Common Sense Essay (HISTORY 121)

Thomas Paine’s publication of Common Sense.

The impact of Thomas Paine’s publication of Common Sense on the United States of America is stratospheric and his words are echoed by many patriots still today. This is due to the vast knowledge and philosophy many Americans value today in protecting the constitution and the rights delegated in the country’s founding document. Thomas Paine dives into numerous discussions and reasons as to why the colonies of North America should declare independence against great Britain. Some of the most stressed reasons include simple reasoning and the basic understanding that under the royal crown, there is the elite, then the lower class being abused by the throne. The overwhelming theme in Common Sense is that the American people deserve freedom from Great Britain and a democracy for the civilian to limit the abuse of the government’s power. Specifically, Paine rationalizes that the colonies should recede from Great Britain because dictatorship constructed through the constitution is toxic and excessively corrupt, with a large number of greater issues that stem from this system and a country ruling another establishment from across an ocean.(1)

Paine utilizes simple facts and logic to get his point across about dictatorship being toxic to a governing body. The first glaring error in dictatorship is the election process, or lack thereof. Paine argues that the abuse of power stems from stale leadership at the top and the civilians not being able to elect a proper leader in favor of their beliefs(2). This causes leaders to remain on the throne for very long periods of time with no consequences for unjust ruling over the people. This rise in tension is the precursor for rebellions and civil wars. Paine goes on to specifically support this argument by listing the slew of wars England has been conflicted with. The unequal distribution of power has lead England to “eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions”(3), according to Paine. He recognizes that, that large amount of conflicts was primarily due to the people being dissatisfied with the government or the king. Perhaps that can be due to the Royal Throne being passed based on inheritance. The hereditary succession of the crown can lead to underdeveloped leadership from a ruler who otherwise would never be in charge in a democracy lead by the people who elect the best fit for the leadership position. Paine expressed his concern for this by stating, “To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and tho’ himself might deserve some decent degree of honours of his contemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them.”(4)

Although Paine uses logic and reasoning to present his issues with the royal government abusing it’s power, he faces many conflicting arguments against his in which he must answer with counter arguments to further support his statements against the motherland. In fact, the idea of England as the motherland is one argument Paine must debunk. He suggests many explanations against this notion. He points out that the American colonies have wide range of immigrants spanning across more countries than just England. Pennsylvania alone was less than a third of English immigrants (5). Paine continues the counter argument by explaining that even if Great Britain is considered the motherland by many, it does not dismiss the fact that the colonies naturally inherit the enemies of Great Britain through the affiliation of the country. By declaring independence, the American colonies could establish new trade relations with other countries and not wage wars with countries against Britain. The colonies have the resources and goods such as quality ships and corn to establish trade connections with European countries (6). Paine ultimately saw the colonies as an extension of Europe as a whole, not solely Great Britain. Specifically, he states this relationship as “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new World hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”(7)

Through Paine’s use of personal, biblical, and research information, he formulates a document that not only proposes his reason for declaration of independence, but also defends those points with counter arguments that are well thought out and written precisely. The overall message to readers can be summarized by the title of his work. He believes it is common sense for the people of the colonies to strive for independence from an intrusive and abusive government. The reader must be awoken to the subject and realize that in every way of life, the government of Great Britain is stripping the civilians of their natural-born rights by establishing a king and surrendering to his wishes, whether just or not. Paine wishes for a government that holds the law as king, rather than a person (8). Furthermore, those establishing such laws are members of an elected council by the civilians, not the elite of the same tyranny. To warn his fellow colonials of the severity of independence, Paine offers advice to bring all of his reasons together on one focused point. Paine instructs that “Ye that oppose independence now, ye know not what ye do; ye are opening a door to eternal tyranny, by keeping vacant the seat of government.”(9) Therefore, the time has come for the colonies to break away from Great Britain and officially declare their independence.

  1. Thomas Paine, Common Sense and Related Writings, ed. Thomas P. Slaughter (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001), 78.
  2. Paine, 82.
  3. Paine, 85.
  4. Paine, 82.
  5. Paine, 89.
  6. Paine, 93.
  7. Paine, 88.
  8. Paine, 98.
  9. Paine, 99.