Thomas Paine and his pamphlet Common Sense in relation to the American Revolution.
Common Sense and the American Revolution
Probably, Thomas Paine has been mentioned in almost every scholarly historical text that touches on the American Revolution. He stands out as being a radical yet the most influential writer of his time. He was born in England and immigrated to the United States in the period of 1774. After just two years, he published the controversial pamphlet labeled ‘Common Sense.’ This pamphlet was to change completely the history of the revolution in America. This booklet, considered vastly influential, inspired many of the colonists in America that the time for American autonomy under the British rule was due. No other individual impacted the American people to shifting their tactic from a rebellious spirit to a revolutionary one (Greene and Pole). This essay has sought to critically examine the contents and details surrounding the pamphlet ‘Common sense’ and how it shaped the American revolutionary tactics. Further, this paper has explored the language and style used by Paine and how it influenced people on their approach to fighting against the British rule.
Paine was tactical in applying Common sense as a tool for enlightening people regarding the urgent need for liberation. Importantly, Thomas Paine captured the interest of many people. His works majorly focused on the ideology and the details on how to secede from being a British colony (Hoffman). But of prime importance was his outstanding tactical approach and the type of language he chose to use. Common sense was written in a simple yet inspiring tone. The language and the choice of words exhibited by this pamphlet make Paine a master of his art. Right from the introduction, Common sense is sprinkled with inspiring and unforgettable clauses. For instance, he claimed that ‘’society is an entity coined from our needs while government, on the other hand, is produced by our wickedness’’ (Paine). In the same context, he claimed that time for ‘continental union’ had come. In this, he meant that the Americans now had the opportunity to reform their constitution making it among the noblest among political systems on earth at the time. Moreover, he sought to establish that the power to effect all these changes was in the power of the common Americans. Importantly, the time for all these reforms was due. To a critical thinker, such words seek to arouse the familiar aphorism that “The pen is mightier than the sword.” (Paine). The catch of this is that words are more useful when compared with violence.
Common sense is considered perhaps the greatest literary text of its time. This pamphlet was organized into various sections with each seeking to address a particular issue. Thomas Paine started off by examining the difference that existed between social and government policies. The first section of Common Sense concisely explored on the value of social policies for the prosperity of any government system (Paine). However, many people question the choice of words employed by Paine in the first title to this pamphlet. Perhaps Paine used it intentionally to create irony among his readers in a bid to inspire critical thinking among them. He sought to highlight how distinct society and government worked based on principles. Significantly, he defined the fundamental notion of contemporary democracy. He was of the opinion that, if a particular group of people migrated and settled in the isolated part of the continent, then they were free to introduce their own political entity free from foreign interference. Society originates from such a basic foundation of liberty.
Arguably, Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense at a time when the question of autonomy was a big issue in the politics of America. Through Common Sense, Thomas Paine chose to present his arguments to Americans regarding independence at a time when the public was increasingly interested in political propaganda. At the time, just before the American Revolution took effect, Americans were increasingly reading any literature that touched on politics due to the rapidly shifting trends in the political landscape at the time (Hoffman). Significantly, Paine bombarded the American minds with philosophy, not different from his predecessors, but in a different style and form of language that everyone could relate with. A few scholars afford to mention Paine as a brilliant intellectual propagandist. This was perhaps among the numerous reasons why Common sense succeeded in swaying many people into taking action against colonialism. He took advantage of the political winds and acted with precise precision in delivering his messages and unmatched ideology.
Paine was a master in his field, not just by the ideas he put down, but by the tactics he used in ensuring that his message got to everybody cutting through the farmer in Texas to the business person in the bustling metropolis. The ability of his printed versions to traverse the diverse number of readers meant that he won the unity of many people that were ready to fight towards a common goal. With this, Thomas Paine set the stage for the struggle towards total autonomy. Initially, many Americans had regarded themselves as being an extension of Britain. However, with the empowerment from Paine’s pamphlets, many came to see themselves a different entity harboring distinct strategic and long-term interests.
Indeed, in any society, the might of words to persuade and inspire is double edged. Words may turn ideas into weapons and cause peaceful men to instigate violence and cause mayhem. Whether the impact is wicked or moral will ultimately depend on the context in which such words are invested (Paine).
It was not surprising that Common sense spread far and wide. Within a few years, this pamphlet had been printed in numerous version as far as Europe. In fact, numerous parodies and imitations of this text emerged in various other areas. This was very vital in earning Paine support for his ideas. The vast audience meant that he could easily speak his ideology into a diverse entity into formulating a united society. Moreover, Paine tactically quoted the bible in his quest to reach most people, a book that almost all Americans read. Some analogies were drawn from the Bible. Importantly, Common Sense was designed in a way that it could be read to crowds and congregations. With this as an added advantage, this pamphlet was able to traverse a great audience beyond the single copy sales that were exhaustively printed. In fact, at one point, when most of the troops were drenched and at the verge of giving up, Washington had part of the pamphlet read out aloud to them due to the inspiring nature of the clauses contained therein. Paine’s work targeted such groups of people; he aimed at addressing the dispirited soldiers and those that had the thirst for liberty. Common sense contained just the right words for anyone seeking inspiration (Hoffman).
