On July 4th 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress, the document undoubtedly influenced by the work of Thomas Paine, if not written by him like some historians theorize. A few months before in January 1776, the pamphlet Common Sense was published by Thomas Paine during the American revolution and was received by many as a call to arms, to not only demand the withdrawal of the new taxes implemented by the British in America, but to claim their independence.

Indeed after the end of the French and Indian war in 1763, which, although won, weighed a lot on the British, they decided to increase the financial burden of America to compensate. The Parliament implemented new taxes via the Townshend Act of 1767, which was repealed in 1770 but was soon followed by restrictions following the Boston Tea Party.

These events caused the first convening of the Continental Congress but even then, opinions on what to make of the conflict with Britain remained diverse. In Common Sense, Thomas Paine explains the necessity to face the truth and take action (l1-13), then reminds the reader of the importance of taking action for this major cause that will impact the entire continent’s future (l14-29). Then he touches on the impossibility of a union with Great Britain as long

as there is dependence in the relationship (l30-49), and on the questionable necessity of Britain, which only ever acted on interest and caused them international trouble (l50-74). And that is why today we will answer the question: Why does Thomas Paine think it’s in America’s best interest to seek its independence from Great Britain? In this commentary, we will follow the linear development of the author’s arguments, as previously stated.

In the first paragraph, the author begins by asking the reader to set aside any “prejudice and prepossession” (l3-4), thus clarifying the intent of his writing. This serves no personal interest but touches the well-being of a more significant cause as declared later on, and this cannot be disturbed by meager human conflicts. He reminds us

that he will state “facts […] and common sense” (l1-2), making himself trustworthy to the reader and encouraging him to see farther than himself and be generous.

It is from the second paragraph on that we learn the reason for this pamphlet, being the shift from an intellectual engagement, which all ranks of society had thrown themselves into, to an actual armed conflict, which forces a second, more concrete line of action. The colonies have been pushed by the mistreatment from the British government to “challenge” its authority (l13).

Furthermore, the carelessness of the “late Mr. Pelham”, which we can imagine was adopted by many to become such a problem, poses an actual need for opposition. If the decision-makers declare themselves uninterested in caring for the future of a nation they claim to want the best for, then this nation has an obligation to rebel. Otherwise, they will suffer well-earned “detestation” (l20) from the future generations for their inactions, since this wound can only grow and fester with time (the wound would enlarge with the tree, l28-29).

Before augmenting on the relationship between Great Britain and its colony, Thomas Paine marks a clear separation between all thesis and arguments produced before and after the nineteenth of April, date at which the British and American forces exchanged fire in the towns of Lexington and Concord. A union with Great Britain is now severely less considerable, especially counting the fact that both force and friendship (l38) have been proposed before and have failed, either by making the two parties more wary of each other or by confirming their inability to cooperate, likely due to the complications in their shared history.

The author calls a union an “agreeable dream” (l42), utterly unrealistic in its vision of the conflict, since it would imply a certain level of dependence on Great Britain, which would be unbearable to its former colony. It only requires the knowledge of the “principle of nature” (l48); a theory coined by Locke and further developed by Hobbes, which implies that there is a necessary alliance to be made between men, even though it is in their nature to find each other’s presence unlivable, as well as some “common sense” (l48) to understand the lack of compatibility between the two.

This point is deepened in the seventh and eighth paragraphs, in which the author tackles the commonly spread idea that America flourished under British authority, which isn’t necessarily a reason to make a link from cause to effect.

Thomas Paine calls this argument “fallacious” (l53) and underlines its absurdity by comparing it to the idea that since a child thrives under a milk diet, they should never taste meat. Indeed, America could use some change in its situation, especially since commerce in America flourishes mainly because there is a need for its product, not because of any relationship. One could even think, as the author states, that America ought to have flourished “as much, and probably much more” (l58) had it been free of European influence.

Finally, the text gets to grips with the misconception that Great Britain is needed, would it only be to defend America. The author debuts that argument by reminding the reader of the inseparable intentions behind these protections, which cannot be ignored.

There is no kindness or goodwill to be found in this protection, it would have been given to any country providing them with the same “trade or dominion” (l65) and should be seen as such, a protection of investment, not a friendly act. Great Britain has brought more conflict to America than anything else, the interior ones not mentioned in this text, however they can be kept in mind, but mostly the exterior ones. They have defended America from the enemy they brought, only to ensure their benefits would not be impacted. If they were to claim their independence, the 13 states would not only be free of Great Britain, but also of all the conflict it has brought to them in the last century (l72-74).

To conclude, Thomas Paine calls for a new, more down-to-earth view of the conflict and the options America sees itself proposed with. The new continent building itself and shaping the future cannot afford the luxury of thinking of only its time and must make a conscious choice. In this pamphlet, the reader is given the keys to understanding the stakes or the conflict and then is offered clarity on the measures to be taken.

Common arguments like the alleged possibility of a union with Great Britain or the necessity of its protection are debunked, and the interests of the European nation are laid bare for the reader to look down upon. America should claim its independence to gain dominion over itself, but also simply because the arguments that have been maintaining its dependence are feeble and untrue, calling for a fall of the system it upholds.

This extract of Common Sense not only calls for independence but shows its potential benefits so that men do not throw themselves into blind conflict for the sake of rebellion, but make a posed choice concerning their future, which will inevitably strengthen the faith of the fighters. A possible continuation of this essay could be to see the impact of the rest of Common Sense, notably of its idea of government, on the development of America after the war, since this text maintained its relevance through the centuries.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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