We all know who Thomas Paine is. What you may not know, or have even thought of yet, is why he is the greatest progressive of his time and the first major American progressive. He was not afraid of the Christian establishment, his ideas aren’t the most popular, he believed that American independence affects more than just America, he believed that there are clear, separate concepts of society and government, he believed that all people are equal, he had also believed that an American navy could be raised up and rival that of the British navy, and one of his finest accomplishments was laying down the foundation of the Constitution of the United States, complete with congressional districts and an elected president along with the stressed idea of total freedom of religion and personal property.
Thomas Paine criticized the monarchy relentlessly because he hated the idea of inheritance of ruling, and believes that an elected government is an effective government. Paine also took aim at the Quakers, heavily criticizing them, stating that religious views should not be mixed up with American politics. I believe that even still today, this is pretty radical for about half of Americans. One of the political parties today uses their religious views to influence how they vote in Congress, and appeal to the large population of Christian Americans. You can look at conservative political figures, such as Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, who use their religion to help guide them with the decisions they must make in the Senate today. One political theorist who lived two hundred years ago had stepped up against the influence of religion in politics. It seems to me that if a candidate just twenty or twenty-five years ago had said just that, they mostly like would not have been supported or elected and ostracized at the thought of not having politics being influenced by religion.
Paine did not care at all if his ideas were popular at the time or not because he knew that once Americans had listened to what he had to say, he knew that they would accept that American independence from the British was clearly the only way that America could go. He saw through the lies of the so-called checks and balances of the British Empire, and knew that only an elected government consisting of both a Congress and a president would be the way for a true system of checks and balances. Paine said that it’s also very important for people not to confuse Society and Government, stating that Society is only when a community comes together to support one another and accomplish something, whereas the Government only exists because people do bad things.
Oxford’s dictionary states that a progressive is (section 2.1) favoring or promoting change or innovation, and I believe that Thomas Paine certainly fits that description of the first major progressive in America. He wanted change and promoted that change in his pamphlets and helped move ordinary citizens to action and helped change America in the process. Thank you for reading my blog post!