Skip to Main Content
Click text to edit
Add a note to this section

Passage Tools
  • Flag

Passage A

        Edmund Burke, the British writer of political
theory, believed government had been improved by every
preceding generation up to his own. He saw the
successive effort of early Greek democracies and
Byzantine emperors and the rules set forth by the Magna
Carta coalescing into a consummately effective—though
far from perfect—society. In his eyes, the British
Parliamentary system of his day represented the
realization of all of the efforts theretofore drawn
together by the work of Enlightenment philosophers in
the 18th century. It was the fullest expression of
liberty balanced with order yet known to man. A deep
sense of gratitude to his forbears reigned in every
word from his lips and from his pen.
        Due to this national pride and patriotism,
Burke's dismissal of the French Revolution brings
little surprise to the student of history. Yet, his
positive attitude toward the American Revolutionaries,
so uncommon in his time and station, was no less a
natural expression of his political stance.
        Years before the fateful July fourth, Burke
addressed the British House of Commons regarding the
trouble stirring far across the Atlantic. The British
had treated the American Englishmen unjustly, he
argued. Taxation without representation violated the
principles foundational to Parliament. Taking a long
and careful view of history, Burke believed that the
colonists had both tactical and ideological advantages;
they wielded the two-edged sword of power and virtue.
As long as the English people exploited their overseas
brethren, they could not hope to suppress the colonists
with violence.
        Burke's call to action went unheeded, and the
American Revolution began. Still appealing to his
perennial belief in the superiority of the
Parliamentary system of government, he pled with the
House, “As long as you have the wisdom to keep the
sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of
liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common
faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England
worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards
you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will
have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more
perfect will be their obedience. Slavery they can have
anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They
may have it from Spain, they may have it from Prussia.
But, until you become lost to all feeling of your true
interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can
have from none but you." Despite his wise words, the
English still sought to enslave the colonies, thereby
losing America.

Passage B

        A refugee torn from the prisons of the French
Revolution, political philosopher Thomas Paine ended
his life without the slightest loss of confidence in
the beauty and value of revolution. As he had stood
with America throughout his boyhood and early manhood,
Paine stood with France even as it sought to kill him.
For Paine, the world had been a brutal, unjust place
until the Enlightenment in the 1700s. In the light of
liberty and intellectual freedom, the dusty thrones and
inbred monarchy that filled Europe's ruling class
seemed a matter for history books rather than
        Paine championed these views and praised the
necessity of the American Revolution in his famous
pamphlet, Common Sense. Read in bars and parlors
throughout the colonies, the straightforward, sometimes
vulgar language of Paine's writings provided the
battle cry of an Enlightened people against the old,
cold ways of King George III. It argued that ordinary
people had not only the ability and the right to
contribute to the structure of their leadership, but
even the duty.
        What was true in America was doubly true in
France. A little over a decade after arguing the
American people into shuffling off the shackles of the
English monarchy, Paine joined what he saw as a
parallel effort in France. When the peasants deposed
the king and tore apart the structure of their
government, Paine lauded the end of tyranny. The
political philosopher joined the effort in France with
almost complete accord, although he did try to argue
against the execution of King Louis XVI, who had been
an ally to the Americans in their own fight for
independence. Even after that execution, Paine went on
to write headstrong defenses of the French Revolution
until the tides turned. In the unstable atmosphere of
the French political landscape, Paine soon found
himself on the wrong side of the ruling powers.
Imprisoned and sentenced to death, Paine relied on
allies from America and England to help him escape.
        Despite this accident of history, Paine refused
to speak against the French Revolution. To his death,
he continued to claim that individual safety and
stability ought to be sacrificed on the altar of
Choose the option that best answers the question.

In the fourth paragraph of Passage A (lines 33-51), the author quotes Burke's speech to Parliament primarily to emphasize the fact that: