The best way to approach this essay is to define the key components of Paine's characterization of America. How does he describe the United States in Rights of Man, published in 1791?
The next part is going to depend on your own viewpoint about the state of our country in the present day. You'll have to ask yourself about each of the components that Paine lays out, then decide for yourself whether or not you think that parts of his description still hold true today.
Let's pin down a few facts right off the bat. Paine was born in England, but he supported American independence from England. He was also a supporter of the French Revolution. In Rights of Man, he discusses both of these topics. Keep in mind that the United States was a brand-new country at the time, and it was founded, to some extent, on ideals.
Could we describe Paine's depiction of the US, then, as idealistic? Indeed, some scholars would go even further, describing his vision of America as utopian. Consider the following passage from Rights of Man:
If there is a country in the world where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up as it is of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in their modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable; but by the simple operation of constructing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires, and all the parts are brought into cordial unison. There the poor are not oppressed, the rich are not privileged. Industry is not mortified by the splendid extravagance of a court rioting at its expense. Their taxes are few, because their government is just: and as there is nothing to render them wretched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults.
Let's go through a few of these points as prompts for your essay. Is America still made up of people from many nations who practice different religions and speak different languages? The answer is yes, of course.
What about the poor not being oppressed, or the rich not being privileged? I doubt you'd agree with that. I'd suggest scanning recent news articles for examples of policies or decisions that seem to favor the rich over the poor.
Which brings us to the next point. I don't know what your personal politics are: this essay is yours, and you'll have to respond according to what you believe. But the notion that nothing could "engender riots and tumults" seems like the exact opposite of the America we're living in today, and I encourage you to use this as a basis for arguing that Paine's characterization of the US is idealistic at best.
Thomas Paine's The Crisis Number One 1776 - Richard DeStefanoAfter the colonists in America decided that they were going to attempt a move towards freedom from British rule, they found themselves faced with several problems. Many of these problems dealt directly with the threat of a British invasion to stamp out such a revolution. However, a major problem was an internal one. The feelings regarding independence were mixed throughout the colonies and divided among classes. The Patriots found themselves among many devoted British loyalists who were totally against any ideas of secession. Many neutrals felt that any attempt at independence would be an incoherent one. They felt that living under British control was adequate. It was a situation which many knew would have to be altered if independence was to be achieved. It is not surprising that there was a large amount of loylaists and neutrals in the colonies. Many of these may have believed that Britain's hold on the colonies was tyrannical. Logically speaking, however, it would seem infeasible that thirteen colonies, made up of mostly farmers and craftsmen, would be able to mount such a defensive against the worlds most powerful nation.
Thomas Paine was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine in Philadelphia. An earnest supporter of the move towards independence he used media as a weapon against British rule. He was in strong favor of a war against Britain, if that is what it was going to take to gain independence. Knowing that the war was going to need the support of all the colonists, he understood that unity was essential and found it necessary to offer what he could to help unite the thirteen colonies into one nation. In 1776, Paine wrote The Crisis, Number One, a plain spoken commentary outlining obstacles the colonies faced in the struggle with Britain. His conviction was to unite all in the colonies and expose the stubborness and tyranny of Britain in hopes of gaining the support of the Loyalists and neutrals to support the cause with the Patriots.
Paine wrote with fever and passion. His idea of a land free from British tyranny was developed through his writing. The Crisis was written in an elegantly simple voice. Paine stayed away from terminology that was incoherent to the many un-educated common artisans and craftsmen. It was written in common, everyday language. He understood that an easily readable circular would be accepted. In it he not only outlined the problems and struggles with Britain but argued them. He starts out by telling people that "These are the times that try men's souls". He made the point that a soulful person would no longer allow themselves to be oppressed through the unfairness of such an evil kingdom as the British monarchy. He wanted the reader to become outraged and ignited with the same emotions that he and other patriots felt.
Paine knew that the average colonist was not going to simply support a war for independence. He had to make it more than that. He used many common relations between the American cause and beliefs that colonists held close. He used many referrals to God in his writing. This referral was used, no doubt, to promote the idea that a war against Britain would be a war in support of God and religious ideals. The British were seen, by Paine, as trying to accumulate a power that he claimed belonged only to God. He helps arrouse support by stating that "God almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who had so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent". They would be protected with God on their side. The point being made that there were no peaceful methods left and that war would be accepted by God because thay tried several times before through peace but to no avail.
Paine's interpretation of the British was a disapproving one. he wanted the colonists to understand that they did not have to accept restraint from the British. He made references to the British hold on the colonies as an intruder breaking into a private home to steal and ravage. "...if a thief break into my house, burn and destroy my property, and kill or threaten to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever," to his absolute will, am I to suffer it?" Paine wanted the colonists to know that it was their right to live happy lives at their will. He wanted to give the feeling that the British were not only unjust in their acts on on the colonies. Rather, it was personally against the colonists. Allegiance to the British, he claimed, would make less of a person.
Paine promoted the American cause, not necessarily a war. Though it is commonly known as the American Revolution he never used the term "Revolution" for obvious reasons. Many colonists, when thinking of a revolution, think of a bloody, violent attempt of overthrowing a goverment. It is understandable that the colonists would not be willing to fight a long, drawn out, bloody revolution. Therefore, Paine knew it was necessary to portray the upcoming war as a glorious event that was to give hope to all the repressed peoples of the world.
His objective was aimed towards the Tories and especially the neutrals who just wanted to be left alone and let the fighting for some other time. He claimed the British government was going to use the Tories against the Patriots be keeping the seat of war in the middle colonies where the Tories stood. He wanted the Tories to understand the danger they were in stating that "...either they or we must change our sentiments, or one or both must fall." He claimed the Tories were cowards, that under British rule can never be brave. The Crisis was written with such force aginst the British monarchy that many British loyalists were, after reading it, turned against the crown. Many loyalists now understood that it was not just about independence. After reading Paine's work they had a better understanding of the desire that had gripped so many of their fellow colonists. The thoughts of loyalists were changed due to Paine's writings.
Many neutrals felt that a revolution was necessary but did not feel that the present time was the right time. Paine rallied these people by claiming that America has the ability to be and should be the happiest place on the earth. While the colonists were debating the idea of independence, the British were preparing for war and mounting their troops. He goes on to assert that the situation in America is unique and seperate from other nations and that should be taken advantage of. The only way to take advantage of this would to be free from the British monarchy.
Taking advantage of the media, Paine became the first to use such a method as a weapon and to gain support for the fight. Paine's The Crisis became widely accepted throughout the colonies and persuaded many to join in the fight for independence. He had achieved what he set out to do. His adored, democratic style of writing changed the thoughts of many. It also changed the view of what independece meant. Before his writing many thought it was just going to be a bloody war. Paine took this idea further claiming it was a basic human right to fight against the terror of the British. His work was read by thousands and gave clear insight to just what the cause was all about. Through his writing he ignited the revolutionary sentiment the before the publication of The Crisis was held only by Patriots. Through The Crisis Paine employed the values of human dignity and was able to associate his ideals with everyone else in the colonies. Ideas of freedom were now grasped by many and unity towards the American Cause was heightened throughout America.
Research for this article was conducted while the author was a history student at the Pennsylvania State University. Thank you to Dr. Amy Greenberg, Ph.d. for her critique and