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

posted Dec 16, 2012 02:32:32 by ReynaHuang
It's true that Paine's writing, starting from the first pamphlet Common Sense, was some of the most influential work that appeared in the revolutionary time period in the colonies. His way of using language that "could be understood even by the unlearned," was the key in his widespread success, and subsequently, Paine was able to just spur those who were already in favor of a revolution. Like Wood said, he really didn't say anything revolutionary himself, but rather just made that final and necessary push by writing for the masses. I think that as a result of a lack of his own innovative thoughts, it's difficult to view Paine as anything more than an instrument in the revolution. As a writer, he was the pathway to gathering the support, but he, by himself, was hardly on the level of a Founding Father. Sure, he was influential, but as Wood noted, Paine could not even put on the mask of a gentleman and he didn't play a pivotal role in any of the conferences that were so central to the founding of the nation. Additionally, how can anyone consider Paine to be the a Founding Father when he was overseas for such a long period? Of course other highly-regarded men of that time, like Franklin and Jefferson, made their trips to Britain and France, but they were there only on the account of the politics of the colonies, unlike Paine. If it had gotten to the point where Paine himself stated that his attachment was, "to the world, and not to any particular part," I'm quite certain there shouldn't be a question as to why when we broach the subject of our Founding Fathers and those whom made this nation what it is today Paine isn't thought of very often.
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3 replies
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maryanngill said Dec 16, 2012 17:45:28
I agree that Paine's most significant quality was his role as a writer who communicated ideas to the general public. However, I don't agree that he was lacking in innovative thoughts. The Founding Fathers believed that politics were for "rational, enlightened, restricted audiences of educated men like themselves" (219). Based on these beliefs, the Founding Fathers established the Electoral College so that a group of highly educated men, rather than the population as a whole, would directly elect the president. Paine was extremely radical in his belief that political ideas should be shared with the common people. Today, Paine's influence has spread and led to controversy over whether the Electoral College should be abolished, since it was established at a time when common people were considered unfit for much political participation.
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ReynaHuang said Dec 16, 2012 22:59:24
I do see where you're coming from to say that Paine's writing included more than enough innovative and radical thoughts. Especially when one takes into account his criticism of the Christian faith, it's hard to say Paine was completely basing his writing off previously existing thoughts and material. Because of this, I'll limit to my statement to that the most memorable part of Paine's writing was how he wrote and who his writing was read by. Like Wood said, "what was frightening...about Paine's writings was not so much what he said but how he said it and to whom."(220) So, yes Paine did have some radical concepts in his writing, but they weren't relevant enough to the creation of this country to remember him for them today.
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AustinKoch said Dec 16, 2012 23:33:29
I agree with your point saying that Paine shouldn't be regarded as a Founding Father, but not the reasoning you used. He was a prolific writer that did indeed provide a sort of spark plug for the revolting nation, the problem however, as you said, was that he didn't specifically address the Revolution. His philosophical ideas, although considered revolutionary, rather were largely borrowed or slightly modified as mentioned in the article. Merely the fact that he spent an extended period of time overseas for nonpolitical means doesn't prohibit him from being a Founding Father. He grew up and lived a good portion of his life in the poverty so associated with England's lower classes, which I believe helped him realize some of the major flaws in a monarchical government. His experiences overseas made him think the way he did, so I feel like that can't solely disqualify him. I rather think he can't be considered a Founding Father due to his lack of contribution to the actual framing of the government (or the Constitution).
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