How Paine Transformed Locke by Fayette Arnold


By Fayette Arnold

“Paine Was The Voice Of The Revolution And Was An Independent Thinker On The Level Of Voltaire And Goethe”.

From Thomas Paine Apostle of Freedom By Jack Fruchman Jr. - Paine Scholar

Paine Is An Impressive Figure As He Took A Tax Rebellion And Transformed It Into A Revolution And Independence. This is What Neither Side Expected Or Wanted.

Fayette Arnold

Three St. Croix Lofts Drive, Unit 104

St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin 54024


“In My Judgment, Thomas Paine Was the Best Political Writer That Ever Lived. What He Wrote Was Pure Nature, And His Soul And His Pen Went Together. Ceremony, Pageantry, And All the Paraphernalia Of Power Had No Effect Upon Him. He Examined Into The Why And Wherefore Of Things. He Was Perfectly Radical In His Mode of Thought. Nothing Short Of Bedrock Satisfied Him”1. Robert G. Ingersoll


Despite Thomas Paine’s numerous contributions to America and the world, his most significant accomplishment has escaped the attention of scholars as well as students of history. There is an important and vital area of his thought and creativity, completely neglected, which illuminates Paine’s unique role in American and World History. One of many factors that make Thomas Paine a great historical figure and force is his transformation of Lockean Philosophy. In fact, he significantly changed the structure and meaning of Locke’s thought system. In modifying the public’s understanding of Locke, Paine altered the character and destiny of American and World History. This may be Paine’s greatest contribution to mankind as well as the seminal aspect of his intellectual activities that makes him one of the world’s most prominent and original thinkers.

Thomas Paine’s ideas and efforts inspired and consolidated the American Revolution. He provided the colonists with the fuel to fire their rebellion. His majestic phrases rang through the colonies and united Americans in a common cause. Paine’s eloquence in speech and the power of his pen imparted the ideals and courage needed for the founding of a new nation. In his efforts to unite and direct the colonists, Paine created what may have been one of his greatest phrases - The United State of America.

The American concepts of freedom, equality, and human rights, which came from the mind and pen of Thomas Paine, set the 18th century world ablaze. He gave Americans and Europeans the rational, inspiration, and confidence to reject outmoded social and political structures of the past and the courage to create new ones that would provide a better future for mankind. Men and women were longing for a social order where there was justice as well as the ability to achieve their human potential.

Democracy would provide the new vehicle for reaching age old aspirations. A modification of the philosophy of John Locke would be a stepping stone to that brighter future. Thomas Paine went far beyond Locke’s thinking and created a new intellectual architecture and world view. Paine broke the bonds of the 18th centuries’ intellectual framework, philosophical, social and political. He shattered the structure that John Locke’s thinking was contained within and which his ideas supported. America is not founded on the ideas of John Locke per se, but upon the transformation of his concepts by Thomas Paine. In altering Locke, Paine gave his ideas meanings that John Locke would not have recognized or accepted.

Paine’s ideas and concepts about freedom, equality and independence were new and unique. They went well beyond the opinions embraced by Europeans and colonial Americans. For example, according to John Locke man was free, equal an independent in the state of nature, but gave up that status when he accepted the “Social Compact” and joined society. In Locke’s own words, “But though men when they enter society give up the equality, liberty and executive power they had in the state of nature into the hands of society… yet it being only with the intention in everyone to preserve himself, his liberty and property”.2 Locke apparently sees no conflict between individuals giving up equality, liberty, and executive power over self and their likely status and treatment within an autocratic society. His “Social Compact” takes away from the individual the very ideals Locke appears to be espousing. In the mind of Thomas Paine, men were free, equal and independent within society. This was a radical notion and a threat to the political and social structure of the 18th century world. The consequences of this shift in thinking were enormous as it fundamentally changed a world view and value system that Europeans had revered for centuries.

According to Locke’s conception of man and society, human beings are not free, equal or independent because they have accepted a “Social Compact”. Locke finds a variety of reasons for condoning inequality and injustice as well as a lack of freedom and independence within the social and political orders. He claims that the invention of money created conditions whereby men give their “consent” and “agree” that the earth’s possessions should be “disproportionate” and “unequal”. Further, Locke proclaims that the unequal conditions of wealth created by money operate outside the “bounds of society” as well as the “Compact”. Although he gives many reasons for human inequality, Locke still states that, “All men by nature are equal. I cannot propose to understand all sorts of equality. Age or virtue may give men a just precedence. Excellency of parts and merit may place others above the common level. Birth may subject some, and alliance or benefits others…”3 It is obvious, except to Locke, that the ideals he professes do not apply in the social and political atmosphere existing in England. Locke is consistently inconsistent in his thinking and cannot logically reconcile his philosophy with the world of reality.

Locke fails to perceive the conflict between his abstract ideals and the reasons he give for their circumvention in the concrete world. In addition, he does not understand that most of the inequality and injustice existing in his day was due to the structure of society and government which favored the few and handicapped the many. His explanation of the reasons for differences in status and wealth within society ignores the impact of social and political arrangements that create inequity and limited opportunity for the majority of the population. Locke’s writings also lack political and social insights that could be utilized to create programs to alleviate injustice and inequity resulting from England’s feudal and autocratic traditions. Of course, his aims were not egalitarian but elitist.

John Locke does not utilize the term republic or republican in his writings, but frequently employs the word commonwealth which he defines as a civilized community. In fact, Locke in his “Essay Concerning Civil Government” uses the word commonwealth over 75 times. Further, the term democracy is only mentioned once and that is for the purpose of defining commonwealth as not meaning democracy. Locke’s philosophy is clearly concerned with the formation of a commonwealth rather than the creation of a republic. Locke affirms this by saying, “By commonwealth, I must be understood all along to mean, not a democracy, or form of government, but an independent community which the Latins signify by the word civitas, to which the word which best answers in our language is commonwealth, and most properly expresses such a society of men”4. Locke’s philosophy is focused on building a civilized society that would avoid the political and social strife that existed in his era. His goal was not to create a government based upon democratic values, but to establish a refined, rational, well mannered, and harmonious social order founded upon a traditional belief in limited monarchy.

