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

Thomas Paine, A Citizen of the World

posted Dec 18, 2012 03:21:31 by cdashley94
Thomas Paine has never been accepted as one of the true founding fathers. He has always been viewed as the radical that was no more American than the King. Gordon Wood says that Paine was never admitted as a founding father because of the contrast between his writings and his person. People talked about him, saying, "he is better in print than in the flesh." While Paine was a great and moving author, he never achieved the same social status as many other founders. Franklin was the closest to Paine in personality, but Franklin successfully achieved gentleman status.

Paine did not consider himself to be an American citizen, but rather a "citizen of the world". Paine himself said that he saw America as not his country, but rather a "country [he] had befriended." Overall, Paine is not considered a founding father, because he didn't even consider himself to be an American. He never gained the warmth of the American people as an outsider.
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4 replies
Mr_Ulmschneider said Dec 18, 2012 03:27:40
But the questions that seems most important, most pressing about Paine if this is true are:

1) How could and outsider have been so crucial to the popular success of the revolution? How could he have understood or inspired the American people so well as an outsider?

2) What aspect of his life and personality most contributed to his outsider status? His social class? His atheism? His association with England and the French Revolution as a 'citizen of the world'? His radicalism?

I find Paine fascinating because, even if there's not right answer to those questions, investigating them tells us a lot about the complexities of our nation's beginnings in both ideology and political-social history.
"An honest heart being the first blessing, a knowing head is the second." (Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785)
JackOliver said Dec 18, 2012 03:31:28
Interesting. Paine was definitely an idealist, and the ideals he stood for, such as freedom of the people from tyrannical government, transcend national borders. It's possible that Paine himself would not want to be remembered as a founder of the United States, but rather as a symbol of personal liberties with universal application.
cdashley94 said Dec 18, 2012 03:38:20
Well Mr Ulmschneider,

1) He may have very well inspired the American people, but more importantly he inspired the powerful men such as Franklin, Hamilton, and so on. Regarding how he could have understood, Paine himself said that "it was neither the place nor the people but the Cause itself that irresistibly engaged me in its support." He understood the feelings and hopes of the American people, and fought for that precisely, rather than for the people themselves.

2)Paine's social class definitely stood out when compared to that of the noted founding fathers. He did not own land or have wealth, and did not hold a "gentleman's" title. However, the aspect that contributed most was his citizenship. As he recognized himself as a citizen of the world rather than American, he removed his name from the pool of founding fathers. By admitting that he did not fight for America, but rather the ideals, he was not a founding father of the nation, but rather a founding father of the ideology that the nation was then built on. He himself helped to draw the line that segregated him from the founding fathers of our nation.
cubsfanwcg said Dec 18, 2012 03:39:24
I completely agree with you Chris. While many of the other founding fathers came to America in an effort to solely improve this nation and gain its independence, Paine definitely had a broader sense of the world. Paine wrote to influence the American people that a revolution was necessary in "Common Sense," not to help the new and struggling country but to give all markets in Europe another market in the western world. Paine wanted to influence anyone he could with his pen, and he saw America as a place where ears were wide open, just asking for someone to get them off the fence. I definitely agree with your assessment of why he is not considered a founding father. Do you think this goes back to many elections today? I feel like the "Don't vote for this candidate because he is not American," is played at times today. This kind of goes back to the whole Paine not being a founding father thing
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