The author of Rights of Man, Thomas Paine, came to America in the later years of his life proving that he could only characterize America to some extent. He couldn’t have possibly lived in America long enough to attest that America was a perfect place where everyone lived peacefully with one another. In no way was America a perfect place where the rich were not privileged, nor where the government was just, and riots and tumults were not engendered. Even though, Paine was correct about a couple characterizations of America in 1791 that still hold true to today.
Thomas Paine came over to America and participated in the American Revolution. In a contextual sense, a revolution is a riot blown out of proportion. Paine himself believed that “there [was] nothing to engender riots and tumults.” If there weren’t problems to “engender riots and tumults,” then why would Paine participate in the American Revolution? Even though America wasn’t called America until after the Revolution, Paine still lived on this land during a time where the people were not at peace. Paine most likely believed that the American Revolution took place so that no other problems would arise. But yet, during his time in America, slavery was becoming an issue. Because Paine didn’t see how there could be anything to “engender riots and tumults” in America back then, he couldn’t have conjured up any idea of the problems America would have today. So what about Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Wall Street has been going on for almost 5 months. People sick of corporate influence on democracy have taken to living in parks around Wall Street in order to get their message that corporate America is forgetting about the little people in America, and they want to get that message across the to government. The government could not have caused such tumult by doing nothing wrong. And likewise, it seems we have forgotten about the document in which this country was built off of.
With the constitution just starting to go into effect only a few years prior to 1791, Thomas Paine again has no right to consider the government just when it is just starting out. The constitution wasn’t completely ratified by all the states until January of 1791. Anytime before then, not every state was happy with the constitution or believed it to be just. Back in 1791, the government may have been constructed “on the principles of society and the rights of man,” but nowadays that isn’t the case. The whole point of the government back then was not to be too involved in the lives of the everyday people. Nowadays, it seems that that’s all the government does. Take the 2012 presidential election. Whenever you turn on the TV it seems some presidential candidate has something to say. And you can’t drive anywhere without seeing a Mitt Romney sign on someone’s lawn or a Rick Santorum sign somewhere else. And these campaigns aren’t run on the quality of the candidate anymore but are based off of who has more money to go and campaign in one state of another. Jon Hunstman Jr. was a worthy candidate but had to drop out because he didn’t have enough money to campaign in Virginia and other states. All government is run by now is money and who has more of it. None of these should be qualities in a government, and they certainly don’t sound like the qualities of a just government.
Thomas Paine characterized America as a place where the rich are not privileged. Take Warren Buffet for example. Buffet is the richest man in America and yet his secretary pays more taxes than him. How is that fair? Also, people with big names and money have ties to the community and can get out of problems just because of who they are. Take Lindsay Lohan for example. Lohan got sentenced to jail for 30 days for violating her probation. She spent no more than 5 hours in jail before she was released. If that was any other no-name face going to jail for violating their probation then they would’ve had to have stayed there for the entire 30 days.
Although Paine may have been wrong about some characteristics of America, he was right about others. Paine generalized that America was [and is], “[m]ade 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.” Back in 1791, the United States was home to white people, as well as black people, slaves or not, and some citizens of other races. Nowadays, America has accumulated a number of people from all types of races, more than in 1791. Then again, in 1791, the Louisiana Purchase had not been negotiated yet and manifest destiny wasn’t even thought of. Even though, Paine’s statement holds true today. We have American citizens that are black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Pacific Islanders, and others as well.
Thomas Paine’s generalization is not enough to characterize America accurately. Paine came over to America to join in the American Revolution and can in no way say that there was nothing to engender riots and tumults, nor could he know whether the government is just or unjust since the constitution was ratified by the final state in January of 1791. Also, Thomas Paine is just a man who couldn’t possibly know whether the rich are privileged or not, living in a world where there is no technology it is hard to hear about someone’s situation in Massachusetts when you are living in Georgia. For the time that Thomas Paine lived in America, his general statement is somewhat true to a certain extent, yet the statement all together is inaccurate for he couldn’t have known that much about America as a whole when he himself wasn’t actually an American.
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