“Common Sense” by Thomas Paine (1776)

“Common Sense” by Thomas Paine (1776)

Chapter 1 – Of the origin and design of government in general, with concise remarks on the English Constitution

  • Society produced by our wants, promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections. encourages intercourse, a patron & a blessing
  • Government produced by wickedness, promotes our happiness negatively by restraining our vice, creates distinctions & a punisher
    • At best – a necessary evil
    • At worst – an intolerable evil, we live in the same state as without a government but we are the provider of our own suffering
  • Government is a badge of lost innocence because it we could restrain our impulses, we wouldn’t need it
    • Freedom & security is the aim & the best form is the one with the greatest benefit & least expensive
  • Society starts without a need for government but as decisions are difficult to make or enforce we need representatives to decide on regulations
    • We become too numerous & too spread out to participate ourselves
    • The elected should never have a different interest from the electors – frequent interchange of elected will assure this
  • Regarding the English Constitution
    • When it was written, the world was overrun with tyranny
      • Absolute governments are simple – the source of suffering & source of relief are the same
      • The English Constitution became so complex that the country could suffer for years without even knowing what the source of it was
      • Let’s look at the components
        • 1 – Monarchical tyranny – King
        • 2 – Aristocratic tyranny – Peers
        • 3 – Commons – freedom depends on their virtue
      • 1 & 2 are hereditary & independent of people & contribute nothing to the the freedom of the State
        • To say we have a balance of powers, each with a check on the others is laughable
        • To say the Commons has a check on the King pre-supposes:
          • 1 – The king isn’t to be trusted without watching over him because the thirst for absolute power is part of the monarchy
          • 2 – Commons to be appointed to watch over him says they are wiser or more trustworth
    • The same Constitution allows the king to check against the commons. He can reject their bills
      • Presumes the king’s wiser than the people who are wiser than him
    • The position of king is ridiculous, excludes a man from means of information but is empowered him to act where judgment is needed
      • He’s secluded from the world yet required to know it well – useless & absurd
  • Makes you ask:
    • How did the king get power if the people are afraid to trust him & are constantly required to check us him?
    • If the people have no means to stop him, then they can’t really check him
      • The crown is overbearing & absolute monarchy need to be done away with
      • It’s worse in other countries where the will & the whim of the king is law (France)
    • We ought to look into errors of the English Constitution if we are to claim that our system is better than any other

Chapter 2 – Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

  • If men were born equal, they could only become unequal by greed & oppression
    • There’s no natural or religious reason why
    • Male & female are natural distinctions but there’s nothing in the Bible saying it’s right that there be kings
    • The idea of kings came from outside, the heathens imposing the idea & the Jews copied it
  • The Bible glosses over the righteousness of monarchy allowing Israel to be a vassal state to Rome
    • But they consider it as a sin & only gave the title as a “thank you” gift to successful generals
    • This only led to badness under Samuel & David
  • Eventually leading to the Pope of governments
  • Monarchy is a degradation of the people because it is the perpetual preference of one man’s family over others in government
  • What other honors would be given for posterity?
    • It’s dangerous because inhabitants have no indication of competence or restraint in plundering “his people”
    • In private, wise men have treated hereditary right with contempt but it is not easily removed because people submit our of fear, superstition while others see it as an opportunity to share in the wealth
  • If you look at the present kings’ origins, there’s a sordid past – they’re chief plunderers
    • Mohammed crammed his hereditary rights down the throats of the commoners
    • William the Conqueror illegally conquered a nation against the will of its people
  • How did it start? Lot, election or usurpation
    • English history is loaded with usurpation, as is French & Spanish
    • His whims can doom a country for a long time