Interpreters of Locke’s philosophy have extracted his belief in republican principles from his use of certain words, especially terms like “freedom”, “equality”, and “executive power over self”, and his emphasis on laws being created, not by the king but by the legislature. Locke indicates that the legislature in making laws not only checks the power of the sovereign, it also “puts men out of the state of nature into that of commonwealth”. He believes that the legislature is the means by which men achieve the purpose or end results of their entering into society. The reason human beings accept social institutions are the “enjoyment of their properties in peace and safety”. Further, the “instrument” and “means” of fulfilling this aim are the “laws established in society (by the legislature)”.5

Traditional expositions of John Locke’s philosophy credit him with creating democratic ideas that were responsible for inspiring the American and French Revolutions. In fact, customary explanations of his ideology express the belief that the structure of the American state is predicated upon Locke’s political and social ideals. Conventional proponents of Lockean thought also indicate he embraced the opinion that society and the state are independent of each other. This interpretation of Locke is founded on the conviction that the social order is based upon natural law and commonly shared moral rights. From his notion of natural law, exponents of Locke deduce that he supported the precept that the state and society are separate entities. To Lockes’ interpreters, this implies the formation of a social order that is democratic in nature and which requires very little in the way of government.

However, a close inspection of John Locke’s philosophy reveals that the above points of view are invalid. It is impossible to associate Locke’s beliefs concerning the reasons for as well as the role of government with the theory of natural law. The political and social functions of government devised and implemented by the English Aristocracy and Monarchy are in conflict with the doctrine of natural and moral law. In fact, Locke’s “Democratic Ideals” are abrogated by his “Social Compact” and his belief in Autocratic government. Again, according to Locke, it is government (Laws enacted by the legislature) that takes man out of the state of nature. Only by abandoning the freedom, equality and independence men possessed in the state of nature can mankind live in harmony within society. Locke’s fundamental precepts and the society he is attempting to create are diametrically opposed. It is quite apparent that his social and political orders are not separate entities. In fact, they are one and the same due to his replacing natural law with political laws that are derived from a government ruled by the Nobility and Sovereign. In John Locke’s thought system, God’s law has been replaced by man’s law. This results in the creation of a state and society that are neither separate from one another or republican in nature.

Thomas Paine offered mankind an alternative to John Locke’s conflicting and illogical thought system. Paine rejected any philosophy advancing the idea that social and political equality is best achieved in a society ruled by Patricians and Monarchs. In contrast to Locke, Paine created a democratic belief system based upon popular sovereignty. He replaced a medieval view of the social and political orders with an outlook that was both Modern and Egalitarian. By presenting an approach to society and government that was based upon an acceptance of natural law as well as upon his understanding of God’s will for mankind, Paine handed the world a new and different philosophy as well as an expanded world view in which men would be equal, free and independent within the social and political orders. He not only gave old words and ideas new meanings but also greater dimensions and depth. Thomas Paine’s beliefs and not John Locke’s “Social Compact” became the legal and social foundation of American society. Our nation’s intellectual and spiritual character came directly from the mind of Thomas Paine.


Thomas Paine’s fundamental belief system as well as his views on the origin and purpose of government are strikingly different than John Locke’s. His intrinsic principles were based upon a belief in freedom, equality, human rights and security for all of mankind. Paine’s opinions with respect to the reasons for and the objectives of government were, in fact, contrary to those of John Locke. To quote Thomas Paine, “Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here is the design and end of government, viz. ”freedom and security”.6 His belief in human freedom rested upon the foundation of equal rights. In his own words, “Why then not trace the rights of man, to the creation of man. The illuminating and divine principle of equal rights of man (for it had its origin from the maker of man), relates not only to the living individuals; but to generations of men succeeding each other. Every history of creation… agree in establishing one point, the unity of man; by which I mean that men are all of one degree and consequently that all men are born equal and with equal rights’.7”His natural rights are the foundation of all his civil rights”.8

Thomas Paine summed up his political and social viewpoint by saying, “Men are born; an always continue, free and equal in respect to their rights. The end of all political association, is, the preservation of the natural an imprescriptible rights of man… political liberty consists in the power of doing whatever does not injure another. The exercise of the natural rights of every man has no other limit than those that are necessary to secure to every other man the free exercise of the same rights and these limits are determined by law”.9

Because men are born having equal rights and retain these rights within the social and political order, government according to Paine must be based upon the will of the people. To ensure their rights, citizens must be allowed to direct their own affairs. This belief in the consent of the governed presents a sharp contrast to John Locke’s philosophy in which government and society are based upon rule by monarchs and patricians. The objective of Locke’s social and political thinking is to protect those who have property and social status. Locke’s thought system certainly was not predicated on power to the people. His was an elitist conception of society. Dominate power in the social and political orders was shared by the king and aristocracy. In fact, the purpose of Locke’s writings were to confirm and justify existing conditions in English society and government, conditions that were inherited from a medieval world order and world view.

John Locke’s philosophy was founded upon exclusivity, selectivity as well as patrimony and not upon the universality and equality of mankind. Locke conceives of government as an institution that primarily serves and protects the noble and the few. Thus, government and the power structure that controls it are purposely designed to be undemocratic in nature. Paine believed that government should be constructed and operated so that it directed its efforts to serve the greater good of all citizens. Unlike John Locke, he did not feel that bloodline and property should determine one’s station and opportunities in life. Republican government is not based upon property and pedigree but on majority rule.

