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Thomas Paine’s journalism career proved to be incredibly useful shortly after moving to America from London with the help of Benjamin Franklin in 1774, as he had released a pamphlet labeled “Common Sense” in 1776 while the Second Continental Congress had been discussing independence in Philadelphia. Thomas Paine was an Anti-monarchist– meaning he did not agree with the ways of monarchy– and in love with the colonists’ idea of revolution and rebellion. However, not everyone shared his infatuation with the ideas of declaring independence, encouraging him to write and release his most well know pamphlet titled “Common Sense”. He begins by addressing the fact that while government is “a necessary evil” because the individual purpose of the government is to protect life, liberty, and property. He then moves on to distinguish between a government and a society, explaining that society is the good that comes from people joining together to make differences, and a government is an institution created to protect the people from the wrongdoings and corruptions that they may do or cause, which is what causes it to be considered a “necessary evil” that should be judged on what they are able to accomplish.
He then moves on to talk about a fictional scenario in which a group of people is placed and abandoned on an island, causing them to make connections with one another and eventually creating laws and rules for their community. The laws that they create appease everyone on the island because they were the ones who created them, and because they knew what they would be needing as well as what their community could benefit from, the laws were peacefully followed. He then applies this situation to the colonies, arguing that they would thrive if they created their own rules for the same reasons. In doing this he makes his opinions of the British government incredibly clear, vocalizing his thoughts that the British government is granted too much power, and their system is not entirely fair or reasonable.
Paine then proceeded to effortlessly transitions into talking about monarchy and hereditary succession. He argues that “Man was born into a state of equality”, and there is an unnatural divergence between royalty (the king specifically) and their subjects. He referred to and quoted biblical text to further support his argument, concluding that monarchy had originated from sin, and hereditary succession is intolerable, if people were to wish for a king they should be granted the right to choose, and following bloodlines has proved to be problematic throughout history with incompetent leaders and unnecessary wars.
Paine then acknowledges the argument that the colonies had prospered under British rule and furthermore should stay under rule of the king. He retaliates by arguing that the colonies no longer need them, as they had grown and evolved during the time they were under British rule, and they have no need for their help anymore. He challenged the argument that Britain deserved their allegiance because they had protected them by saying Britain had only protected them to ensure their own economic well being, and the Brits have been attacking them instead of protecting them. Thus deeming them undeserving of the Americans loyalty.
Paine moves on to explain that the colonies have little to nothing to gain from continuing to side with the British, especially when compared to everything that they can accomplish once they declare their independence and begin to negotiate and ally with other parts of Europe. Not demanding dependence would only result in the same problems becoming issues again in the future, making it critical for them to gain their freedom immediately. He even went as far as to take into account the size of each colony and their capabilities. He explained the form of government the colonies should adopt, a democracy that grants each colony with equal weight in every matter.
Paine concludes his writing by saying that the colonies lack respectability under the rule of Britain, and they seem like uncoordinated rebels in this battle, which is preventing them from forming necessary alliances with other nations that could become critical for them. Once they have a more reputable reputation, they can acquire necessary help from other nations in their fight for freedom. For these reasons, Thomas Paine vocalizes that it is imperative for the colonies to declare their independence from the British.
“Common Sense” sold extremely fast, and word traveled quickly, Thomas Paine’s writing had a large impact, and many people wanted independence and supported the cause as well as the fight for it. Paine was incredibly effective in getting his two main points–Independence from Britain and the creation of a democratic republic– across to his audience, boosting morale and causing the majority of people in the colonies to jump on board with their plans, fully supporting the cause and some even volunteering to fight in the war. It had helped that Paine was blatantly biased to the Americans, making them more inclined to support him, not to mention his pamphlet was beautifully written, appealing to the religious and personal beliefs of his audience while still managing to efficiently belittle King George and the British as well as efficiently boost the colonists and their beliefs. This piece of writing played a critical role in the American Revolution, without it, many would be hesitant and tentative to join the cause because demanding independence is a huge step, and there could be drastic consequences for speaking out against the king so loosely. It is likely largely due to “Common Sense” that the Declaration of Independence was written, and largely due to Thomas Paine that the colonies were so readily supportive of it.
- Paine, Thomas. Common Sense . Common Sense , 1776.
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