Skip over navigation

Common Sense

Thomas Paine

On the Present Ability of America, with some Miscellaneous Reflections

Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs in America

Appendix to Common Sense

Summary

Paine asserts that it is universally acknowledged that America will ultimately separate from Britain, and that the only issue about which anyone disagrees is when this separation will occur. Paine says the time is now, as America has a large number of able men ready to fight in battle. The colonies have the force and the will to break free. Paine also says that the cost of the war can only be justified if the result is complete freedom. It is not worth undertaking the present battle simply for the repeal of some tax laws.

Paine says that America is well suited to raise a navy that can rival even the British. Paine gives detailed calculations estimating the cost at roughly 3.5 million pounds sterling. America currently has no national debt and could certainly afford this miniscule debt. Furthermore, Paine argues, America produces the natural resources necessary to undertake the construction of such a navy, and America's coasts are alarmingly unprotected. This navy would both further the commercial prospects of America and provide essential defense. Paine says that the British Navy is spread throughout the world, attending to the various colonies of the Empire, and that an American navy would need only concern itself with protecting the Atlantic coast.

If the British continue to rule in America, Paine says, the country will deteriorate. Independence is necessary now while so little of the continent is inhabited. Rather than having the king give out parcels of land to the British elite, it would be better for the colonies to exercise control over their own continent. This land could be used to all sorts of advantages, such as paying down debt. Furthermore, Paine argues, the colonies are now small enough to be united. If too much time elapses, greater numbers of people will occupy a greater part of America. They will be less cohesive, and less willing to work together to declare independence.

Paine concludes with a list of four reasons that he thinks demonstrate that the only course of action for the colonies is to pursue complete independence: no country will be able to mediate the dispute between America and Britain as long as America is seen as a part of Britain; neither France nor Spain will help the colonies if they think that their help will be used by the colonists to repair relations with Britain; other countries see the colonies as rebels if they are still part of Britain; and by declaring independence, the colonies could begin to reap the benefits of international alliances and trade.

Until the colonies declare independence from Britain, "the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity."

Analysis

For Americans in 1776, Britain appeared to be an all-powerful world empire. Many could simply not fathom the idea that the colonies could break free of the world's largest empire. For this reason, Paine addresses the issue of America's small size. To demonstrate that America is not too small to take on the British, Paine considers the issue of naval power. Undertaking detailed calculations, he shows that the Americans could build a Navy to rival Britain. Since the British navy was seen as unbeatable, the notion that America might build as strong a navy would have carried significant weight for Paine's contemporaries. For this reason, Paine explores the issue in detail, explaining how much each element of a navy would cost to build and explaining where America would acquire the raw materials to undertake construction. By laying out a detailed plan of how America could build a navy to rival Britain's, Paine makes a more convincing case that America can do what many would consider impossible.

Paine also deals with the perception that such a small group of colonies cannot fight the imperial giants by arguing that, rather than being a liability, America's small size actually makes the time perfect for the colonies to seek independence. Paine explains that America's small size makes the colonies fairly cohesive. If there were more American colonies, they would be less united and, hence, less willing to band together to fight for independence. Paine also says that if the colonies seek their independence now, they will be able to appropriate the rest of the land on the continent for their own use. If they wait, the king will only seize control of more land, handing it to the British elite.

More Help

Previous Next
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."

Follow Us