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Common Sense | Study Guide

Thomas Paine

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Common Sense | Main Ideas


Monarchies Violate Laws of Nature and Religion

Thomas Paine believes monarchies are an invalid form of government because they violate the laws of nature and religion. Paine argues all people are born as equals, which is a function of nature. No person or family is better than another. That line of reasoning concludes there shouldn't be a ruling class. Paine also thinks those who do rule should not be able to pass their position to their next of kin. Nature doesn't grant one family superior intelligence or leadership abilities, and it's very possible the next person in line for the job will lead his or her followers into ruin. Monarchal rule and hereditary succession violate the very laws of nature.

Monarchies also violate the word of God. Paine points out there were not any kings in the early days of humanity (at least according to scripture) and there weren't any wars. Paine implies these two are related. He contends the devil invented kings, which were first adopted by the heathens, as a tool to promote idolatry. Both Gideon and Samuel warn their followers about the dangers of worshipping someone other than God. In Samuel's case the Israelites don't listen, and they are smitten for disobedience. Paine believes this biblical evidence proves God is the only true king.

Independent, Democratic America

Paine insists the British government doesn't have the colonists' best interest at heart. It cares only about its own profit and success, and it treats the colonists as second-class citizens. Americans do not have the same rights as those who live on British soil and are unfairly punished when they try to uphold their interpretation of the British Constitution. The grievances between the two parties, as well as the bloodshed and destruction caused by the British army, are too great to repair. The only answer is for the colonies to separate themselves from Great Britain.

To those who quaver in fear of losing the protection and benefits afforded by the British government, Paine points out Great Britain is much too far away to protect the colonists from any imminent danger, and it is much too small of an island to govern a territory as large as the American colonies. Though he admits there have been benefits to British rule, he contends life in the colonies would perhaps have been even more pleasant and fruitful had Great Britain never controlled them at all.

An independent America will need a government of its own. Paine has already proven monarchal rule is unsuitable for the success of a nation and the happiness of its people, so he suggests a representative government elected by the people. This structure is in line with what he believes nature intended, as each person's voice will be represented equally. The law will be king in America, not a monarch.

The Fight for Independence Cannot Be Postponed

Paine urges his readers to take up the cause of independence now. The tensions between Great Britain and the American colonies are only going to get worse, and the damage done at the battles of Lexington and Concord and during the Siege of Boston cannot be repaired. If anything, the situation will worsen. Waiting for a better time would mean the loss of experience gained during the French and Indian War (1754–63), which would decrease the colonists' chances of victory. Delaying the push for independence could mean being tethered to Great Britain indefinitely, and as Paine points out, a country dependent on another is weak in the eyes of the world.

America may be a young country, but it has a lot of assets, including its youth. "Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals," he writes. Developing continental unity now will be much easier than 50 years down the road when individual colonies are deeply entrenched in their own ways of life. Colonies are not yet at their peak populations, which means there aren't too many people or ports to protect, yet there are still enough men to form a robust army. People haven't yet developed strong roots in their communities, nor have they made their family fortunes in business. Unlike British civilians, who may carry the weight of wealth and family tree, the colonists have little to lose by going to war. That will surely change if efforts for independence are postponed, which will make it harder to raise a capable army.

American Independence Benefits the World

Paine argues American independence will help all friendly nations thrive, especially those who engage with trade. Separating the colonies from Great Britain will create open and free trade. That means the colonists decide to whom they will sell and for what price, which will help the American economy grow and which will benefit other, primarily European, economies as well. When no longer bound by Great Britain's trading laws, they will be free to import goods from other countries, such as Spain and France, as well as to import goods to them, all of which will improve the international economy. Paine doesn't leave out England—he thinks open trade will benefit the British government and its citizens alike.

Trade isn't the only part of international relations that will improve with American independence. The colonies will be able to maintain strong and friendly relationships with other countries even if those countries are quarreling with Great Britain. As subjects of the British government, the colonies often found themselves in the middle of disagreements with other nations, and there was always the risk of going to war over matters that didn't pertain to those living in North America. Freedom from Great Britain allows the colonies to declare neutrality during international conflicts, which preserves existing relationships and protects the American citizens, their property, and their economy.

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