Common Sense, Thomas Paine


Thomas Paine, Common Sense (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010 [1776])

Paine’s famous pamphlet on why the colonists should rebel against the English monarchy is broken six sections: Introduction; Of the Origin and Design of Government in General. With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution; Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession; Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs; Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections; Appendix, with an Address to the People Called Quakers. The major purpose of the pamphlet is to argue that the appropriate time to rebel against the monarchy is now. To make his argument Paine:

1. differentiates society from government;
2. traces the imagined origin of government to show that democratic and republican forms are more natural the monarchies [here he argues that the Bible does not endorse monarchies];
3. claims that “Mankind being originally equal in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance” (10);
4. that monarchy originated by force and that hereditary succession is stupid;
5. that therefore, the colonies have the right to rebel.

He believes that now is the time to rebel because separation from England will come sooner or later. Rather than wait for later when the colonies themselves might be divided now is the right moment to rebel since they are united.

He lays out a system of republican government and claims “that in America THE LAW IS KING” (36). He also argues that taking on a national debt is essential for winning national independence writing, “No nation ought to be without a debt” (39). He thinks the debt is necessary to build a navy.

A few choice quotes:

“Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason” (1).

“England, since the conquest, hath known some few good monarchs, but groaned beneath a much larger number of bad ones; yet no man in his senses can say that their claim under William the Conquerer is a very honorable one. A French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original–It certainly hath no divinity in it” (16).

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