English Class: American Literature

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) wrote and published the influential pamphlet Common Sense on January 10, 1776. Although this pamphlet was important in furthering the cause of the Americans, it was more rhetorical than logical. Paine had quite a few illogical arguments in Common Sense, including his argument on the absolute evilness of the British and the King. He insists that to be under British rule is to be under one of the most cruel and unjust governments. Paine wrote that King George III was a despotic tyrant who wished to rule the American colonies arbitrarily. He writes,

“The powers of governing still remaining in the hands of the king, he will have a negative over the whole legislation of this continent. And as he hath shewn himself such an inveterate enemy to liberty, and discovered such a thirst for arbitrary power; is he, or is he not, a proper man to say to these colonies, ‘YOU SHALL MAKE NO LAWS BUT WHAT I PLEASE.’”

King George III, Photo Credit: Wikipedia
King George III, Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In reality, Paine was misrepresenting the situation. The king no longer was the sovereign ruler. Parliament was the ruling body who had passed the taxes and acts on the American colonies that had so enraged the Americans. Even though the British government made plenty of mistakes in how they governed the colonies they were not necessarily trying to rule them in a tyrannical manner. They were doing what governments do and still do, keeping their subjects in control. In a speech that he gave to both Houses of Parliament on October 27, 1775, king George III spoke of subduing the rebels but of treating the people with mercy. “When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy!” The relationship of Britain with its colonies was like the relationship between a father and child. Paine again writes,

“From Britain we can expect nothing but ruin. If she is once admitted to the government of America again, this Continent will not be worth living in.”

Once again Paine asserts an argument that was inaccurate, and Canada stands to prove it. Canada was not ruined by being under the government of Britain. The state in which Canada is now in is due more to modern developments than having been governed by the British government. It would probably have been even worse under American rule. America was worse after its independence and the Constitution than during British rule. Taxes skyrocketed, debt increased, and worse of all, the government became a powerful force that would not tolerate dissenters. When the Americans violently protested against the Stamp Act, as with other acts, Parliament backed down, something our own government has never done.

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