According to the philosopher Bertrand Russell, John Locke is “the most influential though by no means the most profound of philosophers”.10 Locke’s philosophy was “little more than a clarification and systematization of prevalent opinion in England”.11 “Even before the reformation theologians tended to believe in setting limits to kingly power”.12 “What Locke has to say about the state of nature and the law of nature, in the main, is not original, but a repetition of medieval scholastic doctrine”.13 Bertrand Russell states that his ideas can be traced back to the writings of “Saint Thomas Aquinas and Hugo Grotius”.14 John Locke in dealing with the concepts of liberty, human rights, and equality was looking to the past at ideals that he felt were already established. Thomas Paine by contrast was looking to the future at ideals that needed to be actualized.

Although John Locke’s thinking was affected by the Renaissance and Reformation, his ideas on government and society find their roots in Medieval Europe. To be more specific, Locke’s philosophy is derived from the thought structure of the medieval Catholic Church which was based upon a combination of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian revelation. The Schoolmen of the middle ages, who were exponents of Scholasticism, propounded arguments to challenge the theory of the divine right of kings in order to justify the Popes position as being superior to that of monarchs. Despite the fact that Locke rejected Scholasticism, his political and social outlook was rooted in this system of thought. The Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation as well as the Enlightenment should not be viewed as sharply divided eras, but as a gradual transition occurring during a period of over 1300 years. The various ages did react against one another, sometimes with great passion. However, even with their predilection for zealotry, like children rebelling against their parents, much of the parent remained in the child.

Notwithstanding the impact of the past upon Thomas Paine, his philosophy and belief system was not acquired from Scholasticism. Paine’s ideas and ideals were inspired by the Enlightenment and his Deist theological beliefs. He felt that God revealed himself to man through nature. Thus, reason and science were the means of approaching both truth and one’s creator. In brief, Thomas Paine’s philosophy came from the Modern world and not the Middle Ages. America’s world view and value system is derived from Rationalism rather than Scholasticism.

There are additional reasons for concluding that Thomas Paine’s philosophy was not acquired from John Locke. Professor Jack Fruchtman, Jr. in the introduction to his book, Thomas Paine Apostle of Freedom, quotes Paine as saying, “I never read John Locke, nor ever had the work in my hand”.15 Thomas Paine’s philosophy was created from his belief in human reason and his vision of God’s ongoing plan for humanity. It was not acquired from reading John Locke or being influenced by the medieval power struggles of the Christian Church. Paine is clearly a product of the Enlightenment; Locke a reflection of the Reformation, Renaissance and Middle Ages. Unfortunately, we have attributed our modern view of freedom, equality and democracy to John Locke’s philosophical beliefs and have failed to perceive that our American thought and value system is unique and thus quite different than his.

Bertrand Russell also states that John Locke’s concepts with respect to the law of nature and the state of nature are not only unoriginal; they are in addition quite vague. Per Russell, “The nearest thing to a definition of the state of nature to be found in Locke is the following: Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth: with authority to judge between them; is properly called the state of nature”.16 Russell comments, “This is not a description of the life of savages, but of an imagined community of virtuous anarchists, who need no police or law courts because they always obey”Reason”, which is the same as “Natural Law”, which in turn, consists of those laws of conduct that are held to have divine origin”.17 Locke’s beliefs that human beings are equal, independent, and rational are naive and contradictory as well as disingenuous. The vague and contrary nature of Locke’s thinking has allowed us to read into his writings ideas and beliefs that he did not embrace. In fact, modern interpretations of his philosophy would have surprised him.

In Locke’s opinion the “State of Nature” was abrogated by a “Social Compact” which created government. The “State of Nature” is not dissolved by just any compact, but only one that can make a single body politic. In brief, Locke begins his thinking with a supposition that he refers to as a “State of Nature”. This state is antecedent to any and all human government. It is ruled by a “Law of Nature” which is based upon divine commands rather than being imposed by human legislation. Men finally emerged from this “State of Nature” by creating a “Social Compact” which became the means for inaugurating civil government. Of course in light of logic and man’s historical experience, the concept of the “Social Compact” seems absurd. However, it may have been the best and most practical explanation people could envisage to account for the creation of government and society.

According to John Locke, “The great and chief end of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government is to protect their property, to which in the state of nature there are many things wanting”.18 Property plays a prominent and in fact dominant role in his political and social philosophy. It is obvious from his writings that property is the main reason for creating the institution known as government. In fact, Bertrand Russell proclaims that “Locke is driven by his worship of property.”19 Again, it should be noted that the purpose of government for Paine is to ensure freedom, equality, human rights, and security for all human beings.

Locke’s obsession with property must be emphasized as it reflects a belief system as well as a social and political outlook that is fundamentally at odds with Thomas Paine’s thinking and the American conception of democracy. John Locke’s thought system reserved political influence for those who were eminent both socially and economically. John Locke believed that economic power in the form of money was the real derivation of political power. He felt that predominate political control should be vested within the aristocracy. Those individuals in society who have conspicuous monetary interests should manage government. Citizens lacking pronounced wealth in either property or money did not deserve a voice in the affairs of state. In fact, the aristocracy feared the lower classes because they were the majority within society. A government and society based upon majority rule would not bode well for the nobility. In contrast to Locke, Paine believed in rule by the majority as well as universal suffrage so that all citizens could have a voice in government. Locke’s philosophy was not designed to support democracy or the welfare of the common man. His social, political and economic beliefs were the antithesis of Thomas Paine’s egalitarian views regarding humanity, government and society.

John Locke actually believed that English society and government correspond to his expressed ideals. Thomas Paine rejected the assumption that the English people were free, independent and lived within an egalitarian society. He bluntly stated that their government was not republican in nature. In his words, “If we will suffer ourselves to examine the component parts of the English Constitution, we shall find them to be base remains of two ancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.

First: The remains of monarchial tyranny in the person of the King.

        Second: The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the


Thirdly: The new republican materials, in the persons of the Commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.

