Common Sense (pamphlet)

Common Sense (pamphlet)

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Common Sense (pamphlet)'
Start a new discussion about 'Common Sense (pamphlet)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Common Sense is a pamphlet
Pamphlet
A pamphlet is an unbound booklet . It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths , or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book...

 written by Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

. It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, during the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. Common Sense, signed "Written by an Englishman", became an immediate success. In relation to the population of the Colonies at that time, it had the largest sale and circulation of any book in American history. Common Sense presented the American colonists with an argument for freedom from British
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided. Paine wrote and reasoned in a style that common people understood; forgoing the philosophy and Latin references used by Enlightenment era
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 writers, Paine structured Common Sense like a sermon
Sermon
A sermon is an oration by a prophet or member of the clergy. Sermons address a Biblical, theological, religious, or moral topic, usually expounding on a type of belief, law or behavior within both past and present contexts...

 and relied on Biblical references to make his case to the people. He connected independence with common dissenting Protestant beliefs as a means to present a distinctly American political identity. Historian Gordon S. Wood
Gordon S. Wood
Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University and the recipient of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution. His book The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 won a 1970 Bancroft Prize...

 described Common Sense as, "the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era."

Publication history


Thomas Paine began work on Common Sense in late 1775 under the working title of Plain Truth. With the help of Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush was a Founding Father of the United States. Rush lived in the state of Pennsylvania and was a physician, writer, educator, humanitarian and a Christian Universalist, as well as the founder of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania....

, who suggested the title Common Sense and helped edit and publish, Paine developed his ideas into a forty-eight page pamphlet. Paine published Common Sense anonymously because of its treasonous content. Printed and sold by R. Bell, Third Street, Philadelphia, it sold as many as 120,000 copies in the first three months, 500,000 in the first year, and went through twenty-five editions in the first year alone. Paine donated his royalties from Common Sense to George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

's Continental Army
Continental Army
The Continental Army was formed after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War by the colonies that became the United States of America. Established by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775, it was created to coordinate the military efforts of the Thirteen Colonies in...

, saying:

Sections


Four sections are noted on the title page, which quotes James Thomson's poem "Liberty" (1735–36):

I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in general, with concise Remarks on the English Constitution.


Paine begins this section by making a distinction between society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 and government
Government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

, and then goes on to consider the relationship between government and society in a state of "natural liberty". He next tells a story of a few isolated people living in nature without government, and explains that the people find it easier to live together rather than apart; thus, they create a society. As the society grows, problems arise, and the people meet to make regulations in order to mitigate the problems. As the society continues to grow, a government becomes necessary to enforce these regulations, which over time, turn into laws. Soon, there are so many people within the society that they cannot all gather in one place to make the laws, so they begin holding elections. This, Paine argues, is the best balance between government and society. Having created this model of what the balance should be, Paine goes on to consider the Constitution of the United Kingdom
Constitution of the United Kingdom
The constitution of the United Kingdom is the set of laws and principles under which the United Kingdom is governed.Unlike many other nations, the UK has no single core constitutional document. In this sense, it is said not to have a written constitution but an uncodified one...

.

Paine finds two tyrannies in the English constitution; monarchical and aristocratic tyranny, in the king and peers, who rule by heredity and contribute nothing to the people. Paine goes on to criticize the English constitution by examining the relationship between the king
King
- Centers of population :* King, Ontario, CanadaIn USA:* King, Indiana* King, North Carolina* King, Lincoln County, Wisconsin* King, Waupaca County, Wisconsin* King County, Washington- Moving-image works :Television:...

, the peers
Peerage
The Peerage is a legal system of largely hereditary titles in the United Kingdom, which constitute the ranks of British nobility and is part of the British honours system...

, and the commons.

II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession.


In the second section Paine considers monarchy
Monarchy
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

 first from a biblical perspective, then from a historical perspective. He begins by arguing that all men are equal at creation and therefore the distinction between kings and subjects is a false one. Several Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 verses are posed to support this claim. Paine then examines some of the problems that kings and monarchies have caused in the past and concludes:
In this section, Paine also attacks one type of "mixed state" the constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

 promoted by John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 in which the powers of government are separated between a Parliament or Congress that makes the laws, and a monarch who executes them. The constitutional monarchy, according to Locke, would limit the powers of the king sufficiently to ensure that the realm would remain lawful rather than easily become tyrannical. According to Paine, however, such limits are insufficient. In the mixed state, power will tend to concentrate into the hands of the monarch, permitting him eventually to transcend any limitations placed upon him. Paine questions why the supporters of the mixed state, since they concede that the power of the monarch is dangerous, wish to include a monarch in their scheme of government in the first place.

III. Thoughts on the present State of American Affairs.


In the third section Paine examines the hostilities between England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and the American colonies and argues that best course of action is independence. Paine proposes a Continental Charter (or Charter of the United Colonies) that would be an American Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

. Paine writes that a Continental Charter "should come from some intermediate body between the Congress and the people" and outlines a Continental Conference that could draft a Continental Charter. Each colony would hold elections for five representatives; these five would be accompanied by two members of the colonies assembly, for a total of seven representatives from each colony in the Continental Conference. The Continental Conference would then meet and draft a Continental Charter that would secure “freedom and property to all men, and… the free exercise of religion.” The Continental Charter would also outline a new national government, which Paine thought would take the form of a Congress.

