Thomas Paine of Common Sense  Term Paper

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Paine's decision to write of high philosophical and political issues in common speech, and of used "graphic metaphors and his simple sentence structure [to] reflect a language understood at the time by common Americans," (Moss & Wilson, ed) has much the same purpose as a translation of the Bible from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic into Latin, which is to say the need to initiate common people into profound truths.

Paine may not have been the greatest philosopher of his day, but he was certainly the greatest rhetorician. (it is a distinction which has been open to debate since the time of Socrates and the Sophists) the needs of rhetoric, as Aristotle himself has said, demand using emotion, sentiment, self-interest, and logic together with fine and comprehensible speech to persuade an audience. Both his synthesis of modern ideals and his simple straight forward manner aided him in fulfilling these demands:

Disavowing the complex neoclassical rhetoric of his day, Paine espoused instead a style that was forceful, direct, clear, and simple. Easily understood, his prose was carefully structured to move his audience to action. A master at the use of such rhetorical devices as parallelism, repetition, the apostrophe, the invective, the rhetorical question, the summary, and the ethical appeal, Paine was able, as one scholar has explained, to awaken 'the lukewarm, hesitating, and indifferent, and turn them in great numbers to the support of the cause.' " (Levernier)

In comparing and contrasting what various critics have said about Paine's body of work, and specifically about Common Sense itself, one can see how its major themes of equality of the masses and the need for revolution are perfectly embodied in a text which is at once revolutionary and textually aimed at the common people themselves. As Paine himself was quick to point out, "Of course, the Revolution would have occurred whether or not Paine had existed..." (Woodress), for it was made inevitable by the distance between America and England, the nature of their relationship, and any number of other forces, "but Common Sense did prepare people's minds for the break with England." (Woodress) in this success one sees the true evidence that Paine's method of common speech and common philosophy perfectly achieved his goal of creating a common cause.


Boulton, James. "Literature and Politics I: Tom Paine and the Vulgar Style." Essays in Criticism, Vol. XII, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 18-33. Reprinted in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 62 [Galenet Group Database]

Essay on the way in which Thomas Paine's "vulgar style" enabled him to reach his contemporary audience in a uniquely powerful fashion, though it has exposed him to neglect from literary elitists and academics.

Levernier, James. "Thomas Paine: Overview," in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd ed., edited by Jim Kamp, St. James Press, 1994.

Galenet Group Database]

An overview of Thomas Paine's work and life, with a goal to describe and explore rather than dissect or critique.

Paine, Thomas. Common Sense. Philadelphia: printed. And sold by W. And T. Bradford [1776];, 1999.

The primary text in question, it is described in the original title as: addressed to the inhabitants of America, on the following interesting subjects. I. Of the origin and design of government in general, with concise remarks on the English Constitution. II. Of monarchy and hereditary succession. III. Thoughts on the present state of American affairs. IV. Of the present ability of America, with some miscellaneous reflexions, by Thomas Paine.

Wilson & Moss, ed. "Thomas Paine: Common Sense," in Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them, Volume 1: Ancient Times to the American and French Revolutions (Prehistory-1790s), Gale Research, 1997. [Galenet Group Database]

An overview of "Common Sense" including historical and biographical events leading up to publication, inequalities in colonical America, religion and revolutionary thought, the contents and sources for the pamphlet itself, and Paine's eventual misfortunes.

Woodress, James. "Common Sense: Overview," in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd ed., edited by Jim Kamp, St. James Press, 1994.

An overview of the content, import, and results of Common Sense. This article gives a basic sense of the historical situation in which the…

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