The first two being hereditary, are independent of the people; wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the freedom of the state. To say, “that the constitution of England is a union of three powers, reciprocally checking each other, is farcical, either the words have no meaning, or they are flat contradictions.”20 Paine avows that the British government is based upon the principles of despotism. In fact, he feels that in England there are despotic rivalries between the King, Parliament and the Church. The conflicts amongst these three entities were exacerbated because they functioned within a society which evolved out of feudalism. According to Paine, the remaining elements of feudalism within British society were also a form of tyranny. He believed that the fundamental nature of English culture and its government precluded it from being a democracy.

To properly compare the difference between John Locke’s and Thomas Paine’s philosophy, it is necessary to further explore their conflicting viewpoints regarding the nature of society and government. First we will allow Paine to speak for himself and then compare his thought system to John Locke’s. Paine indicates that there are “several sources from which governments have arisen, and on which they have been founded. First, superstition. Secondly, power. Thirdly, the common interests of society and the rights of man. The first was government of priest craft, the second of conquerors, and the third of reason”.21 Paine indicates that monarchy and aristocracy emerged from governments that were founded upon conquest. He is clearly annoyed with the idea of government and society being established on the basis of either superstition or conquest. Paine expresses his dissatisfaction withthese two kinds of government by saying, “I became irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by forceor fraud”.22

Paine indicates that in his day there were only two types of government. He states, “The two modes ofgovernment which prevail in the world are, first, government by election and representation: secondly, government by hereditary succession. The former is generally known by the name of republic; the latter by that of monarchy and aristocracy. These two distinct and opposite forms, erect themselves on two distinct and opposite bases of reason and ignorance”.23 According to Paine, prior to the American experiment there were no revolutions worthy of the name. He sees the American enterprise as the source of modern democracy. In brief, the modern republican form of government began with the American Revolution. Thomas Paine asserts, “What were formerly called revolutions, were little more than a change of persons, or an alteration of local circumstances”.24 “One of the great advantages of the American Revolution has been, that it led to the discovery of the principles, and laid open the impositions, of governments. All revolutions till then had worked within the atmosphere of a court, and never the great floor of the nation. The parties were always of the class of courtiers; and whatever was the rage for reformation, they carefully preserved the fraud of the profession. It is impossible that such governments that have hither to existed in the world could have commenced by any other means than a total violation of every principle, sacred and moral”.25

Paine in his analysis of the inadequacies of British government and society criticizes hereditary rule as irrational and in fact ludicrous. He points out that virtue, wisdom, intelligence and moral character are not evenly passed on from generation to generation. Their quality and variety vary through time to an extent that government is subject to being run by human passions and driven by accidents. Objections to hereditary rule could only be removed if virtue and wisdom as well as other attributes required by an overlord were, in fact, inherited. Paine declares that, “The representative system of government takes society and civilization for its basis; nature, reason, and experience for its guide. The hereditary system, therefore, is as repugnant to human wisdom, as to human rights, and is absurd, as it is unjust. A hereditary governor is an inconsistent as hereditary author”.26

In his writings Thomas Paine builds a strong case for the superiority of republican government due to its rationality and civility. He is also convinced that Britain fails to qualify as a republic, not only because of its governmental structure, but by reason of its lack of a constitution. Paine states that “Government without a constitution is power without a right. All delegated power is a trust, and all assumed power is usurpation”.27 He asserts that a constitution is not created by government, but by an act of the people. A constitution belongs to the nation and is not the property of those who rule. In fact, it is antecedent to and distinct from government. Paine cites America as being an example of a nation where constitutions are established by the authority of the citizenry. In contrasting England to America he declares that, “In the Magna Charta and Bill of Rights…we see nothing of a constitution, but only of restrictions on assumed power. From the time of William (the Conqueror) a species of government arose, issuing out of this coalition or rights…that can be described by no other name than despotic legislation…the only right it acknowledges out of itself, is the right of petitioning. Where is the constitution that either gives or restrains power”?28

Paine concludes his arguments against the British form of government by stating that it is a species of slavery, whereas representative rule establishes and secures freedom. He feels that because England lacks a true constitution there is nothing to regulate or restrain the abuse of power. As a result of the absence of a constitution, government is both irrational and tyrannical. Paine declares, “Government is but now beginning to be known. Hither to it has been the mere exercise of power, which forbade all effectual inquiry into rights, and grounded itself wholly on possessions. The rights of man are the rights of all generations of men, and cannot be monopolized by any”.29

According to modern interpretations of Lock’s philosophy, he believed that Britain was a “republic” because Parliament had the authority to make laws and check as well as control the executive branch of government (the King). Locke felt that power resided in the people or to be more precise in their chosen representatives. However, when referring to political power, the term people to Locke means men of property. In his political and social system, power is in the hands of the Aristocracy and Sovereign. Paine attacked the English government as it represented a combination of tyrannical Royalty and decadent Aristocracy. Because of its power structure and lack of a constitution, British style government placed severe limitations on the concept of democracy. There is a republican element in this system due to the fact that Parliament consisted of a House of Commons as well as a House of Lords. However, the House of Lords was the dominate power and the system of electing people to the House of Commons was far from democratic. The few rather than the many chose the nations representatives. It was not until the 20th century (Parliament Act of 1911) that legislative supremacy shifted to the House of Commons.

It is interesting that Locke in his discourses relating to the structure and functions of government has absolutely nothing to say about the judiciary. This is astonishing as debates regarding the judiciaries role within the framework of government were common. In fact, the subject was a heated topic of discussion in Locke’s day. A strong judiciary would have the potential to alleviate the imbalances of power within the British system of government and cause it to evolve along a more democratic path. Locke overlooked the importance, in fact the necessity, of an independent judiciary as a prerequisite for ensuring that government would be just, impartial as well as truly republican in nature. Not only was Locke’s view of government lacking in balance and substance, he failed to perceive that the government and social system that he was advocating was actually non-existent. To quote Bertrand Russell, “Locke seemed blandly unaware that, in all the countries of Europe, the realization of his programs (philosophy) would hardly be possible without a bloody revolution. The odd thing is that he could announce doctrines requiring so much revolution before they could be put into effect, and yet show no sign that he thought the system existing in his day unjust, or that he was aware of it being different from the system he advocated”.30

Locke’s attitude isn’t surprising if one realizes that he wasn’t advocating modern democracy, but the status quo of British society and government. The purpose of his writings were to provide a Justification for the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 and 1689. John Locke was attempting to defend the past and to do so within the framework of traditional British society. Unlike Thomas Paine, he was not acting to create the future order of mankind. Locke did not envisage our modern American concept of republican government. He had no clue with respect to the nature of our egalitarian world view and value system. In essence, Locke’s philosophy reflected convictions that were popular in his day. Thus, Paine’s and Locke’s thought systems are dissimilar in origin and content. Because they often used similar terminology does not mean their words are synonymous.

