The Rights of Man Essay

Write an essay of 1500 words on the significance of passage two-explaining why it is important to the work to which it belongs

Thomas Paine’s central argument with the Rights of Man is how the hereditary nature of the monarchy and the monarchy itself has become outdated in the aftermath of the French Revolution.  He discusses the benefits of meritocracy over aristocracy and how he advocates a government led by aged, experienced men, rather than immature, young boys.  Passage two agrees with this reasoning through how it serves to encapsulate Paine’s key ideas within one short extract.  Paine uses examples from his own past to demonstrate how he has worked for everything he has, rather than inheriting it.  Furthermore, Paine’s rhetoric in passage two also demonstrates the confidence he holds in democracy, compared to the monarchy-a confidence that is present throughout the Rights of Man.

Paine’s positivity concerning meritocracy and “government[s] […] chosen on the basis of merit (as opposed to wealth, social class, etc)” (OED) presents itself when he argues that at “little more than sixteen years of age, raw and adventurous […] I began [as] the carver of my own fortune.”[1] Unlike the aristocracy that Paine is so critical of, he has achieved his goals through his own merit, as opposed to inheriting it.  This also evidences Paine’s disapproval of immature, inexperienced boys receiving high positions of power.  He attacks the monarchy by asserting:

We must shut our eyes against reason, we must basely degrade our understanding, not to see the folly of what is called monarchy.  Nature is orderly in all her works, but this is a mode of government that counteracts nature.  It turns the progress of the human faculties upside down.  It subjects age to be governed by children, and wisdom by folly. (Paine, pp. 373-374)


Paine criticises how the aristocratic monarchy has distorted the natural order of things.  The use of the verb ‘subjects’ implies a persuasive tone that simultaneously argues that age is being forced to submit to youth and youth is forced to exert authority over age.  The same applies to wisdom, which is compelled to obey folly.  This presents a puzzling image that juxtaposes the natural balance of power, as “age [is] governed by children, and wisdom by folly,” (Paine, p. 374) rather than the other way around, which is what is expected.  Paine further argues that:

in the American federal government […] the President of the United States […] cannot […] be elected to this office under the age of thirty-five years.  By this time the judgement of man becomes matured, and he has lived long enough to be acquainted with men and things and the country with him. (Paine, p. 374)

Paine is criticising the notion of young boys inheriting power, when they are too immature and ignorant to truly comprehend what this power would entail.  Within the extract, Paine discusses how being in the servitude of “the King of Prussia privateer, Capt. Mendez” is a point of pride explaining how despite coming “from such a beginning, and with all the inconveniences of early life against me […] I contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of government.” (Paine, pp. 405-406) Through his own merit, Paine has achieved something to be proud of, as opposed to inheriting it.

Paine’s arguments of meritocracy over aristocracy and individualism increase in importance within the extract.  Passage two serves as a flashback into Paine’s past and, therefore, a first person narrator is the expected narrative voice.  The repetition of ‘I’ attaches an assertive, individualistic tone to the extract.  This individualistic tone demonstrates how Paine is dissenting from the collectivist majority by speaking and referring to himself as an individual.  This parallels Paine’s revolutionary ideals of having a democracy replace the monarchy.  Furthermore, “I began the carver of my own fortune,” (Paine, p. 405) does not only start with the first-person singular, but it is also written in the active voice, thus beginning the passage in an assertive manner.  This same individualism is present within the Rights of Man, where Paine advances his ideas of breaking away from the monarchy.  He uses the “annual amount of taxes at six hundred years from the conquest (1666) -1,800,000” (Paine, p. 416) and “the annual amount of taxes at the present time (1791)- 17,000,000” (Paine, p. 416) to accentuate and thus attack the ostentatious spending of the monarchy.  He argues “it appears impossible to account for the enormous encease in expenditure on any other ground, than extravagance, corruption and intrigue.” (Paine, p. 416) Paine’s use of tax figures serves as empirical data to substantiate his claims.  Rather than blindly following monarchical or religious authority, Paine is advocating a departure from both.  Within the extract, Paine remarks on his father being of the “Quaker profession.” (Paine, p. 405) In Paine’s essay the Age of Reason, he argues that “the only sect that has not persecuted are the Quakers and the only reason that can be given for it is that they are rather Deists than Christians.” (Paine, p. 597) Paine considered himself a Deist meaning that he has a “belief in the existence of a Supreme Being as the source of finite existence, with rejection of revelation, and the supernatural doctrines of Christianity.” (OED) Jack Fruchtman Jr. asserts that “after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Quakers […] most meaningful[ly] to Paine […] declined to pay homage to any man, including the king”[2] and he continues by arguing that “Paine’s deism became […] a foundation based on his continuous rejection of revelation, but, more importantly, on reason and science.”[3] This correlates with Paine’s desires to dissent from the monarchy.  Instead of continuing to serve under a decadent aristocracy and an organised religion based on supernatural revelations, Paine wants to create a republic where meritocracy rules as opposed to aristocracy.

