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.