- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

Common Sense

Essay by   •  February 15, 2011  •  Essay  •  1,842 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,734 Views

Essay Preview: Common Sense

Report this essay
Page 1 of 8

It is hard to believe that a mere pamphlet could change the course of a nation indefinitely. After the Revolutionary War had begun, most Americans favored reconciliation with England. Most Americans still considered themselves to be loyal British subjects, and were willing to continue to do so if only the King would correct his most grievous transgressions. In early 1776, colonists suddenly began to support the idea of American independence. This dramatic change can be largely attributed to the work of one man, Thomas Paine. In "Common Sense," Paine tries to convince people that the time for debate was over and that it was now time for American Colonists to raise arms against England Using the language of the common man, Paine challenged many preconceived notions about government and the colonies' relationship to England. His prose forcefully reversed all presumptions that kept Americans clinging to England. Being an Englishman himself, he drew on his past experiences in England to expose the corruption and vile nature of the British monarchy and to encourage Americans to fight for independence. The ideas he invokes in his readers were truly revolutionary at the time of publication of "Common Sense," and today it is regarded as one of the most influential documents of political literature, as the writing that sparked an American Revolution.

To truly understand Thomas Paine's work, you must first understand the context in which he grew up because many of the ideas presented in his works stemmed from his past experiences. Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, England in 1737 to Joseph and Frances Pain. Religion became a key conflict in Paine's life, his father was a Quaker and his mother was Anglican. These conflicting beliefs led to Paine's skepticism and the feeling of being an outsider of religion. It is from this removed position that he studied the hypocrisies and absorbed the moral values of each. As an adult Paine became very critical of institutionalized Christianity. The influence Quakerism had on him was the quality of stubborn righteousness. Paine held firm to his position and was sure it was right even if every one else said he was wrong. Later on, his writings would challenge everything colonists believed to be right and just. It is this quality that makes his writings so controversial.

Paine also witnessed the brutality of English justice, most importantly "The Black Act." Growing up near an execution site, Gallows Hill, it is plausible that Paine shared in the horrible experience of witnessing state violence, and is perhaps where he acquired his sensitivity to injustice. It has been argued that this is where Paine first saw governmental abuse of power, which led to his distrust of governmental authority that riled Paine. In England at the time, the gap between rich and poor was quite significant. Very few fit the requirements to vote leaving only about thirty people in control of politics. The small amounts of voters were bribed and all sense of a representative government was shattered. This is the corruption that Paine witnessed and led him to detest the British Constitution. It was these experiences that led him to make controversial claims in "Common Sense" that English politics was morally dead. It was the brutality, injustice, and corruption of Thetford that led Paine to become cynical about British politics and justice. Paine's life in England was a life of drinking, despair, and failed careers. He came to America in hopes of starting a new life where his talents would be recognized. He quickly found work as a writer and editor.

Paine advocated a liberal world view, considered radical in his day. He dismissed monarchy, and viewed all government as, at best, a necessary evil. He opposed slavery and was amongst the earliest proponents of social security, universal free public education, a guaranteed minimum wage, and many other radical ideas now common practice in most western democracies. His revolutionary ideas led people to risk everything they had in a war against the most formidable military power in the world (2). Equally revolutionary was Paine's emphasis on equality of opportunity and equality before the law. He wrote of equality instead of the "liberty" that most other writers were preoccupied with (34).

Paine believed that the choice presented to Americans was simple: "either stand up to the invader, the plunderer, the ruffian, or lose everything." This concept of revolting in itself makes "Common Sense" revolutionary. He boldly identified Great Britain as the enemy, and encouraged Americans to stand up and fight against the British. In late 1775, Paine had begun what was to become a 50-page Pamphlet known as Common Sense. Fighting with Britain had been under way for some nine months before publication of the pamphlet, but the political direction of the revolution was not yet clear. For many, "Common Sense" crystallized the revolution's goals.

In this work, Paine stated, "Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil." This very biting and controversial stance is what characterized "Common Sense." He goes on to dismiss the King as a fool, and stated that natural ability is not necessarily related to heredity. Paine argued that the colonies existed only for British profit, and that the colonies must unite quickly if they were ever to form a single nation. Paine argued that the only way to gain the rights desired by the colonists and help from outside powers was to claim total independence. The voicing of the need for the Colonies to break from the mother country exhibits the true spirit of rebellion. Paine was quite sure that a separation was needed and that, since the early violence of the Revolutionary War had already broken out, it was entirely necessary to do it with all possible expediency. In Paine's own words, "Until an independence is declared, the continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business...and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity." In short, the welfare of America, as well as its destiny, in Paine's view, demanded steps toward immediate independence.

At the time of publication, the nation was struggling with alternative option of reconciliation with Britain and how they should be governed. "Common Sense" traces the origin of government to a human desire to restrain lawlessness. Paine argues that government can be diverted to corrupt purposes by the people who created it. Therefore, the simpler the government, the easier it is for the people to discover its weakness and make the necessary adjustments. The monarchy, Paine asserted, had corrupted virtue, impoverished the nation, weakened the voice



Download as:   txt (11.1 Kb)   pdf (130.2 Kb)   docx (13.2 Kb)  
Continue for 7 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2011, 02). Common Sense. Retrieved 02, 2011, from

"Common Sense" 02 2011. 2011. 02 2011 <>.

"Common Sense.", 02 2011. Web. 02 2011. <>.

"Common Sense." 02, 2011. Accessed 02, 2011.