Common Sense


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Common Sense

Thomas Paine, 1776

In January 1776 Thomas Paine published his fifty-page pamphlet Common Sense. It called for political independence and the establishment of a republican government. The pamphlet created a sensation, as much for its passionate rhetoric as for its political views. It sold more than 500,000 copies within a few months and is credited with creating the political momentum that led to the issuance of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

In Common Sense, Paine turned his vitriol on King George III and the institution of the monarchy, calling the king a "royal brute" and a "crowned ruffian." Insisting that people did not have to live under such a regime, he declared "that in America the law is king."

Common Sense

This is supposing the present race of kings in the world to have had an honorable origin; whereas it is more than probable, that, could we take off the dark covering of antiquity and trace them to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang; whose savage manners or preeminence in subtility obtained him the title of chief among plunderers: and who by increasing in power and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenceless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.…

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England since the conquest hath known some few good monarchs, but groaned beneath a much larger number of bad ones; yet no man in his senses can say that their claim under William the Conqueror is a very honorable one. A French bastard landing with an armed banditti and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original. It certainly hath no divinity in it. However it is needless to spend much time in exposing the folly of herditary rights: if there were any so weak as to believe it, let them promiscuously worship the ass and the lion, and welcome. I shall neither copy their humility, nor disturb their devotion….The plain truth is, that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into.

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In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which, in plain terms, is to empoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.

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Selections from Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

But where, say some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.

COMMON SENSE, med. jur. When a person possesses those perceptions, associations and judgments, in relation to persons and things, which agree with those of the generality of mankind, he is said to possess common sense. On the contrary, when a particular individual differs from the generality of persons in these respects, he is said not to have common sense, or not to be in his senses. 1 Chit. Med. Jur. 334.

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