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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In Rights of Man, Thomas Paine argues that people should govern themselves, that power is derived from the people, and that the purpose of government is to protect the natural rights of men. He uses his argument against Edward Burke's impression of the French Revolution to lay the groundwork for his points and then cites specific examples of things that happened during various revolutions to cement it. Using modern history likely spoke to people reading his work at that time because they could relate to it and were aware of it instead of being removed as they would have been if he used ancient history to make his points.

Burke, who Paine once considered a friend, had a negative public reaction to the French Revolution. He spoke against it in England and wrote what Paine considered to be unfair and untrue things regarding it. The entire first half of Rights of Man addresses Burke and his arguments and attempts to show where he was not only wrong, but also less than honest.

One of the points he makes is that people didn't dislike King Louis XVI. He says that he wasn't hated but instead was the product of years of despotic monarchs and ruling the way that such a history taught him to rule. Paine also points out that this misunderstanding is partially what underlies every point Burke attempts to make. Because of that, Burke is more inclined to see what the revolutionaries do as violence rather than a reasonable reaction to having their natural rights violated.

Paine compares the French representative democracy to the English hereditary monarchy and says that Burke is trying to deny the rights of the people. To prove his point, he makes note of the hereditary monarchy of England. Since people didn't choose it, they only accept it out of habit. He also discusses Lafayette's contributions to the American Revolution and how the ideals of that revolution lined up with the French one.

The second half of Paine's work explains how people have to work together as a community. He says that common interest it what should inform contracts and law; government is only needed when that's not possible for an individual and there is additional protection needed. He says that monarchies breed war and that if countries switched to representative democracies, then there would be less war and more money to serve the citizens of the country.

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