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Mr. Ulmschneider's Forums > AP Government: Madison, Paine, and Politics
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Paine's role in shaping the blossoming nation

posted Dec 14, 2012 03:14:22 by RichardSchweiker
Though maybe not as influential a statesmen as Jefferson or Franklin, the impact of Paine on the shaping of the early nation is hard to deny. Although he eventually "die[d] in obscurity", the power and scope of his writings were vast. With over 150,00 copies sold (keep in mind at the time pamphlets only sold in the hundreds or thousands), his penetrating ideas were successfully widespread through Colonial 'Merica. However, I feel like the one of the reasons he wasn't seen as that much of an influential figure (in comparison to Jefferson, etc.) due to his reiteration of ideals already held by some if not many of the most influential Colonial leaders (radical as they may be). Though lauded as a genius and initially viewed as a celebrity, his only main role in this process was delivering these ideals and values to the common people in the form of "eloquent writing", not participating in any of the actual statesmen activities.
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4 replies
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BenS.McClure said Dec 14, 2012 14:34:28
Richard, your point is a really good one. I think that the ideals of the time were well-established, and so when he rewrote them, using his own bold writing style that won him his infamous reputation as a witty writer of anti-British literature, he put his new stamp on the same, overdone idea. While he was still regarded in the time as a fantastic writer, his oratory skills and communication with just ordinary people obviously wasn't going to leave any positive mark in his admirers' minds. I think he died in obscurity because he shied away from ever befriending and connecting with many people--I wouldn't quite go as far as saying he seemed reclusive, but he certainly seems an introvert, and when compared with the other influential figures of the Revolution, he doesn't stand out. People simply didn't remember him for anything other than his writing, and written language, while influential, isn't enough to put your stamp on the world--you have to put a face with the words.
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SamAkers said Dec 15, 2012 23:15:24
I think you've made a lot of great points here. Paine was truly just a writer, not a statesman. I think the main reason he isn't as well-known as other revolutionaries is that his beliefs were considerably different than most of the founding fathers. Wood spends a great deal of time talking about Paine's disdain for Christianity, and his intimate involvement in the French Revolution. French Revolutionaries were much more radical than their American counterparts, and Paine reflected these more non-traditional beliefs. In modern times, having beliefs radically different than the norm isn't really as much of a stigma as it used to be. In his time period, Paine was labelled an "atheist," despite the fact he made it quite clear he believed in God. Basically, Paine was ahead of his time. His beliefs didn't fall in line with other Revolutionary thinkers, and he was ultimately pushed away because of it.
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RichardSchweiker said Dec 17, 2012 00:56:47
Sam and Ben, I definitely agree with both of your assessments. Sam, I would agree that his radical and anti-Christian ideals likely did influence some of the ultimate "box out" of this great thinker and writer by some of his contemporaries. The ultimate fading into obscurity exacerbated by his, as Ben mentioned, partial anonymity due to stature as a writer and not a politician. Nevertheless, i feel like the actions of Paine deserve more credit than given during the end of his life. This man was responsible for the initial energizing and uniting of the common man, spurring changed sentiments and ultimately a revolution.
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StephenDavis said Dec 17, 2012 01:21:56
Yeah, I agree that the biggest factor in Paine's relatively small legacy today is probably the fact that he was a critic, not a statesman. Paine would not have done well as a politician, seeing as he couldn't even keep a job in a Committee of Correspondence. Statesmen generally have a more direct impact on history, and therefore are remembered better today. Who will make it into more history textbooks in fifty years, Stephen Colbert or Hillary Clinton?

I also agree with Wood's and your point that Paine was not an political philosopher like John Locke or Thomas Hobbes, which is another reason why his influence on the era isn't well documented. "Common Sense" was a key factor in convincing the general public of the need for rebellion, but it did not directly influence the ideas that went into the Constitution's new form of government. Sometimes ordinary people, not brilliant politicians, scientists, or philosophers, can have a huge impact on history and be nearly forgotten by someone with a cursory knowledge of history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, for example, was said to have started the Civil War with the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," but alas, now she's only another sentence in the Princeton Review.

Maybe Kent can help us out here.

[Last edited Dec 17, 2012 01:22:34]
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