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Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Common Sense

by Thomas Paine

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In observance of Independence Day I decided to read something to help me widen my knowledge on the history of the American Revolution.

Common Sense is 48 page pamphlet written by Thomas Paine, but published anonymously in January 10, 1776. The document which was published right at the beginning of the American Revolution argues in favor of America's independence from Great Britain.

Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was born in England. He was a political activist, philosopher and revolutionary. Like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Paine's ideas were highly influenced by the Enlightenment movement.

239 years after it's publication, I found this short document interesting, remarkably accessible and easy to follow. Pamphlets were sort of like the Blogs of the times, it was a medium widely used to spread ideas and causes from the American Revolution to the Women's Suffrage to the Labor Movement.

Paine estimated that more than 500,000 copies of "Common Sense" had been sold, but many experts believe that this number is wildly inflated especially considering the total size of the population among the 13 Colonies and that there's not way to know for sure how many copies were distributed.

What remains undisputed is the important role this short document had in convincing many colonists that independence from Britain was the best course of action for America. It's considered to this day one of the most influential political documents in American history.

It's said that Washington gave copies of "Common Sense" to his soldier during battles in an effort to ignite their passion for their cause.

Paine stars his argument with a general reflections about government and religion, he later progresses onto the specifics of the colonial situation.

He then moves to discuss the differences between government and society, singing the praises and virtues of society and demonizing government and painting it as a necessary evil.

Paine spends some time criticizing Britain's political system and makes not effort to hide his disdain for the King and the monarchical political system.

On what he calls the "evils of monarchy and hereditary succession" he says:
For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and though himself might deserve some decent degree of honors of his contemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them... Because such an unwise, unjust, unnatural compact might (perhaps) in the next succession put them under the government of a rogue or a fool.
Paine then moves to specifically address why the current time is the best to break from Britain. He believes that the colonies have nothing to gain and everything to lose by remaining under the King's rule. He mentions that by obtaining independence America could then move to continue doing business with Britain but also with the rest of Europe.

He proposes that the best political system for America would be that of a Representative democracy in which every colony has equal representation.

If you are interested in American history and want to learn a little bit about the American political zeitgeist of the times (and I would argue even of the present times), "Common Sense" is a mandatory read.

On a completely separate note (but still keeping with the patriotic theme of this review) here's a shout out to the US Women's Soccer team!

( )
  irisper012106 | Nov 1, 2015 |
If you ("you" as in US citizens) haven't read this book, you should. And the narrator gives it all the force and emotion needed to be read as it should (audiobook)! Great! It actually is understandable too - a bonus - as English in that era was quite a bit different. ( )
  marshapetry | Sep 30, 2015 |
Thomas Paine is my favorite writer's (the late Christopher Hitchens) favorite writer, and therefore my responsibility to experience. Upon reading, I quickly understood the admiration. Paine, like Hitchens, is an enviously eloquent silver-tongued wordplayer who holds immoral sycophants to account for their cowardice. For shame that this was not part of my curriculum. How could a work like this be buried in general, purportedly as a result of future quasi-antitheistic work? This writing should be judged upon its own merits. History should have been kinder, as it is a masterpiece of reasoning and rationalism and a supreme galvanizer of men. ( )
  MartinBodek | Jun 11, 2015 |
A very appropriate book to be reviewing on the Fourth of July! This is the argument that started the American Revolution - the argument that a break from British ties is the only way to make America great. His arguments are both very persuasive (as a 21st century reader, I found myself agreeing with him on all points) and is very enlightening on the politics of the time.

I found it difficult to read at some points - the shift in language required me to read the same passages multiple times to understand it. And sometimes, a sentence only made sense in the context of the larger page. But- the arguments are very clear.

I think all politicians should read this book - as a country, I think America have gone away from the intent of elected officials. Thomas Paine makes it very clear the best government is when each person gets to vote on an issue but when populations are too large second best is vote for a representative.

This is a book of it's time... There are non-politically correct references to "Savages" of Africa and Native Indians. It is very clear that Thomas Paine was writing to an audience who thought Christianity was the most "Civilized" religion. I say this because the introduction indicates that Thomas Paine was Deist and was against slavery. So, was he writing to his audience? or did he actually believe what he wrote. It is an interesting question. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Jul 4, 2013 |
The first parts are the best. Very much a book of the Enlightenment.

Couple of quotes:

"Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices."

"... government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one..." ( )
  dmac7 | Jun 14, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Paineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Appleby, JoyceEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beeman, Richard R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cronauer, AdrianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Deitschman, CraigNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gabaldon, DianaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herder, RonaldEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kramnick, IsaacEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tietjen, GregoryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wendel, ThomasEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Man knows no Mafbr fave creating HEAVEN,
Or thofe whom choice and common good ordain.

First words
Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages are not sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins.
Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if continued would grow into oppressions. Expedience and right are different things.
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Book description
When my country, into which I had just set my foot, was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir."
~ Thomas Paine

Published anonymously in 1776, the year of the American Declaration of Independence, Paine's Common Sense became an immediate bestseller, with fifty-six edtiions printed in that year alone. It was this pamplet, more than any other factor, which helped to spark off the movement that established hte independence of hte United States.

From his experience of revolutionary politics, Paine drew those principles of fundamental human rights which, he felt, must stand no matter what excesses are committed to obtain them, and which he later formulated in his Rights of Man.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140390162, Paperback)

"These are the times that try men's souls," begins Thomas Paine's first Crisis paper, the impassioned pamphlet that helped ignite the American Revolution. Published in Philadelphia in January of 1776, Common Sense sold 150,000 copies almost immediately. A powerful piece of propaganda, it attacked the idea of a hereditary monarchy, dismissed the chance for reconciliation with England, and outlined the economic benefits of independence while espousing equality of rights among citizens. Paine fanned a flame that was already burning, but many historians argue that his work unified dissenting voices and persuaded patriots that the American Revolution was not only necessary, but an epochal step in world history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:43 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Enormously popular and widely read pamphlet, first published in January of 1776, clearly and persuasively argues for American separation from Great Britain and paves the way for the Declaration of Independence. Credited with having changed the minds of many, the highly influential landmark document attacks the monarchy, cites the evils of government and combines idealism with practical economic concerns.… (more)

» see all 12 descriptions

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