Examine the extent to which Paine's characterization of America still holds true today. What evidence is there?

Expert Answers
nallister eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Paine saw America as a battleground in which to fight for his political philosophy—namely, that all men (yes, he was a chauvinist, like most writers of his time) were born with certain unalienable rights. A government-issued charter could not grant a man these rights; it could only seek to take these rights away. These are laid out in Rights of Man as a right to liberty, property, security, and the resistance of oppression. Rights of Man was a direct commentary on the French revolution as well as the claims of the British crown to possess an inherited or dynastic right to rule. However, coupled with Common Sense and his other published works, Rights of Man was a fundamental expression of the founding philosophy of America. Its sentiments were echoed in the Declaration of Independence, namely via the self-evident "truths."

Largely, America continues to uphold the protection of these basic rights. State leadership is not an inherited trait; it can only be earned through winning elections. Even those positions held for life (i.e. the Justices) do not pass down the title to their children. 

Property continues to be protected in our civil court systems, even if the process has its flaws. Still, any American that deems their property wrongfully destroyed or stolen can file a lawsuit and attempt to win it back through due legal process. 

Security also is supposed to be provided for all indiscriminately. It is illegal for any law officer to deny protection to an American citizen, regardless of race, class, faith, or creed. 

Of course, every one of these statements must come with a disclaimer. For dynastic rule does exist in our government (look at the Clintons and the Bushes), and the overwhelming majority of our politicians are heterosexual Christian males born into privileged white families. It is undeniably easier for privileged Americans to win legal battles, just as it is more likely that they will be protected by the law if they are in danger. 

And so we keep getting closer to Paine's vision for America—and yet, some old habits just seem to die hard. 

Read the study guide:
Rights of Man

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question