The ideology advanced by Thomas Paine was central in stirring people to stage a revolution against the British ‘tyranny.’ Chief among his arguments was that the monarchical system of government was a flawed form of democracy in which people had little if any say in the kind of leadership imposed on them. He viciously attacked the monarchy drawing analogies from the Bible. Arguably, Paine used the Bible because most of the Americans could relate with it. He claimed that all men were socially equal thereby opposing the fallacy that the kings were any superior to the common citizens (Hitchens). Further, Paine examined the various problems that had emerged due to the ‘ridiculous’ monarchical system depicting the king as being a fraud. He faulted the principle by which kings ruled and questioned the crimes instigated by them calling onto people to actively oppose this faulty form of governance. His allusions succeeded in awakening the people from slumber into taking personal responsibility to their leadership.
Common sense contained the fundamental principles of a standard democracy that Paine thought would be ideal for America. In his powerful messages, he suggested a system of government which was representative in nature- just what the colonists needed at the time. Such a system heavily insisted on promoting individual and societal prosperity to be in line with the political leadership. Unlike the British form of leadership, Paine’s model of government would ensure that citizens lead a fulfilling life while directly choosing people that represent them in government (Hitchens). This text enabled the readers to revisit their ideology on the whole concept of leadership. Reading through the piece, the readers were able to see the contrast between the present state of affairs versus what an ideal democracy ought to be. This was enough in stirring people into action. The illusion of democracy created by this pamphlet was exceptional. Paine depicted a nearly perfect form of democracy that was desirable at the time. In fact, John Adams, who later took over from George Washington, faulted Paine for dwelling too much on highlighting a perfect democracy that would be impossible to achieve in real life. Such a system did not provide for the relevant equilibriums.
To any analyst, the impact of such a pamphlet is predictable. While the conventional political system exempted the commoners from political forums, Common sense sought to speak to such a class of people. Armed with it ordinary people had the confidence and knowledge to address political issues. Political ideas became an issue of national responsibility and shaping the government systems became an assignment of the citizens. Paine seemed to have changed the political game. Because the common readers were served with information in a simple way that they could comprehend, they were able to show up in debates and become more involved in political affairs. Besides, even the illiterate had the opportunity to express their opinion since they were enlightened through public gatherings in which Common sense would be read out. This was the primary motive as to why Paine wrote this pamphlet. To bring together the American colonists, both educated and uneducated, into discussing relevant issues regarding the urgency for the call for independence. He worked in ensuring that everyone felt as if they were part of the greater whole in demanding for autonomy (Hitchens). Perhaps, this is the reason as to why it has come to be named as the most famous literary text in the era of revolution. Moreover, Common sense provided a template for the democratic system of government to be adopted by America. This pamphlet consisted a model of representative government part of which inspired the formulation of the contemporary American constitution.
In conclusion, Common sense altered the mind of any reader that dared read it; it staged revolutionary ideology. Written at the brink of a revolution, Common sense became the most famous literary work at the time. It stirred Americans to strengthen their effort in the fight for liberalization thereby inspiring the first call to action against colonialism in contemporary history. Paine himself had no idea of how vast his pamphlet would impact. Even colonialists at the time underestimated the piece until numerous versions of it were printed and circulated far and wide. Recently, Paine has come to be described professional radical without a match (Hitchens). His revolutionary propagandist tactics are themselves perplexing to an average reader. Today, many people think that this pamphlet triggered the historical American Revolution. This begs the question, how did a little known English emigrant succeed in shifting the public opinion so rapidly? Paine’s work was outstanding to say the least. He shifted away from the norm and decided to leave out the complex philosophies used by his predecessors in the field of literature. Instead, he decided to employ a mix of simple yet powerful messages that any common American would relate with. He created a notion among every American that a revolution meant that every American would eventually get the opportunity to be represented directly in the political fronts (Greene and Pole).
Greene, Jack P, and J. R Pole. The Blackwell Encyclopedia Of The American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.:
Blackwell Reference, 1991. Print.
Hitchens, Christopher. “The Actuarial Radical: Common Sense About Thomas Paine.” Grand Street 7.1
(1987): 67. Web.
Hoffman, David C. “Paine And Prejudice: Rhetorical Leadership Through Perceptual Framing In Common
Sense”. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 9.3 (2006): 373-410. Web.
Paine, Thomas. Common sense. Broadview Press, 2004.