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Common Sense

Thomas Paine

Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs in America

Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

On the Present Ability of America, with some Miscellaneous Reflections

Summary

Paine asks the reader to set aside his or her prejudices and judge the comments he is about to make about the situation with an evenhanded manner. He says that while some have argued that because America has flourished under British rule, it is necessary for America to remain tightly bound to Britain. Paine likens this argument to saying that because a baby has flourished on milk, it should never eat meat. Furthermore, he argues that the situation in the colonies would have been even better had various European countries not exerted their power over America.

It is argued that Britain has protected the colonies, but Paine points out that Britain protected the colonies for its own financial gain, not out of altruism. Additionally if the colonies had not been dependent on Britain, then they would no longer be enemies with countries that are enemies of Britain. Therefore, Paine argues, the very condition of being Britain's colony is what brought about the need for protection in the first place.

Paine also argues that the fact that many Americans are of British descent is irrelevant, as Britain, being an enemy, has no legitimate claim to American allegiance. Reconciliation is not the duty of the colonies. If it were, Paine says, than Britain, half of whose people are of French descent, ought to submit itself to the rule of the French. Paine contends that America will gain nothing by remaining attached to Britain, and that the financial burdens America's present relations with the British impose on some citizens is monumental. Bostonians, for example, are constantly threatened with the theft of their property by British soldiers.

Paine also argues that reconciliation with the British will only cause the present situation to repeat itself. Paine says that it will be impossible to return to a state of peace and normalcy under British rule after the battles and financial oppression that have occurred. It is misguided to think that the British will not again impose an oppressive tax. After all, they reintroduced unfair tariffs a year or two after repealing the Stamp Act. Paine states that America is too large and complex to be governed by Britain. American commerce cannot be managed from afar. He adds that it is perverse that a small island should be ruling over a large continent.

Paine says that for the colonist not to seek full independence will only temporarily end the struggle, and that the children of those currently in power will later be forced to take up arms against the British. Is that the legacy to leave the children of America? For a while, Paine admits that he thought it possible that reconciliation might occur. However, after the battle of Lexington and Concord, it became clear to him that the situation had deteriorated too much for a reconciliation to occur.

Paine begins to set out the details of what he sees as the proper form of government for America. He offers a way of choosing the congress and President and recommends the convening of a "Continental Conference" to produce a "Continental Charter" that will lay down certain laws for the union and ensure the protection of certain fundamental rights. Paine says that the law should reign sovereign in America, and that it is important that the most fundamental laws be inscribed in a constitution. He ends this section with an impassioned plea to break free of the tyranny of the British.

Analysis

Many of Paine's arguments are bound up in pictures and metaphors. The metaphors serve a few purposes. First of all, they make the pamphlet more appealing to a larger audience. Second, the metaphors simplify complex arguments by likening them to familiar concepts. When Paine refutes the argument that because America has flourished under British rule it must remain under British rule, he says this is tantamount to saying that a baby must never eat meat since it has flourished so far on only milk. Paine is arguing that political arrangements that have been successful for America in the past will not necessarily be successful in the future, and he makes this point more convincing by presenting it as a concrete example, rather than a theoretical abstraction.

At the core of Paine's argument is the notion that amicable relations with Britain simply cannot exist, and as long as the colonies remain subservient to the crown, they will be mistreated. To make this point, Paine references the Stamp Act of 1765, wherein Parliament imposed taxes on a variety of printed materials. One might, Paine implicitly argues, have hoped for a reconciliation after Parliament responded to American protest by revoking the tax, but by 1767, Parliament imposing a new round of taxes on a large range of goods in the colonies.

The governmental structure that Paine proposes is interesting for the relative power it appropriates to the colonies. Paine says that each colony should be divided into districts, each of which ought to send delegates to Congress. The president will be chosen from one specific colony, and in the next election, a different colony will be chosen. This process should be repeated until a president has come from each colony. Paine's system gives the colonies tremendous power and, on a national scale, is less democratic, affording less power per capita to those states with large populations.

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Theme: America as an Example of Democracy

by awritersjourney, July 04, 2013

Originally the paragon of the Ancient Greeks, democracy returns to the Western World with its advent in the Americas. Paine argues that for America to assume this type of government it would serve as an example for the rest of the Western World which is run by monarchies. As part of the "New World", Pain suggests, America now has the opportunity to practice better government institutions that will allow all individuals "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Theme: America as an Example of Democracy

by awritersjourney, July 04, 2013

Originally the paragon of the Ancient Greeks, democracy returns to the Western World with its advent in the Americas. Paine argues that for America to assume this type of government it would serve as an example for the rest of the Western World which is run by monarchies. As part of the "New World", Pain suggests, America now has the opportunity to practice better government institutions that will allow all individuals "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Theme: America as an Example of Democracy

by awritersjourney, July 04, 2013

Originally the paragon of the Ancient Greeks, democracy finds its new home in the beginnings America. Paine argues that this form of government can begin the change in the "New World" for better institutions of government. America, as a beacon of the democratic system, ultimately has the potential to provide all of its citizens with a chance for " life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

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