Chapter 3 – Thoughts of the present state of American Affairs

  • Paine lays some knowledge on us…
  • Most efforts to improve life & relations between England & America were ineffectual & temporary if they worked at all
    • The chance has come & gone & it’s now time to embrace an American Union & independence
    • The time for reconciliation is over but let’s examine dependence anyway
  • They say the only reason America’s flourished is because of its connection to Britain & it will continue to be important
    • We were very dependent at first but we’ve become increasingly less so
      • We would have thrived with or without European support
  • They say Great Britain has protected us
    • Not our of attachment, or out of our well-being or anything other than her self-interest
  • They say the colonies wouldn’t have relations with each other
    • May be a parent country established all of them but we trade with each other
    • The French & Spanish don’t hate us for being American but as British colonists
  • It’s natural for us to be independent from Europe
    • North America is 1/8 of the livable world without any neighbors
    • Only 1/3 of Americans are of English descent & the rest home no sentimental affection for it
    • William the Conqueror was French & conquered England but the French didn’t rule England
      • It remained a separate entity because it was natural to do so
  • Why is Britain running our economy?
    • It’s in our best interest for American ports to be open to all – it’s in their interest too
    • Trade with others is in everyone’s interest
    • Furthermore, our connection is more burdensome lately than not
  • We are subject to the capricious nature of Great Britain’s foreign policy – we go to war against our will
  • Boston’s harbor has been closed & the people can’t trade – they’re going broke & are starving
    • They’re under the thumb of the British Army
    • Boston’s mother country is starving them out
  • We’ve tried every peaceful method to reconcile but the king won’t listen
    • Time to cut the cord
    • It’s not in Britain’s interest to be just towards us & not possible either
      • If there is a problem, it takes 3-4 months to petition, 3-4 months to get an answer, 4-5 months to get an explanation of the answer
      • At this point, a year has already passed & by this point the issue has lingered on so long that we get called silly & foolish
  • It’s silly to think an island is the one protecting an entire continent. We don’t need their help
  • Britain’s showed no sign of willingness to compromise
    • Over the years they’ve been heavy-handed in responding to us & now we’ve come to war
    • A simple dispute has resulted in us seeking independence – could’ve been avoided
    • The king claims to be our father – trying to kill us, though
  • 1 – Governing powers remain in king’s hands & can stop any legislation – arbitrary use of power
    • The man claims he knows what’s best for us so he vetoes our bills
    • Doesn’t care about us – only what he can get out of us – makes himself more powerful
  • 2 – There were only laws to start us off. We’re mature now & no one can bully us around for our own
    • People will not want to come here if they can’t be sure laws will protect them & their property
    • The British army has wreaked havoc on us which is only cementing desire for independence
  • Some say we need a monarch or aristocrats
    • They’re doing fine in Holland & Switzerland
  • We will have annual assemblies with representatives from each state & a president rotating from state to state
    • We’ll need a stronger majority to see that no unjust laws are passed
    • Meetings will bring each state’s knowledge & power by joining freedom & happiness
  • Rather than a king making the laws, the laws will be king
    • Time to split because the king isn’t listening & we already have the tools to start our new country

Chapter 4 – Of the Present Ability of America, with some miscellaneous Reflections

  • I’ve never met anyone in England or America who’d think the two wouldn’t separate
    • Now seems like the time is ripe
    • Now that British troops have shown up here, all colonies have to pull together because, let’s be honest, they’ll never allow us our own army or navy. We should build ships while the material’s still there & ours
    • At this precise moment, the price of freedom is cheap. We have decent commerce & little debt
      • If we grow anymore, under these conditions, we’d be too scared & too dependent to fight
    • If we incur a bit of debt, we can build a navy
      • No place on earth is as well-equipped with natural resources as we are & we don’t need anything from anyone
      • Navies require fewer men & are more mobile & powerful than armies
      • Russia’s enormous but is effectively powerless because it has no navy
      • Pirates may become a problem at some point in the future, as well
    • Doesn’t seem right that a power sent to subdue us would also defend us
      • Even if that were true, there’s too much ocean between there & here to do either jobs
    • A small defensive navy could help our cause
      • Once a navy becomes very large, it becomes very expensive & the country needs to tax its people for its use & maintenance
    • Our resources are superior & the quality of arms & ships is top-notch
      • If we don’t break away, the British will drain us of those resources
  • If & when we become too rich, we’ll lose the will to break away. Our long-term well-being would be better if we paid the price now, while it’s still cheap, & became independent. If we wait, it may be too late to do anything
    • The English are too preoccupied with commerce to deal with the king’s caprices
    • It’s best to get in good habits while we’re still young
      • Most other countries are too far gone
    • We have the opportunity to start a new country with our own laws & own customs without having them crammed down our throats
  • I’m not too concerned with the different denominations of Christianity here
    • We all have a similar attitude & the differences are mostly cosmetic
  • As for legislature, it ought to have a decent number of delegates so that a majority is fairly representative of public opinion
  • A form of Congress will always be necessary because we simply can’t have representation being hereditary
  • Nothing can be better than independence because
    1. There doesn’t look to be any end of our quarrels in sight
    2. I’d doubt very much that France or Spain would help us, even if just to mediate between us. They have too many interests to serve that purpose
    3. If we are British subjects in rebellion, other countries probably ought to see us as traitors if they are serving their own best interests. It would be wrong to help us against the British because it would weaken their own case for loyalty from their own people
    4. We should let other nations know who we’ve been abused. That would serve our interests best.

