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Thomas Paine’s Republicanism and the French Revolution

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Representative Paradigm or Marginal Thought?

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This article addresses Paine’s participation in the French Revolution, which has been largely either overlooked or caricatured by most scholars. It examines why the speeches he delivered and the writings he published in France during the various stages of the shift from monarchy to republic are significant and why they should not be merely considered as “a nice footnote to the politics of the Gironde” as Michael Walzer stated. My contention is that Paine’s contribution to the debates on republican institutions and on republican questions at key moments of the French Revolution after 1792 needs to be reappraised and is not marginal even if it has been marginalized. Paine’s viewpoint was seen as important by major agents of the Revolution either because it confirmed their own positions or because it contradicted them, which meant they had to defend these positions, as was the case in 1795 during the debate on the post-Thermidorian Constitution. Paine’s authority was used and exploited by his French political allies as well as by his French opponents. Paine’s republicanism is part of the history of the French Revolution and should be part of its historiography.

Affiliations: 1: University of Rouen and University Paris-Diderot,


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