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Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense”: Then and Now Essay

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Updated: Jan 24th, 2021

Of all the principles that the modern United States is based on, liberty remains the essential one. Once stated by the Founding Fathers as the basis for the U.S. to evolve, the principles of liberty are a part and parcel of the modern reality. A retrospective into the times when America was represented by a bunch of colonies tied to the United Kingdom shows that it took much time and effort to fight for these principles. However, the question is whether nowadays, these principles are just as relevant for the U.S. citizens as they were to the people who were fighting for America to become independent from the British rule, as the analysis of Payne’s Common Sense shows. Even though Payne’s work, Common sense, relies heavily on the Biblical principles and quotes the Bible several times, it is far from being just as humble a plea for providing the American colonists with ore freedom; on the contrary, Payne states in a very straight-forward manner the need for the American colonies to become independent from the British rule; and, even though Payne’s work was written more than two centuries ago, the liberation ideas voiced by the writer are still considered the basis for a democratic state.

Unlike most grand works, which tend to touch on several issues while the central one is left for the final discussion, Payne’s analysis of the situation concerning the conflict between the English government and the American colonists conveys the main idea of Payne’s argument to the reader with every paragraph. For instance, in the first chapter titled “On the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution,” Payne considers the central theme of his work, i.e., liberty, pushed to its extreme. Making it clear that liberty is the goal of every state to strive for, Payne defines government as “a necessary evil” (Payne) and suggests imagining for a moment a state without the government. Thus, Payne makes the reader reflect on the issue of conflicts between the interests of the nation and the people at the helm, which is one of the topical issues on the agenda of the United States of the XXI century as well.

The next chapter, “Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession,” might be considered somewhat detached from the theme stated above; however, it helps define the basic values that Payne describes in his work as the reason for American colonies to fight for. It is also very impressive that Payne manages to convey these values by interpreting the misunderstanding between the American colonists and the United Kingdom: “And here we cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be LIKE unto other nations, i.e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much UNLIKE them as possible” (Payne). It is rather peculiar that the given excerpt relies on Biblical allusions especially often. Thus, Payne re-states one of the recurrent themes in his work, i.e., religion.

The third excerpt also handles the issue of the values of the American nation in a rather efficient way, with the same pattern of using Biblical tropes to impress the readers and thrill them into paying attention and at the same time to create the specific atmosphere that will make the readers believe in what the author is trying to convey. Tom Payne’s credit, he handled the task of setting the pious Biblical mood very well; every single word in his work rings of the timeless values. When the author gets to the third chapter of his work, the atmosphere, however, turns much darker. Payne still uses Biblical allegories to convince his readers, yet these allegories are much more unsettling. Besides, Payne raises the issue of the typical American prejudices, which is rather unexpected, seeing how he was inclined to show that the American nation has all the opportunities to evolve into a self-sufficient democratic state with its customs, traditions, and culture.

However, Payne ties in the issue of prejudice with the unwillingness of some of the American population to separate from the United Kingdom, therefore, making the concept of prejudice work against British dominance. The given paragraph is especially significant since it shows the flaws of the American vision of the world, yet makes it clear that the American nation has the right to democracy even with these imperfections. It can probably be assumed that any present-day American man or woman can easily relate to the given idea. The American people of the XXI century can relate to the given idea even more than the Americans for whom the given speech was intended. While the American people of the XIX century doubtlessly had to face much more complicated issues, they still had the sense of doing the right thing, which, sadly enough, can hardly be applied to the modern lack of connection between the state government and the citizens. That being said, it is clear that in the third part of his work, Payne states the primary goals of his writing and offers the most convincing arguments for fighting against British rule.

Even compared to the previous paragraph, the fourth segment of Payne’s speech is very pompous. It is clear that the slightly exaggerates the possibilities of America and its citizens; or, to be more exact, he tries not to drive the readers’ attention towards the complexities associated with becoming an independent state. However, he still manages to deliver the key message effectively; and, which is more important, his message is still topical. Perhaps, Payne is responsible for the creation of the famous “American Dream,” with the first sentence following the economic analysis saying, “No country on the globe is so happily situated, or so internally capable of raising a fleet as America” (Payne).

That being said, it is clear that a modern person might consider Payne’s message somewhat naïve; however, it cannot be doubted that the key ideas regarding the right of the American people to live an independent life and be a part of an independent state will be understood even by a modern USA citizen. Even though in the given analysis, only a small excerpt of the entire text is offered, a mere look at the key concepts offered in the given paragraphs, as well as the message that the text conveys, is enough to understand that Payne’s work is still relevant. While for a present-day citizen of the United States, the problem of fighting in its literal meaning is no longer topical, the U.S. independence remains essential for an average U.S. dweller, which the given analysis shows. An impressive argument from the master of writing, Payne’s Common Sense has stood the test of time and will probably remain topical for the people of the United States even later.

Works Cited

Payne, Thomas. Common Sense. 1776. Web.

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