Term Paper: Common Sense and the American Crisis

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Common Sense and the American Crisis

There are certain moments and actions in one's life that trigger the development of the future on a particular path. This, at an obviously larger scale is often applied in history. The actions of men of honor manage to change history, the lives of the people, and the culture of the nations. Throughout this all, they are well remembered and celebrated each year. Thomas Paine is one such character. His most famous pamphlet, "Common sense and the American crisis," comes to prove the importance one document may have for the writing of history in a country.

First and foremost, the pamphlet represented the first clear request for independence from the British crown. (Kaye, 2005) the historical background presented the situation in the British colonies as a pending war between the forces that demanded full independence and breaking up the ties with the Crown, and those willing to achieve a certain degree of independence without breaking the commercial or economic relationships with Britain. Paine's ideas presented in the pamphlet advocated an independent U.S. because of the deep political issues arising in the relationship with the British. In the beginning, he considered, the political order was relatively bearable. However, once George III got the reins of power, things suddenly changed and therefore this modification led to the reorientation of the political, economic, and social orientations.

The general perception among historians and scholars is that Paine had a major contribution to the building up of a conscience that would eventually rebel against the oppressive forces. (Claeys, 1989) in this sense, it is rightfully argued by most that the pamphlet was the fruit of its time, as "Common Sense exploded amidst an already volatile debate about colonial, imperial arbitrariness, and the possibility of resistance to the British rule." (Claeys, 1989) Still, there are those that take into account more the elements of personal responsibility thus pointing out in their analysis a more factual information, and there are those that have either experienced or are very well prepared to face up political correspondence. Nonetheless, in order to have wider view of the image, it may prove useful a perspective from multiple points-of-view..

In order to better understand and therefore underline the idea according to which men lies in the center of attention of all those around represents the perspective given by Craig Nelson, professor at the Indiana University. In his opinion, Paine was a self-made man, without any prior fame to rely on. Thus, this important pamphlet was not only a representative moment for the history of the U.S., but also the consecration of one of the most important personalities of the U.S. history. (Nelson, 2007) Paine's overall message in the pamphlet was to a large extent related to his own private experience with the British, as he had been engaged in the English system before eventually moving to the U.S. Thus, his approach of the British monarchic rule was also based on the first hand disappointment with the political scene in the Empire, an element that became a pivotal point in his pamphlet.

Secondly, another element that sets apart Paine's writings from the ones of his contemporaries is the way in which the pamphlet was perceived at the time. This aspect comes to underline the importance of the historical framework which drew the creation of "Common sense" but, at the same time personal interpretation of each event in relation to one's own perspective. In this sense, while for some, the pamphlet represented an agreement over a number of principles, among which the independence from the Crown, for others, it read as a sign to rebel against the imperial oppressor. (Lewis, 1954) Nonetheless, it was perceived as a stimulus for the revolutionary flame. Paine had been a promoter and supporter of the French Revolution and was therefore easy to apply the same regime change technique to the American colonies. At the same time, the people saw it as a sign of rebellious gathering also because Paine's text was meant for the masses and less for the elite, whose privileged status was yet another matter for discussion in his essay. Therefore, taking into account this atheist perspective, it can be said that, depending on the personal background of the analyst, there can be different aspects that are seen in a comprehensive commentary of a particular work.

Yet another element that is worth mentioning when discussing Paine's pamphlet focuses on the actual nature and structure of the writing. In this sense, Edward Larkin's view underlines the fact that Paine wrote both a literary creation and a political writing. This resulted, according to him, from the blending in of different qualities and experiences Paine had in his life. Thus, in order to "construct a new literature of politics" he combined the time spent as editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine that "served as an apprenticeship for Paine as he perfected the political and rhetorical strategies that would later propel him to prominence as a spokesman for the Revolution." (Larkin, 2005) From this perspective, a conclusion can be drawn in terms of techniques used by Paine to express his message. Indeed, practical experience in writing is essential for driving the message across to its destined public. At the same time however, it cannot be fully stated that his previous journalistic experience would have counted so much in the artistic impact if the audience it addressed had been, in parts, a different one, such as the political elites or the high society. The commoners were seen as the main audience for the pamphlet and thus a rather simple language was in order.

From this point-of-view, it can be said that each analytic view draws the attention on different other sides of the same text. Larkin's interpretation for instance, tries to make the connection between Paine's political thoughts and his attempt to present them to the ones that are the most entitled to know them and who can put them into practice. Larkin's ideas therefore are somewhat in accordance with Lewis's approach of the text because they both take into account the targeted public as an essential element in Paine's speech.

Despite the shape of the discourse, the public it takes into account or the personal background of the author, Thomas Paine's "Common sense" is above all a text meant to educate people in terms of freedom, equal rights and democracy. At least, this is the general idea promoted by the U.S. As its national creed. However, there are those that deny the existence of such lofty goals and question the truth behind this demagogic formula. Kaye points out that "Paine's Common Sense explained to the American s, north and south, urban and rural, high and low, enlightened and evangelical, what they were fighting against and what they were fighting for (...) he firmly believed that America possessed extraordinary potential but he did not see that potential as belonging to America itself." (Kaye, 2005) According to Kaye's analysis therefore, it is relatively easy to distinguish this approach from the rest of the others, because he takes into account a different perspective, relating to the morality of the American Revolution. In this sense, indeed, the revolutionaries were fighting for their independent desires, but at the same time, as Kaye remarks, the idea of freedom and democracy is not private property and everybody could enjoy such privileges. This can be considered as one of the first articulations of the idea of universal democracy, a notion that would encompass the American exceptional nature as promoted in the entire world. Kaye on the other hand, although accepts this idea, is rather reluctant in agreeing that the entire aim of the pamphlet included moral considerations. His view takes into account also the degree of desire for a political function.

An noted bibliography

Kaye, Harvey. Thomas Paine and the promise of America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.

Harvey Hays is a renowned personality in the academic world throughout the country. He is a Ben & Joyce Rosenberg Professor of Social Change and Development and is profoundly connected with the activities taking place at the Center for History and Social Change at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, whose director he is. His writing skills have justified his membership of the National Writers Union. His academic formation has given him a professional perspective as well. From this point-of-view the approach offered by the book, and in general by Kaye's writings revolves around the idea of man as the central piece in the society. This supposition represents a subject for debate, not only in academic circles, but also, outside the scholarly environment. Thus, due to his experience in sociology, Kaye as professor inoculated some general guidelines of thought which revolve around the idea that indeed, the core element of everything surrounding us is men, especially considering history. In the current case, Thomas Paine is, according to some fragments of the book, an important personality in the revolutionary period.

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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