Themes in Common Sense

Themes Examples in Common Sense:

I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution 3

"the peers are an house in behalf of the king; the commons in behalf of the people; but this hath all the distinctions of a house divided against itself..."   (I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution)

Paine believes that for a government and a nation to be successful they must be united, and its people must be equal. This further reinforces his opinion, in comparison with the way England is ruled.

"a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world..."   (I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution)

This line serves as a critical explication of how Paine views the concept of government as a whole. Government is not inherently necessary, but because human morality cannot be relied upon, a government is needed.

"For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver..."   (I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution)

This demonstrates a recognition of the flaws of humanity and the rationale behind Paine's advocacy for government—despite his earlier frustrations against it.

"it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion..."   (II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession)

This is one of the more famous lines in the text and speaks to what Paine believes to be one of the fatal flaws of a monarchical government. By elevating a single man into a position of utmost power over others, monarchy fuels the pride of the king. This pride subsequently pushes the king to act in pursuit of his own best interests, rather than the best interests of his people.

"Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation..."   (II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession)

It is worth noting that, given the historical context of this time, Paine likely was advocating for equality among white me; however his language is such that we can apply his assertions of equality to everyone. It is his firm belief that men are equal which fuels his strong opposition to kings, the monarchy, and that hierarchical structure.

"Neither can ye reconcile Britain and America..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

The time to backtrack has passed, and the only way now is forward. There can be no hope for reconciliation, nor can there be just sympathy with British rule. This is Paine's final call to action.

"it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

A government of America's own is a natural right and is essential in preserving the safety and integrity of the American colonies. Paine crafts this argument to appeal to the reader's logos by explaining how his belief is the most sound course of action.

"and the whole, being impowered by the people, will have a truly legal authority..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

Here Paine once again maintains the idea of self-governance and the success that comes from distributing ruling power to the people rather than a single, monarchical leader.

"nothing but independance, i.e. a continental form of government, can keep the peace of the continent and preserve it inviolate from civil wars..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

Many colonists feared the seeming inevitability of civil wars, and here Paine addresses that concern while explaining that only an independent government, like the one he is advocating for, can prevent those wars. This marks a shift in Paine's rhetoric, too, wherein he has now transitioned to acknowledge the colonists' fears.

"no farther than it answers her own purpose..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

England's involvement with the American colonies is fueled entirely by self-interest, and subsequently they are not a sound governing body for the colonies. This argument undermines England's reasons for legitimate rule.

"The object, contended for, ought always to bear some just proportion to the expence..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

Paine uses this paragraph to invoke a cost-benefit question regarding the future of the revolution. Will the benefits outweigh the costs? Paine believes wholeheartedly that they will, and this statement subsequently sets up the next part of his discussion.

"Every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

Here Paine makes a bold claim that the quiet, less dramatic resistances have not been successful, and this statement sets him up to expound on methods that could accomplish more. It is not quite a direct advocation of violence; rather, it is simply a call for action as that is the only true way to enact change.

"Our plan is commerce..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

Here Paine notes that the goal of a free America is not to seek out conflict, or exert authority over other countries, but rather to have a successful and prosperous economy made possible through the inclusive exchange of goods from countries throughout the world.

"we claim brotherhood with every European christian, and triumph in the generosity of the sentiment...."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

This represents an important point of clarification, in that Paine does not seek total isolationism in the new America. Instead he advocates a connection with all other like-minded European citizens, and a distinct pride in those connections.

"this is certainly a very round-about way of proving relationship, but it is the nearest and only true way of proving enemyship..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

Again, Paine highlights the separation of American interest and British ruling interest. He notes here that, though some claim the colonies are united solely through England, they are actually united through Great Britain's imposed "enemyship."

"’Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent..."   (III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs)

This is a critical quote to note because it highlights the deeply held belief that the cause of the revolution extends beyond the thirteen colonies. Paine's diction here helps to extend the importance of the pamphlet's argument.

"We are sufficiently numerous, and were we more so, we might be less united..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

This is Paine's rationale for his previous argument against a common concern for colonial supporters. He argues that the colonies exist in a perfect balance, wherein they are populous enough to defend themselves, but not so overrun that unity becomes problematic.

"If premiums were to be given to merchants, to build and employ in their service ships..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

To fuel the potential success of a future naval force, Paine advocates for the production and service of merchant ships to be used in a more military way.

"Wherefore, if we must hereafter protect ourselves, why not do it for ourselves?..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

Paine further advocates for a degree of independence and self-sufficiency for the future of the new America. The colonists should not rely on a distanced military, run by another country, to protect themselves from outside threats. Paine appeals to their ability to protect themselves.

"our methods of defence, ought to improve with our increase of property..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

Paine advocates for a larger, and more powerful, defensive program within America. As the colonies have grown and prospered, so too must their military. While he does much to point out how ready America is for independence, he also includes such items to remind readers that there is still work to be done.

"Tar, timber, iron, and cordage are her natural produce..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

This is yet another reason that America is at an ideal point to separate from Britain: the country has a plethora of natural resources from which citizens may produce goods and arms.

"The more sea port towns we had, the more should we have both to defend and to lose..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

Though their navy was not strong, all the ports and coastal towns made for an ideal foundation upon which to benefit from having a navy. These refrains from Paine are another rhetorical tactic through which he hopes to convince readers of his arguments.

"would take place one time or other..."   (IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections)

America's independence from Britain is inevitable, according to Paine and all those with whom he has spoken. The purpose of this section is subsequently to explain how well equipped the colonies are for this inevitable separation.