Common Sense #4


The title of Paine’s next section is something hardly considered as a problem in the US today.  I am interested to see what, if anything does apply.

MANKIND being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich, and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh, ill-sounding names of oppression and avarice.  Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the means of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy. These sentences are the foundational ideas for this section.  The first sentence does not explicitly address personal responsibility, which I think is the greatest dictator of social status and “equality” today.  It allows personal responsibility to be implied.  Paine is addressing something that is rampant in American society today – blaming someone else for your particular situation.  The whites/blacks/asians/immigrants/Mexicans/rich/frat boys/society/courts are responsible for why I can’t find a job/keep a job/get pulled over/got audited by the IRS/have to pay more taxes. (The list could go on and on.)  Paine posits that oppression comes from having riches, not that people truly get rich from oppressing people.  “The man” does not have you down.   I had to think a long time about this second assertion.  I will grant Paine the point – that the truly wealthy do not get their wealth by hoarding and oppressing others – they get it by being productive, providing value to people, and being assertive.  Perhaps Paine’s point is that a man can make $200,000 per year oppressing people, but earning the money that way will make him too scared of others to make $2 million by providing something valuable.

His next argument is that the distinction of King and Subjects are a construct of man.  They were first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. Payne continues to assert that rights of nature and the law of God do not support the right of divine kingship.  Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. A history of how Israel eventually chose a king then follows.  He continues to prove how Scripture demonstrates that God disapproves of kingship.

Paine then broadsides heredity succession as a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity. Now, his last phrase certainly has application today.  America does not have a hereditary king or ruling family (notwithstanding the Kennedy’s – but they did not have a large enough influence over the national government over time to be considered “hereditary”).  But what we are doing today is most certainly “imposing upon our posterity” – Social Security, the national debt, and welfare, to name a few of these impositions upon our children and grandchildren.

Paine continues on at length to dismember and lambast the idea of kingship and hereditary succession.  While this is compelling and interesting reading of his thoughts on the subject, they do not apply as directly to America today.   Please feel free to delve in on your own, though.



Common Sense #3

This post continues the examination of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”.


Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz., freedom and security. Better than I could have said it.

In his next paragraph, Paine posits that “the more simple any thing is, the less liable it is to be disordered, and the easier repaired when disordered”.  This is true for many things in life.  In looking at the complexities of our current federal government simplicity is non-existant.  I am reminded of the flowchart for the 2010 health care bill.

In the next few paragraphs Paine examines the British constitution and monarchy of the time.  Paine says that absolute guvernments have the advantage of being simple, so that the people have the knowledge of what the cause of a particular problem is.  He then goes on to say that “the constitution of England is so exceedingly complex, that the nation may suffer for years together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies.  This is the truth today.

Paine examines the king, and believes that he is the baseline power of the British government (at the time).  The House of Lords is the remnants of “aristocratical tyranny”, and the House of Commons, elected by the people, is unable to truly represent the people and enforce what is best for them.  His key question is this:

“How came the king by a power which the people are afraid to trust, and always obliged to check? Such a power could not be the gift of a wise people, neither can any power, which needs checking, be from God; yet the provision, which the constitution makes, supposes such a power to exist.”

In trying to answer this question for America today, it is not completely obvious what the preeminent power in our country would be.  I think between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, the legislative is clearly the weakest.  While it holds the power of the purse, I see the legislative branch as the least free to do what it wants.   Others must implement its actions.  Between the judicial and executive branches, the judicial branch is by necessity reactive (you have to have standing before you can bring a suit and get a ruling).  This leaves the executive branch in the preeminent role in America today.


Common Sense #2

This post resumes the examination of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”.  The Introduction can be found here.  I am going to avoid posting the whole text of the work, just pertinent sections and my comments.


SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. I had never really considered the difference before – I knew there was one, but this is a simple explanation.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer! Is this not still the truth today!  The government that we pay taxes to with one hand goes and binds our other hand, using the same money we paid them with.  I see this so often at work, when the federal taxes I and my employer pay are turned right around and fund the regulator that tells us we must spend more money to be “safe”.  Just this year and last alone, my company has had to spend more than $120 million to improve security equipment, several million to install safety gates at every spot where one could step off a platform (thanks to OSHA), hire more people and implement a complex program to ensure that people are not working too much, and take a tens of millions charge to prepare for the coming healthcare law.  I am funding my own regulatory demise!  Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others. Now this is the truth – security is the purpose of government – both national and local security.  Our present mode of government is certainly not in the least expensive and greatest benefit to all involved!  Perhaps lawyers would disagree…

The next few paragraphs talk about how a society logically begins to form.  People need to live together to gain the benefits of specialization, protection, and help that comes with living near others – Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which, would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other. And this is the rub – people are not perfectly just to each other.  Even when there are good intentions, accidents and misunderstandings happen.

Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters… In this first parliament every man, by natural right will have a seat.

But as the colony increases, the public concerns will increase likewise, and the distance at which the members may be separated, will render it too inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion as at first… This will point out the convenience of their consenting to leave the legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen from the whole body, who are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those have who appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body would act were they present. And thus we have a legislature.  Or government body, or whatever name you want to give it, there it is.

More to come on this section of the work – I recommend getting a copy from the library and reading it yourself.  Text on a screen does not do Paine true justice.


Common Sense: Introduction

PERHAPS the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. How true this is in America today.

As a long and violent abuse of power is generally the means of calling the right of it in question, (and in matters too which might never have been thought of, had not the sufferers been aggravated into the inquiry,) and as the king of England hath undertaken in his own right, to support the parliament in what he calls theirs, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpations of either.  Thankfully the abuse of power in America by the Federal Government has not turned violent yet.  There are no concentration camps, there are no deportations.  This is a good thing.  However, while the abuse of power has not been violent per se, the erosion of our individual responsibilities and rights has happened slowly, over time.  WE are the frog getting cooked slowly on the stove.  People are starting to call into question the right of the Federal government to do many of the things that it does.  The good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination of the federal government in the executive branch (EPA/OSHA/HUD etc.) and the fiat of the legislative and judicial branches.  The American people are starting to inquire into their government and look what we have found…

In the following sheets, the author hath studiously avoided every thing which is personal among ourselves. Compliments as well as censure to individuals make no part thereof. The wise and the worthy need not the triumph of a pamphlet; and those whose sentiments are injudicious or unfriendly, will cease of themselves, unless too much pains is bestowed upon their conversion.

The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. History has seen this borne out in America’s history.  In this past century the force of American military might has not been on conquest or the establishment of client states to support and protect the US.  It has been to advance the cause of freedom for those conquered, to provide relief to those in distress. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested. We can learn from the reading of the writings of our nation’s founders the principles that they espoused when establishing our nation. The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of all mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature hath given the power of feeling; of which class, regardless of party censure, is


Philadelphia, Feb. 14, 1776.

Doesn’t that last sentence send chills down your spine?

Common Sense Beginnings

George Washington is my hero.  In reading the stories of the American Revolution and of the work, overwhelming despair at times, and the hand of Providence that surrounded the founding of the American nation, I have found a deeper respect and awe for how unique America’s birth was.  I am reading through some of the founders writings, hearing their response to the clarion of freedom.  The founder’s words are in normal font, while my comments are italic and underlined.  My purpose is to learn from our past, to discern the passion and intent of the author, and to help to ignite in my heart the same flame that burned in theirs.

First on the list to read is “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine.  Mentioned in most every account that I have read, this foundational persuasive document for our separation from Britain was key.  I hope to lean why exactly, and see what tyrannies of then are the same and different from today.