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

Thomas Paine: Too Disinterested to be Interesting?

posted Dec 17, 2012 05:37:08 by 14alaroche
In this passage, Wood made it painfully clear that Paine was not a likable fellow. He was even coined as the man who "failed at everything he'd ever attempted", at least in the first four decades of his life. However, his importance cannot be denied ("the world would never again be the same", says Wood on the importance of Common Sense). The founders of America needed to give the people more than an idea to rally behind. They needed to have connections, to be like Ben Franklin dallying in the aristocratic circles of France and England. Frankly, they needed to give America a sense of legitimacy to the rest of the world, and being a slovenly radical was not the correct way to go about that. He had no way of politically handling the country or dealing with the rest of the world. He provided the spark, but the fathers fed and monitored the fire. Paine embraced this story of him not really belonging to America (he promoted the idea of his "personal disinterest"). So if he didn't want to be a part of the country that he helped find independence for, is it really fair to deem him a founding father?

As a side note, Paine offends far too many people to become a face that generations of people could rally behind.
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6 replies
YashTekriwal said Dec 17, 2012 07:07:42
I would argue that despite his controversial figure (and let's remember, the founding fathers themselves aren't quite the "heroes" we make them out to be) Paine should definitely be considered a founding father of the United States of America. Let us remember that not only did he write Common Sense, but also The American Crisis. Paine was a man who I believe knew which keys to push at the right times. When the American people needed to be spurred on in a time of revolution, Paine spurred them. When they teetered on the edge of the precipice of freedom, Paine was the one who pushed them into the abysmal valley that he thought was "common sense". Yes, Paine was snarky spark to the American independence movement, but he was a spark nonetheless. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." Common sense is something that appeals to every individual, no matter how small (as evidenced by this lovely cartoon) Your text to link here...
YashTekriwal said Dec 17, 2012 07:08:01
14alaroche said Dec 17, 2012 22:46:11
But founding fathers were more than those who inspired the people. They avidly sought peace and functionality, and it can be argued that Paine cared little for order or diplomacy.
ryanneighbors95 said Dec 18, 2012 01:24:20
While Paine did write Common Sense which "is the most radical and important pamphlet written in the American Revolution and one of the most brilliant ever written in the English language," it doesn't qualify him as a founding father. Paine served as a incredible motivational writer to get the people to act. However, as Allie said, it's up for argument about how much of this was for the sake of policy. He wrote to provide the colonists with a spark for them to act. He sought peace and because of that, he wrote his essays. Founding fathers conducted diplomacy with other countries and amongst themselves. Paine simply loved to write and had a cause he believed him. I'm not saying that he wasn't influential...he definitely was. I just don't believe that "founding father" is the proper title for a man that showed a certain sort of passiveness to American policy.
YashTekriwal said Dec 18, 2012 03:06:35
Acknowledging the validity of the points that both of you have brought up, I feel like this has turned somewhat into a "founding father" debate as opposed to a discussion on Paine's qualifications. So to clear the matter up for myself, I looked at the dictionary which provided the following definition for a founding father:

1. A person who helps to start a movement or institution

Thus, I think we can all agree that no matter the motives or underlaying purpose, in spirit and the broader sense of the word, Paine was a founding father.

However, I concede that there are many definitions of a "founding father" out there. In fact, some historians define it as only those who helped frame the constitution or those who signed the declaration of independence. The other (admittedly larger) side of the coin is that the founding fathers were those who played an incremental role in the founding of the nation. To be put more aptly, those without whom the nation which we live in today could not exist. I think both sides have merit to them, but I tend to align more with the latter, but I know not where either of you would fall on that debacle. Should you say that a founding father is perhaps defined only by a person(s) who attended the constitutional convention or signed the Declaration, I pose to you this question: "Do you consider Patrick Henry a founding father of the United States?" If yes, then maybe you align more with the second definition than you think.
Mr_Ulmschneider said Dec 18, 2012 03:10:09
This is a really thoughtful discussion - Allie, I especially like your engagement in this set of questions. Yash, you too bring up some important questions about how we understand the term Founder.

It's a nice piece of perspective to note that many modern scholars prefer the term 'Framer,' which serves to separate those who were participants in the Revolutionary historical moment (like Paine) from those who were really part of constructing the new governing structure and political system of the United States in the postwar period (like Madison). However, I think it is a bit flawed -- after all, the Revolutionaries, like Paine, had many of their ideals realized for better and for worse, as American political life flourished in the 1830s and 1840s.
"An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second." (Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785)
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