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Off with their heads? Let this be a warning …

We have just received here the news of the decapitation of the king of France. Should the present ferment in Europe not produce republics every where, it will at least soften the monarchical governments by rendering monarchs amenable to punishment like other criminals, and doing away that aegis [protection] of insolence and oppression, the inviolability of the king’s person. We I hope shall adhere to our republican government, and keep it to it’s original principles by narrowly watching it.
To Joseph Fay, March 18, 1793

Document A-10

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
No leader is above the law forever … or safe from the mob.
The beheaded king was Louis XVI, whom Jefferson had known during his tenure as ambassador to France, 1784-89. Jefferson had seen some good qualities in the man, but those were compromised by personality defects, a fondness for alcohol and pleasure, and an overbearing wife, Marie Antoinette. She lost her head, too.
Jefferson hoped the turmoil in France would lead to a more republican government there and an inspiration toward that end in other countries. Even if this act of supreme violence against the king didn’t “produce republics every where,” at least it would serve as a warning to other monarchs. They were not above the law.
Jefferson continued to espouse America’s “republican government” and the necessity of “narrowly watching it.” Devotion to our “original principles” would keep America from becoming like European monarchies.

“… what a magnificent job you did as President Thomas Jefferson …
I have no idea how you pulled it off so well, but you certainly did.”
Substantive Program Chair, Judicial Conference, 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals
(Endorsement was from the Chair in that capacity, not from the Court itself.)
Mr. Jefferson stands ready to pull it off so well for your audience!
Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739

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3 Responses to Off with their heads? Let this be a warning …

  1. Gouteux says:


    I’ve read your article “Off with their heads ?” and i’m quite astounished by your comment about Louis XVI who was supposed to have “a fondness for alcohol and pleasure”.
    Where did you read this ?
    Louis XVI was not a perfect man, but he was intelligent, an honnest man with good manners – as far as I know.
    Thank you for your answer.

    Gilles Gouteux

  2. Thomas Jefferson Leadership says:

    Thanks for your question!
    My explanation was drawn from Jefferson’s own first-hand observations during his five years in France. Here’s an excerpt from a letter to James Madison in 1787, taken from John Foley’s edit, The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, P. 520, entry 4871:
    “The King loves business, economy, order and justice, and wishes sincerely for the good of his people, but he is erascible, rude, very limited in his understanding, and religious, bordering on bigotry…loves his Queen, and is too much governed by her…Unhappily, the king shows a propensity for the pleasures of the table. That for drink has increased lately, or, at least, it has become more known.”
    There are a number of other similar comments from the time. He cited the same themes in his autobiography written more than 30 years later, in 1821. Jefferson was complimentary of him for being honest and wanting to do well, but far too capable of being swayed by his own appetites and the influences of others, especially his wife.

  3. Gouteux says:


    That’s quite clear and precise.
    Thank you for having sent me these information that is not well known in France.
    Have a nice day

    Gilles Gouteux

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