Thomas Paine (1737–1809). Common Sense. 1776.
online text: Common Sense
Of the origin and design of government in general, with concise remarks on the English Constitution.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809). Common Sense. 1776.
Of monarchy and hereditary succession.
But there is another and greater distinction for which no truly natural
or religious reason can be assigned, and that is, the distinction of men into KINGS and SUBJECTS. Male and female are the
distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above
the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth enquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or
of misery to mankind.
England, since the conquest, hath known some few good monarchs, but groaned beneath
a much larger number of bad ones; yet no man in his senses can say that their claim under William the Conqueror is a very
honorable one. A French bastard landing with an armed bandit, and establishing himself king of England against the consent
of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original.
The whole history of England disowns
the fact. Thirty kings and two minors have reigned in that distracted kingdom since the conquest, in which time there have
been (including the Revolution) no less than eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809).
Common Sense. 1776.
Thoughts on the present state of American affairs.
. . .
Alas, we have been long led
away by ancient prejudices, and made large sacrifices to superstition. We have boasted the protection of Great-Britain, without
considering, that her motive was interest not attachment; that she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but
from her enemies on her own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account, and who will always be our
enemies on the same account. Let Britain wave her pretensions to the continent, or the continent throw off the dependence,
and we should be at peace with France and Spain were they at war with Britain. The miseries of Hanover last war ought to warn
us against connections.
But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her conduct.
Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families; wherefore the assertion, if true, turns to
her reproach; but it happens not to be true, or only partly so, and the phrase parent or mother country hath been Jesuitical
adopted by the king and his parasites, with a low papistical design of gaining an unfair bias on the 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; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first
emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.
In this extensive quarter of the globe, we forget the narrow
limits of three hundred and sixty miles (the extent of England) and carry our friendship on a larger scale; we claim brotherhood
with every European Christian, and triumph in the generosity of the sentiment. 12 It is pleasant to observe by what regular
gradations we surmount the force of local prejudice, as we enlarge our acquaintance with the world. A man born in any town
in England divided into parishes, will naturally associate most with his fellow parishioners (because their interests in many
cases will be common) and distinguish him by the name of neighbor; if he meet him but a few miles from home, he drops the
narrow idea of a street, and salutes him by the name of townsman; if he travel out of the county, and meet him in any other,
he forgets the minor divisions of street and town, and calls him countryman; i. e. county-man; but if in their foreign excursions
they should associate in France or any other part of Europe, their local remembrance would be enlarged into that of Englishmen.
And by a just parity of reasoning, all Europeans meeting in America, or any other quarter of the globe, are countrymen; for
England, Holland, Germany, or Sweden, when compared with the whole, stand in the same places on the larger scale, which the
divisions of street, town, and county do on the smaller ones; distinctions too limited for continental minds. Not one third
of the inhabitants, even of this province, are of English descent. Wherefore I reprobate the phrase of parent or mother country
applied to England only, as being false,
selfish, narrow and ungenerous. 13 But admitting, that we were all of English
descent, what does it amount to? Nothing. Britain, being now an open enemy, extinguishes every other name and title: And to
say that reconciliation is our duty, is 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. 14 Much hath been said of the united strength of Britain and the colonies, that in
conjunction they might bid defiance to the world. But this is mere presumption; the fate of war is uncertain, neither do the
expressions mean any thing; for this continent would never suffer itself to be drained of inhabitants, to support the British
in either Asia, Africa, or Europe. 15 Besides, what have we to do with setting the world at defiance? Our plan is commerce,
and that, well attended to, will secure us the peace and friendship of all Europe; because, it is the interest of all Europe
to have America a free port. Her trade will always be a protection, and her barrenness of gold and silver secure her from
time likewise at which the continent was discovered, adds weight to the argument, and the manner in which it was peopled increases
the force of it. The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary
to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.
Men of passive
tempers look somewhat lightly over the offences of Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, "Come, come,
we shall be friends again, for all this." But examine the passions and feelings of mankind, 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? If you cannot do all these, then are you only deceiving yourselves, and by your
delay bringing ruin upon posterity. Your future connection with Britain, whom you can neither love nor honour, will be forced
and unnatural, and being formed only on the plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more wretched
than the first. But if you say, you can still pass the violations over, then
I ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your
property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have
you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then are you
not a judge of those who have. But if you have, and still can shake hands with the murderers, then you are unworthy of the
name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward,
and the spirit of a sycophant.
To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition,
waiting four or five months for an answer, which when obtained requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years
be looked upon as folly and childishness—There was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease.
