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Common Sense | Study Guide

Thomas Paine

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Common Sense | Key Figures

Key Figure Description
Thomas Paine Thomas Paine was an English writer and political pamphleteer who came to prominence in the American colonies with the publication of Common Sense, an essay urging colonists to secede from Great Britain. Read More
King George III King George III of Great Britain ruled from 1760 to 1820. He is the king of which Paine speaks in Common Sense. Read More
Parliament Parliament is the legislative body of the British government. Read More
Adam According to the Bible, Adam is the first human created by God. Adam blames Eve when he is accused of taking a bite from the forbidden tree of knowledge, and they are both cast out of the Garden of Eden for their sins. Paine compares the hereditary reign of monarchs with the concept of original sin.
Charles I Charles I was the king of Great Britain and Ireland from 1625–49. His tumultuous time on the throne resulted in a civil war, which led to his execution. Paine refers to the fate of Charles I in Part 1 of Common Sense when describing the similarities between regular monarchies and constitutional monarchies.
Mr. Cornwall Charles Wolfran Cornwall was a parliamentary Lord of Treasury who supported English rule over the colonies. Paine refers to him in Part 4 when talking about the need for "large and equal" congressional representation.
Sir John Dalrymple Sir John Dalrymple is the author of The Address of the People of England to the Inhabitants of America, which supports English rule of the colonies. Mentioned in Part 5 of Common Sense, Paine calls Dalrymple "the putative father of a whining jesuitical piece." Paine doesn't like Dalrymple or his ideas at all.
Captain Death Captain William Death commanded an armed English ship named The Terrible. Captain Death is best known for his courageous battle at sea against the French navy in 1757. He and all but 26 of his crew died in battle, though they nearly managed to destroy the French ship and most of its crew. Paine mentions Captain Death in Part 4 as an example of how a small naval crew can accomplish a lot. Interestingly, Paine nearly joined the crew of The Terrible at age 16 before his father talked him out of it.
Dragonetti Giacinto Dragonetti was an Italian judge and the author of Of Virtues and Rewards (1766), which Paine cites in Part 3 of Common Sense. Dragonetti believed the key to a successful society was to reward virtuous acts that improved the communal good.
Gideon Gideon is a biblical figure who led an army of 300 Israelites to defeat the Midianites, a nomadic Arabian race known for worshipping idols other than God. Upon his victory the Israelites asked Gideon to be their king. He declined, reminding them only God could rule over them. Paine uses Gideon as an example in Part 2 to explain why the idea of royalty goes against God's law.
Mahomet Mahomet, another version of the name Muhammad, is the prophet who founded Islam. In Part 2 of Common Sense Paine, a Christian, equates the spread of Mahomet's beliefs to the "trump[ed] up ... superstitious tale[s]" that led to hereditary succession. This is most definitely not a compliment.
Massanello Massanello (more commonly spelled Masaniello) was an Italian fisherman who led a protest against a new tax on fruit meant to fund a tribute, or gift, to Spain. The protest was successful, but Massanello, drunk on power, urged his followers to kill all the nobles. He was assassinated not long after. Paine mentions him in Part 3 of Common Sense and claims the young man became a king in a day. Massanello wasn't really king—Paine's words are a metaphor for how suddenly Massanello rose to power.
Milton John Milton was an English poet, pamphleteer, and historian. He is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost. Paine quotes Milton in Part 3 of Common Sense.
North Lord Frederick North was prime minister of Great Britain from 1770 until 1782. His stern attitude toward control of the American colonies fanned the flames of revolution. Paine mentions him in Part 3 of Common Sense.
Mr. Pelham Henry Pelham was prime minister of Great Britain from 1743–54. Paine calls him out in Part 3 of Common Sense for not pursuing laws that could stand the test of time.
Marquess of Rockingham Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd marquess of Rockingham, was prime minister of Great Britain from July 1765 to July 1766, then again from March to July 1782. His political party, the Rockingham Whigs, opposed Britain's engagement in the Revolutionary War. He is best known for repealing the Stamp Act, an unpopular set of taxes on goods imported into the colonies. Paine mentions Rockingham in Part 5 of Common Sense.
Samuel Samuel is a biblical figure who led the Israelites for many years. He is initially offended when they ask for a king, but after consulting with God Samuel realizes their loss of faith in God. Samuel warns the Israelites about the dangers of worshipping anyone but the Lord, but they don't listen. God punishes them for their disobedience. Paine uses the story to warn against monarchy.
Saul Saul is a biblical figure. God selects Saul to lead the Israelites after they asked Samuel for a king. Paine uses the story to warn against monarchy.
William the Conqueror William I, also known as William the Conqueror, was a French noble to whom King Edward (1002–66) of England had promised succession to the English throne. It turned out childless Edward promised the throne to a lot of people, including his brother Harold. In August 1066 William led the Norman invasion of England to unseat Harold and claim the English throne for himself.
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