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In the American history, there are individuals who stand out conspicuously due to the influence that they had in society during the colonial era. It is amazing how some individuals would stir the society to wake up and claim independence from the Great Britain. One of these men is Thomas Paine.
Though a mere resident, Thomas brought awakening call to millions of Americans when he wrote Common Sense. What baffles even contemporary scholars is the fact that within a very short time, probably months, there were over 120,000 printed copies of this masterpiece. The most intriguing part of it is that during this short time, thousands of people had read Common Sense and gotten the message clearly.
The other significant figure in American history is the famous Thomas Jefferson, the man who supposedly drafted the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, a president, political philosopher, a writer and a reformist, valued independence that he would do anything to see it happen. One of his popular lines were, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson).
Response to Questions
Thomas Paine was very tactful in writing Common Sense and used different ways to justify rebellion. He employs literal imagery and creates arguments to show that Monarchy was of no use and that England was of no help to the colonies. The first literal imagery is painting monarchy as a sin from the beginning of creation. According to Paine, there were no kings in the world not until Jews decided to go against the will of God and demanded a natural king that they would see.
The argument here is that, monarchy owes its roots to sin. He goes ahead to insinuate that even if kings were to be allowed in society, their children should never be allowed to succeed them because this is unpalatable practice that nurtures incompetence, corruption and to some extent, civil wars. “The first King should have been appointed either by lot, by election, or by usurpation” (Paine 119). The subsequent kings should follow the same process; hence, rendering monarchy null.
Paine creates imagery when he paints a picture of a minute group of individuals finding themselves in an island, isolated from the mainstream society completely. As these people get to know each other, they realize that they would need laws to facilitate their living on that island.
According to Paine, these laws would benefit its subjects only if they are fully involved in the law making process. The argument her is that, the British laws were retrogressive and never benefited the colonised people. Paine argues that people would be happier if they make their own laws. The insinuation here is that, England’s form of governance was inconsequential for it did not represent the interests of its subjects.
Finally, Paine likens the dependability of America to Britain to that of a baby thriving under milk. He says that simply because a child is healthy by feeding on milk, this does not mean that it will not do equally well or better when fed on meat. The issue is, America should break ties with Britain, and stop feeding on that “milk”, and mature to feed on “meat” and this would make it even stronger.
The conditions of English colonies as by January 1776 were so intolerable and Paine does not exaggerate them. Being a revolutionary, Paine may seem to have exaggerated his claims; however, taking a closer look into the events that happened during this period, there was a dire need to call for change. One of the thorny issues is taxation without representation.
Paying taxes is duty of every loyal citizen; however, there has to be full representation to account the use of these taxes. Paine puts it clear that Americans had to cater for colonial defence. This was unpalatable given the fact that the Americans were not supporting the Britain through freewill.
Anything that would bring down the Britain would probably be antidote to Americans’ woes of colonial rule. Now, saying that citizens had to fund defence of what they loathed was tantamount to committing homicide. The conditions were unpalatable. Think of “the Quartering Act” which indicated that residents had to canton British soldiers. Massachusetts Government Act gagged the Americans invading their freedom of expression.
People could not meet in towns at their pleasure and they were under some curfew to some extent. Injustice was all over and Britain soldiers who committed human atrocities were to be tried in their home country according to “Administration of Justice Act.” This was justice perversion and the Americans could not take it no more. Paine only expressed what was happening and he did not inflate the charges to justify calls for independence.
Paine Thomas proposed a republican form of government. On his part, Thomas Jefferson seemed to echo his namesake, Thomas Paine by rallying for the same form of governance, Republicanism. These people rallied for formation of such governments because they were champions of human rights and this form of governance would provide that. For instance, Paine states that, “The nearer any government approaches to a Republic, the less business there is for a king.
For ’tis the republican and not the monarchical part of the Constitution of England which Englishmen glory in, viz. the liberty of choosing an House of Commons from out of their own body–and it is easy to see that when republican virtues fail, slavery ensue” (Paine 116). These people were against the monarchical way of leadership and republicanism offered the way out.
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It is natural that man will react against what irritates him strongly. This case happened with these two people. As Paine started writing his work, he knew exactly what he wanted to say and he spoke plainly.
Monarchy was inconsequential and with this mindset, Paine could not find solace in any other form of governance other than that which would root out monarchy. Jefferson on his side had the same thoughts. “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson). This underlines why he chose republican form of governance.
The two self-evident truths by Jefferson come from this statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson).
The attributes of these self-evident truths is that men naturally no man should be superior to another and if this happens, then it should be on basis of what is rightfully deserved but not through crooked means like colonization and intimidation. The second part emphasizes on some of the elements that Jefferson cherished most and that is freedom and liberty.
Jefferson’s message in these statements was clear. One, the Americans had the right to have a sovereign country by virtue of their creator, God. For heavens sake, Britain had no right to continue subjecting Americans to their barbaric rule. Americans needed life and freedom to pursue their dreams and live happily thereafter. This could never have happened under the rule of the Britain and Jefferson’s message was that clear.
Jefferson expressed a number of grievances, which lie under the following two categories; those that address what the King of Great Britain have done to the Americans especially at governance level and those that have affected people directly. The first category is characterised by the use of, “he has” for instance, “He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation.
Have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining, in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” (Jefferson). The other category is characterised by, “For…” This category points out some of the things affecting people directly.
For instance, “For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences” (Jefferson). These grievances address the King of Great Britain.
Americans nowadays react with contempt towards people with rebellious ideologies. People trying to voice their concerns concerning some things that they feel are not working right are always faced with opposition even from fellow citizens. The United States of America has grown over time in nearly all dimensions such that its citizens feel secure under the prevailing conditions. Anyone with rebellious ideas is seen as someone out to disturb a rather self-sustaining environment and he or she is not always welcome.
There is no longer a common enemy to fight. It is unfortunate that the only common enemy that Americans had to fight was Britain and after that, the cohesiveness disintegrated and everyone supports his or her ideologies. Jefferson and Paine’s words are irrelevant in today’s world. Complacency has taken the better part of many Americans today and they are more than willing to maintain the status quo.
It is impossible for any scholar to go through America’s history exhaustively without Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine coming to the picture. These two great men contributed largely towards declaration of independence and the incidences that predated this important time in America’s history.
With his strong and persuasive language coupled with strong writing style and skills, Thomas Paine stirred up Americans to wake up and claim what was rightfully theirs. This did not come through mere empty words; no, Paine went back to history and even used the bible to discredit monarchy and colonialism. On his part, Thomas Jefferson did not fail his fellow people when he was called to draft a document detailing the need to declare independence in America.
He opened his draft by strong words insinuating that it is God’s will that people be free and enjoy their God-given rights. He went ahead to detail the specific reasons why America needed independence at that time more than any other time in history or in future. Unfortunately, the zeal to rebel against bad policies seems to have died a natural death with many Americans withdrawing to complacency and seeking to maintain status quo in all events.
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence.” The Want, Will, and Hopes of The People. 1776. Web. <http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/>
Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.” Republican Government. New Rochelle, N.Y: Thomas Paine National Historical Association, 1925.