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The Thomas Paine Society UK Summer Symposium

Thomas Paine: Statehood 

Prof. Jonathan Clark

Interpreting Thomas Paine

Prof. Steve Poole

Paine: History as burden?

Thomas Paine Society Symposium

11 June 2016 in the Royal Society of Medicine

1 Wimpole Street London W1G 0AE


9.30. Welcome and Introduction to the Symposium by the Society’s Chairman Professor Bill Speck who gave a short talk: ‘Tom Paine and the State’.

10.00. Professor Jonathan Clark, University of Kansas: ‘Interpreting Thomas Paine’.

11.00. Professor Steve Poole, University of the West of England:

‘Paine, Thelwall and the Spenceans: History as burden?’

2.00 – 2.30. Introduction to the afternoon session by the Society’s Treasurer, Paul Myles : Paul is a DPhil student at the University of St Andrews writing about Thomas Paine in Lewes gave a short talk: ‘The Case of the Officers of Excise’

2.30 – 3.30. Professor Alasdair Smith: ‘Tax revenue, good government and the Wealth of Nations’

3.30 – 4.30. Professor Richard Whatmore, University of St Andrews,

‘Thomas Paine and the failures of states’.

Synopsis of the talks

Professor Jonathan Clark, University of Kansas

Interpreting Thomas Paine

"Jonathan Clark is just completing a monograph on the social and political thought of Thomas Paine, which will be the first such study by a member of the 'Cambridge School' of the history of political thought. In this presentation he offers a preview of some of the results of his research. and provides two specific examples in the areas of slavery and natural rights theory”.

Professor Steve Poole, University of the West of England

Paine, Thelwall and the Spenceans: history as burden?

Paine famously bucked the trend amongst proponents of reform in the 1790s by detaching himself from arguments about historical precedent and replacing them with the more abstract logic of natural rights and legitimate government. However much they revered and circulated ‘Rights of Man’ however, most other radical propagandists of the period found the lure of an anglo-saxon ‘golden age’, magna carta and the 1689 revolutionary settlement too bewitching to disregard and insisted that they were not concerned with changing the constitution but restoring it. These differences distinguished Paine from LCS stalwarts like Thelwall and Baxter for example, and led, in the post-war Spencean movement, to a constitutional theory of armed conflict in which reform and resistance were conflated. This talk explores the value and uses of history to the popular reform movement in England, c.1790-1816.

Professor Alasdair Smith is a professor of economics and was Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sussex also a former Chair of the 1994 Group . He is a noted international economist whose studies (often developed in concert with fellow economist Tony Venables ) have been used by the European Union . He became a Deputy Chair of the Competition Commission in 2012 and is now an inquiry chair at the Competition and Markets Authority .

‘Tax revenue, good government and the Wealth of Nations’.

Thomas Paine’s “Case of the officers of excise” is a demand for higher pay from a group of workers. But it’s also an early contribution to thinking about the financing of the state and the role of the state in economic development. Only two years after the publication of Paine’s pamphlet, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. Smith is not a supporter of the minimal state – he sees the state as having an important role in supporting the market economy, and discusses how the state should be financed. I’ll talk about how the ideas of Paine and Smith have contemporary relevance, reflected in the recent influential work of Acemoglu and Robinson

Professor Richard Whatmore is Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews, and Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History. He is the author of Republicanism and the French Revolution(Oxford, 2000) and Against War and Empire: Geneva, Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century (Yale, 2012).

Thomas Paine and the failures of states

Thomas Paine is famous for promoting a republic based on the equality of political rights, economic justice, and the social improvement of every citizen. One problem Paine faced was how to get to a world in which politics was practised in accordance with the rights of man. After an initial confidence in the capacity of revolutions to transform states without violence, Paine began to accept that global war by revolutionary states (France and North America) against corrupt states (Britain) was the only way to change the world. When this strategy began to fail, he began to argue that the revolutionaries themselves in France and in North America had failed in their statecraft. In short, Paine's ideal republic had to act in a very particular way, especially with regard to war and peace.

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