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

Thomas Paine: Founding Father?

posted Dec 17, 2012 01:40:08 by jlull37
Wood describes Paine as a brilliant writer, a man who “lived by the pen” (222). Paine’s writing reflected general American thought concerning politics and society, and Wood credits him with being able to succinctly express revolutionary thought in the best way it was ever written (213). However, Paine is not considered to be one of the American founding fathers. According to Wood, although Paine was close to the American people, able to articulate many of the founders’ ideals, “he was not an original thinker” (210). In the end he “died by the pen” because he was so different from the other founders in his demeanor, background, and professional pursuits (222). Paine was different; he considered himself a “citizen of the world” and loved not the American people or country, but the symbol and the cause of America itself. He passionately espoused ideals thought up by others who were fighting for the American country, people, AND cause.
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3 replies
StephenDavis said Dec 17, 2012 01:52:45
I agree with Wood's assertion that he rallied round the cause of Revolution just as well as any of the Founding Fathers did. Paine had enormous influence, "Common Sense" was probably the most-read document at the time besides the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. It's true that he wasn't a John Locke with elaborate ideas about the State of Nature and government that directly influenced the Constitution, but nobody else stirred up the public's passion more than Paine did.

However, I think that the "Founding Father" status goes to Washington, Jefferson et al because they formed the American government and put their political ideas into practice. The Founding Fathers were all astute politicians who set several precedents and made many important decisions for the new nation. Ben Franklin is an interesting case, though. There are many reasons why Franklin has had a greater legacy than Paine: his diverse range of interests outside of political writing (the lightning bolt and key, Farmer's Almanac), and his ability to conduct himself as a politician (brokering the Great Compromise). I think Paine was best suited to be a political commentator, and unfortunately the most influential social critics are little remembered if they do not participate in the political process.

Kent Rollins tells me to "make a play" every day. Perhaps Mr. Paine could have taken a hint.

jlull37 said Dec 17, 2012 02:13:28
Yep I think that's about what I was saying. He was passionate, smart, and understood by the people. I probably should've specified it, but I wouldn't classify good ole Tom as being a founding father mostly due to his lack of "engagement" (as Wood says) to the American people and country. Your point about Franklin is interesting. I still think he deserves the title of founder above Paine because he was more directly involved with the formation of the government. He definitely participated in more "gentlemanly" pursuits, and a man connected to "society" was way more accepted at the time. Thus he will be remembered and Tom may not.
avatar said Dec 17, 2012 02:58:53
I think you make a really good point when you say that it was "cause of America" that Paine was really passionate about. Since it wasn't America itself, but what it espoused, that Paine found so interesting, Paine cannot be considered a founding father. His lack of original ideas distanced himself from the founding fathers but it also brought him closer to the American people. And while the founding fathers defended the rights of the people they did it in a gentlemanly, high-society way. Paine put these ideas into simple prose for the masses to understand. Thomas Paine, as you said, was not interested the actual formation of the American government. And as seen in France, he simply wanted to be a part of the movement and what it represented as a whole. Thomas Paine was truly a "citizen of the world."
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