Thomas Paine’s Effect on American Ideals and Government

“Common Sense” by Thomas Paine was written to start the American Revolution, but how much has it shaped the country over the past two hundred years? One of the first things Paine says is, “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices” (3). Certainly, one of Paine’s opening statements can be seen throughout our current society. Many people in America want less government because they view it as something negative, but Paine does not necessarily mean that government always has to be bad, and he does believe that it is something that is necessary for society to prosper. So early on in Paine’s “Common Sense” we can see how his writing can shape American views of individualism.

Furthermore, Paine goes on to write about equality. He explains, “Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich, and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh ill sounding names of oppression and avarice” (8). If humanity is naturally or originally equal, then inequalities occur from some other circumstance. Paine’s description of everyone being equal is an idea that later shows up in the declaration of independence. Because Paine laid out the idea that people should be equal, America rebelled against the British government and their inheritance laws that created inequalities between classes.

However, Paine’s idea of equality has to be questioned. Did he mean that everyone deserves equal opportunity, equal rights, equal resources, or all of the previously stated? Many of these ideas of equality were not met in America for quite some time and some are still not to this day. America made the declaration of independence, declaring everyone as equals, but women and other races were not considered equal during that time period. Most Americans are considered to have equal rights by now, but that does not mean that people have equal opportunity. Class struggle is still a problem today, and the inequalities between classes are getting harsher. A study from the Congressional Budget Office shows that income inequality is getting as high as it was during the Great Depression. The Huffington Post discusses this study, as well as some other interesting facts about growing income inequality in America and the severity of it. Paine would surely seek some radical movement to change this. Here is the article to further learn about income inequality in America.

In addition to some of these ideals that Paine discusses, he has a couple suggestions for the type of government that should be created after the revolution. He explains that the government should be a democratic republic, by having the people choose representatives for them in government. This idea that Paine suggests before the revolution has even started sticks with America to this very day. American government consists of the citizens choosing others to represent them in government such as the president, governors, and mayors. The question that needs to be asked now is when do these institutions need to be reformed. Thomas Paine set down some ground work that the founding fathers used to form this country, as well as many ideas that have stuck with the country throughout time.

However, when are we going to start asking if this form of government is the best one, or what can be changed to better our government? During the time period Thomas Paine would be considered a radical for trying to rebel against Britain, but today we accept his ideas as common sense. Maybe the current social norms and government standards need to be questioned, in order to make way for some better more radical ideas.

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1 Response to Thomas Paine’s Effect on American Ideals and Government

  1. fern1007 says:

    This is a really thoughtful analysis of our Paine reading. I cannot help but wonder how Paine would view today’s political landscape and our criminal justice system.

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