Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Common Sense

Michael Fong
Journal #15 Thomas Paine
November 10, 2009

"Ye that tell us of harmony and reconciliation, can ye restore to us the time that is past? Can ye give to prostitution its former innocence? Neither can ye reconcile Britain and America. The last cord now is broken, the people of England are presenting addresses against us. There are injuries which nature cannot forgive; she would cease to be nature if she did. As well can the lover forgive the ravisher of his mitress, as the continent forgive the murders of Britain...Asia and Africa have long expelled her [Freedom]. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind." (Paine 636-637)

"History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine." (John Adams - Wikipedia)

In the quote above, Thomas Paine goes in an outright attack towards the British empire as a whole, accusing her of wrongdoings comparable to that of rape and murder. He ends by going on a ferocious lament on the gradual extinction of freedom in every other continent, thus singling out America as the "last free land"; the ultimate sanctuary for freedom, human rights, and peace.

Paine may not employ fancy rhetoric in his writing, but his "plain" style of writing is not, in any sense, a display of weakness in his arguments; rather, it cloaks the ingenuity
and brilliance of them. His mode of argument is so intricate and elaborate that the title "Common Sense" of his work seems all but a subtle suggestion of irony. I could not help but be reminded of yet another speech given by Mark Antony shortly after the death of Julius Caesar. Through the course of one single speech, Antony successfully turned the crowd from supporting and agreeing with the course of action of the assassins to a raging mob determined to avenge Caesar's death. The Roman public was thus turned to revolution against Brutus and his fellow statesmen, which in turn marked a significant change of political climate within the Roman Empire. "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears", began Antony with his speech, and what follows completely changed the mindset of the Romans and their perception of Julius Caesar. Isn't Paine doing a similar thing? Is he not declaring, "Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears", and designing within his arguments to refute and counter Britain? In "Common Sense", Paine's agenda is clear: to rally the colonies into joining the revolution against Britain, and through the course of his work he succeeded. His infusion of direct appeal of emotion to the public along with his clear, concise arguments (as opposed to the British mode of oratory, which tends towards the archaic and dense nature) indeed was a pioneer to the politics of America to this very day.