Book Chapter

Thomas Paine and Jeffersonian America



Macleod E (2013) Thomas Paine and Jeffersonian America. In: Newman S & Onuf P (eds.) Paine and Jefferson in the Age of Revolution. Jeffersonian America. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, pp. 209-228.

First paragraph: 'The independence of America, considered merely as a separation from England, would have been a matter but of little importance, had it not been accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practice of governments... Government founded on a moral theory, on a system of universal peace, on the indefeasible hereditary Rights of Man, is now revolving from west to east, by a stronger impulse than the government of the sword revolved from east to west'.[i] So Thomas Paine opened Part II of his best-selling work, Rights of Man, which was published in February 1792 and which is often characterized as a key text in the British debate on the Revolution in France, but in which Paine was in fact much more concerned to present America as a model republican government than to defend revolutionary France.[ii] To Paine, America was a glorious demonstration of republican principles successfully at work, a practical example for other states to imitate. His aspirations for the new republic were expressed in a prolific stream of journalism and personal correspondence from the time he arrived in America in 1774 until the end of his life. However, he had left the United States in 1787 and did not return till 1802, having spent most of the intervening period in France. During that time, the new American constitution had been ratified, and the administrations of George Washington and John Adams had governed America. Paine was highly critical of both administrations in certain respects, and he feared that the American republic was drifting from his view of its founding principles. In March 1801, however, Paine's friend, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as the third American president. Paine hoped that under him the United States would return to his understanding of its original vision. This paper is an attempt to explore how far Jeffersonian America matched up to Paine's hopes for the republic. [i] Thomas Paine (hereafter, TP), Rights of Man, Part II (1792), in Philip S. Foner (ed.), The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. (New York: The Citadel Press, 1945), 1:354, 356 (TP's emphasis). [ii] Mark Philp, "The Role of America in the ‘Debate on France' 1791-5: Thomas Paine's Insertion," Utilitas, 5 (1993): 221-37.

Title of seriesJeffersonian America
Publication date30/11/2013
PublisherUniversity of Virginia Press
Publisher URL…%20Peter%20S.%22
Place of publicationCharlottesville, VA

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Dr Emma Macleod

Dr Emma Macleod

Senior Lecturer, History