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

Thomas Paine's Unique Legacy

posted Dec 17, 2012 01:48:17 by GrantBroussard
Thomas Paine was a man who scared those who wrote the history books of his time, so Wood argued that he became under-appreciated by people who study our nation's history today. However, I feel that Wood ignores the fact that to not be a founding father does not mean to be a nobody. As many of us have, if you take APUS you will learn about the far reaching impact of Common Sense. Wood does well to draw the line between restating old ideas in a fresh way, which Paine did, and coming up with new ideas for a nation, which most of the founding fathers did. However, this is actually what makes Paine important. The reason he was so integral to the Revolutionary Era was "not so much what he said but how he said it and to whom." Being the mouthpiece of the revolution, boiling down complex thoughts and serving him to the public gave him the role of ambassador to the people and also helped get people "pumped." By fanning the revolutionary flame, he spread out the revolution among the masses, rather then leaving it concentrated in the intelligentsia. Unfortunately for his image, this sort of blatantness damaged his reputation by giving his critics ammunition for ad hominem attacks regarding his religion. However, I wouldn't say that Paine is forgotten. I simply think he is remembered for what he was, and that what he was was not a founding father.
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4 replies
StephenDwyer said Dec 17, 2012 02:17:36
Grant, I definitely agree on your point about Thomas Paine. I like how, unlike most, you point out that Paine not being considered as a founding father is actually a good thing, because in all actuality he was not a founding father persay but instead "an ambassador to the people." Today we learn in APUS how important Paine's "Common Sense" was, and I wish I knew when Woods wrote his book, because it seems as though maybe when he was young they did not emphasize as much the importance of Paine. Regardless though, I agree that we should focus more on Paine's accomplishments and not concern ourselves so much with his downfalls, or in other words what he was and not what he was not (as you appropriately put it). Is there anyone in our modern political system today whom you think serves as a very influential public figure but not so much as a politician? Do you think Paine would have made a good politician back then considering he got kicked out of France's general assembly? Do you think he would make a good politician today considering he is gifted in appealing to the masses? I would assert that yes he would, similar to someone like Obama or even Raegan (who was extremely popular among the masses). Do you think that if someone famous like Psy or even an American like Leonardo Di Caprio were to run for office would they be elected? Arnold Swartzemuscle was?

GrantBroussard said Dec 17, 2012 02:29:12
Regarding public figures today, I'm afraid that we have exited the era where famous people were intellectuals and entered the era of where famous people are sports figures and movie stars. Non-politician intellectuals just aren't appreciated as much by the masses. I think the reason Paine failed as a politician back then was because he didn't have "connections" and he was too direct with his ideas (specifically his religious beliefs, which offended MANY). If he were to become a politician today, he would certainly be a breath of fresh air among the equivocation that characterizes politics today. I think people would either love Paine or hate him, and unfortunately, I don't think that would bode well for his success. However, I do wish that he could return as Robo-Paine because that kind of frankness and depth of connection to the people appeals to me. Being well liked (famous) can clearly help you get elected, but I feel like Paine would offend too many people.
AlexCarr said Dec 17, 2012 04:24:02
I completely agree that Paine was important in his own way, just not as a founding father. Wood seems to glorify the idea of being counted as a founding father and wants everyone who influenced America to be counted in. But its not like everyone who influenced what America became "founded" it. I think that Paine didn't play that role, and didn't try to. Instead he sought to bring to light all of the flaws of society, voice the opinions of the common man, and introduce his own ideas on how things should be run and people should be treated.
14alaroche said Dec 17, 2012 05:26:22
Stephen, I totally agree that Paine was important in his own way. Part of what distinguishes the founding fathers of America are Franklin's brilliance, Washington's virtue and honesty, and overall their sense of patriotism and individuality. They provided someone that future Americans could look up to and try to imitate; the embodied the sense of the revolution. However, Paine was deemed as "slovenly" and "better on paper than in person". He was completely radical which didn't allow for much leeway. So yes, he provided a comprehensive idea for the people to get behind but ultimately, as Grant said, he just offends/offended too many people to be a face of America (but just because you're not a founder doesn't mean you're not an integral part of it's function).
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