Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” Essay
Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” was a small pamphlet but impact the power of its words created beckoned for the revolution and turned the chapters of the American history. Its publishing on 10th January 1776 was the most incredible event in the publishing history itself selling more than 100,000 copies in the first year excluding its sales after 1776 and the prints sold after its translation in French. But more important it provided a “summary of a large segment of the ideology of the American revolution as well as a substantial contribution to that very ideology.” (Frutchman Jr., 254)
In early years of 1776, the signature by an anonymous Englishman on the Paine’s pamphlet steered uncertain environment of irresolution towards their final decision for separation from English domination. In this only lay their growth and prosperity and freedom and peace. “Common Sense” shattered the psychological trauma of Americans on their resistance for independence by posing a direct attack on the British monarchy.
The attack was so forceful that it incited complete hatred for the British monarch excluding only the most loyalist of the British Crown. Paine showed to the Americans that if the relationship with Britain continued, it would threaten the very basic foundation of the virtue Americans so cherished and with simplicity carried the flag of republic. He wanted to teach the Americans to revere themselves as he said, “Every thing that is right or natural pleads of separation and then he wrote “the blood of the slain, the weeping voice of the nature cries ‘TIS TIME TO PART.’” (Frutchman Jr., 254)
Thomas Paine was born at Thetford England and reached American colony with very little money at his disposal and no prospects for the future though he had a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin. During his days of poverty and struggle, his passion for freedom and liberty and hatred for tyrannical rules of monarchy was quite powerful and this hatred finally poured into words in his powerful “Common Sense”.
George Washington was so greatly impressed with the “Common Sense” that he withdrew all his hopes for reconciliation with the British monarchy and distributed the pamphlet among his troops. It debilitated all the obstacles-be it political, economic or social that might come as barrier to independence. He said that this goal could be attained only by unified action and gave the detail in the most graphic form on the several problems colonists might face and reminded the people about the traumas and harsh experiences they had to face. The boldness and timeliness of his ideas raised consciousness of Americans forcing them to think on the course of actions.
The blunt language used made people from different ethnic and races too comprehend his message with ease. Despite of the fact that Paine was immigrant, he had gained intense knowledge on the daily lives that would make them Americans. He knew the street corners, workshops and taverns visited on almost daily basis by an average American. His writing was full of most popular and religious lives Americans led and favored and his words made people from all walks of life united to wield a revolt and as said by Scott Liell became “an important artifact in the foundation of American democracy”. (Liell, 20)
Starting lines of “Common Sense” itself posed an attack on the institute of kingship, and in Freudian terms it was the an act of patricide- an ultimate end to the very concept of the King as a father figure. From the opening passages, there is a feeling of enthusiasm to adopt Utopian ideas and rhetoric-as well of politics that was not conducive and social causes. Though it was not true that only kings triggered wars, yet every passage of “Common Sense” reawakened us into thinking our position in the society, our buried dreams to espouse our race and dreams to exceed beyond the buried exhibitions and ambitions. His views were that of the ideologists Jean Jacques Rousseau and in his writing were also the sign of the mark of English radical, who became a part of the Civil war of the seventeenth century.
There were also expository accounts of the Locke and on the Revolution of 1688 and more than that there was an agony and suffering of Paine that flowed into the demagogic tone and struck at the logic that flowed into shaky politics. He made the people believe the fact that there was nothing in nature or nothing noted in Scripture that would make some people king and other their subjects, or some were superior than others and were designated by God to be Kings. The first part of the “Common Sense” brought an end to the subordinated rule and dependency based on birth.
There is a veracity and force in his language and the boldness by the way he shared his sentiments touched the cord of political, economic and social life of Americans in their various dimensions; particularly his one sentence that did not appear in the final version: “Nothing can be conceived of more absurd than three millions of people flocking to the American shore every time a vessel arrives from England, to know what portion of liberty they shall enjoy.”(Keane, 107) The context in which the pamphlet appeared was of a political importance. It was January 1776, the time when the Americans were at war with the Great Britain and the British forces were under occupation of Boston, a peninsula during that period.
The colonists occupied all the surrounded areas and actions were confined in few of these. Meanwhile certain efforts at political level took place to enforce the towns, counties and other communities to pass resolutions to force their state assemblies to get their instructions changed enabling them to adopt independence. Continental Congress also formed a set of resolutions that led to the suppression of all royal authorities and formed the government on the basis of the authoritical power of the people. Soon afterward the Virginia convention formed number of resolutions, which called upon the representatives of Virginia in the Second Continental Congress to approve and adopt the independence.
