The Paine’s of Exclusion in Today’s Society

In lecture we were asked to complete an assignment, as a group, referencing opinions that we formed about Thomas Paine’s Appendix and Crisis.  A question that particularly stuck out to me was, “Do you think Paine’s exclusions are still with us in some form today? If so, how so? If not, Why not?”  So to answer this question, we have to consider what groups Paine called for action.  Who’s included and who isn’t? Paine explicitly excludes Tories, Whigs and Quakers from the Revolutionary “people”.  I will start with latter first, how he denounces the Quaker.  Paine says, “The principles of Quakerism have a direct Tendency to make a man the quiet and inoffensive subject of any and every government which is set over him. And if setting up and putting down of kings and government is God’s peculiar prerogative, he is most certainly will not be robed thereof by us…” He calls out the Quaker for being a follower and claims that a real Quaker is one who doesn’t express their view in politics.  To me it reminds me of the way Roark describes the dependents in the Rand reading.  Paine also criticizes members of Tories and Whigs.  He denounces Tories and Whigs when he states, “Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the rights of mankind and of the free and independent States of America.”  Clearly Paine wants to push colonial people to a mode of thinking of themselves as Americans and revolutionary “people.”  The language that sticks out to me in this quote would be “…a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the Rights of mankind…”  With this language here we get into the issue of what it meant to be a “good citizen” and the groups he implicitly excludes from this calling of the common good.  As we discussed in lecture, Paine implicitly excludes minorities, specifically slaves, and women, non-property holders and men of other religions from being a part of the American people.  Why you ask?  I believe that Paine does this for several reasons.  Ultimately, I believe that this exclusion derives from the assumptions of citizenship and what it meant to be a citizen at the time.  Paine makes the assumption that citizen meant white, male, Christian, and a property holder.  Without these qualifications at the time a person was seen as inferior and unfit to make decisions that would affect the general welfare of the people.  Today’s, just as they were in Paine’s day, representatives usually are of an elite group.  People either financially wealthy themselves or with financial connections have much clout in American Politics.  For Paine’s day a representative had to be a property holder to be considered competent to participate in the political process.  To address the original question of whether Paine’s exclusions are still with us in some form today, I would answer yes, our system of government does exclude people from “the American people” of our day.  By “the American people” I mean all citizens able to participate in the democratic process.  If you consider people who feel left behind in the political process I immediately think of minorities and people living in the U.S. that are of the lower classes economically.   So the question still remains how do these unrepresented groups get their voice heard in the political process—with hope that their representatives will hear their grievances.  But I like to ask how should we include unrepresented groups if these exclusions still exist?

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1 Response to The Paine’s of Exclusion in Today’s Society

  1. Jonathan Needle says:

    Paine approached the unification of the colonies with a traditional approach that I believe would not resonate today. It may be that his beliefs were unwavering when it came to inequality for those who were not Christian, did not own property, were members of a minority group, and were female. But it could be that he was simply ‘playing it safe’. I say this because that is what unity required back when our colonial ancestors were to stand up to the British. It wasn’t that these aforementioned peoples were not ‘good citizens’ but that they were not yet members of what the colonial states were becoming; a modern nation in its own right. While this does play into exclusion, there was arguably no united citizenry or intense nationalism that could unify these groups that were being excluded. The views of the majority of the colonial population were too fragmented to foster a national identity among all these peoples.

    You argue that “Without these qualifications at the time a person was seen as inferior and unfit to make decisions that would affect the general welfare of the people” but I am not sure that I agree with this sentiment. By excluding the most commonly accepted (better unaccepted) groups of individuals from the mainstream colonial people, I believe Paine tried to promote the idea of social mobility and opportunity once independence would be achieved among these members of the population.

    Paine is indeed arguably a civic republican and he himself reflected this notion when he said in regards to representation that “The whole number in Congress will be at least 390” (Paine 36). I agree that in America’s history representation in government has been subject to elite pursuits and motives, but we can’t generalize that all members of politics and governance in the United States are from non-humble or minority backgrounds. In the 110th congress of the United States recorded in January 2009, there were 41 African Americans in the house, 1 in the senate, 24 Hispanics in the house, 4 in the senate, 6 Asian and Pacific Islanders in the house, 2 in the senate, and 73 females in the house, 16 being in the senate.

    There may be more ill will toward minorities presently due to the rate of immigration and globalization this country has been facing in recent years, but we can’t just simply count out the votes and opinions of those citizens who are still making their place in this still culturally developing country. An African American president could not possibly be elected under such pretenses.

    Alexander Hamilton stated in his federalist paper that “It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own numbers in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be better understood and attended to (Federalist No. 35).” I think this country may not have a perfect record when it comes to exclusion, but I think past history is helping this diverse country get us on the right track.

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