Common Sense


Common Sense. By Thomas Paine. Edited with an Introduction by Isaac Kramnic. (New York: Penguin Books, 1986).

 
Recently, I acquired a copy of Thomas Paine?s most recent patriotic pamphlet, entitled Common Sense. I was immediately interested in what Paine had to say in his new work, after such powerful previous works, such as The Crisis series. I was nothing less than astonished at how Paine so powerfully conveyed his patriotic message. Paine theorizes a split between England and the colonial states. At the same time as a split is theorized, it would form a union of the colonial states into one country, united into one body on our American principles, no longer under the rule of the British Parliament and its ridiculous taxes and misrepresentation. Paine delivers one of the most compelling arguments I have heard on why there should be a division between the English and the Americans.

The British Parliament has long been a bane to the colonists in the New World, with the passage of all their "acts" to tax us simply because we are more productive. Paine makes his contempt for the current system of government quite clear early on. "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for even we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." (65) Paine clearly believes that the English government falls into the "intolerable" category of governments. Although a system of government is a required entity in almost any society, there are much better ways to govern a people besides the British monarchal system. Paine discusses how the Parliament is set up as a representation of the people, but what good is representation in a monarchy? The monarch still has absolute power, even though a system is set up to make it appear as though the people have a say. This lack of true representation instills a lack of trust towards the king in the British subjects. These factors create doubt in one?s mind about the strength of the British government. Paine questions the government saying:
"How came the king by a power which the people are afraid to trust, and always obliged to check? Such a power could not be the gift of a wise people, neither can any power, which needs checking, be from God; yet the provision, which the constitution makes, supposes such a power to exist." (70)

Hereditary succession, as approved by the British constitution, is one of the greater evils of the British government. Through hereditary succession, kings and lords of inferior intelligence and moral standing can assume positions that they are in no way qualified for. "Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance?" (71) The circumstances that Paine is referring to are of course division in classes. The rich have more power and influence, and so of course pass their power onto those of their bloodline. The problems inherent this system are obvious. A completely unqualified individual could come into power through a hereditary system, and with this power, do great damage to the people under their rule. But even a non-hereditary monarchal system is a terrible and expressly disapproved of form of government. Paine has this to say about monarchs: "Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry." (72) Paine also tells of the Bible?s directions about a government by kings, and how God feels about this system: "Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings." (73) The only people who approve of the English government are those who are in power, or those who stand to succeed as an heir to a position of power.
The British are also a huge economic bane on American colonists. Paine?s stance is that it is crucial to the survival of the colonies that the colonies perform as a separate economic entity, so as not to be ruined by English influences. "Europe is to