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

posted Dec 16, 2012 21:08:06 by 13hbarth
Woods argues that despite his great influence on the revolutionary America, Paine has often been overlooked as a founder. He believes that this is due in large part to the fact that in "the vertically organized and patronage-dominated social world of the eighteenth century", Paine "lacked connections". While this put him at a disadvantage in the sense that he was "never fully accepted as a gentleman", it also worked to his advantage, giving him a unique personal perspective. More so than other thinkers of his time, he was a "man without a home, without a country, truly a citizen of the world." His modest upbringing allowed him, through his writing, to "represent the indignation of ordinary people" and "reach people with a simple common style". These attributes are the reason behind both his work's popularity with the public and his exclusion from the circle of the founding fathers. I agree with Woods that he was an important figure of the revolution whose influence has been underrepresented. Even if he was "not an original thinker", his ability to "put into readable form what others had conceived of" was clearly important to common people's understanding of and support for the revolution. In this way, he functioned sort of like an eighteenth-century linkage institution. In addition to this function, the ideas he laid out in The Rights of Man, shared by founders like Jefferson, form the basis for many basic principles of American government and political culture.
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3 replies
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StephenDavis said Dec 16, 2012 21:53:33
I agree that Paine had an enormous influence on Revolutionary thought and promoted the Revolution better than anyone else, but I don't think that his neglection is all that bad . After all, we all knew who Thomas Paine was without Mr. U having to remind us! Also, he may be unfairly put down in favor of the other Founding Fathers in some ways, but Paine isn't really a unique case in being neglected. Historians generally focus on statesmen, not the people in linkage institutions who probably have just as much power. Other revolutionary leaders like Jefferson and Washington had direct influence on what went down at the Constitutional Conventions and in the new American government. Who will historians remember better, Grover Norquist, a behind-the-scenes policy entrepreneur who has every Republican in Congress by the neck, or Hillary Clinton, a one-term Secretary of State who is constantly in the public eye? It may not be fair, but historians have a lot of stories to tell and they have to set their priorities.

[Last edited Dec 16, 2012 21:55:58]
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13hbarth said Dec 17, 2012 00:51:23
You make a really good point. While Paine was an important figure, there were a lot of people more directly involved in the revolution and the formation of the new nation. It makes sense that these people like Washington, Jefferson, etc. would be more in the foreground of most historical accounts. I also agree that just because we don't consider Paine a founding father doesn't mean that he is neglected or forgotten, as Woods implies.
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StephenDwyer said Dec 17, 2012 03:02:34
I definitely agree with your point Helena that Paine serves as a linkage institution for the people. You put it very well by saying "Paine "lacked connections". While this put him at a disadvantage in the sense that he was "never fully accepted as a gentleman", it also worked to his advantage, giving him a unique personal perspective." While I agree with your point Stephen Davis that historians normally prioritize with statesmen over writers, I would like to argue that sometimes writers like Paine should be emphasized much more. Of course many of the elites in America were pro-succession, but it wasn't until someone appealed to the masses and got them in support of succession that a revolution would have been possible. In a nation where weaponry was mostly private owned and the shadow government was loosely connected and had no standing army, a revolution of the time and the revolution of the time needed a rather large manpower if they wanted to achieve success. While Woods does state that most people were already pro-succession, it was Paine which solidified their beliefs and probably encouraged them to actually go out and take action. Without "Common Sense," serving as the most important linkage document of the time, there may never have been enough people to actually succeed in a revolution. That is why I would assert that Paine should be emphasized as more of an important figure than he is, without him there may have only been a few elites.
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