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

Jack Johnson and Thomas Paine: Forgotten Heroes

posted Dec 16, 2012 21:35:33 by StephenDavis
Some people never truly find their place in history. Jack Johnson, a champion heavyweight boxer, was the most famous black man in American for more than 13 years during the Jim Crow Era. You probably have never heard of him, however, unless you have taken Dr. Ericson’s AP US Class or watched Ken Burns’ fantastic documentary. (Watch here!)

Gordon Wood argues that “most Americans have never been able to make Paine a central figure in even the American Revolution, never mind the age as a whole.” He offers possible explanations for this phenomenon, including Paine’s inability to function as a statesman, his unabashed rejection of Christianity that shocked many Americans, and his un-aristocratic demeanor. I don’t think that Paine’s place in history is as bad as Wood makes it out to be, though. All American history students learn that “Common Sense” convinced the public of the need for rebellion better than any other Revolutionary leader like Sam Adams did. Any history textbook will probably describe Paine like Wood did: as being “not an original thinker, but having the uncanny ability to put in to readable form what others had conceived of.”

History is never objective. Wood makes the case that Paine had as much influence on the Constitution as Locke and Hobbes did, and I agree. However, the fact that Paine never conducted himself as a politician and never became a part of the new American government is key. Henry Kissinger once said that “history is the memory of states,” and Paine never placed himself anywhere in the new American state. Historians generally place priority on those in the public eye, rather than those who exert large influence from behind the scenes. Even public officials with large influence like Henry Clay are little remembered by most people. Paine has his place in history as a Revolutionary thinker, but he must share this place with other influences such as Locke and Rousseau, as well as contemporary statesman who had more direct influence on the shape of the Revolution and the new government, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Stop complaining, Mr. Wood!

[Last edited Dec 18, 2012 01:30:58]
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5 replies
天宇VasaClarke said Dec 16, 2012 22:49:51
oh jesu maria why

*ahem* Stephen, I cannot concur with your comparison. Paine actively campaigned against the values of his day, which resulted in his being kicked to the metaphorical curb. Johnson was a pioneer, but didn't promote racial equality or any other social issue except on those occasions when they directly affected him (in which case his approach was something along the lines of "I've got money, y'all can kiss my posterior"). Paine was a member of the lower classes who never really rose above his station and was forgotten as a result. Johnson began in the same position (with the added disadvantage of being black in the era of segregation and institutionalized racism), clawed his way to the top, and spent the rest of his life swimming in enormous piles of money.

Really, I don't quite see the similarities here.
StephenDavis said Dec 17, 2012 00:06:19
Hey Vasa. I just used Jack Jackson as an example of an important guy neglected by history; that's really the only thing he has in common with Paine. I'm not sure the fact that Paine was a member of the lower class is a reason why he's not considered one of the "Founding Fathers." His class didn't stop him from writing the best-selling pamphlet of his day and influencing revolutionary thought tremendously. I think the biggest factor was his inability to become an influential statesman (which, I guess you could argue was because of his class...). From some of Wood's description of Paine, he seemed like kind of an unlikable guy that wouldn't have done well in the Washington Administration or the Constitutional Convention. He was an ideologue, best suited to be a commentator rather than a politician. Historians, for better or for worse, tend to forget most of our important social critics.

Thank you for responding!

Btw, in the spirit of history, celebrate Mikhail Gorbachev's resignation on December 25th instead of Christmas!

[Last edited Dec 17, 2012 00:20:34]
KentRollins said Dec 17, 2012 21:56:55
I agree strongly with your final line of "Mr. Wood stop complaining", your examples of forgotten American heroes throughout history ring true. I especially agree with your placement of Henry Clay, even though he is ranked in the top 5 legislators of all time he is largely forgotten. T-Paine was alienated for possessing views that were outlandish for the times, being an atheist back then was almost certain career suicide. Thomas rolled to the beat of his own drum much like the Monkees (your favorite band). Thanks for this thorough analysis.
Hoddy Toddy Flim Flam
StephenDavis said Dec 17, 2012 22:20:02
Bro, I teared up reading that. It's friends that get you through assignments like these. Thanks for backing up my thesis man and Merry Christmas!

Mr_Ulmschneider said Dec 18, 2012 03:01:24
This was hilarious to read. Actual content plus humorous engagement = well done.
"An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second." (Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785)
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