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
We may be as effectually enslaved by the want of laws in America, as by submitting to laws made
for us in England. After matters are made up (as it is called) can there be any doubt, but the whole power of the crown will
be exerted, to keep this continent as low and humble as possible? Instead of going forward we shall go backward, or be perpetually
quarrelling or ridiculously petitioning.—We are already greater than the king wishes us to be, and will he not hereafter
endeavor to make us less? To bring the matter to one point. Is the power who is jealous of our prosperity, a proper power
to govern us? Whoever says No to this question is an independent, for independency means no more, than, whether we shall make
our own laws, or, whether the king, the greatest enemy this continent hath, or can have, shall tell us, "there shall be no
laws but such as I like."
And in order to show that reconciliation now is a dangerous doctrine, I affirm,
that it would be policy in the king at this time, to repeal the acts for the sake of reinstating himself in the government
of the provinces; in order that HE MAY ACCOMPLISH BY CRAFT AND SUBTILITY, IN THE LONG RUN, WHAT HE CANNOT DO BY FORCE AND
VIOLENCE IN THE SHORT ONE. Reconciliation and ruin are nearly related.
Thousands are already ruined by British
barbarity; (thousands more will probably suffer the same fate.) Those men have other feelings than us who have nothing suffered.
All they now possess is liberty, what they before enjoyed is sacrificed to its service, and having nothing more to lose, they
disdain submission. Besides, the general temper of the colonies, towards a British government, will be like that of a youth,
who is nearly out of his time; they will care very little about her. And a government which cannot preserve the peace, is
no government at all, and in that case we pay our money for nothing;
I make the sufferers case my own, and
I protest, that were I driven from house and home, my property destroyed, and my circumstances ruined, that as a man, sensible
of injuries, I could never relish the doctrine of reconciliation, or consider myself bound thereby.
there are no distinctions there can be no superiority, perfect equality affords no temptation.
thousands, and tens of thousands, who would think it glorious to expel from the continent, that barbarous and hellish power,
which hath stirred up the Indians and Negroes to destroy us, the cruelty hath a double guilt, it is dealing brutally by us,
and treacherously by them.
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant,
stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa,
have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive
the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809). Common Sense. 1776.
the present ability of America, with some miscellaneous reflections.
It is not in numbers, but in unity,
that our great strength lies; yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the world.
to expend millions for the sake of getting a few vile acts repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is unworthy the
charge, and is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their
backs, from which, they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is the true characteristic of
a narrow heart and a peddling politician.
No nation ought to be without a debt. A national debt is a national
bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case a grievance. Britain is oppressed with a debt of upwards of one hundred
and forty millions sterling, for which she pays upwards of four millions interest. And as a compensation for her debt, she
has a large navy;
And is that nice point in national policy, in which commerce and protection are united.
Let us build; if we want them not, we can sell; and by that means replace our paper currency with ready gold and silver.
is in a state of barbarism; and no power in Europe, hath either such an extent of coast, or such an internal supply of materials.
Where nature hath given the one, she has withheld the other; to America only hath she been liberal of both. The vast empire
of Russia is almost shut out from the sea; wherefore, her boundless forests, her tar, iron, and cordage are only articles
commerce. 11 In point of safety, ought we to be without a fleet? We are not the little people now, which we were sixty
years ago; at that time we might have trusted our property in the streets, or fields rather; and slept securely without locks
or bolts to our doors or windows. The case now is altered, and our methods of defense, ought to improve with our increase
The East, and West Indies, Mediterranean, Africa, and other parts over which Britain extends
her claim, make large demands upon her navy.
Resolution is our inherent character, and courage hath never
yet forsaken us. Wherefore, what is it that we want? Why is it that we hesitate? From Britain we can expect nothing but ruin.
If she is once admitted to the government of America again, this Continent will not be worth living in. Jealousies will be
always arising; insurrections will be constantly happening; and who will go forth to quell them? Who will venture his life
to reduce his own countrymen to a foreign obedience? The difference between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, respecting some
unlocated lands, shows the insignificance of a British government, and fully proves, that nothing but Continental authority
can regulate Continental matters. Another reason why the present time is preferable to all others, is, that the fewer our
numbers are, the more land there is yet unoccupied, which instead of being lavished by the king on his worthless dependents,
may be hereafter applied, not only to the discharge of the present debt, but to the constant support of
nation under heaven hath such an advantage as this.
The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to
courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a Spaniel.
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;
When William the Conqueror subdued England, he gave them law
at the point of the sword; and until we consent, that the seat of government, in America, be legally and authoritatively occupied,
we shall be in danger of having it filled by some fortunate ruffian, who may treat us in the same manner, and then, where
will be our freedom? Where our property?
Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious dispositions
would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children
of the same family, differing only, in what is called, their Christian names.
TO CONCLUDE, however strange
it may appear to some, or however unwilling they may be to think so, matters not, but many strong and striking reasons may
be given, to shew, that nothing can settle our affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration for
Some of which are, 27 First.—It is the custom of nations, when any two are at war, for some other powers, not engaged
in the quarrel, to step in as mediators, and bring about the preliminaries of a peace: but while America calls herself the
Subject of Great-Britain, no power, however well disposed she may be, can offer her mediation. Wherefore, in our present state
we may quarrel on for ever. 28 Secondly.—It is unreasonable to suppose, that France or Spain will give us any kind of
assistance, if we mean only, to make use of that assistance for the purpose of repairing the breach, and strengthening the
connection between Britain and America; because, those powers would be sufferers by the consequences. 29 Thirdly.—While
we profess ourselves the subjects of Britain, we must, in the eye of foreign nations, be considered as rebels. The precedent
is somewhat dangerous to their peace, for men to be in arms under the name of subjects; we, on the spot, can solve the paradox:
but to unite resistance and subjection, requires an idea much too refined for the common understanding. 30 Fourthly.—Were
a manifesto to be published, and dispatched to foreign courts, setting forth the miseries we have endured, and the peaceable
methods we have ineffectually used for redress; declaring, at the same time, that not being able, any longer, to live happily
or safely under the cruel disposition of the British court, we had been driven to the necessity of breaking off all connections
her; at the same time, assuring all such courts of our peaceable disposition towards them, and of our desire of entering
into trade with them: Such a memorial would produce more good effects to this Continent, than if a ship were freighted with
petitions to Britain. 31 Under our present denomination of British subjects, we can neither be received nor heard abroad:
The custom of all courts is against us, and will be so, until, by an independence, we take rank with other nations. 32 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.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809).
Common Sense. 1776.
and is a formal and pompous method of offering up human sacrifices
to the pride of tyrants.
Brutality and tyranny appear on the face of it. It leaves us at no loss: And every
line convinces, even in the moment of reading, that He, who hunts the woods for prey, the naked and untutored Indian, is less
a Savage than the King of Britain.
However, it matters very little now, what the king of England either
says or does; he hath wickedly broken through every moral and human obligation, trampled nature and conscience beneath his
feet; and by a steady and constitutional spirit of insolence and cruelty, procured for himself an universal hatred. It is
now the interest of America to provide for herself. She hath already a large and young family, whom it is more her duty to
take care of, than to be granting away her property, to support a power who is become a reproach to the names of men and Christians—YE,
whose office it is to watch over the morals of a nation, of whatsoever sect or denomination ye are of, as well as ye, who,
are more immediately the guardians of the public liberty, if ye wish to preserve your native country uncontaminated by European
corruption, ye must in secret wish a separation--
The Continent, would not, by that time, have had a General,
or even a military officer left; and we, or those who may succeed us, would have been as ignorant of martial matters as the
The value of the back lands which some of the provinces are clandestinely deprived of,
by the unjust extension of the limits of Canada, valued only at five pounds sterling per hundred acres, amount to upwards
of twenty-five millions, Pennsylvania currency; and the quit-rents at one penny sterling per acre, to two millions yearly.
12 It is by the sale of those lands that the debt may be sunk, without burthen to any, and the quit-rent reserved thereon,
will always lessen, and in time, will wholly support the yearly expense of government. It matters not how long the debt is
in paying, so that the lands when sold be applied to the discharge of it, and for the execution of which, the Congress for
the time being, will be the continental trustees.
We ought to reflect, that there are three different ways,
by which an independency may hereafter be effected; and that one of those three, will one day or other, be the fate of America,
viz. By the legal voice of the people in Congress; by a military power; or by a mob:
A situation, similar
to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of
men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months.
ought not now to be debating whether we shall be independent or not, but, anxious to accomplish it on a firm, secure, and
honorable basis, and uneasy rather that it is not yet began upon. Every day convinces us of its necessity. Even the Tories
(if such beings yet remain among us) should, of all men, be the most solicitous to promote it; for, as the appointment of
committees at first, protected them from popular rage, so, a wise and well established form of government, will be the only
certain means of continuing it securely to them. Wherefore, if they have not virtue enough to be WHIGS, they ought to have
prudence enough to wish for Independence.
WHEREFORE, instead of gazing at each other with suspicious or
doubtful curiosity, let each of us, hold out to his neighbor the hearty hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line, which,
an act of oblivion, shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissention. Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct;
and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter
of the RIGHTS of MANKIND and of the FREE AND INDEPENDANT STATES OF AMERICA.
