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Common Sense | Quotes

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1.

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.


Thomas Paine, Introduction to the Third Edition

Most colonists, including colonial leaders Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson, weren't even considering separating from Great Britain at the time Common Sense was published in early 1776. Paine used his pamphlet not only to explain his reasoning for American independence but also to convince the reader to accept his ideas. He wants them to look beyond the popular and accepted ideas of the time and search their souls for what is truly right.

2.

The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind.


Thomas Paine, Introduction to the Third Edition

Paine's ideas about the natural rights of humans don't just apply to the relationship between England and the American colonies. His theories can be applied to any situation in which a population is denied a representative government that acts in accordance with God's law.

3.

We ... have been foolish enough to put the crown in possession of the key.


Thomas Paine, Part 1

Paine believes Great Britain's parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch isn't all that different from the French government, which is a straight monarchy. In France, the word of the king is law. The situation is similar in England, where the word of the king comes out of the mouth of Parliament as a law. The idea of a parliamentary democracy is good in theory because it "lock[s] a door against absolute monarchy," but it fails by still allowing the king all the power.

4.

A man, who is attached to a prostitute, is unfitted to choose or judge of a wife.


Thomas Paine, Part 1

Paine frequently compares the English government and its trappings to prostitutes as a way of showing the ruling body's lack of moral character. In this instance he emphasizes the importance of understanding the failings of the British Constitution to craft a stronger and more just American version.

5.

Monarchy and succession have laid ... but the world in blood and ashes.


Thomas Paine, Part 2

Critics of independence say monarchal governments are natural protections against civil war. Paine points out that couldn't be farther from the truth, especially in England, where opposing families warred endlessly for the Crown. Commoners' lives are ripped apart during such battles, and the only person who comes out on top is the newest inhabitant of the throne.

6.

In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places.


Thomas Paine, Part 2

Paine argues that in comparison to a traditional monarchy, in which the king is responsible for every aspect of governing, a constitutional monarchy leaves the king with very little to do. Parliament carries most of the load when it comes to governing, and the king has to figure out ways to fill his time. Paine is convinced all this free time leads to further oppression of the king's subjects.

7.

Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.


Thomas Paine, Part 3

Paine points out the thousands of people inhabiting the American colonies aren't just English immigrants or of British descent. They come from all parts of Europe, which leads Paine to conclude England has no right to rule the colonies at all.

8.

America is only a secondary object in the system of British politics.


Thomas Paine, Part 3

Paine argues the British government cares only about the success of England and its native citizens. Instead of creating and enforcing laws that guarantee the mutual success of England and the American colonies, the British government focuses entirely on the economic and political health of the home country while repressing the growth of the colonies. Paine maintains the colonies and England will only be equal if they are separate.

9.

Friend, he reigns above.


Thomas Paine, Part 3

This is Paine's response to the anticipated question of "Who is America's king?" There will be no king in America for it is under the jurisdiction of God, and God doesn't approve of kings. In the next breath, however, Paine purports "in America the law is king." Those two statements seem to contradict each other; however, the second is a metaphor. He wants the reader to understand that the only "king" in America is the laws the nation herself writes, perpetuates, and enforces. In other words she will be a democratic society.

10.

Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!


Thomas Paine, Part 3

Persuasive texts and speeches generally have a call to action. This is Paine's. He commands readers who don't support the English government or its king to publicly make their feelings known. Agreeing with Paine in private but accepting English rule in public will not change the situation. Colonists must bravely join the fight for independence.

11.

The power which hath endeavored to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to defend us.


Thomas Paine, Part 4

Paine is addressing the misguided theory that a reconciliation with Great Britain means America would once again be protected by the British navy. Paine points out even if that happened, it wouldn't be a good thing. Great Britain is the enemy. It is illogical to think all those ill feelings between the two countries would suddenly disappear once a truce has been reached. Great Britain has never had the colonies' best interest at heart, and it never will.

12.

The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture.


Thomas Paine, Part 4

This is one of Paine's arguments in support of pursuing independence now. America is still a young settlement. People aren't yet so comfortable they wouldn't be willing to risk their incomes or livelihoods for a better life. That's not the case in England, where fortunes and lifestyles have been established. Outside of the English army, no one in Great Britain is going to volunteer to fight against the colonies. That's what gives the colonists such a good chance of success.

13.

"The Rubicon is passed."


Thomas Paine, Part 5

"The Rubicon is passed" is an idiom that means an irreversible situation has occurred. Mistakes cannot adequately be fixed, so the only thing to do is move forward, often in the opposite direction. Paine writes this toward the end of Part 5 while explaining why reconciliation with England is no longer a possibility. Colonists have suffered and died at the hands of the British army, and that cannot be undone. No matter how hard the Crown or the colonists try, they will never be able to repair their relationship.

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