According to Bertrand Russell, “Locke is the most fortunate of all philosophers. He completed his work in theoretical philosophy just at the moment when the government of his country fell into the hands of men who shared his political opinions. Both in practice and in theory, the views which he advocated were held, for many years to come, by the most vigorous and influential politicians and philosophers”.31 This statement is true until Paine’s entry upon the world stage in the latter half of the 18th century. Then John Locke would be forever transformed.

The increase in democratization within Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries was due to a delayed and reluctant response to revolutions in American and France. The English government did not just wake up in the 20th century and shift controlling power to the House of Commons because it finally understood John Locke. What impacted and moved the people of England to accept democratic reforms were the ideas and ideals born out of the American Revolution. An extreme slowness to embrace change and a hidebound worship of tradition lies at the heart of British character. To this day, modern English Democracy is combined with an archaic and debilitated monarchy. Bertrand Russell in trying to explain the English temperament, as well as to account for John Locke’s paradoxical thinking states, “A conflict between King and Parliament in the civil war gave Englishmen, once for all, a love of compromise and moderation, and a fear of pushing any theory to its logical conclusion, which has dominated them down to the present time”.32 When dealing with Locke there is an obvious difference between appearance and reality. The simplest way of resolving the evident paradox that exists in Locke’s political and social ideas that sharply conflict with his actual beliefs and life style, is to realize that Locke’s world view and value system are a mirror image of his understanding of past and current British culture. In brief, his value system and world view were not contrary to, but embraced traditional British institutions and their underlying precepts. Again, Locke was attempting to conserve and modify rather than dismantle the structure of the old world order. In brief, he was not trying to create new political and social formations.

In order to more fully comprehend the dissimilarity between the political and social outlook of John Locke and Thomas Paine, it is necessary to understand that they were born over 100 years apart (1632-1704 versus 1737-1809). Both were affected by unique social, political and religious forces and as a result had distinctive concerns and goals. Not only did Locke and Paine live in separate eras, they were from different social classes and did not share the same cultural views. The era in which they lived and their social class status resulted in divergent and conflicting philosophies. Paine’s goal was to usher in a new world order based upon fresh and untried social and political ideals and structures. Locke’s aim was to justify the political and social arrangements already in existence. Locke grew up during a time of civil war and social disorder. He believed that the only foundation for eliminating violence and securing peace within society was through government by a protestant monarchy that was checked as well as controlled by Parliament. In addition to limited monarchy and rule by the aristocracy, he visualized a comprehensive and tolerant church establishment that would embrace the majority of discordant religious sects within society. Locke felt that the appropriate balances between the branches of government, as well as between government and church, would result in civility and harmony within the social order. He was convinced that the current structure of British government and society provided for a peaceful and civilized culture. In contrast, it was Paine’s opinion that “All European governments (France now excepted) are constructed not on the principles of universal civilization, but on the reverse of it…”33 Paine felt that European governments (excluding France)actually placed themselves above the law and ignored both the will of the people and the will of God.

Paine like Locke grew up in a time of social unrest. However, instead of attempting to justify the social and political world about him, he rebelled against its restrictive and oppressive nature. In contrast to Locke, Paine who was born into a lower social class was repulsed by the injustice and adverse social conditions that flourished around him in English society. He said, “When…we see age going to the workhouse and youth to the gallows in a civilized country, something must be wrong in the system of government. Why is it that scarcely any are executed but the poor? Young people should be educated and older people supported…The resources of a country are lavished upon kings, upon courts, upon hirelings. The poor are compelled to support the fraud that oppresses them”…34 Paine displays his anger towards inequitable social conditions by saying, “When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy, neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them, my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive…When these things can be said, then may that country boast about its constitution and government”.35

Thomas Paine believed that poverty, ignorance and injustice were a national disgrace. In order to eliminate injustice and resolve social problems, he advocated social and political reforms on a grand scale and in a manner that is original and modern. Not only did Paine extol modern republican government and the universal franchises, he recommended and pleaded for state sponsored programs such as medical care, guaranteed employment and compensation, maintenance and security for the elderly and indigent, as well as free universal education. No other person in the revolutionary period was pleading for social security, socialized medicine, free universal education and other forms of state welfare. Thomas Jefferson did suggest a state funded educational program. His plan was created years earlier by a curriculum committee [Jefferson’s educational program was devised by a committee of revisors at the College of William and Mary in 1779. It was presented by Jefferson to the Virginia legislature in 1817. 12.] Paine made it clear that his ideas and proposals were neither paternalistic or Christian philanthropy. According to Paine, these state supported social programs were not charity but a right.

In both social thought and humane policies, Paine stood alone and was ahead of his times. He advanced these and other ideas on government’s civic responsibilities almost 150 years before the rise of social democracy. No similar sweeping social reforms can be found in John Locke’s writings. In fact, they are conspicuous by their absence. Locke has been cited for representing liberal thought that grew out of the Renaissance and Reformation. It should be noted, his thinking is only liberal compared to that of the Middle Ages. It does not reflect modern liberalism which grew out of the Enlightenment. Thomas Paine is the father of modern liberalism. Our American view of the nature of government and society can be traced to his writings and not those of John Locke. The inspiration for radical change, within mankind’s social and political orders, came from the new and not the old world.

