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

Thomas Paine: America's First 'Public Intellectual'

posted Dec 16, 2012 22:42:37 by hannahgrove
I admire Paine's unrelenting efforts as a so-called public intellectual - "an unconnected social critic" who embraced a "thinking kind of life, and of course, a writing kind of life." Woods seems to praise this quality as well; he inquires as to why Paine never harbored the reputable title of "founding father", in spite of his great influence to the ideas behind the American Revolution. These ideas include "breathtaking vision, a humble respect for ordinary folk, and a sober recognition of the complexity of human affairs" and a strict condemnation of the monarchy. It is clear that these assertions are indicative of American sentiment during pre-Revolutionary times. With the publication of Common Sense, these ideas that were lucidly explained made Paine famous. Yet, just as he was successful in maintaining an uncompromising ideology, he ceaselessly defied the "gentlemanly" nature of the Founding Fathers. Additionally, he had radical religious views that disillusioned the "Enlightened" common people. During this time, his unconventional character made him unpopular; however, I believe that his radical ideals contributed much to the revolutionary cause, and despite him being a "disinterested citizen of the world" rather than patriotically "American", he deserves to be recognized more than what is granted of him. Prior to this article, I was aware of "Common Sense", but as for Paine himself, I do not know much especially in relation to Jefferson and Franklin. As for his story applying to modern politics, I think that Paine's downfall was his public image, which is something extremely relevant to modern American political culture. The media still castigates "lying, drunken, brutal infidels" (as Paine was called), in spite of how intellectual and influential they may be. Though it is important to note that we are probably more lenient in what is considered scandalous in this day and age.
[Last edited Dec 16, 2012 22:44:03]
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3 replies
avatar said Dec 16, 2012 23:34:11
I definitely agree with all of your points, and I think that like you, many people are aware of "Common Sense" and Thomas Paine broadly, yet are generally uninformed in concern to his personality and other specifics in comparison. In modern times, we all know that the public image plays one of the largest roles in media approval, so I believe your claim that Paine's image was his downfall is a valid point. I find it hard to believe that modern Americans would ever call a drunken, wandering Paine to be one of the Founding Fathers. Paine is a great example of a man who obviously held immense influence during his lifetime, but limited his actual power and everlasting fame with his public actions. If a modern successful writer or spokesperson acted in all the same ways of Paine, I would not be surprised if they were to experience the same end result of fleeting fame as him.
AbbyWilliams said Dec 16, 2012 23:38:13
Apart from his drunken image, Paine would be a great politician and public figure in today's age. He was able to communicate with the people on a level they could understand and relate to. People today love the idea of public figures that are "one of us" and that we can relate, however I think that back during his time this quality was not as valued as it is today and that is why he is not recognized for more than what is granted of him. He was a writer and a critic but because he did not fit the American, civilized, gentlemanly persona that the other founding fathers did, he does not have the same legacy.
hannahgrove said Dec 17, 2012 22:02:17
You both brought up great points that explain why Paine wasn't as well-liked or revered as the founding fathers. Anna, I agree that his obvious lack of concern for the way he acted in the public eye was a big shortcoming. It seemed that, during the publication of Common Sense, when most people just read his ideas, he wasn't as criticized. It was his first true claim to fame and he wasn't able to fully show his unrelentingly improper manner. He simply wasn't as much of a gentleman, a quality that great men of that time typically epitomized. Abby, I like that you brought up how important it is for a politician to relate to the people. It seems like people of that time were probably more proper and accustomed to more gentlemanly leaders, so I could see why he did not garner lots of support.
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