Thomas Paine Amidst the Early Feminists
THE POLITICAL WRITINGS OF THOMAS PAINE, Ian Shapiro, Jane Calvert eds., Yale Press, expected 2013
Posted: 19 Mar 2012 Last revised: 28 Nov 2012
Date Written: January 29, 2011
Paine — like many male radicals of the late Enlightenment — was neither a steady nor consistently direct advocate of the rights of women, particularly women’s equal civil and political rights with men. In this way, he was no different from William Godwin in London, Bishop Talleyrand in Paris, or Charles Brockden Brown in America. Early in his career, from Common Sense (1776) to Rights of Man, Part I (1791), Paine was silent on the issue of women’s rights, and sometimes slipped into using derogatory, patriarchal language to describe women’s inequality with men. The shift from the republican-based discourse of Common Sense and the Crisis series (1776-1783) to the rights-based language of Rights of Man, Part I, seems to have pushed Paine toward a deeper philosophical consideration of women’s possession of the same natural rights as men. Much of what Paine argued in the later part of his career, especially in the second part of Rights of Man, Part II (1792) and Agrarian Justice (1797), either explicitly or implicitly endorses women’s equal rights with men, especially welfare rights but also political rights such as suffrage.
Keywords: Thomas Paine, women's rights, political theory, republicanism, liberalism, feminism
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