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Authors have debated the role of governments for hundreds of years. Two of these authors, are Thomas Paine and Henry David Thoreau. “In Common Sense by Thomas Paine, he expresses his opinion on how the government is a “necessary evil”, and in the 21st century the government still appears to be evil. ” Thoreau also expresses his concern with a government in “Civil Disobedience”. Both of these authors had valid opinions, and if they still were alive today they would be outraged with the U.
S. Government. Paine was a hard working man. He participated in many events throughout his life, including fighting in the American Revolution.
There was no doubt that Paine was a patriotic man, he simply did not agree with the values and ideas of a government. He had a strong concern for the rights of men, and expressed it clearly through his literary work, Rights of men. Michael Williams states in “Visionaries and Sceptics: Tom Paine and some Contemporaries”, “While Paine shares their concerns with the rights of women, his principal focus is on the revolutions he witnessed in America, and later in France, on the deleterious effects of tyrannical government, and on an idealistic vision of the future, once these effects are eliminated.
(Williams p. 1).
This shows that Paine was not only concerned with the ideas of a government; he was well rounded and cared for many people. He was not a stubborn, grouchy man that did not agree with authority. Paine wanted to fix the problems in the government.
Paine was not naive, and he realized that the government will always be around. He was looking for a way to make it better. He knew that without a government there would be no order.
Williams also states” The first section of Common Sense is headed as ‘the origin and design of government in general’, and it offers a sustained attack on the principles of monarchy and, in particular, those of the English monarchy. ”(Williams p. 6). It does in fact attack on the principles of monarchy, especially the English monarchy. Paine was originally from England and he had a special love for England. He did not want to see the English people being treated unfairly due to the monarchy.
Paine thought that king’s were unfit to govern. Paine did not believe that one man should make the ultimate decision on how people choose to live their lives. Although Paine was concerned with England, he was equally concerned with the thirteen colonies. Many historians believe that Common Sense sparked an American Resolution, and during the war Paine always encouraged and inspired patriots with a series of pamphlets entitled The American Crisis. Paine did not want to be a part of the problem; he wanted to be a part of the solution.
According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature,” Paine received a number of political appointments as rewards for his services as a writer for the American cause, but too indiscreet and hot tempered for public employment, he misused his privileges and lost the most lucrative offices. ”(The Norton Anthology of American Literature p. 325). Paine wanted to make a change in the government and society, but is interpersonal tact prevented him from doing so. Many people lost respect for Paine, because people looked up to him and was hoping he would help make a change.
He did make change but not as much as he could have. Paine had a lot of potential and influenced many people. The author of “Tom Paine: Utopian? ”, Mark Jendyrisk states “Paine lived with a dual vision, one both forward-looking and traditional. ”(Jendryisk p. 139). Even though Paine did not agree with the old Puritan ways and their ideas of a government, Paine still had traditional values. His values were not as extreme as the Puritans. Paine had high hopes and goals to fix the “old fashion” way of thinking and to help change the corrupt world.
Jendryisk also stated, “He believed that republican government could nurture or create a uniform, shared public-interest and citizen self-control. ” (Jendryisk p. 139). Paine wanted a republican government where everyone could talk about their opinions without being ridiculed. Paine wanted people to have a say on how the society should have been ran. Paine knew the government was a necessary evil, because without the government the society would not have order. The government is necessary for many reasons, and without it society would be troubled and lost.
He also knew that power will eventually make a person corrupt, and that is why there should not be a Monarchy. The Monarchy would mean one man; a king would be over a mass number of people. Paine strived for a more republican government, where more people in the society would have a say. According to Jendryisk,” In all his major works and especially in Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason, he smashes the idols and shibboleths of his time: kingship, established religion, aristocratic hierarchy, and unexamined tradition. ” (Jendryisk p. 140).
Not only did Paine despise the government’s way, like the set up of kings, he also disliked established religion. Paine was not a religious man, and the Puritans put a “bad taste in his mouth” when it came to religious ways. A lot of people also had unexamined traditions, traditions that have been around for years and did not make any sense, and people still abided by them. Paine lived by two things, common good and individualism. If the people of his day could have practiced those two things, everything would have went a lot smoother with society.
Jendryisk also points out that, “Paine sees human progress as inevitable, but he recognizes the need for direct action to motivate that progress. ” (Jendryisk p. 141). Paine has faith that the government will get better and will change. He knows that change is a good thing, especially in this certain situation. Paine also realizes that the religious extremist will eventually calm down as well. This will help change a lot of different things in the government, such as laws. Many of Paine’s literary works helps contribute to the progress and definitely motivates others.