Thomas Paine (1737–1809).
Common Sense. 1776.
To the Representatives of the Religious Society of the People called Quakers,
of this, is one of those few, who never dishonors religion either by ridiculing, or cavilling at any denomination whatsoever.
To God, and not to man, are all men accountable on the score of religion. Wherefore, this epistle is not so properly addressed
to you as a religious, but as a political body, dabbling in matters, which the professed Quietude of your Principles instruct
you not to meddle with.
We fight neither for revenge nor conquest; neither from pride nor passion; we are
not insulting the world with our fleets and armies, nor ravaging the globe for plunder. Beneath the shade of our own vines
are we attacked; in our own houses, and on our own lands, is the violence committed against us. We view our enemies in the
character of Highwaymen and Housebreakers, and having no defense for ourselves in the civil law, are obliged to punish them
by the military one, and apply the sword, in the very case, where you have before now, applied the halter—Perhaps we
feel for the ruined and insulted sufferers in all and every part of the continent, with a degree of tenderness which hath
not yet made it's way into some of your bosoms. But be ye sure that ye mistake not the cause and ground of your Testimony.
Call not coldness of soul, religion; nor put the Bigot in the place of the Christian.
Wherefore, if ye really
preach from conscience, and mean not to make a political hobby-horse of your religion, convince the world thereof, by proclaiming
your doctrine to your enemies, for they likewise bear ARMS. Give us proof of your sincerity by publishing it at St. James's,
to the commanders in chief at Boston, to the Admirals and Captains who are practically ravaging our coasts, and to all the
murdering miscreants who are acting in authority under HIM whom ye profess to serve. Had ye the honest soul of 1 Barclay ye
would preach repentance to your king; Ye would tell the Royal Wretch his sins, and warn him of eternal ruin. Ye would not
spend your partial invectives against the injured and the insulted only, but, like faithful ministers, would cry aloud and
spare none. Say not that ye are persecuted, neither endeavour to make us the authors of that reproach, which, ye are bringing
upon yourselves; for we testify unto all men, that we do not complain against you because ye are Quakers, but because ye pretend
to be and are NOT Quakers.
The quotation which ye have made from Proverbs, in the third page of your testimony,
that, "when a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him"; is very unwisely chosen on
your part; because, it amounts to a proof, that the king's ways
(whom ye are so desirous of supporting) do not please the
Lord, otherwise, his reign would be in peace. 8 I now proceed to the latter part of your testimony, and that, for which all
the foregoing seems only an introduction, viz. 9 "It hath ever been our judgment and principle, since we were called to profess
the light of Christ Jesus, manifested in our consciences unto this day, that the setting up and putting down kings and governments,
is God's peculiar prerogative; for causes best known to himself: And that it is not our business to have any hand or contrivance
therein; nor to be busy bodies above our station, much less to plot and contrive the ruin, or overturn of any of them, but
to pray for the king, and safety of our nation, and good of all men: That we may live a peaceable and quiet life, in all goodliness
and honesty; under the government which God is pleased to set over us." —
And if the setting up and
putting down of kings and governments is God's peculiar prerogative, he most certainly will not be robbed thereof by us; wherefore,
the principle itself leads you to approve of every thing, which ever happened, or may happen to kings as being his work. OLIVER
CROMWELL thanks you. CHARLES, then, died not by the hands of man; and should the present Proud Imitator of him, come to the
same untimely end, the writers and publishers of the Testimony, are bound, by the doctrine it contains, to applaud the fact.
Kings are not taken away by miracles, neither are changes in governments brought about by any other means than such as are
common and human; and such as we are now using. Even the dispersing of the Jews, though foretold by our Saviour, was effected
by arms. Wherefore, as ye refuse to be the means on one side, ye ought not to be meddlers on the other; but to wait the issue
in silence; and unless you can produce divine authority, to prove, that the Almighty who hath created and placed this new
world, at the greatest distance it could possibly stand, east and west, from every part of the old, doth, nevertheless, disapprove
of its being independent of the corrupt and abandoned court of Britain, unless I say, ye can show this, how can ye on the
ground of your principles, justify the exciting and stirring up the people "firmly to unite in the abhorrence of all such
writings, and measures, as evidence of desire and design to break off the happy connection we have hitherto enjoyed, with
the kingdom of Great-Britain, and our just and necessary subordination to the king, and those who are lawfully placed in authority
And here without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and
Christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means
of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, may be disavowed
and reprobated by every inhabitant of AMERICA.