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

Thomas Paine: Not Quite a Founding Father?

posted Dec 17, 2012 04:16:55 by kayla.fynaardt
Thomas Paine's major works-- Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason-- "became three of the most widely read political tracts of the eighteenth century," and remain influential and relevant even today. Despite his widespread influence in shaping the politics of the American Revolution, he has never gained quite the same recognition as other politicians of his time. As Gordon Wood put it, this is probably because Paine simply did not fit in with the gentlemen of his time, those who came to be known as the Founding Fathers. In truth, he didn't quite seem to have a place with the American public ether. Other founders remained aloof as Paine maintained a rather unkempt and slovenly image. He was respected for his writings but it was not enough to truly be considered a part of their circle. Then, he alienated himself from the public by speaking out against Christianity, calling it "repugnant to reason," and earning himself the title of a "filthy little atheist." I don't think that any of this should discount him from being considered a part of the Founding Fathers today. His writings expressed the American ideals of independence and a decent happy life: ideals which were shared by other influential men of his time. Indeed, these ideas remain alive and widely relevant even today.
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4 replies
Kia Jordan said Dec 17, 2012 04:30:39
I definitely agree with you Kayla. I find it interesting that Paine became isolated because he chose to dismiss Christianity. Today, many people identify themselves as Athiests without fear of being isolated from their friends, or from anybody for that matter. It frustrates me because as much as the Constitution calls for freedom of religion, people were still not given that right during the Revolutionary Era. Even today some people still don't enjoy this freedom, but at least society has become more tolerant of others religious views.
MatthewNestler said Dec 17, 2012 18:28:11
Excellent points Kayla and Kia. I also find it interesting that Paine was discredited due to his views on religion. I would like to point out, however, that discrimination in politics due to religion still occurs today. Almost all presidents of the USA have been Christian, and even in this modern era there has never been a Jewish, Muslim, or atheist president. I feel that this point proves that Thomas Paine's struggles would be applicable in the modern era also.
kayla.fynaardt said Dec 17, 2012 22:14:14
Thank you both for your comments. Kia, I agree that in general, our society seems to be more tolerant of other religions than we once were. However, I think Matthew bring up a good point that religion is still a contentious point in politics today. A modern example of this that comes to mind is the large segment of our population that believes President Obama to be a "closet Muslim" and uses this as point of attack against him. I think that this same population would take offense to Paine's negative view of the organized Christian religion, much as his own society did.
MadelineWyatt said Dec 17, 2012 22:53:35
Not only was Paine considered to be very radical for his time in terms of religion, there were a few aspects to his "most liberal and radical thinking" that differentiated himself from anyone close in America, the nearest being Thomas Jefferson. He believed people were naturally good, which differed from many of the founding fathers who followed Hobbes's views, and that they were "clogged by the artificial interference of government." The core aspect of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is the "consent of the governed," it seems he believed more in more of the no government really necessary. Not only did he seem more like a contemporary individual in his view on religions, but he believed "war itself might be abolished" resembling a concept almost hippie like (for lack of a better word). He wanted single authoritative structure abolished in favor of total democratic majority rule, very different from the founders who worked hard to keep the Senate and Presidential election out of the gradp of the masses. Then, his thought in terms of the economy is almost Scoialist; "people of the various nations left alone to exchange goods freely among themselves." This ideology doesn't make him a bad public figure at that time, but I don't think his views match that of the Revolutioin and there remains some sort of progressive disconnect in his works.
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