The “Paine” Inflicted by the Crown

While colonial America was under British rule leading up to the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, the colonialists were not well represented politically.  The Crown displayed classic liberal tendencies:  it cared not for the colonialists but simply for itself and it wanted the colonialists to have no say in government decisions.  This relationship was troublesome for the civic republican colonialists who sought after what James Morone entitled “the democratic wish.”  The democratic wish was a hope for “the direct participation of a united people pursuing a shared communal interest (Morone 5).” In the late-18th century, such a wish was more like a dream; thus, Thomas Paine further emphasized the need for community over the individual.

In his 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense,” Paine not only exemplified Britain’s unwillingness to allow colonialists to participate in government but he also showed how their interests were oft ignored altogether.  Paine writes, “America is only a secondary object in the system of British politics” (33), which portrays the Crown’s general disinterest in the livelihood of the colonialists.  “Secondary object” is the most optimistic way to explain America when it was under monarchical control.

Under a representative system, civic republicans would want as many representatives as possible.  The greater number of representatives in colonial America, the greater political influence colonialists would have.  “Let each colony be divided into six, eight, or ten, convenient districts, each district to send a proper number of delegates to Congress, so that each colony send at least thirty” (Paine 36), this suggestion shows that Paine understood that more representation meant that American would be better “…bound together by a consensus over the public good” (Morone 7).  The communitarian ideology states that the people should come together in a form of participatory democracy to determine and achieve the common good and the best way to achieve such a situation was to remove the individualistic, selfish tendencies of the monarchy in favor of the cooperative tendencies of the community.  The civic republicans had to limit Britain’s influence since, as Paine put it, “her [Britain’s] own interest leads her to suppress the growth of ours [America’s] in every case which doth not promote her advantage” (33) and increased representation seemed to be the way that they would do so.

While I do somewhat agree with Paine that more representatives would mean a more representative government, I wish he would have expanded more on his proposal of having at least 30 delegates from each colony.  He didn’t provide an exact number of delegates that would be sent to Congress by each colony.  This detail is important because if the amount of delegates each colony sends is not directly proportional to the population of that colony, government may, in fact, become less representative as more delegates are added.  For instance, if the amount of delegates were increased and Virginia (the most populous colony in 1776) and Rhode Island (the least populous colony) were given the same number, the colonial political system would have been less representative despite the increase in delegation.  Decreased representativeness would have resulted in such a scenario because each delegate in Virginia would have had to represent the interests of more constituents than each delegate in Rhode Island.  Thus, citizens of Virginia would have been represented less than those in Rhode Island and each delegate would have had to deal with more interests since Virginia had a bigger population.  This would have been a problem for the civic republicans whose ideology was based on community as its fundamental unit.

The aforementioned instance was obviously thought through by Paine and others but it would have helped his argument to better explain how increased representation means increased representativeness.

This entry was posted in Paine, The Democratic Wish and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The “Paine” Inflicted by the Crown

  1. arlaurin says:

    I agree that it would have made things better if Paine said exactly how many congressmen to have, although I think he saw how the population was growing at that point and maybe even how people were expanding west. This would make it hard to say how many people exactly to send until issues were calmed down with Britain in my view. It was just a theory he had about having representatives and that thought wasn’t big before him. (sorry, I don’t know how best to word all that!)

    As for your last comment on “how increased representation means increased representativeness”, I think Paine does explain this to a certain extent. He makes it clear that unequal and little representatives equals DANGER. It will lead to the same problems the colonies currently had with the King. Equal numbers per area plus lots of representatives will lead to fair situations.

    Anyone else have an example of how increased representation means increased representativeness?

  2. davidkoz says:

    I agree with you that Paine explained how increased representation means increased representativeness, I just wish he would’ve done so more explicitly. Thanks for the reply!

  3. beneikey says:

    Nice call on community being a fundamental unit. This creates a problem for civic republicans if each state is to be represented equally under a massive representative democracy. If each state had the same amount of representatives, then the citizens of Rhode Island would have equal representation in Congress as a larger state, say Virginia. Not only equal, but Paine’s “by lot” idea would greatly increase the citizen’s of Rhode Island’s odds of being a representative, regardless of qualification.

  4. charliefilips says:

    You do a really good job of associating the Crown with classic liberal behaviors and outlining Paine’s communitarian principles. My only concern with this is that Common Sense was not meant to definitively outline the representative model for a future republic, but rather to convey the philosophical underpinnings for the independence movement. Paine prefaces his model for representation by noting that “I offer the following hints; at the same time modestly affirming, that I have no other opinion of them myself, than that they may be the means of giving rise to something better.” (Common Sense, 35) Paine’s text addresses little in terms of plans for political sustainability, and when he does his plans are so basic that it is clear this was not his central objective. Paine offers principles rather than concrete plans. His idea on future government can be simply summarized by saying he wanted increased representation. His annually-meeting legislative body, as you said, would have at least 390 delegates with at least 30 delegates sent from each colony, would rotate its President each term and could only pass laws by 3/5 majority rule. Paine admits the imperfection of his model and, assuming everyone in the course is familiar with American history, we know determining the intricacies of representation was a major point of concern and contention among the framers (New Jersey Plan, VA Plan, Great Compromise). What we should take from Paine’s model are his principles — that increased representation would foster unity between the Representative and the Represented. This unity would serve as the means to determine and pursue an objective good.
    In an independent American society, Paine sees this “objective good” as capitalizing on the economic potential of the continent. What I found most captivating about Common Sense was Paine’s ability to recognize this potential and present it as a possible source of national pride. I cannot definitively say he was the first to make this observation, I’ll actually assume it’s highly unlikely. Regardless, he does eloquently relate a model for economic and defensive sustainability through his discussion on shipbuilding. Paine calls ship-building “America’s greatest pride” (Common Sense, 43) and relates that
    “no country on the globe is so happily situated, or so internally capable of raising a fleet as America. Tar, Timber, Iron, and Cordadge are her natural produce… We ought to view the building a fleet as an article of commerce, it being the natural manufactory of this country. It being the best money we can lay out.” (Common Sense, 43)
    A call for shipbuilding and the maintenance of “a navy… worth more than it cost,” (Common Sense, 43) simultaneously appeals to constituencies interested in economic prosperity and/or in common defense. Paine labels shipbuilding as the activity through which “commerce and protection are united.” (Common Sense, 43)
    Much like his model for representative government, shipbuilding is not the solution to future sustainability. However, it is important to look at the principles underlying this economic proposition. Paine offers economic prosperity as an “objective good” that a unified republican body can pursue. It is not the end all be all solution to questions of how America could survive economically, following a separation with Britain. Ultimately, Paine’s text offers principles upon which future political and economic activity could be based, rather than definitive and intricate solutions.

Leave a Reply