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Thomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and GovernmentThomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and Government


Thomas (Tom) Paine (1737-1809)

English philosopher (pictured right) who had a big influence on the American and French Revolutions.

He moved to America from 1774 and returned in 1802 after living in France.


His most famous publications are...


1. Common Sense (1776),

(supporting the American Revolution against British rule)


2. The American Crisis (1776),

(a collection of American Revolutionary articles)


3. Rights of Man (1791)

(asserting that people have certain natural rights that governments can’t take away from them).


What did he say about government?

 Thomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and Government

1. Everyone has rights

He supported John Locke’s (pictured right) idea that everybody has certain natural rights like liberty, which government should protect and never remove.

This principle was also enshrined in Thomas Jefferson’s (pictured right below) American Declaration of Independence which gave people the right to;

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

 Thomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and Government

2. Maximum freedom, minimal government

Everyone must have maximum freedom with minimal interference from government,

Government is at best a “necessary evil” and at worst “intolerable”.

People have the:

  • right to freedom.
  • responsibility to work hard to keep it.

 Thomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and Government

3. Fair capitalism

Like Adam Smith (pictured right) , he believed in a free market economy in which companies produce things that people want.

But Paine:


a) attacked the extremes of wealth and poverty 

(“like dead and living bodies chained together”, he said)


b) supported social security and pensions for the poor

(financed by a progressive income tax - taxing the rich more than the poor).

 Thomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and Government

4. Power to the people

His pamphlet, Common Sense (1776), attacked the:

  • British monarchy.
  • principle of power and privilege by birth.

Instead power and reward should be given to people who are talented and work hard (later called a meritocracy).

So he urged America to fight for independence from Britain.

The past’s customs and practices should be rejected, so that every generation “can begin the world over again”.

 Thomas (Tom) Paine - Philosophy and Government

5. Equality of opportunity

Everyone must have:

  • the same opportunity to succeed.
  • a free education to make the best use of their talents.

But equality of income is impossible, because some people will work harder, and so be richer.


Key quotes on change

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

These are the times that try men's souls (talking about the Revolutionary War in The American Crisis)  .


Key quote on globalization and religion

My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.


Key quote on empowerment

With rights come responsibilities.


Key quote on objectives and vision

Life is a daring adventure or nothing.


Key quote on ethics

Character is much easier kept than recovered


Key quote on America

The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.


 Key quote on religion

My mind is my own church (stating his preference for intellectual reason and thought over religion).


Key quote on learning and wisdom

You can’t conquer an idea with an army.


Key quote on corporate culture

Moderation in principle is always a vice.


Key quote on education

One schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.


Key quote on happiness

It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself.


Key quote on pricing

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.


Key quotes on government and politics

Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness.

Governments must have arisen either out of the people or over the people.

Government even in its best state is but a necessary evil


Key quote on learning and wisdom

I am a farmer of thoughts, and all the crops I raise I give away.

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