This was the background that was set for Richard Henry Lee to move his resolution on 7th June 1776. The resolution stated that “these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” (Maier, 3) This resolution of Richard Henry Lee’s was adopted on 2nd July 1776, by the vote of 12 out of 13 colonies.
Week later New York also gave its approval and by 4th July 1776, the resort for independence was declared. Meanwhile Congress formed a committee on 11th July to create a draft on for the declaration of Independence, and was produced on 28th July 1776. These events became possible on owing to the events of early July. These committed efforts permitted the delegates to receive new instructions that would permit them to vote for independence. But it is a proven truth resolve to gain independence was never widely discussed as it had been discussed with the coming of “Common Sense”. (Maier, 4)
The pamphlet of Paine was not only one that got national attention but others too brought about the pamphlets with the same theme. One pamphlet was written by Marylander Daniel Dulany, his topic was “Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes” in the colonies of Britain with the only purpose to raise the revenue through Act of Parliament. The pamphlet got wide recognition. The letters by John Dickinson’s from a farmer in Pennsylvania was converted into pamphlet in 1768, which got him national fame.
But these pamphlets were neither revolutionary nor written for propaganda and arguments mentioned in them were all of political thoughts and more of scholarly work with logic. No doubt, they too had their own place and created an effect on the thinking powers of the intellectuals and elite yet the pamphlet by Paine was something quite different without any scholarly terms or logic. The language was also very straightforward, direct and colloquial very well adhering for the emigrants from Newgate-a British Jail, or for one who had chiefly associated with it as said by John Adams. (Maier, 2)
For Louis Hartz, American liberal individualism was itself common sense as the “natural perception of a nation that exceptionally escaped the feudal stage in history”. (Killikelly, 141) In the same way Enrico Augelli and Craig Murphy created three major aspects of common sense: liberalism, denominational religion and faith science. All three became a crux of all the arguments made by Thomas Paine. From the ideas that he presented one can make out how liberalism and faith in science has always been part of his ideology.
Augelli and Murphy said that “his main idea about America as the occupier of the central place in the world and century of liberty and opportunity came from the evangelical spirit of Northeastern Puritanism” (Killikelly, 141) and as Paine himself wrote “as if Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to be persecuted in future years.” (Killikelly, 141) With the same missionary zeal, Paine again wrote, “the sun never shines on a cause of greater worth.” (Killikelly, 141) He connected his religious appeal to the cause of American independence.
But all in all, the question is from where did the Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” arise? The answer to this question is confounded in the political circles and the intellectual elite of Americans. His ideology was basically based on the British Whig radical ideology of the 1640s. This view was represented by the London radicalism of a particular class of artisans and skilled wage earners who believed that they were being let down by the heredity class politics. Their views were no doubt the part of the common sense in the British Society of 1770 but definitely were the part of the common sense America. (Killikelly, 142)
The ideas presented by Paine in “Common Sense” were not new; when Paine reached American soil in 1774, Benjamin Franklin was enlightening the world with his ideas of science that could help them understand everything that was natural. He applied his ideas to the democratic politics that could make the way for republican form of government. Meanwhile middle class also emerged who had strong support for the entrepreneurship, free trade, free thoughts and free market concepts. This class formed the middle class artisans who spread the Benjamin Franklin’s views to lower level of artisans. They spread the awareness of literature, literacy and science.
These ideas formed the basic principle of Paine’s thought that got space into his words and articulated and popularized in a way that Paine became a historical figure modifying and formulating “what Gramsci called a new historical bloc”. (Killikelly, 142)
Frutchman, Jack Jr. “Common Sense” A Companion to the American Revolution Ed. Jack P. Greene & Jack Richon Pole. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. 254-257.
Keane, John. “Tom Paine: A Political Life” New York: Grove Press, 2003
Killikelly, Timothy. “Examining Common Sense: A Gramscian Analysis of Thomas Paine” Thomas Paine: Common Sense for the Modern Era. Ed. Ronald Frederick King & Elsie Begler. San Diego, CA: San Diego State University Press, 2007. 138-150.
Leill, Scott. “46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to American Independence”. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2003.
Mair, Pauline. “Thomas Paine and American Independence” Internet. Available: http://www.learner.org/workshops/primarysources/revolution/transcript03.html, October 11, 2008.
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