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Title: Common Sense
Author: Thomas Paine
Release Date: June 9, 2008 [EBook #147]
Last updated: June 24, 2017
Character set encoding: UTF-8.
Produced by John Campbell. HTML version by Al Haines. Modified by Robert Homa.
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK COMMON SENSE ***
addressed to the
On the following interesting
- Of the Origin and Design of Government in general,
with concise Remarks on the English Constitution.
- Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession
- Thoughts on the present State of American Affairs
- Of the present Ability of America, with some
Man knows no Master save creating Heaven
Or those whom choice and common good ordain.
Printed and sold by W. & T. Bradford, February 14, 1776.
By Thomas Paine
Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet 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. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.
2As a long and violent abuse of power, is generally the Means of callingthe right of it in question (and in Matters too which might never havebeen thought of, had not the Sufferers been aggravated into theinquiry) and as the King of England hath undertaken in his own Right,to support the Parliament in what he calls Theirs, and as the goodpeople of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination,they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions ofboth, and equally to reject the usurpation of either.
3In the following sheets, the author hath studiously avoided every thingwhich is personal among ourselves. Compliments as well as censure toindividuals make no part thereof. The wise, and the worthy, need notthe triumph of a pamphlet; and those whose sentiments are injudicious,or unfriendly, will cease of themselves unless too much pains arebestowed upon their conversion.
4The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, butuniversal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankindare affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections areinterested. The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword,declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, andextirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is theConcern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; ofwhich Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the
P.S. The Publication of this new Edition hath been delayed, with aView of taking notice (had it been necessary) of any Attempt to refutethe Doctrine of Independance: As no Answer hath yet appeared, it is nowpresumed that none will, the Time needful for getting such aPerformance ready for the Public being considerably past.
Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to thePublic, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not theMan. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That he is unconnected withany Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but theinfluence of reason and principle.
Philadelphia, February 14, 1776
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. 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. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.
6Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its beststate is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one;for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
7In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end ofgovernment, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in somesequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest, they willthen represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. Inthis state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. Athousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of one man isso unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetualsolitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief ofanother, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united wouldbe able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, butone man might labour out of the common period of life withoutaccomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could notremove it, nor erect it after it was removed; hunger in the mean timewould urge him from his work, and every different want call him adifferent way. Disease, nay even misfortune would be death, for thoughneither might be mortal, yet either would disable him from living, andreduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to perish thanto die.
8Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newlyarrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which,would supersede, and render the obligations of law and governmentunnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but asnothing but heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen,that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties ofemigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they willbegin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other; and thisremissness, will point out the necessity, of establishing some form ofgovernment to supply the defect of moral virtue.
9Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branchesof which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on publicmatters. It is more than probable that their first laws will have thetitle only of Regulations, and be enforced by no other penalty than public disesteem. In this first parliament every man, by natural right, will have a seat.
10But as the colony increases, the public concerns will increaselikewise, and the distance at which the members may be separated, willrender it too inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion asat first, when their number was small, their habitations near, and thepublic concerns few and trifling. This will point out the convenienceof their consenting to leave the legislative part to be managed by aselect number chosen from the whole body, who are supposed to have thesame concerns at stake which those who appointed them, and who will actin the same manner as the whole body would act were they present. Ifthe colony continue increasing, it will become necessary to augmentthe number of the representatives, and that the interest of every partof the colony may be attended to, it will be found best to divide thewhole into convenient parts, each part sending its proper number; andthat the elected might never form to themselves an interest separate from the electors, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often; because as the elected might by that means return and mix again with the general body of the electors in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be secured by the prudent reflexion of not making a rod for themselves. And as this frequent interchange will establish a common interest with every part of the community, they will mutually and naturally support each other, and on this (not on the unmeaning name of king) depends the strength of government, and the happiness of the governed.
11Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode renderednecessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; heretoo is the design and end of government, viz. freedom and security.And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived bysound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken ourunderstanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say, it isright.
12I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature,which no art can overturn, viz. that the more simple any thing is, theless liable it is to be disordered; and the easier repaired whendisordered; and with this maxim in view, I offer a few remarks on theso much boasted constitution of England. That it was noble for thedark and slavish times in which it was erected, is granted. When theworld was over run with tyranny the least remove therefrom was aglorious rescue. But that it is imperfect, subject to convulsions, andincapable of producing what it seems to promise, is easily demonstrated.
13Absolute governments (tho’ the disgrace of human nature) have thisadvantage with them, that they are simple; if the people suffer, theyknow the head from which their suffering springs, know likewise theremedy, and are not bewildered by a variety of causes and cures. Butthe constitution of England is so exceedingly complex, that the nationmay suffer for years together without being able to discover in whichpart the fault lies, some will say in one and some in another, andevery political physician will advise a different medicine.
14I know it is difficult to get over local or long standing prejudices,yet if we will suffer ourselves to examine the component parts of theEnglish constitution, we shall find them to be the base remains of twoancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.
15First.—The remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king.
16Secondly.—The remains of aristocratical tyranny in thepersons of the peers.
17Thirdly.—The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.
18The two first, by being hereditary, are independent of the people;wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the freedom of