- Paine and Jefferson in the Age of Revolutions ed. by Simon P. Newman and Peter S. Onuf
Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, American Revolution, French Revolution, Republicanism
Paine and Jefferson is a scholarly collection of essays on the profound role Thomas Paine played in developing the ideals of democratic revolution. While Paine is the principal focus of the essayists, a significant portion of the book also illuminates his relationship with Thomas Jefferson and their comparative, often overlapping, philosophies about human equality and the republican role of government. The editorial scheme for this pithy and enlightening book also sheds clearer light into their personal and political differences. This one-volume intellectual history is a welcome addition to scholarship that over the years has produced many disparate perspectives about Paine, portraying him as everything from progressive and liberal to conservative. Among modern authors, Jefferson, of course, has enjoyed far greater interest than his friend Paine.
The book is divided into three parts. Part I deals with the radicalism [End Page 669] of both men. It begins with Gordon Wood’s deeply synthetic explication of the two men’s shared sentiments and the different directions of their lives, with Paine maintaining an activist stance in response to the many convulsions in Europe during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and Jefferson’s political paths requiring more cautious public statements about matters like religion and revolution abroad. Francis Cogliano identifies their different visions for the new constitutional republic, with Jefferson working toward an agrarian- and Paine an urbancentered society. Their backgrounds no doubt contributed to separate visions, as the former emerged from rural Virginia and the latter from the metropolis of Georgian England. Unlike many previous authors, however, Cogliano argues that Jefferson’s agrarianism was not regressive; to the contrary, his constitutional vision was in many ways as forwardlooking as Paine’s.
Although Paine enjoyed much popularity across the political spectrum until the mid-1790s, as Simon Newman points out, he came to be reviled by Federalists and some Republicans for his criticisms of organized Christianity and President George Washington. Newman’s study is richly illustrated by primary sources and ceremonial toasts that display Paine’s star through the French Revolution as well as his sharp decline in status. Jack Fruchtman, Jr.’s chapter turns outward, providing details from Paine’s lesser-known writings on the desire to support revolutions overseas. Paine’s formative experience at the time of the American Revolution prompted him to advocate for upheavals throughout Europe—indeed, for broad global change—so as to vindicate the universal rights of mankind.
The French Revolution not only affected the evolution of Paine’s views but Jefferson’s as well. Both men understood equality within a representative democracy framework. As Armin Mattes demonstrates in his chapter, both men’s writings during and after the French Revolution incorporated anti-aristocratic values into the legacy of the American Revolution; they thereby played a significant role in the U.S. shift from Federalist hierarchical politics, which John Adams and Alexander Hamilton had adopted.
If the book principally concentrates on the life and times of Thomas Paine, it actually does more. Philipp Ziesche contributes material about Paine’s inner circle, explaining just how important Benjamin Franklin was in introducing Paine to reformers in France. This in turn contributed to Paine’s attacks on nobility and inequality in Rights of Man. Mark Philp takes on the subject of Paine and Jefferson’s two overlapping years in France (1787–1789). The focus remains on Paine, however, demonstrating [End Page 670] how his ideas evolved through political discourse (and specifically with regard to natural rights, constitutions, and sovereignty of generations) into a reinterpreted picture of recent events in America. Ziesche’s and Philp’s chapters appear in Part II, which encompasses Paine’s influence on European politics during the Age of Revolutions. Thomas Munck’s chapter is even more rounded, exploring Paine’s varying degree of influence in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, and even Sweden...