Chapter 5 – Appendix

  • Since the King’s speech to Parliament shows just how stubborn he really is
    • Further outlines why we need independence because he’s essentially maligning our country & we deserve better than a tyrant
  • Dalrymple’s piece tried to smooth things over & merely made apologies for the King’s childish behavior
    • It doesn’t really matter what anyone over there does or says anymore
    • We need to cut out on our own & get away from bad European habits
      • Independence, not reconciliation
    • We’ve got a lot of great minds to guide us
    • We cannot live in a decent place without unfettered government & foreign independence
      • If we wait longer, it’ll be even harder
    • In fact, we will have an easier time because of the training & experience we got in the French & Indian War
      • If we go to war, the government can make the money back from our debts by selling off frontier lands
  • But as it is, we need a government, which we don’t have
    • All this revolutionary talk & spirit is nice but we need to start making laws – something Britain wouldn’t let us do for ourselves
      • We need internal stability
    • The longer this goes on, the more the king & his lackeys can divide us
      • But the crown won’t let us petition or get any form of redress for our problems
      • The British Army has laid waste to a few towns & are looking to do more
    • We need a Congress to establish law & protect citizens’ rights
    • It’s a very exciting time – millions of people are about to have their freedom in a matter of months
      • We should put aside petty squabbles to ensure it happens
    • Now’s not the time to debate on Independence because we’re at war already – only on how to achieve it – firmly, securely & honorably
  • Independence is only the way for America
    • We’ll still have many English customs, which will be necessary to survive in peace & war but economically & civilly

Chapter 6 – Epistle to Quakers

  • I don’t usually knock religion or any specific denomination
    • We all answer to God in our own way, no matter who we are
    • When men stray from the good path, it’s little wonder that they fall
      • Quakers’ strength isn’t in politics
    • Quakers should look at the Revolution as a fight for eternal peace – only feasible by declaring Independence from Great Britain
      • This will mean war & they won’t let us go peacefully
    • The war isn’t for conquest or revenge but defense
      • The British are attacking civilians
    • You can try to preach peace to the British but they won’t listen
      • They’re raiding the harbors of Boston & are ravaging our coasts
    • We’re not complaining about you because you’re Quakers but because you’re not being Quakers
      • You see the act of bearing arms as a sin but they can be used to hunt
      • Even the Bible says that even a peaceful Christian will have enemies & this will create war.
    • God has his own prerogative – that we live a peaceful, quiet life – under a government that God’s made available to us
      • Kings come & go but we must live by the tools that God’s given us & not be deterred from using them
      • The Jews were forced into exile but listened to the highest authority
    • We are not trying to make or unmake kings or set up or put down kings. We want nothing to do with them at all.
  • The Quaker stance of the war is wrong because:
    1. It makes your religion look bad as well as puts it in danger by being involved in political disputes
    2. You disavow publishing of political testimonies but also being concerned within them
    3. You’re allowing the destruction of a society that your values & actions have helped to establish. It’s important to all of us
      • Please realize all the freedoms you enjoy here in America because the English don’t wish to provide you with any of them

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