Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America
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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The Revolution is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776
Richard Alan Ryerson
No preview available - 1978