Tag Archives: Beheading
The deed [beheading the king and queen] which closed the mortal course of these sovereigns, I shall neither approve nor condemn. I am not prepared to say that the first magistrate of a nation cannot commit treason against his country, or is unamenable [unanswerable] to it’s punishment: nor yet that where there is no written law, no regulated tribunal, there is not a law in our hearts, and a power in our hands, given for righteous employment in maintaining right, and redressing wrong … I should have shut up the Queen in a Convent, putting harm out of her power, and placed the king in his station, investing him with limited powers, which I verily believe he would have honestly exercised, according to the measure of his understanding.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Sometimes leaders just lose their heads.
Jefferson didn’t take a position to “approve or condemn” guillotining the monarchs. His sentence which follows is a challenge to interpret, but here’s what I think he’s saying:
1. A king can be guilty of treason (but not saying this king was).
2. A king is not exempt from punishment for grievous actions.
3. When there is no written law and rulers have no limits, the people have the authority to take matters into their own hands and exercise it wisely for “maintaining right, and redressing wrong.”
Having the right to act in a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the best way. Jefferson would have chosen a different path. He would have neutered the queen’s influence by sequestering her. He would have given the king what limited powers he was capable of exercising honestly. This would have eliminated the void into which Napoleon stepped and the years-long terror unleashed on Europe.