Another critical area of thought that distinguishes Thomas Paine’s Philosophy from John Locke’s relates to Paine’s seminal thinking regarding the nature of the relationship between society and government. One of the most original and creative aspects of Paine’s thought system, that made the modern world possible, is the discrimination he made between civil society and government. In brief, he changed mankind’s view concerning the relationship of society and government. “Common Sense” is the first modern political essay to make and defend a distinction (separation) between the concepts of state and civil society. Previous to the printing of this political tract the terms state and civil society were looked at as being the same. All American and European writers, including Locke, utilized the concept of civil society to portray political associations that bound people together. In European tradition the state and civil society are interchangeable terms. Elemental or conclusive power was originally vested in the king and over time increasingly shared with members of the aristocracy. Louis XIV summed up the old worlds political and social point of view (philosophy) when he said, “I am the state”. According to Thomas Paine the people are the state.

Paine turned the 18th century’s concept of government and society on its head. After and because of “Common Sense” people felt that they, rather than rulers and aristocrats, exercised ultimate control over both government and society. Past ways of looking at political and social relationships were inverted. Overlords would be viewed as subject of the citizenry. The divine right of king’s philosophy was challenged by a thought system that placed decisive authority and power in the hands of the populace. A shift in thinking took place in which government of, by and for the people became the new reality. The raison d’etre for government would be the rights and welfare of the people. America’s revolution was a struggle between two diametrically positioned philosophies, rule from the top or rule by the populace.

“Common Sense” treated previous political and social concepts and principles as obsolete and in fact irrelevant. In order to support a republican point of view, Paine had to disconnect the state/civil society couplet. He preferred to use the terms society and government. These words though related were conceived of as being separate entities. Paine believed that government is simply a delegation of power by the public to representatives who are to exercise its use for the common good. Power was to be utilized to provide universal benefits for the citizenry. Government exists to secure individual liberties and to protect the populace from harm whether caused by internal or external sources. In short, the role of government is to ensure the rights, well-being and advancement of its people.

“Common Sense” was brilliantly written and in fact a revolution in the use of language. It mesmerized the American public. Paine’s treatise boldly argued several critical social ideas from an American point of view. His essay did so with great power and enormous consequence. Its originality, creativity and uniqueness stimulated public discussions that forever changed America. After “Common Sense” American and World History would be profoundly altered and find new directions.

There are other factors in addition to those already presented that reveal a difference in the character of these two men. For example, Locke has stated, “Lastly those are not all to be tolerated who deny the being of God”.36 This statement displays a narrow minded and intolerant attitude that can be traced to his medieval world view and value system. Locke’s religious convictions certainly would not support republican government or a secular society. To further complicate the matter of understanding the disparity between Locke’s and Paine’s philosophies, history and reference books state that the enlightenment was an 18th century intellectual movement and John Locke was an exponent of its philosophy. However, Locke was born in 1632 and spent all but the last four years of his life in the 17thcentury. To designate a 17th century man as being the creation of the 18th century is, to say the least, a solecism. Either our dating schemes do not make sense or interpretations of Lockean thought are in error.

It is apparent that mankind’s intellectual activities cannot be neatly classified or demarcated by century boundary posts. Dating is a man made artificial construct. The fabric of history is a single piece. Change occurs continuously over long periods of time and at an accelerating pace as new ideas and inventions make further progress possible. In particular, the struggle between faith and reason has gone on for thousands of years and still persists in the 21st century. A shift in the balance with respect to these two entities has occurred since the Middle Ages. However, faith and reason are strong components of every period in history. It should be observed that no era has been noted for cornering the market on rationality. Thomas Paine, even thought he lived during the Enlightenment, was severely persecuted by the religious right of his day.

In spite of the fact that history is a continuum and boundary markers that differentiate eras are not easy to establish with great precision, each age does have characteristics that make it unique and distinguish it from other historical periods. For example, the Renaissance and Reformation produced ideas that undermined the Medieval world view. In the words of Dr. Crane Brinton, the intelligentsia of these overlapping eras were “Agents of Distinction” who set the stage for a new cosmology and worldview. Their intellectual achievements were impressive and had great impact upon world history by stimulating the development of Protestantism, humanism, rationalism and science. Even though the intelligentsia were progressive within certain fields of thought, in the social and political spheres, they embraced a traditional belief that society is based upon rule by Aristrocrats and Monarchs. Thus, they did not adopt a philosophy and value system that was democratic in nature.

It was not until the 18th century that our modern world view was created. To quote Professor Crane Brinton, “The democratic world-view was formulated in the eighteenth century at the end of three centuries of change”…37”Our central theme is how the Medieval view of life was altered into the eighteenth century view of life. This eighteenth century view of life, though modified in the last two centuries, is still at the bottom of our view of life, especially in the United States”.38 Thus, the Renaissance (14th into the 17th century) and Reformation (16thcentury) were a transition period between the Middle Ages (500 to approximately 1500 AD) and the Enlightenment (18th century) which gave birth to our modern democratic outlook on society and government. During the period of the Renaissance the forces of Feudalism and Scholasticism, which in the past had ordered human life, were visibly shattered. The time period between the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment was significant because, it provided a view of life that was increasingly rational and scientific rather than mystical and theological.