Thomas Paine suggested that a Congress may be created in the following way: Each colony should be divided in districts; each district would "send a proper number of delegates to Congress". Paine thought that each state should send at least 30 delegates to Congress, and that the total number of delegates in Congress should be at least 390. The Congress would meet annually, and elect a President. Each colony would be put into a lottery; the President would be elected, by the whole Congress, from the delegation of the colony that was selected in the lottery. After a colony was selected it would be removed from subsequent lotteries until all of the colonies had been selected, at which point the lottery would start anew. Electing a President or passing a law would require three-fifths of the Congress.

IV. On the Present Ability of America, with some Miscellaneous Reflections.


The fourth section of the pamphlet includes Paine's optimistic view of America's military potential at the time of the Revolution. For example, he spends pages describing how colonial shipyards, by using the large amounts of lumber available in the country, could quickly create a navy that could rival the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

.

Paine's arguments against British rule

  • It was absurd for an island to rule a continent.
  • America was not a "British nation"; it was composed of influences and peoples from all of Europe.
  • Even if Britain were the "mother country" of America, that made her actions all the more horrendous, for no mother would harm her children so brutally.
  • Being a part of Britain would drag America into unnecessary European wars
    Seven Years' War
    The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

    , and keep it from the international commerce at which America excelled.
  • The distance between the two nations made governing the colonies from England unwieldy. If some wrong were to be petitioned to Parliament
    Parliament of the United Kingdom
    The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

    , it would take a year before the colonies received a response.
  • The New World
    New World
    The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

     was discovered shortly before the Reformation
    Protestant Reformation
    The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

    . The Puritan
    Puritan
    The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

    s believed that God wanted to give them a safe haven
    Massachusetts Bay Colony
    The Massachusetts Bay Colony was an English settlement on the east coast of North America in the 17th century, in New England, situated around the present-day cities of Salem and Boston. The territory administered by the colony included much of present-day central New England, including portions...

     from the persecution of British rule.
  • Britain ruled the colonies for its own benefit
    Mercantilism
    Mercantilism is the economic doctrine in which government control of foreign trade is of paramount importance for ensuring the prosperity and security of the state. In particular, it demands a positive balance of trade. Mercantilism dominated Western European economic policy and discourse from...

    , and did not consider the best interests of the colonists in governing them.

Impact


There were at least two reasons why Paine's brief pamphlet is believed to be "the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era". For one, while the average Colonist was more educated than their European counterpart, European and Colonial elites agreed that common people had no place in government or political debates. By aiming for a popular audience, and writing in a straightforward and simple way, Paine made political ideas tangible for a common audience. This brought average Americans into political debate, creating a whole new political language. Illiterate colonists could hear Common Sense read at public gatherings, thus bringing even the illiterate into this new political world. Paine's new style of political writing avoided using complex Latin phrases, instead opting for a more direct, concise style that helped make the information accessible to all. Thusly, Paine's "incendiary" words were heard even by those common folk who had never learned to read. The second reason involves the way the vast majority of people felt about the idea of independence from British rule. Except for a few radical thinkers, the people of the colonies were "up on the fence" about freedom. Individuals were in conflict with themselves. There were those who were leaning toward reconciliation with the king. George Trevelyan
Sir George Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet
Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet OM, PC was a British statesman and author. In a ministerial career stretching almost 30 years, he was most notably twice Secretary of State for Scotland under William Ewart Gladstone and the Earl of Rosebery...

 in his History of the American Revolution had this to say about Paine's pamphlet:

There were those in high places who, while in agreement with Paine's sentiments, voiced criticism of his method. John Adams
John Adams
John Adams was an American lawyer, statesman, diplomat and political theorist. A leading champion of independence in 1776, he was the second President of the United States...

, who would succeed George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 to become the new nation's 2nd president, in his Thoughts on Government
Thoughts on Government
Thoughts on Government, or in full Thoughts on Government, Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies, was written by John Adams during the spring of 1776 in response to a resolution of the North Carolina Provincial Congress which requested Adams's suggestions on the establishment of...

wrote that Paine's ideal sketched in Common Sense was "so democratical, without any restraint or even an attempt at any equilibrium or counter poise, that it must produce confusion and every evil work". In spite of Adams' formidable influence, most people praised Paine's brief work. The editors of The Thomas Paine Reader, Michael Foot
Michael Foot
Michael Mackintosh Foot, FRSL, PC was a British Labour Party politician, journalist and author, who was a Member of Parliament from 1945 to 1955 and from 1960 until 1992...

 and Isaac Kramnick
Isaac Kramnick
Isaac Kramnick is an American historian, social scientist and the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government at Cornell University. He is a subject-matter expert on English and American political thought and history.-Research:...

, in their introduction to Common Sense wrote:

The impact of Paine's thin little pamphlet upon the general call for independence, upon the other Founding Fathers
Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, establishing the United States Constitution, or by some...

 and their construction of the Declaration of Independence
Declaration of independence
A declaration of independence is an assertion of the independence of an aspiring state or states. Such places are usually declared from part or all of the territory of another nation or failed nation, or are breakaway territories from within the larger state...

, and upon the common folk, many of whom would soon join General Washington to fight the British military, was quickly spread and deeply felt. The moving words of Common Sense virtually knocked colonists down off the fence and into the fight for freedom of a new nation, into the American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

.

See also

  • The Age of Reason
    The Age of Reason
    The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a deistic pamphlet, written by eighteenth-century British radical and American revolutionary Thomas Paine, that criticizes institutionalized religion and challenges the legitimacy of the Bible, the central sacred text of...

    , also written by Thomas Paine.
  • American philosophy
    American philosophy
    American philosophy is the philosophical activity or output of Americans, both within the United States and abroad. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that while American philosophy lacks a "core of defining features, American Philosophy can nevertheless be seen as both reflecting and...

  • American Revolution
    American Revolution
    The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...


External links