Common Sense

Author: Thomas Paine

Type: Non-fiction, essays

Full title: Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine

Published: 1776

I read it: August 2011

common sense

To read Paine is to be blasted by a clarity that astounds in its dissent. Whether it is commentary on revolutions, railing against monarchies, or the slim pages about religion and farming, Paine comes through as a master popularizer and phrase-maker. He absolutely devastates the notion that top-down rule has any legitimate backing whatsoever, which must have been a wildly new opinion during his lifetime. This is a patriotic book for the most unpatriotic among us. I should not say much more, but instead give a sampling of quotes, which, while here out of context, can still cut hard:

Could the straggling thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for wise and able men to improve into useful matter.

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 should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony, be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.

Youth is the seed time of good habits.

Expedience and right are different things.

He who takes nature for his guide is not easily beaten out of his argument.

We have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

Men read by way of revenge.

(On kings) We neither mean to set up nor to put down, neither to make nor to unmake, but to have nothing to do with them.

There is not in the compass of language a sufficiency of words to express the baseness of your king, his ministry and his army.

One would think there were evils enough in the world without studying to increase them, and that life is sufficiently short without shaking the sand that measures it.

It was the cause of America that made me an author.

Government, on the old system, is an assumption of power, for the aggrandizement of itself; on the new a delegation of power for the common benefit of society.

I smile to myself when I contemplate the ridiculous significance into which literature and all the sciences would sink, were they made hereditary; and I carry the same idea into Governments.

I could double or triple this list, but let me end with a favorite, from the opening page of Common Sense:

Time makes more converts than reason.


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