Paine’s rhetoric within the extract and the wider work is so critical of the monarchy that it is conveyed as arrogant and pompous.  At the extract’s conclusion, Paine boasts about how he has “not only contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of government, but [he has also] arrived at an eminence in political literature.” (Paine, pp. 405-406) Paine’s use of the adjective ‘eminence’ elevates his argument to an overly-superior level.  However, it is the clause “the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in” (Paine, p. 406) that projects the confidence Paine holds in his argument.  He regards political literature as a particularly challenging literary genre that not even “aristocracy, with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival.” (Paine, p. 406) Paine is thus devaluing the monarchy by comparing it to the political literature that he holds in such high regard.  Paine’s anti-monarchical argument is conveyed in the Rights of Man in the form of a number of disparaging remarks.  Paine reduces the monarchy to a thing of mockery.  He compares it:

To something kept behind a curtain, about which there is a great deal of bustle and fuss, and a wonderful air of seeming solemnity, but, when, by any accident, the curtain happens to be open, and the company see what it is, they burst into laughter.” (Paine, p. 373)

In this comparison, Paine portrays the monarchy as a categorical embarrassment that has to be hidden from view, lest their humiliating actions are discovered and the whole nation becomes the subject of ridicule.  Paine’s mockery continues when he asserts that:

It can only be by blinding the understanding of man, and making him believe that government is some wonderful mysterious thing, that excessive revenues are obtained.  Monarchy is well calculated to ensure this end.  It is the Popery of government; a thing kept up to amuse the ignorant, and quiet them into taxes. (Paine, p. 375)

This thus portrays the monarchy as puppet leaders of the state, who hold the real power.  The state uses the monarchy as an opiate to quell any rebellious spirit that might be present within the masses.  Paine’s criticisms of the monarchy progress when he argues that “it has been customary to call the Crown the executive power, and the custom is continued, though the reason has ceased” (Paine, p. 415) and that:

When we speak of the crown now, it means nothing; it signifies neither a judge nor a general: besides which, it is the laws that govern and not the man.  The old terms are kept up, to give an appearance of consequence to empty forms and the only effect they have is that of increasing expenses.  (Paine, p. 415)

Paine is thus ornamatising the monarchy by arguing they only have an aesthetic purpose and not a practical one.  Through how passage two is concluded with the same scathing anti-monarchy sentiments that are present throughout the Rights of Man, Paine is demonstrating his disdain for the Crown and his wishes for it to be replaced with a democratic government.

Passage two relates to Paine’s the Rights of Man by serving as an allegorical microcosm of Paine’s ideas.  Through the use of the first person voice and specific examples from Paine’s past, he argues what the benefits of a meritocratic government over an aristocratic monarchy would be.  However, most significantly, the arrogant sentiments at the extract’s conclusion, as well as the corresponding thoughts within the Rights of Man, function to substantiate Paine’s central argument of the monarchy being an antiquated institution that has long outlived its purpose.

Word Count: 1632


Fruchtman, Jack, Jr., The Political Philosophy of Thomas Paine, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009)

Paine, Thomas, The Life and Major Writings of Thomas ed. by Philip S. Foner (New York: The Citadel Press, 1961)

[1] Thomas Paine, The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine, ed. by Philip S. Foner (New York: The Citadel Press, 1961) p. 405 All subsequent quotations were taken from this edition and all future references will be mentioned in parentheses after quotations in the text.

[2] Jack Fruchtman Jr., The Political Philosophy of Thomas Paine, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009) p. 24

[3] Fruchtman Jr, p. 24

*Author’s Notes*

I wrote this essay for my Revolutionary Britain module.  This module focused on life in Britain just after the French Revolution.  After the French monarchy was overthrown, everybody was afraid that the same would happen in Britain and so many of the texts we studied were either for or against revolution.  Thomas Paine’s the Rights of Man, of which this essay is based on, was radical and for revolution.  I no longer have access to the extract that I wrote this essay on.


3 thoughts on “The Rights of Man Essay

  1. Great essay, James. It’s clear, you must have put some effort into this essay. I’ll try to remember to come back to this essay if I ever read Right of Man again.


    1. Thanks Ashiusx, I’m glad you enjoyed it. My university lecturers really liked it as well. I’ve had a look at your blog and seen that you’ve watched and reviewed some Japanese and Korean movies. Have you seen Old Boy? That’s a great Korean film. I’ve also watched Rashomon, Yojimbo, The Seven Samurai and Ikiru, if you know any of them.


      1. I didn’t see your comment until now. Sorry for the late reply, but I did see Oldboy. In fact, I saw the whole The Vengeance Trilogy. They’re only connected in theme of vengeance but Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is probably my favorite from the lot.

        I saw Seven Samurai, I really like it. That’s the only Kurosawa film I saw. I’ll see more in the future.


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