This poem, which is sometimes published under the title “To a Republican, with Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man,” was written immediately after the publication of Thomas Paine’s great and influential book in defense of the French Revolution. It was later included in Freneau’s Poems (1809). In many ways, the poem is uncharacteristic of Freneau: While trenchant in its criticism of monarchy and enthusiastic in its endorsement of Paine’s thinking, it is neither overtly satiric nor especially lyrical, though it does make reference to the laws of Nature and to personified Virtue. As might be expected, it makes no allusion to God: It is, therefore, essentially a rationalist-Deist poem on the morality of the national polity.
Further, the structure of the poem is a departure from the usual forms that Freneau used: The fifty lines are divided into four stanzas of ten, fourteen, ten, and sixteen lines of iambic pentameter that are end-rhymed—that is, in closed couplets. The first three stanzas bemoan the ugly fate of the “sacred Rights of Man” as they have been travestied by monarchs; the final two celebrate the great plan for the enunciation and protection of the natural rights of the common person that was contained in Paine’s treatise and was being worked out in the new Constitution of the United States, which is addressed as “Columbia.”
Just as “A Political Litany” and “To Sir Toby” are characterized by catalogs of deficiencies and shortcomings, so too is “On Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man.” Kings are presented as the source of discord, murder, slavery, knavery, plunder, and—worst of...
(The entire section is 677 words.)