Common Sense by Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was released in early 1774 America. This was a time when there was tremendous tension between America and Great Britain. Because of this tension, many Americans were arguing that America needed to separate from their parent country. While this idea was being considered by many, it was not widespread enough to become a possibility. In his pamphlet, Paine sought to make this idea turn into reality. His main argument was that the solution to the tension between America and Great Britain was independence and that this could not be achieved by peace. He supported this theory very well, using his credibility, logic, and emotion. Paine’s credibility comes largely from his immigration status. He is not motivated by pride or ego. Along with relying on his credibility as an author, he makes a very strong logical side. He cites many things that play to the logical side of his argument, such as the King’s unfair taxation. Finally, Paine understands that emotion is one of the most important pieces of an argument. One of the ways he shows emotion is by playing to the people’s sensitivity to the parent-child relationship. He paints England as an abusive parent who does not want their child to succeed. When you combine all of these factors, it is easy to see why this pamphlet was such a widespread success. This pamphlet was so popular it is often considered to be the beginning of the revolutionary movement.

One of the main ideas that Paine was arguing against in Common Sense was that reconciliation between America and England was still possible. While he recognizes that this was once a legitimate argument, he claims that reconciliation ‘like an agreeable dream, hath passed us and left us as we were”(p. 684). He backs this statement up with logic in several different instances. Firstly, he claims that ‘Men of all ranks have embarked in the controversy, from different motives, and with various designs; but all have been ineffectual, and the period of debate is closed.” In more modern terms, Paine is showing the American people that if reconciliation were possible, it would already have been achieved. As Paine’s main claim is twofold, this is not the only claim he backs with evidence. He also has to convince people that even though reconciliation is not possible hope is not lost and there is another option: independence. As this was a fairly radical idea at the time, he has to heavily support this claim with evidence. One of the main claims loyalists make is that America would not be able to defend itself without Great Britain. Paine counters this by pointing out that America’s only enemies are Britain’s enemies and that if they achieved independence they would ‘be at peace with France and Spain”. This consistent use of logic causes Paine’s argument to be very effectual.

Throughout his pamphlet, Paine steadily establishes his ethos or credibility as an author. One of the most common damages to your credibility can be pride. As this subject was so sensitive at the time, it was easy for an argument to be devalued and called a product of a man’s ego. When taking into account Paine’s immigrant status, it is clear that Paine is not making this argument based on his pride in his country. Being born and raised in England also shows that Paine saw both sides to the argument and still believed that America needed to seek independence. Paine is trusted by his readers, drawing them into his cause.

Great Britain was often regarded as America’s parent country and this parent-child dynamic greatly complicated the revolutionary movement. Many American’s felt that if they rejected Great Britain, they would be rejecting their caring parent who had provided for them and grown them. Paine saw this emotion and used it to his advantage. Instead of showing Great Britain as a caring parent, he painted them to be an abusive parent who did not want their child to see. He claimed that Britain had not shown any of the parental tendencies Americans credited them with and instead showed the exact opposite. He accused Britain of devouring their young, saying ‘even brutes don’t devour their young, nor savages make war on their families”(p. 685). Strong language such as this generally elicits a strong response. Paine knew how his words would affect his readers and used this to his advantage.

Altogether, Paine made a very effectual argument that is often credited with starting a revolution. In order for an argument to be so powerful, an author has to be very skilled. It is clear that Paine possessed the literary skill and prowess that was needed. He made a very logical argument, several times citing real-life events that were very current and impactful. Also, he did not fall into the trap of making an argument based on pride, which allowed his audience to trust him. Finally, he recognized his opposition’s emotions and capitalized on them. His effectual use of pathos, ethos and logos is responsible for creating one of the most popular rallying cries for revolution. His argument was so effectual, his audience was willing to go to war for the cause Paine was promoting. Common Sense will continue to be one of the most important pamphlets of all time.

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