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Mr. Ulmschneider's Forums > AP Government: Madison, Paine, and Politics

Thomas Paine's legacy

posted Dec 15, 2012 21:37:40 by Anneshasengupta
In retrospect, I never realized how strange Paine’s prescence in our high school history books was. He floated out of the text like a pale ghost, mouthing the words “common sense.” And that, at least, was something we never had to study. Paine authorship of common sense had been ingrained in our minds since we were wee ones making avant-garde macaroni interpretations of Columbus. But then, like a sad and uncomfortable phantom, he was never mentioned again. Paine, “everyone could sense is noy like the other revolutionaries, not like Franklin, Washington, Adams, or Jefferson”. And yet, his legacy persists, in the most wondrous and fundamental ways. In a world where gentlemen filled their publications with words most “erudite, filled with Latin quotations, classical allusions, and historical citations…” Thomas Paine was the first to appeal to the drunken travern frequenters, to the weary blacksmiths and carpenters, to the “artisan centered worlds of the cities.” He demonstrated the full power of appealing to the people, leaving the eloquent worldly gentlemen standing aghast among their Latin embroidered ruins. Perhaps the most shocking attribute of Paine mentioned in his article is his fearless conviction to his own opinion. It is either admirably brave or admirably stupid to call Christianity “derogatory to the almighty…unedifying to man…repugnant to reason” And yet, with his dying obscurity, drunken demeanor, and almost impudent mistakes, we owe much to Thomas Paine. He brings with his legacy all the influence and importance of being the first, for without him there could be no second or third or millionth. The first man to say what he truly meant so eloquently, and more importantly, the first man to appeal to so many people and arm them with such fire.
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3 replies
KevinYuan said Dec 16, 2012 19:48:33
Interesting observations - I also hadn't realized the extent of Paine's lack of presence in our education. It seems that historians might not be as interested in Paine's eloquent writings, compared to the overwhelming attention we give to our first few Presidents and other important leaders in the Revolution or during the penning of our nation's important documents. His appeals were focused directly at the people, while other Founding Fathers seemed only compelled to act in their own interests. Perhaps this is due to Paine's unique history in Britain, which separates him from other revolutionaries due to Paine's overall unsuccessful career (which caused him to be more sympathetic to the people, rather than elites in society). I agree with your point about Paine's influential legacy for appealing to the people - it seems that most of the focus today is on the middle class, rather than the minority of elites, a big change since Paine's time. Paine's writings seemed to signal a change to come, towards a focus to the people (notably during Jackson's Populism and Presidency).
StephenDwyer said Dec 17, 2012 03:05:30
Niral- I mean Annesha, I really enjoyed reading your post. What particulary caught my eye was your mention that Paine was the first man to "say what he truly meant so eloquently, and more importantly, the first man to appeal to so many people and arm them with such fire." This sentence I believe speaks truths about Paine and his amazing influence on the people of the revolution. I would definitely agree that Paine was extremely important. Do you believe his importance should be emphasized more in textbooks today? Who, in our modern times, do you think Paine relates to most?
Anneshasengupta said Dec 17, 2012 05:13:03
Gra--Stephen Dav--oh I mean Stephen Dwyer. Thanks for reading my post! I do think that Paine should be emphasized more in's eery how the importance of common sense is never denied, but Paine the man is never mentioned. We learn endless biographical quips about founding fathers, movie starlets, military dictators, and all sorts of historical figures, even the most obscure, but we never explore the life of a man whose name we've known since elementary school. I, at least, had never even given a thought to it. So yes, to preserve the beginning and end of the story of Common Sense, and as basic respect to a great man,I think we should emphasize Thomas Paine more in history books.

Honestly, I think a Paine figure would receive much less recognition now than back during the revolutionary era. I can't think of one off the top of my head (though surely one will come to mind as soon as I press submit, as is my curse), but it seems with the larger quantity of voices shouting for recognition in the world, were Thomas Paine to walk into our midst, he would simply be labelled another brilliant oddball, another strange nonconformist in a sea of brilliant oddballs, in a sea of strange nonconformists. A little sad, when you think about it.
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