Henry David Thoreau had several of the same values and thoughts about government that Paine had. Cathryn McIntyre, the author of The Politics of Thoreau: A Spiritual Intent, states that”Thoreau’s views are always worth considering when assessing the political landscape of any time, but as I read through his politically inspired essays and lectures I am continually impressed, not by his political views, but by the way his spiritual awareness influenced his political views, and in fact all of his thinking, and it is that spiritual awareness, not his politics, that interests me most. ”(McIntyre p. 1).
Unlike Paine Thoreau has religious beliefs, and talks about his views often. Thoreau believed that people had a duty to God and themselves before the government. Even though Thoreau did not believe in the old ways and traditions, he still had religious beliefs, so this proves that he was not being a “rebel”. Thoreau simply did not believe in an organized government. Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience, and in this he is more resistant than Thomas Paine was.
Comparing Paine and Thoreau to two men that were fighting for the same thing but different in many ways when it came to their values would be, Martin Luther King Jr. nd Malcolm X. Paine is more like Martin Luther King Jr. and Thoreau is more like Malcolm X, because of how resistant they both were. Thoreau once refused to pay his taxes, because he was unhappy with the government and the way they were handling the slavery and Mexican-American War situation. He spent the night in jail as his punishment. Carl Bankston III, the author of Thoreau’s Case for Political Disengagement states, “His refusal to pay the poll Tax does not come from any moral compulsion to right the wrongs of the world, but from the ethical desire to avoid doing wrong himself. (Banston III p. 7).
He believed the U. S. was unjust because of slavery; the Declaration of Independence says “All men are created equal. ” McIntyre also states,” Thoreau believed if you confine a man under government rules, tie him to his occupation, and monopolize his time with strictly material pursuits while holding him back from a direct relation with nature or from a direct connection to the divine, you will have a man who is leading a life of quiet desperation. ”(McIntyre p. 1). Thoreau is stating that the government cannot control everyone’s life.
All of the strict, unnecessary rules will make people miserable. So Thoreau’s simple solution to the government was to not follow the majority and to have your first obligation to yourself and what you believe. He thought people should do what they believe is right and not follow the laws made by the government. Even if this meant breaking the law, he still thought your personal belief came first. He did not believe people should obligate and devote themselves to the evils of the government.
In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau states, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. ”(Thoreau p. 834). Thoreau is asking the society, do they want to be miserable and wait for things to change or do they want to take a stand and do something about the problem.
Thoreau believed that society could make a stand by disobeying the rules, because if you obey the rules nothing will be changed. He knew that society had to let the government know that many people had an issue with the particular law or rule. Thoreau thinks the government rarely proves itself useful and that it derives its power from the majority. This is why Thoreau did not like the majority, he says the majority is the strongest group, and not because they hold the most legitimate viewpoint.
Everyone seemed to have the same simple state of mind, and did not want change and to become more “of the world”. Although Thoreau was against slavery and the war, he really did not have a plan to fix it. According to Bankston III, “While Thoreau was opposed to slavery and to the Mexican War; he does not provide us with a blueprint for the peaceful and free society that he wanted to see conscience bring into existence. ”(Bankston p. 11). Thoreau had many negative things to say about the government and society but did not take charge.
Like many people in the 21st century, everyone has a complaint and no one has a solution. This is how Paine and Thoreau differ; Paine had a plan and tried to make the society better in any way. Another literary work by Bankston III, Civil Disobedience, states “He says that he was born to live in the world, not to make it a better place to live. ”(Bankston III p. 1). This proves the theory that Thoreau had no intention to make the government better, and try to get rid of the evil.
Much like many people in the 21st century, they complain and dislike the government system but never do anything to change it. Thoreau did not believe in voting or petitioning, he felt it does not make a difference. Many people in the 21st century have the same beliefs as Thoreau. Although Paine had a bad temper and could have excelled more in making the government and society better, he did make many changes and influence a lot of people.
Indeed Thoreau had a mentality to not make a change, he still influence many people with his writing. Thoreau had good intention and could have been a great leader. The Government is a necessary evil, it is now and it has always been. Paine and Thoreau eventually lost hope in a change; they realized the government will never change. They accepted the fact that no matter what there will always be a government, and when people receive the power to lead and to make decisions, they turn corrupt.
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