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Common Sense

by Thomas Paine

In his pamphlet, Common Sense, written in January, 1776, Patriot Thomas Payne inspired his fellow future Americans to gain their independence from the English Crown. His light was one of many that shone on the path to Liberty in those dark days. The Link feels it is important for every American to have the opportunity to read this great, influential work.

In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments and common sense.

Volumes have been written on the subject of the struggle between England and America. Men of all ranks have embarked in the controversy, from different motives and with various designs; but all have been ineffectual, and the period of debate is closed. Arms as the last resource decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the King, and the continent has accepted the challenge.

            The sun never shone on a cause of greater worth. ‘Tis not the affair of a city, a county, a province or a kingdom; but of a continent – of at least one-eighth part of the habitable globe. ‘Tis not the concern of a day, a year or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest and will be more or less affected even to the end of time by the proceedings now. Now is the seedtime of continental union, faith and honor. The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender bark of a young oak; the wound will enlarge with the tree, and posterity read it in full-grown characters.

            By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new era for politics is struck – a new method of thinking has arisen. As much has been said of the advantages of reconciliation, which, like an agreeable dream, has passed away and left us as we were; it is but right that we should examine the contrary side of the argument and inquire into some of the many material injuries which these colonies sustain, and always will sustain, by being connected with and dependent on Great Britain. It is right to examine that connection and dependence on the principles of nature and common sense; to see what we have to trust to if separated and what we are to expect if dependent.

            I have heard it asserted by some that as America has flourished under her former connection with Great Britain, the same connection is necessary toward her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind of argument. We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, it is never to have meat, or that the first twenty years of  our lives are to become a precedent for the next twenty.  But even that is admitting more than is true, for I answer roundly that American would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power taken any notice of her. The commerce by which she has enriched herself are the necessaries of life and will always have a market while eating is the custom in Europe.

            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 and that she did not protect us from her enemies on her own account. France and Spain never were, nor perhaps ever will be, our enemies as Americans, but as subjects of Great Britain.

            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; Europe and not England is the parent country of America. This New World has 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 360 miles (the size 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.

            ‘Tis repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things, to all examples from former ages, to suppose that this continent can long remain subject to any external power. The most sanguine (optimistic) in Britain do not think so. The utmost stretch of human wisdom cannot at this time compass (compose) a plan, short of separation, which can promise the continent even a year’s security.

            A government of our own is our natural right; and when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced that it is infinitely wiser and safer to form a constitution of our own, in a cool, deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance.

            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 has been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England has given her warning to depart. Oh! Receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.

            On these grounds I rest the matter. And as no offer has yet been made to refute the doctrine contained in the former editions of this pamphlet, it is a negative proof that either the doctrine cannot be refuted, or that the party in favor of it are too numerous to be opposed. 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, like an act of forgiveness, shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissension. 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 INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA.

[In future issues of The Link, we will re-print some other great American documents including Thomas Paine’s “The Crisis” and Patrick Henry’s 1775 speech before the Virginia Convention, in which he closes with the famous line “give me liberty or give me death.”]

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