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One of the most influential figures in the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, was virtually a newcomer emigrant at the moment of writing his famous pamphlet Common Sense. However, it was his former residence in Great Britain that contributed to the development of Paine’s liberal and humanitarian views. Shortly on his arrival to America, Thomas Paine proved to be a strong advocate of separation from the British Empire and establishment of independent American state. The main grounds for his declaration are provided below in this essay.
Born in small ancient English city of Thetford, Thomas Paine was shown a clear image of authoritarian government yet in his childhood on the example of the Grafton Dukes (Keane 14). As a member of Quaker family, he was aware of religious tensions, what might lead to the idea of religious liberty afterwards. Paine witnessed court proceedings and annual executions at Thetford, the dominance of noble families and their wealth comparing to poverty of the country folk. Due to dissatisfaction with the school education and local unemployment in his trade, the twelve-year-old boy went to London. John Keane marks that Paine’s previous experience might already have influenced his political views and awaken his public consciousness (32). Thus, he decided to work as a sailor on the privateers in order to hunt the ships of Britain’s enemies. Being twenty years old, Paine was able to continue his education, however, he encountered obstinacy and intolerance of the existing legal system towards new scientific ideas (Keane 45). Then, Paine again settled down in the province and worked as excise officer; and this job allowed him to face the corruption and venality of the state system (Keane 52). As Keane observes, his later unjust dismissal aroused his distrust of the British government (59). Moving to Lewes, Paine deeply engaged in political debates and, for the first time, he learned about the problems of American colonies. After his unsuccessful petition to the government, discharge and bankruptcy, as well as failed marriage, Paine emigrated to America in 1774 with a view of starting a new life. Apparently, at that time his convictions had been completely shaped.
Thomas Paine was convinced that American colonies must be independent and free from the British rule. To confirm his position, he provides a range of good reasons. First argument is that America is inhabited by migrants from the whole Europe, and, consequently, it cannot submit to Great Britain as to the parent country. The majority of Americans are not of English descent, they are the mix of multiple nationalities. Moreover, America is a different continent and it is logical that this continent governs itself independently, “…nothing but Continental authority can regulate Continental matters” (Paine 26). On the contrary, it would be absurd if a small island would rule over the big continent. Paine asserts that such governing would be too complicated and not entirely unbiased, as conducted by “a power so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us” (Paine 17).
Secondly, Paine alleges that “America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power had any thing to do with her” (Paine 13). This statement implies that America suffered owing to constant involvement into internal European and British colonial quarrels and clashes. It made substantial payments to support the military operations conducted for the purposes and benefit of Great Britain. American people were drawn into confrontations with other countries which they had actually nothing against. Under these circumstances, American commerce underwent decline on account of its dependence on England. This situation also impaired promising commercial relations, whereas American population was chiefly interested in the economic development to ensure its welfare.
Furthermore, the recent military actions of Great Britain against American colonies aimed at suppressing their attempts to gain freedom caused indignation with the British policy. In view of that, Paine claims that these events will never be obliterated, and there is no possibility of reconciliation with England. “As well can the lover forgive the ravisher of his mistress, as the continent forgive the murders of Britain.” (Paine 22).
In addition, Paine gives three reasons why subordination to Great Britain was unreasonable and pointless. Firstly, pursuant to the British Constitution, without the King’s permission it was forbidden to pass any laws in the colonies, and he approved only those acts which corresponded to the England’s purposes. Paine notes that “America is only a secondary object in the system of British politics” (Paine 19).
Further, according to Paine, the reconciliation with Great Britain would be short-term and insecure, since future generations may start quarrels again. As a result, perspective wealthy emigrants might refuse to move to America on the account of its instable political situation.
Finally, Paine argues that only independence will bring peace to American lands and avert potential discords, “nothing but independence, i.e. a continental form of government, can keep the peace of the continent and preserve it inviolate from civil wars” (Paine 19).
It is evident that Thomas Paine considered America to be prepared to break relations with the colonial center and become independent. Usually, it requires significant material and human resources, as well as a large army trained and equipped to protect the wellbeing of the citizens. At that time some people doubted the ability of American colonies to stand such a test, mainly, for fear of internal clashes and power struggles. Paine mentions that himself, showing a slight disregard to the proponents of this thought, “some men say, many of whom I believe spoke without thinking, that they dreaded an independence, fearing that it would produce civil wars” (Paine 19). Nevertheless, there really existed a considerable probability of public disorders as a result of such abrupt separation; and it demanded appropriate measures.
To summarize, Thomas Paine was a genuine defender of human rights and his views grounded on the universal values and liberties. Notwithstanding his British origin, he supported American struggle for independence. The main reasons given by Paine in favor of his position were that Great Britain was too remote and small to govern another continent, having obsolete and corrupt legislative system based on monarchical regime. In addition, Britain acted chiefly in its interests, creating obstacles to American economic growth and disturbing its commercial relations. Therefore, Paine appealed to the public consciousness through his well-known pamphlet Common Sense, promoting absolute separation of American colonies from the British Empire and urging to institute free American democratic republic.