On the important questions regarding the time span for and the interpretation of the Renaissance, the author is accepting Bertrand Russell’s viewpoint. “The Modern as opposed to the Medieval outlook began in Italy (14th century) with a movement called the Renaissance. At first, only a few individuals, notable Petrarch had this outlook, but in the 15th century it would spread to the great majority of cultivated Italians, both lay and clerical”.39 “The period of history which is commonly called `Modern’ has a mental outlook which differs from the Medieval period in many ways. Of these, two are most important: the diminishing authority of the church, and the increasing authority of science. With these two, others are connected. The culture of modern times is more lay than clerical. States increasingly replace the church as the governmental authority that controls culture”.40

In the world that was emerging, during the modern period of history, human reason and science rather than superstition and theology would become the major forces shaping our world. From the 14th to the 18th century mankind’s world was placed on foundations that were more materialistic and less theistic. During the 18th century men were willing to let go of the past and challenge the concept that people and their political and social orders were subservient to Kings, Clerics, and Aristocrats. From this point on the theory that power resided in the hands of Monarchs, Patricians, and the Church was supplanted by a belief in the rights of the common man. In brief, the 18th century contested the idea that the locus of power was in the Sovereign, Nobility and Religious Institutions. It was decided that the center of political authority was the will of the people.

The point of view expressed here regarding features of the various historical eras is critical not only for understanding the transition from the Medieval to the Modern World, it is crucial for comprehending the contributions of both Thomas Paine and John Locke to mankind as well as ascertaining their proper place in the United States and World History.


In comparing and contrasting John Locke’s thought system with that of Thomas Paine’s, my main concerns are that Locke’s Philosophy, unlike Paine’s, is not modern, original, generative, or democratic. By embracing past and present social and political conditions in England as reflecting an existing egalitarian way of life, John Locke fails to comprehend and support the concepts and ideals of modern republican government. His system of thought differs from Paine’s because it is not based upon government of, by, and for the people. Democracy in our political tradition is predicated on the will of the majority rather than the desires of the few. In Locke’s thinking, the will of the people is precluded as the majority of individuals lack citizenship rights, including the right to vote. What Locke’s philosophy supports is a medieval faith in limited monarchy. It is incomprehensible that one could embrace a political and social system dominated by royalty and the nobility and claim to be an advocate of republicanism. As a corollary, it is also illogical to believe that Locke’s views on government and society are the source and model for American democracy. Paine’s and Locke’s social and political concepts lie at opposite ends of the speculative spectrum.

If we look at a variety of interrelated factors in John Locke’s thinking, such as, a medieval conception of the social and political orders, power in the hands of monarchs and aristorcrats, government not basedupon republican principles, absence of an independent an impartial court system, the majority being denied citizenship rights, preservation of property being the main motive that causes human beings to form governments, man’s position under the social compact, pedigree and property determining one’s opportunities and position in life, lack of a genuinely representative form of government, limited political and social freedoms, a society built upon an operated by despotic institutions, the state and civil society being coterminous; it becomes apparent that a wide intellectual and conceptual gulf exists between John Locke and Thomas Paine. If we add to the above components that represent Locke’s thinking the lack of a true British constitution, it also becomes evident that all of these items whencombined do not reflect the thinking of Thomas Paine or a democratic life style. Again, it is difficult to look at the array of principles, opinions and concepts that John Locke embraced and believe that his thought system is the foundation of American society.

Thomas Paine’s writings and speeches altered Lockean philosophy in particular and European thought in general. A shift in thinking, in which man was regarded as free, equal and independent within society, resulted in a new political and social architecture. Paine’s ideas and ideals not only transformed the philosophy of John Locke and the relationship between citizens and their government, they universalized the concept of revolution. Events in America might lead to the destruction and reordering of Europe’s political and social arrangements. This is one reason Paine was looked upon as a threat to the stability and structure of the 18th century world. America’s revolution would prove to be a harbinger of things to come.

Many people in colonial America and in Europe considered Paine’s agenda for government and society too liberal. Others felt his programs and proposals went beyond liberalism and were in essence anarchic. Thomas Paine did not view himself as being either liberal or radical. He simply believed that his ideas and efforts on behalf of freedom, equality and independence were a means of ushering in a new world order that would bring about the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity. The values of democracy were in harmony with the universal mind and natural law. They were capable of properly linking human beings to one another as well as to creation and their creator. Thomas Paine persuaded and impelled men to abolish the political and social structures under which they existed. His essay “Common Sense” convinced the colonists that separation from Great Britain and the formation of a republic were a necessity. This composition transformed public opinion and created the American Revolution. In fact, this publication is the dividing line between British American and the United States History. Thomas Paine’s achievements are remarkable and transcend time and place. To give just one example, he wrote the three best-selling books of the 18th century (Common Sense, Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason). These works are the cornerstones of modern democracy as well as 21st century social and political thought.

Thomas Paine was the most prodigious political and social polemicist of the revolutionary era. His thinking is far more original and seminal than he has been given credit for by historians. Its scope is immense which is one of many reasons why he is something much more than a “Political Propagandist” and “Pamphleteer”. Such terms have been utilized in denigrating manner in order to limit Paine’s significance as a creative force in American and World History. His thinking encompassed the past, present and future of mankind. Few people in history have affected and changed the world as much as Thomas Paine. John Adams, our second president, said that “History will ascribe the (American) Revolution to Thomas Paine”.41 “Paine crystallized public opinion in favor of revolution and was the first factor in bringing about revolution”.42 John Adams also stated, “I know not whether any man in the world had had more influence on its in habitants or affairs for the last 30 years than Tom Paine. Call it the age of Paine”.43 It was apparent to many of Paine’s contemporaries that the cause of the American Revolution and the creator of the structure and values of Modern Democracy was Thomas Paine and not John Locke. In fact, many highly intelligent men in both America and Europe perceived Paine as being one of the world’s most creative and advanced minds. He was regarded by numerous prominent individuals as a man of genius who changed the nature and composition of government and society. Napoleon Bonaparte grasping Paine’s impact on his era asserted, “Paine deserved a statue in gold in every town”.44 Considering Paine’s contributions to the formation of the American State and the direction of modern World History, his life needs to be reexamined in the light of honesty in order that he may receive the long overdue recognition and respect that he justly deserves.


