Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paine & Jefferson, Reason & Revolution

--Both Paine and Jefferson attempt to offer 'reasoned' and 'natural' justifications for revolution. What are their justifications, how are they similar or different?

--The "Declaration of Independence" is a familiar document, taught to most grade school children in the US. What is different in your experience of reading it now?

--This version of the "Declaration" we are reading for class includes Jefferson's original version, with revisions and amendments shown. Is there anything surprising or particularly notable about the difference between Jefferson's first version and the one we are familiar with?


  1. We read and spent the greatest amount of time on the "Declaration of Independence" in fifth grade. I think the main difference between reading it now as opposed to when I was 10 is that I actually understand it more and it has a greater value. When I was a kid, they were sort of just words and I've never seen anything that wasn't how it always was, if that makes sense. However, i'm twenty years old and I've seen a lot of oppression around the world on the news and reading and learning about it in school. Not to mention, the whole "War in Iraq" has really made me appreciate the freedom that I was born with, the words from the declaration feel heavier now then when I was little.

    On the other hand, there's a lot of irony to reading the declaration now as opposed to when I was younger. I didn't know the extent to how un-idependant a lot of people were in America yet. Women, immigrants, blacks, ect. The declaration didn't really hold over to them and reading it now makes me think about that, too.

  2. I cannot remember exactly when I studied the “Declaration of Independence.” My grade school focused more on the “Constitution” but I know that I studied the “Declaration” at some point. The first time I read it, I was too young to really get the full effect of what the founding fathers were doing or the points they were making through the “Declaration.” I do not think that many grade school children understand the weight of the document. I remember thinking it was important but it did not make much sense to me.

    When I read it now, I have a much better understanding of what it all meant. I also found the differences between the original and official versions to be quite interesting. I know that Jefferson had to be very delicate with how he worded the “Declaration” in order to gain support for the founding fathers’ cause. It also seems to me that he changed the wording in order to keep the focus on the wrongs being done to Americans and not the wrongs they were doing. However, he was speaking for a brand new nation of people and I know that must have been extremely difficult.

  3. Studying the Declaration in grade school and now I see parallels in current events that I would not have connected then. The part I found most interesting was "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government". To me this is exactly what is happening in Egypt and America's stance on the uprising in Egypt should reflect Jefferson's declaration. In fact it seems as if he is justifying revolution, and in this way he has set a precedent in America; that Americans should question how well their government is protecting their rights and overthrow if necessary.

    I also never realized all of the parts that were struck out by Congress. Many of those parts were obviously taken out for political reasons, but some of them were very strongly evident and probably should have stayed.

  4. When we first studied the Declaration of Independence in grade school, I only knew what half of the words meant, so I didn't really understand what it said. Now that I know what I'm reading, it's actually pretty easy to follow. It reads like any other argumentative paper. It starts out by stating the position of the writer. Then it moves to the big picture or philosophical reasons for the position of the author. From there, it cites specific instances that led the author to his conclusion. Fourth, it examines other ways of solving the problem and explains why they didn't work. And lastly, it restates the position of the author.

    Doing four years of debate in High School, I had to do a lot of argumentative papers, so it's cool to see that the Declaration of Independence has the same form. It also makes me wonder if that form exists because of the Declaration of Independence, or if the form was invented before the signing. I also didn't know that Continental Congress revised what Jefferson wrote. I thought that he just went off by himself for a couple of days and wrote it up, so it was kind of weird to read the Microsoft Track Changes version.

  5. As I was reading the Declaration today, I was struck by how reasonable it is. I feel that when you initially learn about the Revolution, the substance of the information has this heroic, battle-glorified hype about it. I guess that grade school teachers tend to…well, they kind of dumb stuff down. The result is that many people come out of the public school system thinking about historical events as narrowly cause and effect-ish. The British taxed us, we rebelled--or at least that’s the memorable jist of the events. But as I read the Declaration of Independence today, I am remembering that the situation was pretty complex. I keep thinking that the guys who put this document together were more logical and literary than they were incendiary. They were more like philosophers, than war heroes.
    -Rebecca Zurbrick

  6. One of the main differences I see between Jefferson and Paine is their thoughts on government. Paine was very much a proponent of a very limited government--the government that governs the least is the best. Jefferson was a supporter of a agrarian, central government. However, they were both anti-federalists, and identified as deists. They both rejected predominant ideas about religion, calling instead upon logic and science in the true tradition of englightment-era Deists. I also noticed in my reading the differences in their writing style; Paine's is incendiary, volatile, while Jefferson's is more moderate.

  7. A lot Jefferson and Paine's "reasoned" justifications for revolution were very similar. They both mentioned how allegiance with Britain held them back from trade with the rest of Europe and how by association with Britain, America has enemies they otherwise wouldn't have as just Americans.

    I felt that Paine expressed more "natural" justifications than Jefferson by bringing up more points concerning God or a higher power. He brought up how the distance at which God placed Britain and America was a natural proof one shouldn't preside over the other, or how God made the discovery of America after the reformation to establish a sanctuary for the persecuted.

    One "natural" justification they both shared was the idea that God gave natural rights that Britain was imposing on. Also, that man has natural feelings of resentment and anger that cannot be pushed aside, basically the treatment from Britain can't be overlooked.

    Overall, to me, Jefferson seemed a lot more factual in structure and Paine was very passionate and focused on the feelings of American's towards Britain and how that factored into revolution alongside the facts.

  8. At the core of both Paine and Jefferson's arguments lay the hinderance of American growth economically and socially, due to the ongoing dependence on Britain. As an extremely young nation, it's only natural for Great Britain to maintain a strict sense of control over the American colonies. Being rational men, I'm sure Paine and Jefferson realize this fact.

    Though, what they desire is an incremental assumption of rights, decided by the Americans themselves. This would help establish a sovereign sense of identity, while nurturing a free market, which would ultimately be to the Europeans advantage. Though, the risk to which the Brits would have to relinquish their established control in the short run appears irrational.

    Meanwhile, Paine argues the absence of strong relations between the colonies. He supports his complaint expanding on the "forced and unnatural" nature of European control. He also refutes any form of Christianity being the basis for rights of control, as he states the distance between the nations as being an indicator that the relationship was never a "design of Heaven".

    Similarly, Jefferson supports the separation of "the opinions of mankind" from the laws of nature as directed by God. The excerpt from the Declaration of Independence comes off more as an outcry against the omnipotent King, juxtaposing the 'campy' perspective we took toward the document in grade school. His writing represents the point man turns away from faith in a "God", so to speak (and in this case Britain really, as they were the nurturing vessel up to that point), and looks for faith in themselves, the American people.