Thomas Paine's Common Sense

November 30, 2008
By Ben Tingle, Ellenwood, GA

On January 10, 1776 Thomas Paine anonymously enfranchised the forty-seven page pamphlet, Common Sense in the Pennsylvania Magazine. This was his most influential work that triggered the American Revolution and the French Revolution. In Common Sense he tries to convince people that succession from British monarchy was not only inevitable, but justified, and that it was time for American colonists to raise arms against British control. Before he had written this pamphlet, Great Britain had ratified many taxes that were costly to the American people such as the Sugar and Stamp Acts. There had been rebellious outbursts to the acts such as the Boston Tea Party, however, it was only when Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was released that the American people placed their blame for their suffering on Great Britain’s monarch, George III. Overall, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was important because it was able to state what the American people generally felt about the current situation with Great Britain and inspire them to fight for their independence.

When Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense he was a British immigrant of a working-class background. His previous occupations before coming to America included corset making, privateering, tax collecting, preaching, teaching, labor campaigning, and shop keeping, “punctuated by bouts of poverty, the loss of two wives, political defeat, business bankruptcy, and dismissal from government service (twice).” However, what may have inspired Paine to write formally about inequality were his parents, Joseph and Frances. Joseph was a corset maker and Quaker and Frances was a lawyer and an Anglican.

In Thomas Paine’s work Common Sense, uses the hypothetical situation of a small group of people being placed on an island. He continues with the fact that law making become inevitable and that when the people do make laws, that they feel better about them because they know that it is in their best interest for the laws to exist. Basically, he says that democracy is the only government system that can work for this future country. From there, Paine discusses the evils of monarchy and hereditary succession.

Man was born into a state of equality and that the distinction between king and subject is unnatural. Because of Paine’s previous occupation of a preacher, he was able to make biblical references. The one he used for Common Sense was an event when the Jews wanted a king. And as Paine just stated that it was unnatural, it angered God, but he let them have one anyway. From an analytical standpoint, this was a very clever way to put the Christian people of America into a state of severe hatred toward monarchy and hereditary succession. Also, it caused the people to think that having a king was unholy and that they did not need one in order to stimulate economic growth.

Some people said that Great Britain has helped and supported America, but Paine responds by saying that they only looked over us to ensure there own personal economic welfare. This soon extinguished any love still had by the “good little English men and women.” He later says that any problems we face now or have faced, will continue to haunt us because British control has not helped America resolve any quarrels it has encountered. In the final statements of Common Sense, Paine delivers the fact that if Great Britain could build a navy and become a world power, so can America, and also that if America were to prosper long term that it would have to be seen internationally by conducting alliances with other countries which were not allowed under British control.

This pamphlet soon stirred the colonists to strengthen their resolution to fight British control. This resulted in the first successful ant colonial action in modern history. Simply, it had changed the American attitude so that they would do something. George Washington even said to his secretary Colonel Joseph Reed that it was “working a powerful change there in the minds of men.” It was so powerful that the spirit of the argument of the pamphlet would find it’s way into the Declaration of Independence. However, because of he chose to be anonymous with this work, many people asked the question, “Who is the author of Common Sense?” Many people guessed major revolutionaries like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Samuel Adams.

The pamphlet Common Sense has been proclaimed, “…one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language.” This is a well deserved title considering all of the outstanding ideas it has provided. Because of this pamphlet, the American people were able to see why they did not need Great Britain in order to stimulate economic growth, and also what needed to be done about the current problems raging on with Great Britain. This thirty-nine year old man who held many occupations and was tossed through years of unfortunate failures was able to inspire two Revolutions against his homeland Great Britain and their tempestuous taxations and practice of inequality. The spirit of what Thomas Paine was trying to accomplish was easily accumulated into his inspiring quote, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

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