In Common Sense, was Paine right to say that "Europe and not England is the parent country of America"? Why should that concept be considered a factor for separation?

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While most of the colonists at the time of Panie's writing were British, there was a strong minority who came from other places in Europe such as France and what would become Germany.

Paine was talking about ideological parenthood as well. To Paine, the United States was trying to get...

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While most of the colonists at the time of Panie's writing were British, there was a strong minority who came from other places in Europe such as France and what would become Germany.

Paine was talking about ideological parenthood as well. To Paine, the United States was trying to get back to the days of true representative governance. This existed during the days of classical Athens. People could exercise more political power in a New England town meeting than someone could in England acting through a Member of Parliament who was not responsible to any group of people. For Paine, the goal of the American Revolution was to rediscover a government long-since lost to Western civilization—a government that was responsible to its representation.

Paine also hoped that the new government created by the American colonies would have much in common with the Roman republic as well, with its statesmen (such as Washington) leading the way to a government that was responsive to the needs of the people.

Paine realized that much of the American colonies were descended from the British; however, this line refers to ideology. He saw the English government as incorrect in their ruling of a people who lived so far away. He thought the American experiment, given its distance from England, its independent people, and its abundant resources, could best show the world how a government should act in order to preserve society's freedom.

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Yes, Paine was in part right to say that Europe "is the parent country of America" because many French philosophers developed Enlightenment ideas that played a major role in the American Revolution (in addition to English thinkers, such as Locke, who also influenced the Revolution). For example, Rousseau (in addition to Locke, an Englishman) developed the idea of the social contract, which is that everyone is born free but that people must surrender some of their liberties to live in a well-ordered state. He believed that people should not surrender their basic rights to live in tyranny. The ideas behind the American Revolution, including those Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence, are built on this concept. Jefferson wrote that as the British throne had interfered with the inalienable rights (those rights that are natural and should be given to all people) of the colonists, they had a right to overthrow the throne. Britain's infringement on these rights was a factor in the American decision to separate from the mother country. Shortly after the American Revolution, France would have its own revolution based on Enlightenment ideas.

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I would argue that Paine was not correct when he said that Europe, rather than England, was the parent of the American colonies. However, it makes sense that he would claim this as the claim would support the idea that the colonies should break away from England.

Paine based his claim on the idea that there were a very large number of people in the American colonies who were not from England. He said that America had become the “asylum” for people from all over Europe who wanted freedom. Therefore, America was not part of England as much as it was a part of Europe populated by those people who wanted to be free.  You can see how this would be considered a factor for separation.  If the colonies were not really connected to England by ethnic ties, there would be less reason to say that they needed to remain a part of the British Empire.

I, however, do not think that Paine was really justified in making his claim.  If he were justified, we should find that the colonies’ population was largely non-English by the time that Paine wrote.  This is not the case.  According to this link, roughly 10% of the people in 1790 America (not long after Paine wrote) were Europeans from outside of Great Britain.  There were many Africans, most of whom were slaves, but they were clearly not Europeans who came for freedom.  It seems hyperbolic to say that England was not America’s “parent” if more than 80% of America’s population was English.  Paine might have said this, however, because he lived in the Middle Colonies which were much more diverse than other regions.

Overall, then, I would say that Paine was probably not justified in claiming that America was more European than English, but his saying so makes sense because it would help to justify the colonists’ desire to break away from England.

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