American Revolution the Pen Is Mightier Term Paper

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The pen is mightier than the sword" - so it has been said. Great events in human history have been made by the written word, and the American Revolution is no exception. In order to bring a people to the point of overthrowing their established government, that people must first be fired up. They must be convinced of the errors of the old ways; a new path opened to them. The Eighteenth Century was full of individuals who described the shortcomings of their society, and who wrote down their thoughts on that society's ideal direction. In France, Voltaire, Rousseau, and the other philosophes, described revolutionary forms of government and society. In America, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and their fellows, expanded on these ideas and plotted strategies for change. Original thoughts on social and political reform were mingled with observations of other cultures ancient and modern. For many, Ancient Greece and Rome provided an example of idealized forms of democratic and republican government. For others, it was the Six Nations of the Iroquois who presented the ideal type of a free and cooperative people. Even after the end of the war that brought the American colonies their freedom, the battle continued as the Founding Fathers sought to write laws that would give form and substance to their hard won liberties. The arguments of the Federalist Papers, and the words of the United States Constitution, still inform and define our nation today. Millions continue to interpret the thoughts of long ago men and women, and to live by their values.

Term Paper on American Revolution the Pen Is Mightier Than Assignment

The revolutionary fervor of Eighteenth Century America owes a large part of its inspiration to the ideas first propounded by the French philosophes. Acting in the spirit of the Enlightenment, these thinkers took it upon themselves to dissect contemporary society, point out its numerous faults, and suggest often radical new social and political arrangements; arrangements that they felt were somehow more "natural," or more in keeping with the realities of the human condition. By and large, they talked of a world without defined social classes, one in which various forms of democratic governance served to preserve order and advance the interests and happiness of individual men, women, and children. Jean-Jacques Rousseau developed the concept of a Social Contract based upon notions of a General Will and Popular Sovereignty. The paternalistic relationship between England and its colonies was necessary only so long as the colonies were scarcely developed - "Children must then remain bound to their father only as long as they have need of him for their own preservation. As soon as this need ceases the natural bond is dissolved." (Brooks, 1996) Rational adults act according to rational laws. The general will of the people will govern right action and set moral standards. Individuals not conforming to the necessary strictures of society - strictures imposed by the General Will for the good of all - will be compelled to conform. In other words, Rousseau was speaking of a society in which revolution was not only necessary, but incumbent upon a people who had now attained maturity. Thomas Jefferson was an avid reader of Rousseau, taking his ideas and adjusting them to the needs of the new American Republic. (Shafer, 2002) the republic that Jefferson would later be instrumental in formulating would include the idea of a social contract between the government and the governed. The British King's violation of the social contract would serve, as well, as the basis for the call to revolution,

In essence, the King had entered into a contract with his subjects... that they should enjoy all the rights and liberties of Englishmen for ever... made with all the colonies, royal governments, as well as charter ones, and once this contract was violated, the King was beyond the constitutional intent of his powers.

(Eicholz, 2001, p. 64)

Though not expressly stated as the basis for the king's powers over the American colonies, the social contract was, nevertheless; always in existence - a natural law that acted upon king and subject alike. The king had violated the law, and the American people were bound to act, or take the law into their own hands.

Voltaire, too, provided fodder for the revolutionary cause. In his eyes, the wide-open spaces of the American wilderness were a paradise of freedom and liberty. (Toth, 1989, p. 41) Voltaire was forever attacking the abuses and inconsistencies of the Ancien Regime. Works such as Candide and L'Ingenu showed at one and the same time the hypocrisy of European mores and the natural goodness and nobility of the "savage" Americans. In the case of L'Ingenu, the main character was a Huron Indian, a perfect symbol for America in its pristine, pre-civilized state. Candide also traveled among the native peoples and saw much of their naive charm and perfection. He was also thoroughly uncontaminated by the over-sophistication and sophistry of European public life and society. Like Voltaire, Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries saw certain rights as fundamental. They were the natural property of all human beings present even among the native peoples of the American continent. In later days as he helped to frame the constitution, Jefferson would cling to exactly these precepts of the immutability of basic human and civil rights. Where other founding fathers, like James Madison, argued in favor of a constitution that would be binding on future generations and thus preserve the integrity of the republic for ages to come, Jefferson held that such a contract was inherently unjust, and a violation of natural laws:

The principle of the living owning the Earth was "fundamental" and "self evident." He wished to lay out his view of the nature of man and society: the living, according to Jefferson, receive as of natural right and not in the form of inheritance, the right to governance of the world. For Jefferson, the "dead have neither powers nor rights over" the world and as such, any document such as the Constitution, which purports to bind into the future, is contrary to right and illegitimate. (Strang, 2005)

For Jefferson, society, and the government that sprang from that society, were living organisms. Both changed to reflect differing circumstances and the varying needs and aspirations of people. To bind one generation to the desires of a previous one was to deny to human beings a basic freedom of choice.

Indeed, the Iroquois Confederacy was remarkably similar to the later federal system of government that Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and others created for the former colonies. The confederacy operated according to the principle of consent of the governed - an Enlightenment idea - and also accorded the different tribes proportional representation. Importantly, the Founding Fathers would have observed that the Native American stressed the need for wise counsel and rule by an informed and virtuous leadership that could be held to account, that is impeached, if it deviated from the norms of accepted conduct. (Black, 1988, p. 9)

In addition, the "natural" virtues of the Iroquois League corresponded neatly with the solid, old-fashioned values of the Roman Republic - another major and fruitful source of ideas and inspiration for virtually all revolutionary theorists. In the stolid days of the early Roman Republic and its legends of selfless patriots there could be found models for the conduct of a contemporary government; for the creation of a society based on civic responsibility and mutual dependence with rule by an enlightened patriciate. In Common Sense, Paine declares that a republic government is more natural than a monarchical one, and more likely to preserve peace. (Paine, 1995, p. 32) Much as the Ancient Romans looked on their early kings, Paine feels sure that monarchy leads inevitably to expression of personal vanity, to quest for glory that must lead to wars of conquest and continuous competition between states. Instead, he advocates a representative system similar in general outline that which was eventually created for the new American republic. As with the Romans and the Iroquois, elected representatives gather to deliberate the people's business. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson he specifically links the system of representative government deriving one from the other:

As all their rights, in the first case, are natural rights, and the exercise of those rights supposed only by their own natural individual power, they would begin by distinguishing between those rights they could individually exercise fully and perfectly and those they could not. (Paine, 1995, p. 81)

The inference also recalls aspects of Rousseau's social contract in the distinction it makes between the rights of the individual and the rights of the group. However, Paine introduces a concept which would prove fundamental to the American experiment, that of inalienable individual rights that cannot be taken away in the name of any general will. For in stating that individuals "decide" which rights should best be handled by the group, Paine is giving the individual final say in the matter.

Jefferson also used Rome as the model of what a republic… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"American Revolution the Pen Is Mightier."  December 3, 2007.  Accessed October 21, 2020.