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Common Sense | Study Guide

Thomas Paine

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Common Sense | Part 5 : Appendix | Summary



The appendix to the third edition of Common Sense was written in February 1776, a month after the tract's initial publication. Paine uses this section to summarize what has happened in the colonies since January, most notably his reaction to a letter from King George III published on the very day Common Sense was first released. The "speech," as Paine calls it, "prepared a way for the manly principles of Independance [sic]" and includes "audacious libel against the truth, the common good, and the existence of mankind." In Paine's opinion the only good thing about it is the king's honest words depicting his "[b]rutality and tyranny." Paine also discusses another piece of correspondence, Sir John Dalrymple's letter, "The Address of the People of England to the Inhabitants of America," which Paine dismisses as nothing but Toryism, or the support of the king over Parliament.

Paine summarizes his arguments from earlier portions of the text, emphasizing the immediate need for American independence. No state can be successful if it is dependent on a foreign power, and the time is right to take up arms against English rule. The militias already have experience from the previous war (the French and Indian War, 1754–63). Should they wait another half century, that experience would be wasted and forgotten. While some argue independence should wait until the colonies are "on the footing [they] were in sixty-three," Paine points out the impossibility of going back to the past. To do so would mean restoring the towns and lives irreparably harmed by the British army stationed in Massachusetts. That's never going to happen, nor is it possible to immediately repay the debts incurred for building an army. The only way forward is to break completely from the English government, which Paine blames for instigating colonial upheaval in the first place.

The success of the colonies relies on the unification of 13 separate territories. Goodwill between neighbors maintains alliances for only so long, and until a government body formally unites and protects the colony, the camaraderie the colonists feel for one another is at constant risk of being "dissolved" by enemies. Forming a government is the best of three ways for achieving the independence—the others, military force and mob rule, greatly increase the chances for loss of life and money—needed unite the colonies as one while also allowing for a more positive and productive relationship with England. As of this printing no one has yet refuted Paine's ideas, which convinces him even more that his line of thought is correct and largely accepted.


The appendix, or postscript, to Common Sense uses logic and rational reasoning to reinforce the points Paine made in the previous sections of the pamphlet. The only truly new information is that about the letters from the king and Dalrymple, and Paine doesn't explicitly detail the contents of either letter probably because he assumes both were public and the contents widely known. The letter from King George III received on January 10, 1776, was a transcript of a speech the king made to Parliament on October 27, 1775. In it the king accuses the colonists of uniting in the name of independence (they weren't) and says he has always opposed "the effusion of the blood of my subjects." He claims the colonies are in a state of rebellion and grants Parliament the authority to use force to maintain its control of the colonies. Dalrymple's address details all the wrongs the colonies forced upon Great Britain and calls into question the lawfulness of the Continental Congress and other colonial government bodies. This, combined with the king's disregard for the intentions and motives behind colonial protest, appears to prove two of Paine's theories correct: the British government does not consider the colonists to be equal citizens as those living in England, and the British care only about the colonists when the colonists' actions directly impact them. Though meant to convince rebel colonists to pledge their allegiance once more to the Crown, both letters solidified public disgust with the ruling state.

Paine makes it clear he doesn't want to punish England for its transgressions—he just wants the colonies to leave the empire. When he talks about the international benefits of independence, he makes sure to mention how it will benefit England. His logic goes like this: under British rule, the colonists are forced to import and export primarily to England. There is no competition, which means the British can set the prices (and the accompanying taxes). Colonists could potentially be paying higher prices for British goods than they would if they were allowed to trade freely with other countries, such as France or Spain. Likewise, they may not be getting a fair value for the goods they export, such as timber or lead. Altering the ruler/subject relationship between Great Britain and the colonies to a relationship of equal standing would open the free trade market, which creates competition. Competition means better pricing for everyone. This is part of the reason why Paine encourages his readers to maintain a good and peaceful relationship with Great Britain following the achievement of independence—he doesn't want trade to be hampered. It is essential to the livelihood and future success of the colonies, especially if they are responsible for supporting and protecting themselves.

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