Rights of Man: A Response

From the AP English Free-Response essay prompt, recycled for practice in an American high school classroom:

The following passage is from Rights of Man, a book written by the pamphleteer Thomas Paine in 1791. Born in England, Paine was an intellectual, a revolutionary, and a supporter of American independence from England. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay that examines the extent to which Paine’s characterization of America holds true today. Use appropriate evidence to support your argument.

“If there is a country in the world, where concord, according to common calculation, would be least expected, it is America. Made up, as it is, of people from different nations, accustomed to different forms and habits of government, speaking different languages, and more different in ther modes of worship, it would appear that the union of such a people was impracticable; but by the simple operation of constructiing government on the principles of society and the rights of man, every difficulty retires, and all the parts are brought into cordial unison. There, the poor are not oppressed, the rich are not privileged…. Their taxes are few, because their government is just; and as there is nothing to render them retched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults.”

In this passage, Thomas Paine argues that “If there is a country in the world, where concord… would be least expected, it is America.” Paine is of the opinion that America, because of its origins, is as close to fair and just as a country can hope to come. However, Paine is incorrect; not because his logic is in error, or his examples poor, but because by virtue of the wariness inherent in human nature, no nation of people will ever be truly placated.

Paine takes an optimistic view of humanity at large. He implies that “a government [constructed] on the principles of society adn rights of man is what every person seeks in life; that this will bring people from every walk of life into complacency and contentment. He is not wholly wrong. In truth, many people, both in his modern society in 1791, and in hour own society today, in 2013, seek rights in America that in their own country would be greatly restricted or even nonexistent. However, people will always be wary. Men and women who are born poor and better themselves financially as adults often will not waste food even when they can afford to. Similarly, when a person who has lived a life of oppression is suddenly granted or gains freedom, that person is liable to remain wary of those freedoms being taken away.

People of today’s America monitor their rights closely. Many would argue that Paine’s statement that “the poor are not oppressed, the rich are not privileged” s incorrect. They hold the opinion that the rich are overtaxed, or not taxed enough; that the government should help the poor more, or not help at all. Because of the rights given them, many native-born citizens might boggle at the concept of their rights, to speech of votes or even wages, being infringed upon.

In conclusion, in his facts, Thomas Paine was not wrong. America is a country peopled by citizens from every land, and the government and the people work together to keep the country and its laws just. However, in his opinion that “as there is nothing to render them retched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults”, he could not have been farther from the truth. People ultimately do not need something to render them wretched; they do that of their own volition.



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