Read Chapters 5 & 6, and Thomas Paine Calls for American Independence, 1776 and the Declaration of Independence, 1776 under VIII in the Primary Sources at the end of Chapter 5. You may also use Chapter 5 as background material on Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Once all reading is complete, respond to the following items:
- Compare the backgrounds of Jefferson and Paine; did Paine have an advantage or disadvantage by not being born in the colonies? Explain.
- Examine the language used in both documents; who is the audience for each writer?
- Why does Jefferson not discuss slavery in the Declaration?
- What did Paine and Jefferson say about the monarchy in their respective documents?
- Why does Jefferson focus more on the king than parliament?
For me, it is hard to say whether or not Paine had an advantage or disadvantage because he was born in Britain and not the colonies. I think his citizenship could be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage. The fact that Paine was born in Britain and lived under the kings’ rule but decided to move to the colonies and opposed British control could be said to be an advantage. Paine knew firsthand what it was like to live according to British customs and rules and decided he did not want to live that way anymore; he wanted to live free in the colonies. This could be used to show his allegiance to the colonies and their fight for independence. However, some may have felt that he could not truly understand what the colonies were fighting for because he had not lived through the tyrannical rule of the British King and instead enjoyed the privileges given to British subjects that had not been afforded to the colonist. This could have provided him a disadvantage when speaking to the people in the colonies.
In Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, the audience is the colonist. He is writing an informative document for the individuals living in the colonies as a call to action. He is trying to rally them in the push for independence. Jefferson, however, is writing to the king and the British government. He is calling them out for their wrongdoings and informing them that they are declaring independence from Britain.
There are likely several reasons why Jefferson does not mention slavery in the Declaration of Independence. First, Jefferson did not want to give Britain the moral high ground as they were already putting an end to slavery. Second, the colonies were not in agreeance with their stance about slavery. The southern states wanted to own slaves, whereas the northern states were beginning to move away from slavery. This disagreement between states could have been seen as a weakness.
Both Paine and Jefferson shed light on the abuses of the monarchy on the American colonies. They speak of the king as a tyrannical ruler that ignores the needs of the colonies who imparts unfair laws upon them. They also talk about how their “natural rights” have been violated. I believe that Jefferson focused more on the king because he had more authority and final say when it came to the colony’s affairs.