“Common Sense” & “Declaration of Independence”
QUESTIONS FOR GROUP
1. How does Paine use the Bible to condemn monarchy?
2. Does Paine limit his view of religious freedom to Christianity? (Does he mean freedom of any religion, or freedom in practicing Christianity?)
3. How do Paine’s comments on natural rights and equality coincide with those of Locke?
4. How does Paine contradict himself when he condemns the Quakers for mingling religion and political disputes?
5. How are Paine’s thoughts echoed in the Declaration of Independence?
6. Are Paine’s arguments effective when referring to the Bible to condemn monarchy? (Alternate for Question 1.)
7. How does Paine reach not only intellectuals but the “common people” through his writing? …Is he successful?
8. How does Paine argue against the notion that there aren’t enough colonists to fight for independence?
ANSWERS TO SOME QUESTIONS
1. He says that the Jews had no king for 3,000 years and that heathens had kings. On page 73, quotes the verse “Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not, for we have added unto our sins this evil, to ask a king.” He also adds that the laws which God has set forth are to rule over human laws.
though he doesn’t seem to favor Christianity over other religions. However, he
does make arguments specifically for Christianity, since he knows that is what
his audience would like to hear.
[Paine was actually a Deist, meaning the belief that the universe was created by a God who then made no further intervention in its affairs.]
3. Natural rights: he says all people understand them. He says that England has declared war “against the natural rights of all Mankind” (69). He (like Locke) says that all men are equals (73). Both Paine and Locke, in talking about natural rights, argue for the rights to liberty, life, to hold property, and also to rebel against rulers who do not respect these rights. He also mentions how many writers confuse society with government.
4. (Unclear; leave to other group members for answer.)
5. One argument from Paine is that complete independence was the only possible route for the colonies. He said that the colonies had outgrown any need for English domination and should have independence. Both talk a lot about how England and the Crown have mistreated people. On page 78: “…then tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land?”
6. On page 78, Paine attributes the will of God: “…strong and natural proof, that the authority of the one, over the other, was never the design of Heaven.” On the same page, he says that the fact that the discovery of America preceded the Reformation was evidence of a divine plan to “open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years.” (It seems a pretty ludicrous idea to us, but it tied in with Puritan beliefs.) Paine does take the Bible out of context, but he knew very well that the people would take any argument in favor of ending oppression and wouldn’t nit-pick. So his arguments are out-of-context but he uses them effectively.
One of the
things that separates Paine’s writing from those of others of his day was the
fact that he had an ability to present ideas which were common to his time in
clear form. By contrast, other writers spoke in intellectual, highly
philosophical approaches. On page 69, he says “I offer nothing more than
simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” He makes his main points
clear; he tells his readers the errors of the English government, the evils of
monarchy, the problems with staying under British authority, and the violence
that has been caused. He concludes with the call to action.
Paine doesn’t explain “natural rights” when he mentions them, but knows he doesn’t have to. He assumes everyone (not just the highly educated) can understand Locke’s propositions; Locke argues for the most basic rights.
[Paine originally had proposed “Common Sense” be titled “Plain Truth.”)
8. Pages 82-85: Paine uses figures to prove that a navy can be constructed easily; he says they can build a huge fleet and sell the ships later. He says that trade is suffering and men are out of work, which would justify creating an army. He says that the continent isn’t crowded and there aren’t many spots to have to defend. He says the British navy is overrated; they keep any old rotting hulk on the list and that they have many ships but that most aren’t quickly available.