Thomas Paine was a well-known philosopher and writer who published Common Sense in 1776 as a convincing essay encouraging Americans to distinguish themselves from British colonialism. Throughout this article, the tradition of Protestant Christian religion is exemplified and portrayed in different ways, often indirectly, demonstrating how Christian theology dictated that its adherents behave. The era of rationality had a huge influence on Common Sense’s writing and most of his audiences at the time wanted convincing writing and statements validated by factual proof. In examining Common Sense, it is evident that Thomas Paine propagated the American Protestant Christian culture of the age of reason. This text utilizes imagery, symbolism, metaphors and various tones of the players in the script to elaborate on this religious culture.
Noll (p.883) asserts that Thomas Paine reveals the culture of traditional Protestant Christianity throughout his writing but within the context of enlightenment. He quotes the Bible very much either implicitly or explicitly to help his readers understand why Americans should reject the rule of kings from England in the US. Thomas provides a significant contrast between what the Bible says about kings and the reason kings were not a good idea. Thomas noted,
As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. (Chapter2. p.5)
Here Thomas compares a king in the Old Testament with the king of England and implies that when someone is allowed to rule, too much power is bestowed on him and he may play the part of a god of a sort. He may demand undivided devotion and encourage modern day idolatry. Additionally, too much power would mean enslavement of the people since one person, the king would decide what is right or best for the people although it may not be. And since America was a nation where the prevalence of Christianity was rampant, his readers would identify well with the biblical text.
Notably, Thomas wrote common sense in a historical period marked with the greater questioning of authority particularly one that allowed the government or religion to control masses. As such, for him to get the attention of the readers and to pass across his message, he had to coin his text around enlightenment of the people. As such he reasons out claims with the reader and strives to engage the mind of the reader instead of offering just finely digested content. Also, Paine uses arguments and provides sufficient and reasonable evidence to support his claims. Drawing his examples from how American had been affected by the monarchy persuaded his readers to consider the importance of freeing America from the domination of England. Paine asserts that Protestant Christianity is ideal as opposed to the Catholic religion as the later enslave people by desiring them to offer their homage to the popish requirements and standards.
And man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of kingcraft, as priest craft, in withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries (chapter 2 p.9)
The fact that the pope is the one who would read the Bible and interpret it to the members revealed the corruption of the society and manipulation by those in power. And according to Paine that is what the people of America needed liberty from as well as from the Britain domination. The American people found their needs for political and religious freedom addressed making Common Sense such an incredible literature in the age of reason.
Metaphors are used extensively throughout the common sense text. Notably, the metaphors used also relate to those the Bible uses just to reveal how much the Bible was central to the life of Paine and all his political writing would be affected by it. For example, Paine uses the human body as a type of the nation and the different parts of the body as the various aspects and individuals in a state. Similarly, the way a human body can be weak or strong, healthy or unhealthy, can grow or retard, a nation could also experience such as well. Additionally, since the human body requires to be taken care of so that it can grow and remain nourished, the nation needed to be taken of as well. This notion of a body being representative of a group is also anchored in the scriptural teachings of the church is one body and individual members with each part required to play its role efficiently for the functioning of the whole body. As such, America would not also function accordingly apart from each joint doing its part effectively. And finally, Paine compares the politicians to the doctors who offer advice on eth best type of medication to provide to an ailing body.
Paine also compares the relationship between Europe and that of America to a parent and a child respectively. However, in this context, the parent appears to take care of the child through nourishing her with nutrients. Notably, Paine opposes the ideology that English politicians would be the parents since they have not behaved as responsible and loving parents. In fact, in Paine’s eyes, England was brute and controlling. The aspect of America being a child means that growing up is an essential aspect of that process such that America should be allowed its independence. As a maturing young man, America was gaining its strength and direction in military and economic issues. Paine alludes that soon or later, the guardianship of England would cease and America would be free. This hope wasn’t just a mere statement but one that was supported by various facts. Like the war that was rampant in the Bible including the Israelites and the nations that sought to control her to seize Israel’s inheritance, the war was the way that America would use to retaliate and safeguard her gardens and homes.
The kingship metaphor that Paine uses explicitly reveals that monarchy was not only outdated but also against the godly standards. He draws his examples his from the Bible in which kings were a representation of corruption and current age kingdoms presenting as selfish immoral and rapacious. In fact, according to Paine, kings are heathens whose purposes are aligned with the devil and the devil’s agendas they want to carry out. As such the way that America would enjoy peace was to do away with association with kings. Paine argues,
In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there were no kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion. Antiquity favors the same remark; for the quiet and rural lives of the first patriarchs hath a happy something in them, which vanishes away when we come to the history of Jewish royalty. (p. 340)
Additionally, the kings are presented individuals who promote inequalities in the society as well as allowing the widening of the gap between the poor and the rich (Feit, 60). Interestingly, Paine does not miss his words in elaborating that King George III exhibited animal behavior and would be seen as a worm crawling the world. And his whole monarchy worse than the animals since animals treated their fellow animals better. That is why for the American nation to continue enjoying her peace and prosperity with God’s blessing, it was imperative to dissociate with England at whatever cost through whatever means.
The English constitution is used symbolically as a hallmark of confusion and a house divided against itself which cannot stand the test of time. Paine suggested the solution to this mess was to use the Bible as the stable constitution that governed the affairs of the land as highlighted by Grey (p. 25). This analogy of the house divided against itself draws from the Biblical texts that assume that kingdoms only thrive when there is perfect unity among the key players in it. As such, since the constitution exhibited much confusion like a massive machine that is too complicated to repair when it breaks down, it could not be divine. As such, the solution lay is cutting the cord. Although the constitution promised to liberate, it enslaved those whom it purported to assist. Freedom would be the only bond that would make America great.
The tone in Paine’s common sense is that of confidence and imperativeness. He helps the reader understand his point of view through drawing various examples such that when one disagrees with him, he or she may feel sheepish. For instance, he alludes that all who love humanity should support his agenda to fight the British from any links with Britain. He gives a dare to any enlightened America that would back up Britain.
“O ye that loves mankind! Ye that dares oppose, not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!” (Chapter 3 p.53).
In his political passion, he is imperative giving the reader, in a sense, too few options. The same is the ideology propagated by the Christian texts that are neither suggestive nor debatable since in themselves is completeness. This tone of confidence is what made Common Sense a vital text to incite political passion among the people (Irwin p. 29).
In conclusion, Paine presents the Christian culture profoundly throughout Common Sense. The cultural perspective is realistic since drawing from the examples in the Bible the results alluded would be attained. For instance, when the patriarchs had no kings, the nations thrived, but the coming of the kings made that countries go to war since God was not in their midst. Additionally, the aspect that kingship was not divine as it elevated human beings above their human equals is valid and accurate as it promotes equality. The similes used draws significantly from the Bible, and that would go well with Americans who were majorly Christian and would relate to the texts.
Feit, Mario. “For the Living: Thomas Paine’s Generational Democracy.” Polity 48.1 (2016): 55-81.
Grey, Thomas C. “The constitution as scripture.” Stanford Law Review (1984): 1-25.
Irwin, Raymond. “The Historiographical and Cultural Impact of Thomas Paine: A Quantitative Approach.” New Directions in Thomas Paine Studies. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2016. 13-29.
Noll, Mark A. “religion in the early republic: a second tom paine effect.” Modern Intellectual History 14.3 (2017): 883-898.
Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense, ed.” Isaac Kramnick (London, 1976) 36 (2004).