Thomas Paines 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, was an influential and radical work that was written in such a plainspoken manner for its time, that it is the best-selling work of the American Revolution. While it is not as easy to read today, its influence from centuries ago carries forward, and its modern relativity makes it a worthy read.
Paine was against the British throne despite not having lived in the colonies until near the time of the revolution. While it may seem strange to some that an Englishman by birth who was of middle age in 1776 would hold such a stance, it is easy to understand when one sees the three most important points that Paine espouses in Common Sense:
- The need for temporary elected rulers
- Abusive rulers will always be abusive
- Separation of church and state
Paine: Champion for a Republic
Among the many interesting points Thomas Paine makes, the first to truly strike to the heart of the matter of revolution is when he states that “it makes sense for one man to say to another, you will rule over me; I elect you to be the collective voice of the people. But it makes no sense for a man to say, you will rule over me, your children will rule over my children, and their children will rule over their children, because down the line there will be rulers unworthy of ruling their own lives let alone a nation of people depending upon them.”
History backs up Thomas Paines point here, and it is this need for a republic that the people choose their representative rather than rely on the heir of some heir to speak for them. When this occurs, abuse can be more rampant, especially when the rulers know that they will rule until they die.
Abusive Relations Will Never Cease When the Abuser is Appeased
Paines next great point was that it would be of no value not to go to war with and punish the British because all of the peaceful attempts had failed and led to more abuse from abroad in the forms of taxes and a growing presence of their military.
Paine had basically stated that “to think that relations will be peaceful after parting quietly from someone who has been abusive is naive at best.” To separate from England required might and force. The act had to be decisive with no other alternative. This applies among nations and individual relationships. At best, this person was a bully and, at worst, an evil dictator.
From this revelation, one might think that Paine had done some work as a family counselor or social worker.
Separation of Church and State
Paines last point comes at the very end of the pamphlet where he calls for a separation of church and state. It is surprising to see it in print in 1776, especially when in 2011 there are many people who cite only 20th century examples of this idea, making it seem very modern.
Thomas Paine could be said to be ahead of his time, but such a statement is actually very far from the truth because it was a time of revolution, and these words, while applicable today, were written specifically for the people of the day, making Paine and his ideas as relevant then as they are now.