“Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz. freedom and security.
And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say, it is right” (Paine. Common Sense
. Pg. 7. Bold Emphasis Mine).
I’m currently reading through some of Thomas Paine’s more famous works: Common Sense
, various letters following Common Sense
, Rights of Man
, and selections of his other works.Common Sense
was written during the American Colonial War of Independence. Many have described this work as the spark that ignited the passion for the Colonists. With no formal training, Paine proved himself to be a natural writer. He wrote with passion and inspires the reader to take up arms against the British Crown. I nearly bought myself a musket and marched off to join Washington’s cause for freedom from tyranny
=). Paine’s arguments are dripping with Enlightenment ideas but makes some compelling arguments (or maybe they just seem compelling because I’m raised in a post-Enlightenment era?).
“…here too is the design and end of government, viz. freedom and security.” Definitely agree with him here. Paine’s entire argument for breaking away from England is summed up in the belief that the isle of Britain has not and cannot govern the North American continent. The Atlantic Ocean is simply too vast a distance for her to govern. Add to that all of Britain’s abuses against the Colonies, and he’s got some good points. So you have Britain claiming the Americas. But Britain has stripped the colonists of their freedoms and security. The colonists know they can do a better job. Suddenly, you’ve got a war for independence.
Thomas Paine had his share of critics. He responds to arguments of the day:
“But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families;
wherefore the assertion, if true, turns to her reproach; but it happens not to be true, or only partly so, and the phrase parent or mother country hath been jesuitically adopted by the king and his parasites, with a low papistical design of gaining an unfair bias on the credulous weakness of our minds.
Europe, and no England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still”
(Pain. Common Sense
. Pg. 24. Bold Mine).
I cannot help but smile when I read this. Such boldness. Such fierceness. Remember that for most American colonists at that time, they had never seen the “mother country,” England. England was a distant land - a place and a people they did not identify with. They did not consider themselves Englishmen, but American colonists. And now, these British “foreigners” were stepping on their rights. It is no wonder the colonists were upset.
If you are interested, Paine is said to have become a Deist near the end of his life (probably closer to the French Revolution), but so much of his writing is filled with references to Christianity. It seems to me that Paine remained a professing Christian man until he was better influenced by the French Enlightenment Thinker, Voltaire.
“Every thing that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ‘Tis time to part. Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America, is a strong and natural proof, that the authority of the one, over the other, was never the design of Heaven. The time likewise at which the continent was discovered, adds weight to the argument, and the manner in which it was peopled increases the force of it. The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety”
(Paine. Common Sense
. Pg. 27. Bold Emphasis Mine).
Here is a question for my audience: what is your opinion of the American Revolution in light of Romans 13:1-7? I’ll go first. Honestly, this is something that has troubled me for years. ESPECIALLY when you consider that Paul penned those words during a time of fierce persecution for Christians. An Enlightenment Thinker would argue that it was the duty of Christians (and non-Christians) living in the first century to revolt against the Roman government to get rid of tyranny and provide a government that functions as God intends. Ouch, this paragraph is difficult for me to read – and I penned those words! But seriously, how well do the arguments of our nation’s founding fathers hold up to the teaching of Scripture? If it is true that England could not effectively govern the Americas, that might be a point to consider. But then again, I’m just not sure… yet. Lemme know what ya’ll think.
Here again is this very argument:
“As to government matters, it is not in the power of Britain to do this continent justice:
The business of it will soon be too weighty, and intricate, to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us; for it they cannot conquer us, they cannot govern us. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which when obtained requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness—
There was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease. Small islands not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet, and as England and America, with respect to each other, reverses the common order of nature, it is evident they belong to different systems; England to Europe, America to itself” (Paine. Common Sense
. Pg. 30-31. Bold Emphasis Mine).“But where, says some, is the King of America? I’ll tell you. Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain.
Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. 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 use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony, be demonlished, and scattered among the people whose right it is” (Paine. Common Sense
. Pg. 37-38. Bold Emphasis Mine).
I have got to say Amen
to that! Monarchy is an effective form of government when the King is just. But we know all too well how quickly the crown can be corrupted. One sinner ought not to be put in such a supreme position. I was utterly caught off guard when Thomas Paine made an extensive argument against monarchy from the Bible, pointing out that it was only because of the jealousy of other nations that Israel demanded a King to rule over them. Democracy is the best form of government for this sinful world.
I will close with an excerpt from a letter Thomas wrote to a British commanding General, General Howe:“As the blood of the martyrs hath been the seed of the Christian church, so the political persecutions of England will and hath already enriched America with industry, experience, union and importance.
Before the present era she was a mere chaos of uncemented Colonies, individually exposed to the ravages of the Indians and the invasion of any power that Britain should be at war with. She had nothing she could call her own. Her felicity depended upon accident. The convulsions of Europe might have thrown her from one conqueror to another, till she had been the slave of all and ruined by every one; for until she had spirit enough to become her own master, there was no knowing to which master she should belong. That period, thank God, is past, and she is no longer the dependant, disunited Colonies of Britain, but the independent and United States of America, knowing no master but Heaven and herself. You or your king may call this “Delusion,” “Rebellion,” or what name you please. To us it is perfectly indifferent. The issue will determine the character and time will give it a name as lasting as his own”
(Paine. Letter to General Howe March 21, 1778. Pg. 105-106. Bold Emphasis Mine).
What’s done is done. I am glad we are a nation filled with many freedoms. Indeed, we are the most free nation the world has ever known. My prayer is that God continues to be gracious to our land in granting to us such liberty.
I love America,