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The Political Philosophy of Thomas Paine

Jack Fruchtman Jr.

Publication Year: 2009

This concise, insightful study explores the sources and impact of one of the early republic's most influential minds. An Englishman by birth, an American by choice and necessity, Thomas Paine advocated ideas about rights, equality, democracy, and liberty that were far advanced beyond those of his American compatriots. His seminal works, Common Sense and the Rights of Man, were rallying cries for the American and French Revolutions. More than any other eighteenth-century political writer and activist, Paine defies easy categorization. A man of contrasts and contradictions, Paine was as much a believer in the power of reason as he was in a benevolent deity. He was at once liberal and conservative, a Quaker who was not a pacifist, and an inherently gifted writer who was convinced he was always right. Jack Fruchtman Jr. analyzes Paine’s radical thought both in the context of his time and as a blueprint for the future development of republican government. His systematic approach identifies the themes of signal importance to Paine’s political thought, demonstrating especially how crucial religion and God were to the development and expression of his political ideals.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Political Philosophy of the American Founders


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-14

Americans with a historical sensibility have long been ambivalent about the leading figures of their founding period. On the one hand, they often grow impatient with the unfulfilled promise of the ideals presented in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. These documents failed to resolve the problem of slavery, they neglected the rights of women, and they...

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1 Paine’s Political Thought in Historical Context

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pp. 15-27

Like many eighteenth-century intellectuals with little formal education, Thomas Paine developed a political philosophy as a reaction to the individuals he encountered and the events that occurred around him. As a rootless, often solitary, wanderer, Paine’s political philosophy was unequivocally shaped by his experiences in the small towns and hamlets in which he resided throughout the...

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2 Faith and Reason, Human Nature and Sociability

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pp. 28-55

Paine’s faith that God is a benevolent creator provided a firm moral foundation for his political thought, a faith evident as early as Common Sense and running throughout his writings over the next three decades. Despite his own repeated assertion of his faith, a historic controversy has raged over whether his theology actually figures...

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3 Common Sense, Authority, and Autonomy

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pp. 56-76

Drawing on his faith in a creator God, Paine challenged political authority whenever he believed it interfered with individual autonomy. It is not surprising that within a year of his arrival in America he became one of the first, if not the very first, to proclaim publicly in writing that the Americans must immediately separate from the empire. Despite the pressures of his birth into a lower middle-class...

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4 Permanent Revolution and Constitution Making

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pp. 77-102

Paine’s strong advocacy of and active participation in revolutionary action and constitution making as global phenomena drove his views in Common Sense, but they are most evident in his French revolutionary writings, beginning with the Rights of Man and his attack on Burke and Burke’s famous Reflections.1 His inspiration for universal transformation lay at the root of his famous statement that we live...

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5 From a “Hamiltonian” Spirit to Public Welfare

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pp. 103-133

A strong economy based on a vigorous and vibrant commerce was, for Paine, the financial handmaiden of the democratic republic. Once revolution successfully transformed politics by destroying monarchical government and replacing the autocratic state with democratic institutions guaranteeing individual rights and liberty...

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6 Public Spirit, Civic Engagement, and Evolutionary Change

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pp. 134-150

Arrested in December of 1793 by French authorities and charged, ironically, with being an English spy, Paine spent ten months in the Luxembourg prison. On his release in November of 1794, he explicitly disavowed revolution. This was not a very difficult decision. Living every day under the fear of the guillotine— he saw the death warrant Robespierre had prepared for him, and he escaped...

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pp. 151-155

The consistency and coherence in Thomas Paine’s political philosophy and religious faith become obvious when we study his writings from the moment he stepped onto the world stage in 1776 until his death thirty-three years later. In an 1806 letter, he himself noted the following...

Appendix: A Note on Paine’s American National Consciousness

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pp. 157-165


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pp. 167-204

Recommended Reading

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pp. 205


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895371
E-ISBN-10: 0801895375
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421404011
Print-ISBN-10: 142140401X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: The Political Philosophy of the American Founders