Here is an intro paragraph from a paper that was asked to consider whether individualism was an important value for early American political thinkers:
When Patrick Henry uttered the words that made him famous over two hundred years ago--"Give me liberty, or give me death"-- what brand of liberty was he speaking of? Was he referring to what John Winthrop terms 'natural liberty,' which is supposedly "incompatible and inconsistent with authority" (Winthrop, pg. 23)? Or was he instead referring to 'civil liberty,' a kind of liberty that "may also be termed moral, in reference to the politic covenants amongst men themselves" (Winthrop, pg. 23-4)? Although today we espouse individualism and individual liberty as among our most important values, early American leaders seemed much more concerned with the latter type of liberty Winthrop defines. This type of liberty places nation-building and national identity as the highest priorities and curbs the rights of individuals. It is my opinion that individualism was not the primary American value, and did not become an important consideration until after the establishment of our country, most noticeably with the introduction of the Bill of Rights. Early Americans arrived in the New World already placing much importance in the values of community and social welfare. Although individual religious freedom may have been a goal of early immigrants, the ideas of independence that define the "rugged individual" American ideal did not emerge until later in American history with the introduction of "laissez-faire" systems of economy and values. The commitment to national identity and social welfare can be seen in such documents as John Winthrop's and John Wise's arguments surrounding democracy, and in the words of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The Constitution shows the best example of the transition of value from community welfare to individual freedoms in the ten amendments better knows as the Bill of Rights.
Part of the value of the paragraph is that it takes risks which, when handled badly, would count as flaws. First, it flirts with a cliche: quoting Patrick Henry -- whom the class had not discussed -- has undoubtedly opened more bad papers than good ones. However, the writer immediately connects it plausibly to class readings. In other words, the message of the opening is: "Here's what you've heard about early America, but here's how things are more complicated."
The second potential problem with the paragraph is that it is very long. It is easy to ramble on in the introduction and confuse the reader; this writer manages to keep the central thesis and the structure of the argument-to-come at the center. The author does plan to take on a lot for a 7-page paper -- I would have opted for fewer focal points -- but thanks to the tightness of the argument, pulls it off and writes a great paper.
For example, the author is attentive to nuances, seeing both the similarities and differences between two thinkers many students saw as absolute opposites:
John Wise does not agree with Winthrop's assessment of proper government. In his mind, democracy is the system that is most necessary to build a new nation. However, his opinion regarding individualism as a value is similar to Winthrop's, in that he sees community stability and the first, and most pressing, priority. His explanation of what a democracy entails conveys this opinion. He declares, " A democracy is then erected when a number of free persons do assemble together in order to enter into a covenant for uniting themselves in a body" (Wise, pg. 27). Wise's purpose is clear-- the body that results from the uniting of 'free persons' is the ultimate goal. A democracy, which Wise considers the best form of government, can only be created when individuals surrender a part of their personal identities to unite into a common body.
The treatment of later thinkers is also convincing: a plausible interpretation, supported with good textual interpretation:
John Adams, too, regales the need to value the community before the individual. His concern regarding individualism is that, without a community check on individual liberties, power can become concentrated, and misused, in the hands of the few. He explains this further in his defense of the American Constitution. He argues,
It is become a kind of fashion among writers to admit, as a maxim, that if you could be always sure of a wise, active, and virtuous prince, monarchy would be the best of governments. But this is so far from being admissible that it will forever remain true that a free government has a great advantage over a simple monarchy· A senate consisting of all that is most noble, wealthy, and able in the nation· is a check to ministers and a security against abuses such as a body of nobles who never meet and have no such right can never supply (Adams, pg. 76). (Boldface emphasis added)
A free government could be solely committed to individualism; however, Adams remarks that the importance of a democratic government lies in its ability to provide a check against those who use their individual liberties to excess. Though it may never be blatantly stated, Franklin and Adams agree with John Winthrop's philosophy that natural liberty can be equally prone to evil as to good, and that humankind, though rational, is prone to self-interest.
The author's concluding paragraph wraps up the paper nicely by reminding the reader of the point of departure for the paper and of how the author complicated the picture:
Individualism is often conceived of as a core American value, and in the year 2000, I would argue that it does provide the basis for the modern 'American ideal.' However, a nation cannot initially come together if there is focus only upon individual needs and wants. In order to build a cohesive and unified 'American society,' the ultimate goal of a government, and of a people, must be the preservation of that unified ideal. Once our nation became a unified body with a common identity, individual liberty could then flourish. It is because the early Americans placed such an importance upon community value that we have the freedom to utilize individual liberties today. Had early Americans been unable to set aside the need for individual expression, we might not be so lucky.