Paine thinks of society as everything good that comes out of people living and working together. It is the state of affairs whereby people collaborate to bring about positive aims.


Government, according to Paine, is the force that aims to keep people from acting in accordance with their vices. Its existence is the unfortunate consequence of the fact that people sometimes act in evil ways.

Stamp Act

Passed by Parliament in 1765, the Stamp Act levied a tax on a large body of printed material in the colonies. The tax was aimed at recouping some of the large costs incurred by the British in the French and Indian War. This tax was met with great resistance by the colonists, who refused to buy stamps, rioted, and threatened tax-collectors. Furthermore, delegates from nine states convened at a Stamp Act Congress in order to voice a unified protest against the king. Parliament repealed the Act, although it also issued a Declaratory Act in 1766, asserting its right to tax the colonies.


The notion that the colonies should attempt to resolve the dispute with Britain and remain a part of the British empire. Even after hostilities first broke out, there was a strong sentiment among Americans that it was unnecessary to break completely free of Britain. Many still felt a loyalty to the monarchy and thought it possible to come to a peaceful agreement with the British. This position, which was common in 1776, is the viewpoint that Paine wrote Common Sense to oppose.

Hereditary Succession

The notion that the power to rule as a legitimate king should be passed down by blood relations. This idea legitimated the passing on of the monarchy in Britain from father to son for generations on end. The idea also pervaded other areas of British society, where people were often seen as being born into a certain position in life, and limited to living the same lives as their parents.


The unlawful or unjustified seizure of the power to govern. In the context of Paine's argument, this comes up in the discussion of British royal power.