Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America

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Cosimo, Inc., Jun 1, 2006 - History - 80 pages
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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 when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. -from Common Sense It is impossible to overstate influence of Thomas Paine-idealist, radical, and master rhetorician-in the creation of America. With this incendiary pamphlet, published anonymously in early 1776, he gave voice to the discontent that gripped the British colonists in the New World with his cries for small government and personal liberty, and his calls to shrug off the tyranny of Crown led directly to the Declaration of Independence only months later. He was the premiere political "blogger" of his day, a man Thomas Edison called "one of the greatest of all Americans," and one today's liberals and progressives still claim as their intellectual forefather. Everyone who values freedom-of speech, of thought, of governance-and the ongoing fight required to maintain it must read and appreciate this, one of the foundational documents of the United States of America. Also available from Cosimo Classics: Paine's The Age of Reason OF INTEREST TO: students of liberal philosophy, reader of American history AUTHOR BIO: Anglo-American political theorist and writer THOMAS PAINE (1737-1809) was born in England and emigrated to America in 1774, bearing letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. He also wrote Rights of Man (1791).

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Thomas Paine, an English immigrant with introductory papers from Benjamin Franklin, wrote one of the most effective political pamphlets in this language. Published in January of 1776, Paine didn't say anything novel; but he did have impeccable timing and a keen talent for expressing his views to the common man.
Paine's timing coincided with the boiling colonial emotions over the Tea and Declaratory Acts. Most colonials resisted these taxations in principle, refusing the inherent vassalage they implied. Paine articulated this passion and courage to stand against oppressive government in a way few contemporaries would. He could address and be understood by the common man--unlike other Founding Fathers like the educated John Adams--and appeal to their philosophies. The concept of independence was unpopular in early 1776, but the skirmish at Lexington/Concord solidified American resistance to the monarchy itself.
Paine knew his audience. He argued to the population and appealed to the citizens rather than the legislators. He argued that "government is the lost badge of innocence." Though a deist, he claimed that the institution of monarchy is contradicted by the Bible. He promoted free trade, suggesting that American commerce will "secure her from invaders." He told citizens to stop calling England "Mother" because it was really Europe. He essentially believed that society itself was a blessing, but that government was a necessary evil whose function it was to provide freedom and security (1). He also promoted simple solutions: "...the more simple anything is, the less liable it is to be disordered, adn the easier repaired when disordered..." (4)
Would that all writers could be like Thomas Paine: clear, concise, focused, targeted at the right audience, and perfectly timed for publishing. Common Sense is a seminal work because of its effects on the American people. It made independence--not just opposition--a popular and acceptable notion. The road was fraught with risks, but it was a worthy course. Thank you, sir!

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Page 1 - Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness ' positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last is a punisher. 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...

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About the author (2006)

Born to parents with Quaker leanings, Thomas Paine grew up amid modest circumstances in the rural environs of Thetford, England. As the recipient of what he termed "a good moral education and a tolerable stock of useful learning," little in Paine's early years seemed to suggest that he would one day rise to a stunning defense of American independence in such passionate and compelling works as Common Sense (1776) and The American Crisis essays (1776-83). Paine's early years were characterized by a constant struggle to remain financially solvent while pursuing a number of nonintellectual activities. Nevertheless, the young Paine read such Enlightenment theorists as Isaac Newton and John Locke and remained dedicated to the idea that education was a lifelong commitment. From 1753 to 1759, Paine worked alternately as a sailor, a staymaker, and a customs officer. Between 1759 and 1772, he married twice. His first wife died within a year of their marriage, and Paine separated amicably from his second wife after a shop they operated together went bankrupt. While these circumstances seemed gloomy, Paine fortuitously made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin in London in 1773. Impressed by Paine's self-education, Franklin encouraged the young man to venture to America where he might prosper. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1774, Paine quickly found himself energized by the volatile nature of Revolutionary politics. Working as an editor of Pennsylvania Magazine, Paine found a forum for his passionate radical views. In the years that followed, Paine became increasingly committed to American independence, and to his conviction that the elitist and corrupt government that had ruled over him in England had little business extending its corrosive colonial power to the States. Moved by these beliefs, Paine published Common Sense (1776), a test that proved invaluable in unifying American sentiment against British rule. Later, after joining the fray as a soldier, Paine penned the familiar lines in "The American Crisis": "These are the times that try men's souls." Fifteen years later, Paine wrote his other famous work, Rights of Man (1791). Drawing on his eclectic experiences as a laborer, an international radical politician, and a revolutionary soldier, Paine asserted his Lockeian belief that since God created humans in "one degree only," then rights should be equal for every individual.

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