Thomas Paine’s Common Sense: an asylum for mankind in a world overrun with oppression

“This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster.”


On January 10, 1776, six months before the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense” anonymously, signing it “Written by an Englishman.” Paine’s pamphlet was a radical and revolutionary call for America to attain freedom from British rule at an era of uncertainty

Having covered with the preliminary examinations upon government, society and religion, Paine espouses the doctrine of separation and independence. He examines the connection and dependence on Great Britain in order to indicate what America has to trust, if separated, and what America is to expect, if dependent. He states:

“I have heard it asserted by some, that as America hath flourished under her former connexion with Great Britain, that the same connexion is necessary towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind of argument.”

Paine claims that America has boasted of the protection of Great Britain as the “parent country”, without considering that its motive was the interest rather than the attachment and it was merely for the sake of trade and domination. Paine disapproves the phrase of parent of mother country applied to England as being selfish, false, ungenerous and narrow.

“The phrase parent or mother country hath been jesuitically adopted by the king and his parasites, with a low papistical design of gaining an unfair bias on credulous weakness of our minds. Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster.”

Paine also reprobates that all Americans were of English decent. He describes this as truly farcical.

“The first king of England, of the present line (William the Conqueror) was a Frenchman, and half the peers of England are descendants from the same country; wherefore by the same method of reasoning, England ought to be governed by France.”

Paine considers, “Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of patriotism and military defence,” and points out the injuries and disadvantages of connection with Britain since Europe is a market for trade and America should form no partial connection with any part of Europe for its own true interest.

“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.”

When Paine comes right down to independence, he expresses the authority of Great Britain over the continent is a form of government which has to come to an end sooner or later. And he writes:

“Small islands not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet, and as England and America, with respect to each other, reverses the common order of nature, it is evident they belong to different systems England to Europe, America to itself.”

For Paine, it was the time of forming a government but such undertaking was complicated. Paine then details his suggestions to form an American government and to set up an American constitution. As he states:

“Most nations have let slip the opportunity, and by that means have been compelled to receive laws from their conquerors, instead of making laws for themselves. First, they had a king, and then a form of government; whereas, the articles or charter of government, should be formed first, and men delegated to execute them afterwards.”

He ends the pamphlet with a metaphor:

“These proceedings may at first appear strange and difficult; but, like all other steps which we have already passed over, will in a little time become familiar and agreeable; and, until an independence is declared, the Continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.”

Regarded as a foundational document of American independence, Paine’s Common Sense was a best seller in America and all over the world – after it was shipped and translated into other languages. It is truly sui generis regarding the way he presents his ideas, and it is a splendid read in its entirety.


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