Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Thomas Paine Contributed to the America of Today

Reading through works written by early American writers one can easily notice changes in the style of writing from the writers in the early 1600’s to those in the mid-1700’s. The change in style becomes more apparent over the years, especially in noticing the ease at which the later works can be read and understood. One author that writes in such a “simple” style is Thomas Paine, who wrote so that the common man could understand. Despite living in America for only two years when he published “Common Sense”, he is considered to be one of the most influential writers in American history. Why?

Historians believe that Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, “Common Sense,” played a major role in leading to the American Revolution. Again, why? Paine wrote in a style that allowed the most common man to understand what he was saying. His opening paragraph in the pamphlet begins with “In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense…” (Paine “Common Sense” 936). His intention was for everyone to understand and know what he was trying to understand. By using this tactic, he explained that the controversy between America and England had been approached from many different directions, all of which were proved to be useless to solve the conflict. He places the blame on England for making the decision to go to war, “Arms as the last resource decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the King, and the Continent has accepted the challenge” (Paine “Common Sense” 936).

In his view, the Colonies had every right to revolt against a government that imposed taxes on them and did not grant them the right of representation in the Parliament at Westminster. He even believed that there was no reason for the Colonies to stay dependent on England, and so on the 10th of January in 1776, Paine put together his ideas on American Independence in his pamphlet we know as “Common Sense.” (Leemhuis)

Paine argues that independence from England is inevitable because America had lost touch with the mother country. How so? Even though the Colonies boasted the protection of Great Britain, citizens did not consider, “that her motive was interest not attachment; and 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” (Paine “Common Sense” 937). He underlines this statement more by saying that France and Spain were never the enemies of America itself, but because the Colonies were an extension of Great Britain, they were forced to be enemies, whether America (or Spain or France) had anything against the other. Basically, America was guilty by association, whether the country wanted to be or not.

In argument, some say that Britain is the parent country. In response, Paine says that Great Britain is not the sole parent country, that “Europe, 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” (Paine “Common Sense 938). In turn, these refugees are running not from the mother, but from the harshness of the monster that restricts them from their beliefs.

Our country is still a place of refuge for many of those who are persecuted in other countries. Our Constitution includes Freedom of Religion and the Freedom of Speech. As citizens of the United States of America we are permitted freedom to dream and the chance to accomplish those dreams, to practice whatever religion we choose and the poorest person is permitted to exercise his or her right to vote. Our country is the land of opportunity; same as it was back when we were fighting for our own independence. Maybe now the reasons for people to come to America are more widespread, immigrants are still coming here for a chance at a better life, much like first settlers of the continent.

Paine goes on to say that the disadvantages of America staying as a part of England are without number and that not a single advantage is apparent. “Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for by them where we will” (Paine, “Common Sense” 939). At that time, Paine made a very logical and good point: that through trade with all of Europe, America could flourish, but is not able to while under Great Britain’s rule and so only through independence would America and other European countries be able to reap the benefits of trading with one another. This fact still stands true today as shown in our trade agreements with Canada and Mexico (American Federal Trade Agreement, AFTA) and our membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Paine ends his “Common Sense” pamphlet calling out to the country to stand up for freedom, to allow the American people and nation to become the asylum for the oppressed people of the world who have no hope of freedom in the rest of the world: “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 as a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind” (Paine “Common Sense” 942). This is an excellent conclusion, summing up what he had previously discussed, saying that the rest of the world had given up on freedom and the last place that citizens of the world could run to is America. The people of this new nation need to stand up and fight for those who are oppressed because political and religious oppression is the primary reason why settlers traveled to the New World in the first place.

This idea of fighting for those oppressed still rings true today in our fight against terrorism, especially seen in the war in Iraq. Our country stands for freedom and democracy and has from the start. We are still fighting for the equality of all men and women, and children, trying to make the future better for our families and our future generations. This quote from “The American Crisis,” also written by Thomas Paine speaks of the separation happening during a time that will happen so that the children will not have to suffer much longer, “Not a man lives on the continent that but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace”; and this single reflection, well applied is sufficient to awaken every man to duty” (Paine, “The American Crisis” 945).

All that Thomas Paine wrote in “Common Sense” was used when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. The message that both authors wrote of in their works is the same, but the audience is different. Paine wrote to the people of America whereas Jefferson wrote to the King and Parliament of England. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was based off of what Paine had written: it is no longer necessary for one nation to be ruled by another when the “parent” country is so far across the ocean from the “child” and so the old country does not know or understand what the new country is going through. In addition, the old country tries to protect the new one from enemies for her own sake, not for the sake of the new country when the new nation may have the opportunity to be friends or allies with the enemy of the old country. Therefore, because America is a part of England, she is forced to go to war with England against a nation who would be America’s ally had the nation been free from England. This being said it is also unfair, unrealistic and illogical that “He [the king] has abdicated government here BY DECLARING US OUT OF HIS PROTECTION, AND WAGING WAR AGAINST US” (Jefferson, “Declaration of Independence” 972). It is time for the King to let his child go and admit his wrongdoings. Jefferson writes that the King forbade laws to be passed that were of the utmost importance and he disallowed his citizens to speak up for themselves because he did not believe in the expression of the opinion of his own people.

Jefferson is basically “calling out” the King of England saying “we want to fight you for our freedom because you messed up.” Paine writes of common sense and the problems that are in existence between America and her mother country, proving several key points. He also writes of why America needs to stand up for herself and other oppressed nations. He writes informatively and persuasively, convincing his readers of what needs to be accomplished, in turn leading to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, which was clearly based off of what Paine himself had written. Thus, Paine is credited with the start of the American Revolution.

Works Cited
Leemhuis, Benni. “Biography of Thomas Paine.” From Revolution to
Reconstruction…and what happened afterwards. A Biography of Thomas Paine 11 October 2005. From Revolution to Reconstruction - an .HTML project. 8 October 2005 <http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/B/tpaine/paine.htm>