in a certain species of
I have always considered the present Constitution of the French
Republic the best organized system the human mind has yet
produced. But I hope my former colleagues will not be offended if I
warn them of an error which has slipped into its principle. Equality
of the right of suffrage is not maintained. This right is in it connected
with a condition on which it ought not to depend; that is, with a
proportion of a certain tax called "direct." The dignity of suffrage is
thus lowered; and, in placing it in the scale with an inferior thing, the
enthusiasm that right is capable of inspiring is diminished. It is
impossible to find any equivalent counterpoise for the right of
suffrage, because it is alone worthy to be its own basis, and cannot
thrive as a graft, or an appendage.
Since the Constitution was established we have seen two con-
spiracies stranded,--that of Babeuf, and that of some obscure
personages who decorate themselves with the despicable name of
"royalists." The defect in principle of the Constitution was the origin
of Babeuf's conspiracy. He availed himself of the resentment caused
by this flaw, and instead of seeking a remedy by legitimate and
constitutional means, or proposing some measure useful to society,
the conspirators did their best to renew disorder and confusion, and
constituted themselves personally into a Directory, which is formally
destructive of election and representation. They were, in fine,
extravagant enough to suppose that society, occupied with its
domestic affairs, would blindly yield to them a directorship usurped
by violence.
The conspiracy of Babeuf was followed in a few months by that
of the royalists, who foolishly flattered themselves with the notion of
doing great things by feeble or foul means. They counted on all the
discontented, from whatever cause, and tried to rouse, in their turn,
the class of people who had been following the others. But these new
chiefs acted as if they thought society had nothing more at heart than
to maintain courtiers, pensioners, and all their train, under the con-
temptible title of royalty. My little essay will disabuse them, by
showing that society is aiming at a very different end,--maintaining
We all know or should know, that the time during which a revo-
lution is proceeding is not the time when its resulting advantages can
be enjoyed. But had Babeuf and his accomplices taken into
consideration the condition of France under this constitution, and
compared it with what it was under the tragical revolutionary
government, and during the execrable reign of Terror, the rapidity of
the alteration must have appeared to them very striking and astonish-
ing. Famine has been replaced by abundance, and by the
well-founded hope of a near and increasing prosperity.
As for the defect in the Constitution, I am fully convinced that it
will be rectified constitutionally, and that this step is indispensable;
for so long as it continues it will inspire the hopes and furnish the
means of conspirators; and for the rest, it is regrettable that a
Constitution so wisely organized should err so much in its principle.
This fault exposes it to other dangers which will make themselves
felt. Intriguing candidates will go about among those who have not
the means to pay the direct tax and pay it for them, on condition of
receiving their votes. Let us maintain inviolably equality in the
sacred right of suffrage: public security can never have a basis more
Salut et Fraternité.
Your former colleague,
THE following little Piece was written in the winter of
1795 and 96; and, as I had not determined whether to
publish it during the present war, or to wait till the
commencement of a peace, it has lain by me, without
alteration or addition, from the time it was written.
What has determined me to publish it now is, a
sermon preached by Watson, Bishop of Llandaff. Some
of my Readers will recollect, that this Bishop wrote a
Book entitled An Apology for the Bible, in answer to my
Second Part of the Age of Reason. I procured a copy of
his Book, and he may depend upon hearing from me on
that subject.
At the end of the Bishop's Book is a List of the
Works he has written. Among which is the sermon
alluded to; it is entitled: "The Wisdom and Goodness of
God, in having made both Rich and Poor; with an
Appendix, containing Reflections on the Present State
of England and France."
The error contained in this sermon determined me to
publish my AGRARIAN JUSTICE. It is wrong to say
God made rich and poor; he made only male and
female; and he gave them the earth for their inheritance.
Instead of preaching to encourage one part of
mankind in insolence . . . it would be better that Priests
employed their time to render the general condition of
man less miserable than it is. Practical religion consists
in doing good: and the only way of serving God is, that
of endeavouring to make his creation happy. All
preaching that has not this for its object is nonsense and
TO preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to
remedy at the same time the evil which it has produced ought to be
considered as one of the first objects of reformed legislation.
Whether that state that is proudly, perhaps erroneously, called
civilization, has most promoted or most injured the general happiness
of man, is a question that may be strongly contested. On one side, the
spectator is dazzled by splendid appearances; on the other, he is
shocked by extremes of wretchedness; both of which it has erected.
The most affluent and the most miserable of the human race are to be
found in the countries that are called civilized.
To understand what the state of society ought to be, it is
necessary to have some idea of the natural and primitive state of
man; such as it is at this day among the Indians of North America.
There is not, in that state, any of those spectacles of human misery
which poverty and want present to our eyes in all the towns and
streets in Europe. Poverty therefore, is a thing created by that which
is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other
hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from
agriculture, arts, science, and manufactures.
The life of an Indian is a continual holiday, compared with the
poor of Europe; and, on the other hand it appears to be abject when
compared to the rich. Civilization therefore, or that which is so
called, has operated two ways to make one part of society more
affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot
of either in a natural state.
It is always possible to go from the natural to the civilized state,
but it is never possible to go from the civilized to the natural state.
The reason is, that man in a natural state, subsisting by hunting,
requires ten times the quantity of land to range over to procure
himself sustenance, than would support him in a civilized state,
where the earth is cultivated. When, therefore, a country becomes
populous by the additional aids of cultivation, art, and science, there
is a necessity of preserving things in that state; because without it
there cannot be sustenance for more, perhaps, than a tenth part of its
inhabitants. The thing, therefore, now to be done is to remedy the
evils and preserve the benefits that have arisen to society by passing
from the natural to that which is called the civilized state.
In taking the matter upon this ground, the first principle of civili-
zation ought to have been, and ought still to be, that the condition of
every person born into the world, after a state of civilization
commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been born before
that period. But the fact is, that the condition of millions, in every
country in Europe, is far worse than if they had been born before
civilization began, or had been born among the Indians of North-
America at the present day. I will shew how this fact has happened.
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural
uncultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the
common property of the human race. In that state every man would
have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprie-
tor with the rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural
productions, vegetable and animal.
But the earth in its natural state, as before said, is capable of
supporting but a small number of inhabitants compared with what it
is capable of doing in a cultivated state. And as it is impossible to
separate the improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself,
upon which that improvement is made, the idea of landed property
arose from that inseparable connection; but it is nevertheless true,
that it is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself,
that is individual property. Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated
land, owes to the community a groundrent (for I know of no better
term to express the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from
this groundrent that the fund proposed in this plan is to issue.
It is deducible, as well from the nature of the thing as from all the
histories transmitted to us, that the idea of landed property
commenced with cultivation, and that there was no such thing as
landed property before that time. It could not exist in the first state of
man, that of hunters. It did not exist in the second state, that of
shepherds: neither Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, nor Job, so far as the
history of the Bible may be credited in probable things, were owners
of land. Their property consisted, as is always enumerated, in flocks
and herds, and they travelled with them from place to place. The
frequent contentions at that time, about the use of a well in the dry
country of Arabia, where those people lived, also shew that there was
no landed property. It was not admitted that land could be claimed as
There could be no such thing as landed property originally. Man
did not make the earth, and, though he had a natural right to occupy
it, he had no right to locate as his property in perpetuity any part of
it; neither did the creator of the earth open a landoffice, from whence
the first title-deeds should issue. Whence then, arose the idea of
landed property? I answer as before, that when cultivation began the
idea of landed property began with it, from the impossibility of
separating the improvement made by cultivation from the earth itself,
upon which that improvement was made. The value of the
improvement so far exceeded the value of the natural earth, at that
time, as