Compare the backgrounds of Jefferson and Paine; did Paine have an advantage or disadvantage by not being born in the colonies? Explain.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jefferson was born in 1743 in Virginia. His father, Peter Jefferson, was also born in Virginia and was, while not formally educated, a man of learning who worked as a surveyor. Thomas Jefferson studied philosophy and math at the College of William and Mary and then read law. When his father died in 1757, Thomas Jefferson inherited 5,000 acres of land and ownership of Monticello.

Thomas Paine, born in the English county of Norfolk, was the son of a man who made ropes for use in sailing. Paine left school at age 13, and he worked as an apprentice for his father. He later became a privateer and owned a shop working as a maker of stays for shipping. He became active in local government and published political pamphlets asking Parliament for better working conditions and pay. He did not emigrate to the colonies until 1774, with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin. 

Paine had many advantages in not being born in the colonies and in coming from a less elite background than Jefferson had. Paine's criticism of the British crown in his best-selling pamphlet Common Sense, published in 1776, gained traction in part because it was published by "an Englishman," as Paine signed it. It meant something that an Englishman was so critical of the crown, and Paine's authorship, while anonymous, gave more legitimacy to the colonists' criticism of the crown. While Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, had an eloquent style, Paine's style--simple, direct, and psychological in its intent-- inspired the masses, and his work went on to sell 500,000 copies and to rally colonists behind the American Revolution. 

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teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Paine did have an advantage in being born and living in England as a commoner before moving to the American Colonies in his late 30s in 1774. Because he had lived under monarchy and an aristocratic system, and especially under George III, his attacks on the monarchial system and George, in particular, had credibility. While Jefferson also lived under monarchy as a subject to George III, he was one step removed from England, having been born in Virginia. He had experienced a different culture, one that had moved away from English culture to develop its own ethos and sensibility. Jefferson could be expected to side with his homeland, the Colonies, while one might expect Paine to be more loyal to England, his country of origin. 

Paine's status a commoner also gave him credibility. He was a rope maker, shop owner, and sometime school teacher, which were all very average professions. Jefferson was not only removed from the direct experience of monarchy in England, but he also led a highly privileged life at the apex of the American plantation hierarchy as planter and as slave owner. Thus his support of the Revolution could be construed as self interested in a way that Paine's could not. Paine's Common Sense very much reads as a cry from the heart of one who opposes tyranny for its own sake.

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thetall | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Paine was born to a poor family and abandoned his pursuit for education at age 13. Jefferson, on the other hand, was an adept scholar and was raised in a wealthy family. Paine was forced to work low paying jobs which forced him to move a lot. Jefferson inherited much of his wealth from his parents and moved around mostly in pursuit of knowledge.

Paine’s birth outside the colonies should be viewed as an advantage especially with regards to the American and even the French revolution. This is because it was during his time in Great Britain that he nurtured his character to fight for the oppressed. He started by agitating for better pay and working conditions when he worked as an excise officer. His enlightenment ideals also forced him to question the authority of the British monarchy. When he arrived in America he played an instrumental role in inspiring the rebels to officially sever ties with Great Britain, through his work Common Sense. His upbringing in Great Britain raised his awareness to the issues of the monarchy, where authority was hereditary and not as a matter of consent by the governed.

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