“Among enemies and friends alike, Paine earned a reputation as a citizen extraordinary — as the greatest political figure of his generation. He made more noise in the world and excited more attention than such well-known European contemporaries as Adam Smith, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Madame de Stael and Pietro Verri”.45


By John Keane (Prologue)


John Adams detested Thomas Paine. They were at opposite ends of the republican spectrum. Adams was conservative and Paine even by today’s standards would be considered extremely liberal. However, one thing they did agree on was independence. Thomas Paine not only created modern liberalism, Eugene V. Debs in one of his speeches paid homage to the prophet of freedom by declaring that Paine isalso the father of the modern radical tradition in politics.


  1. Foot & Kramnic. The Thomas Paine Reader

New York: Penguin Books, 1989 Pages 32 & 33

  1. Burtt, Edwin A. The English Philosophers From Bacon To Mill

New York: Random House, Inc. 1939 Page 455

(Locke - Essay Concerning Civil Government)

  1. Ibid Page 424 (Essay Concerning Civil Government)

  2. Ibid Page 456 (Essay Concerning Civil Government)

  3. Ibid Page 457 (Essay Concerning Civil Government)

  4. Foot & Kramnic. The Thomas Paine Reader

New York: Penguin Books, 1989 Page 68 (Common Sense)

  1. Foner, Phillip S. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine

New York: The Citadel Press, 1969 Page 274 (Rights of Man)

  1. Ibid Page 275 (Rights of Man)

  2. Ibid Page 314 (Rights of Man)

  3. Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy

New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945 Page 600

  1. Ibid Page 601

  2. Ibid Page 619

  3. Ibid Page 623

  4. Ibid Page 630

  5. Fruchman, Jack Jr. Thomas Paine Apostle of Freedom

New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994 Page 6

  1. Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy

New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945 Page 624 & 625

  1. Ibid Page 625

  2. Ibid Page 627 19

  3. Ibid Page 632

  4. Foner, Philip S. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine

New York: The Citadel Press, 1969 Page 7 (Common Sense)

  1. Ibid Page 277 (Rights of Man)

  2. Ibid Page 277 (Rights of Man)

  3. Ibid Page 338 (Rights of Man)

  4. Ibid Page 341 (Rights of Man)

  5. Ibid Pages 360 & 361 (Rights of Man)

  6. Ibid Pages 367 & 368 (Rights of Man)

  7. Ibid Pages 375 & 376 (Rights of Man)

  8. Ibid Page 383 (Rights of Man)

  9. Ibid Page 396 (Rights of Man)

  10. Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy

New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945 Pages 634 & 635

  1. Ibid Page 605

  2. Ibid Page 601

  3. Foner, Philip S. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine

New York: The Citadel Press, 1969 Page 399 (Rights of Man)

  1. Foot & Kramnic. The Thomas Paine Reader

New York: Penguin Books, 1989 Pages 20 & 21 (Rights of Man)

  1. Ibid Page 21 (Rights of Man)

  2. Seldes, George. The Great Thoughts

New York: Ballantine Books, 1996 Page 274

  1. Brinton, Crane. The Shaping of Modern Thought

Englewood Cliffs New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1963 Page 247

  1. Ibid Page 24 20

  2. Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy

New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1945 Page 495

  1. Ibid Page 491

  2. Seldes, George. The Great Thoughts

New York: Ballantine Books, 1996 Page 353

  1. Brooks, Van Wyck. The World of Washington Irving

New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1944 Page 57

  1. Foot & Kramnic. The Thomas Paine Reader

New York: Penguin Books, 1989 Page 28 & 29

  1. Ibid Page 34

  2. Keane, John. Tom Paine A Political Life

London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1995 Page IX (Prologue) 21


  1. Foot & Kramnic. The Thomas Paine Reader

New York: Penguin books, 1989

  1. Foner, Phillip S. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine

New York: The Citadel Press, 1969

  1. Fruchtman, Jack Jr. Thomas Paine Aspostle of Freedom

New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994

  1. Keane, John. Tom Paine A Political Life

London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1995

  1. Paine, Thomas. Common Sense - Rights of Man

Delran New Jersey: The Classics of Liberty Library, 1992

  1. Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government

Delran New Jersey: The Classics of Liberty Library, 1992

  1. Brooks, Van Wyck. The World of Washington Irving

New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1944

  1. Seldes, George. The Great Thoughts

New York: Ballantine Books, 1996

  1. Burtt, Edwin A. The English Philosophers From Bacon To Mill

New York: Random House, Inc., 1939

  1. Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy

New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1945

  1. Russell, Bertrand. Wisdom of the West

New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959

  1. Whittemore, Robert C. Makers of the American Mind

New York: William Morrow & Company, 1964

  1. Brinton, Crane. The Shaping of Modern Thought

Englewood Cliffs New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963

  1. Bowersock, Brown & Graber. Late Antiquity

Cambridge Massachusetts: The Belknap Press, 1999.

  1. Haskins, Charles Homer. The Renaissance of the 12th Century

New York: Meridian Books, Inc., 1960 22

  1. Lindsay, A.D. The Modern Democratic State

New York: Oxford University Press, 1962

  1. Stenton, Doris May. English Society In the Early Middle Ages

London: The Whitefriars Press LTD, 1959

  1. Dawson, Christopher. The Making of Europe

New York: Meridian Books, Inc., 1960

  1. McNeill, William H. The Rise of The West

Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1963

  1. Rowan, Herbert H. A History of Early Modern Europe

New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc., 1960

  1. Morgan, Edmund S. The Birth of the Republic

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1956

  1. Degler, Carl N. Out Of Our Past

New York & Evanston: Harper & Row Publishers, 1962

  1. Curti, Shryock, Cochran & Harrington. A History of American Civilization

New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. 1953

  1. Taylor, Alan. American Colonies

New York: Viking Penguin, 2001

  1. Barzun, Jacques. From Dawn to Decadence

New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000

  1. Bowen, Catherine Drinker. John Adams And The American Revolution

New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950

  1. Boyer, Paul S. Editor. Oxford Companion to United States History

New York: Oxford University Press, 2001 23