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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 22: The Revolution in Western Politics, 1775-1815

In 1776, English-born Thomas Paine published a pamphlet, Common Sense, urging British colonists in North America to defend their liberty by declaring independence from Great Britain. In 1791, back in England, he issued his Rights of Man in defense of the French Revolution. The following year he was elected to the French National Assembly. While serving there, he was arrested by Robespierre and spend several months in prison during 1793, but avoided the guillotine. Upon the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson, he returned to the United States in 1802. Seven years later he died a relatively obscure death, roundly criticized by the American press for his atheistic views. His life spanned the greatest upheaval in the Western world - the forces unleashed by the French and American revolutions. Through his writings, he was instrumental in the spread of ideas such as popular sovereignty, equality before the law, and nationalism. The following Internet activities will explore his life and times. His story represents the emergence of the modern liberal nation state.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One:
  • Go to Thomas Paine. After reading this brief overview of Paine's life, begin preparing a timeline or chart that highlights his life. When and where was Paine born? When and where did he die? When did he live in the United States (or the British North American colonies)? What occupations did he hold there? When did he live in Great Britain? What occupations did he hold there? When did he live in France? What occupations did he hold there? When did he write Common Sense, The Rights of Man, The American Crisis, and Age of Reason?
  • Now study the timelines at The French Revolution: 1789-1795, Napoleonic Timeline, and The Revolutionary War Era: 1763-1789. What major events in France and the United States did Paine witness? Where was he when the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man were signed? Where was he when the American army defeated the British at the Battle of Yorktown? Where was he during the French Reign of Terror between 1793 and 1794? Where was he when Napoleon seized power? Add this information to your timeline of Paine's life, and keep it handy. The rest of these activities will explore the impact Paine had on these major events and the impact they had on him.
Activity Two:
  • Before examining Paine's influence on the revolution in Western politics, you need to understand the intellectual climate in which he operated. Born in the eighteenth century, Paine was strongly influenced by the ideas of the European Enlightenment. (You might want to review the activities in Chapter 18, "Toward a New World-View in the West," before continuing.) In particular, Paine was influenced by John Locke and Voltaire. Go to John Locke and read the sections entitled "Life" and "Two Treatises of Government." What were Locke's views on government? Pay special attention to the fifth paragraph. Now go to Voltaire. What were Voltaire's views on individual liberties? Describe Locke's and Voltaire's views of the relationship between government and those governed. Did they believe there should be any restrictions on government? Who or what would these restrictions protect?
Activity Three:
  • Paine's first great work was Common Sense, a pamphlet in which he urged British colonists in North America to declare their independence from Great Britain. In this essay, he first articulates his concepts of "popular sovereignty," or the idea that government should rule for the people and at the people's consent, or the principle that governments confer no special privileges on any particular group such as an aristocracy or the clergy. Go to Common Sense and read this excerpt. What kind of government does Paine advocate for the new nation? How was it to be chosen? What powers would it have? What powers, explicitly, would it not have? What rights would the people have under this system of government? (Pay close attention to the fifth paragraph.) Were all people supposed to enjoy these rights equally, or were the rights designated to certain groups?
Activity Four:
  • Paine's ideas had a profound impact on the American Revolution. Read The Declaration of Independence, which the colonists proclaimed in 1776 to justify their break with Great Britain. How are Paine's ideas on popular sovereignty and equality before the law reflected in this document? Does the document advocate popular sovereignty? Why does it argue that popular sovereignty did not currently exist in the colonies? What rights, according to the declaration, do humans possess? Do they apply to all individuals or just to certain groups?
  • The ideas of popular sovereignty and equality before the law are also represented in another of the great documents associated with the American Revolution -the United States Constitution. Read the Preamble to the Constitution. How does this short statement reflect the ideas of popular sovereignty? Why do you think the framers chose the phrase "We the people"? How do those three words reflect the goals of revolutionaries such as Paine? Now read The Bill of Rights. What rights do the people possess under this framework of government? Why do you think the early government of the United States believed that it needed to codify these rights?
