The power of words is not to be underestimated. In 1776, Thomas Paine released a simple pamphlet that was to change the course of history. As the title “Common Sense” implies, the pamphlet addressed the American people to enlighten their minds, and to persuade them to fight for complete independence from Britain. Despite Paine’s failure to achieve objectivity, it is his appeal to reason, solid argumentation, and straightforwardness that make his pamphlet so powerful.
Common Sense as a whole ignites reason in the minds of the American people. He simply depicts the bitter reality the Americans live under the British rule, then calculates the dire subsequences. “because, any submission to or dependence on Great Britain tends directly to involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels, and sets us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our friendship and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint.”
The American reader would immediately nod at this argument because it is only sensible that the alliance with Britain will drag Americans into needless wars. Paine appealed to reason to enforce his arguments. This stems up from being influenced by the writings of the Age of Reason such as John Locke’s.
“Bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature and then tell me whether you can hereafter love, honour, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land?” nature is a reoccurring word in the pamphlet. Paine refers to Locke’s state of nature theory and innate natural rights. He wants the Americans to be fully convinced that Britain is violating their natural right to be free, to own property, and to pursuit happiness.
One of the main reasons Common Sense became so influential is the straightforwardness Paine used to deliver his arguments. Paine knew his audience was mostly common people. Therefore, he avoided ambiguous language and kept away from dense metaphors. This way, the message is reachable and clear. “Everything that is right or natural pleads for separation.
The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’TIS TIME TO PART.” Paine uses short sentences to get right to the point. He also gives bold statements like “Tis Time to Part.” That radiates his confident tone. Moreover, Paine wanted to ridicule his opponents. That is why, he frequently uses sarcasm “Come, come, we shall be friends again for all this.” By this mimic, he makes those who support reconciliation with Britain feel naïve and ridiculous. Thus, he makes his arguments more valid and more evident.
In Common Sense, Thomas Paine tries to steer clear from subjectivity, yet he fails. In the beginning, he announces that he will present facts and reasonable arguments “In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” Which he does. He gives the reader the impression of an all-knowing author. However, his attitudes towards Britain and her American supporters (also towards religion) force him to resurface as a first-person narrator instead of an omniscient narrator.
“I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation to show a single advantage that this continent can reap by being connected with Great Britain.” The use of the first-person exposes him to be just a man speaking his mind, and not the all-knowing source of knowledge he leads us to believe. Nonetheless, this technic of hiding his presence in Common Sense gives more credibility to what he says.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense remains an instrumental literary work that fuelled the determination inside the Americans for independence. It is a simple pamphlet, yet sharper than a sword.
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