Activity Five:
  • These ideas of popular sovereignty and equality before the law also shaped the French Revolution. Go to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, passed by the French National Assembly in 1789. How does this document reflect the ideas of popular sovereignty and equality before the law? How similar are the rights expressed here to those in the American Bill of Rights? What is the connection between these two documents? In other words, why do you think they both express similar ideas despite being written on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean? (You might want to review page 700-701 in McKay, A History of World Societies [Sixth Edition] for answers.)
Activity Six:
  • Unlike the American Revolution, which was violent in its own right, the French Revolution precipitated major social upheaval. The entire status quo in French society was disrupted. At one point, between 1793 and 1794, a French government executed thousands of its enemies, including the king and queen of France, nationalized most of France's manufacturing enterprises, and drafted all able-bodied men into the national army. Indeed, Paine himself was arrested as an enemy of the state in 1794 when he refused to support the execution of Louis XVI.
  • Because of these unprecedented measures, many intellectuals in Europe denounced the entire nature of the French Revolution, even some like the Englishman Edmund Burke, who supported the American Revolution, at least early on. Read Edmund Burke and the quotations at We Love Freedom: Do You? What do you think Burke meant when he argued that societies cannot have freedom without order? How do you think the French Revolution influenced this attitude?
Activity Seven:
  • Burke feared the democratic overtures of "popular sovereignty." Instead, he favored a constitutional system such as existed in Britain, where the king, the aristocracy, the church, and the common people shared power. To review the differences between absolutism - which France had before the Revolution, when the king claimed all power of government - and constitutionalism (see Activity Two in Chapter 16).
  • Paine, who had returned to England, immediately responded to Burke's criticism of the French Revolution with his own essay, The Rights of Man. Read the Conclusion of this essay. Why did Paine argue that a republic was better than a monarchy? Why do you believe that Paine believed that all people have the right to popular sovereignty? Do you believe that Paine had any particular audience in mind when he wrote The Rights of Man? This universal idea that all people are entitled to popular sovereignty and equality before the law is a major legacy of the American and French revolutions. No one person expressed it better than Paine.
Activity Eight:
  • The chaos and excesses of the French Revolution led to Napoleon Bonaparte's coup d'etat in 1799. From 1799 to 1815, Napoleon ruled France as a dictator. Even then, he did not completely abandon the concepts of popular sovereignty and equality before the law. For example, read about The Code Napoleon, the revised civic laws Napoleon introduced in 1804. Which revolutionary ideas are addressed here? Were there separate laws for different groups of people? According to this essay, the Napoleonic Code helped promulgate many of the ideas of the French Revolution. How? Did other countries adapt it? Did Napoleon force it on any other places besides France?
Activity Nine:
  • Paine left Napoleon's France and returned to America in 1802, no doubt disappointed in France's abandonment of republicanism. His remaining years were lonely and sad. One of his last major works, The Age of Reason, was critical of organized religion. For Paine's personal views on religion, read "The Author's Profession of Faith" at The Age Of Reason - Part I. Paine declares his belief in God, but not in any particular creed. These views proved controversial, and Paine died without much notice in 1809. Yet his legacy endures.
  • Paine, his life and ideas, bridged two revolutions in the late eighteenth century whose ideas still influence us today. The ideas of popular sovereignty and equality before the law called into question the entire social status quo of the Western world, in more ways than Paine and his contemporaries realized. As the article states, Paine was one of the earliest critics of the institution. How did the ideas of the American and French revolutions necessarily call slavery's existence into question? Now read Paine's An Occasional Letter On The Female Sex. When it came to equality before the law, do you believe Paine believed women were included? Why or why not?
  • Even though the American and French revolutions originally excluded women and African Americans from political liberties, the ideas they generated led many European men and women, such as Paine, to grapple with issues of sexism and racism for the first time. Analyze what attitudes and assumptions generated by the American and French revolutions led Paine and others to question long-held assumptions about the status of women and Africans in European societies. Why do you think most revolutionaries rejected full political and legal equality for all citizens? Considering long-term developments, however, explain the effect of the American and French revolutions on the status of women and minorities in Western societies.