Study Guide

American Pacifists in Common Sense

By Thomas Paine

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American Pacifists

Different Types

It's hard to tell who Paine dislikes more in the book, the British tyrants who rule over America or the American pacifists who argue that the U.S. should accept British rule without a fuss. There are many different reasons why people would want America not to go to war with Britain. One of the mains one is that pacifists think America still benefits from the relationship with Merry Old England.

Paine notes:

I have heard it asserted by some, that as America hath flourished under her former connection with Great Britain that the same connection is necessary toward her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. (3.7)

But he ultimately finds this argument as silly as saying that a baby should breastfeed for the rest of its life because—so far at least—it has always gotten its nutrition from mama's milk.

Paine takes a little more time to explore the different attitudes against war in Chapter Three, where he lists the following:

Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak men, who cannot see; prejudiced men, who will not see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves. (3.21)

Of all these people, Paine actually considers the last ones the most dangerous because they're the most likely to appear reasonable to other people. But nothing for Paine can hide the brutality and injustice of the British rulers.

They Don't Deserve an Opinion

When he feels like he's listed every common sense-y argument he can against pacifism, Paine goes for the jugular by appealing to people's emotions. He writes,

Have you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor! If you have not, then are you not a judge for those who have. (3.23)

In other words, he's telling pacifists that they can't give an opinion on war if they haven't personally lost a loved one because of the British. This argument is much more emotional and less "common sense" than his others, but he chooses to make it because he wants to rally people to war. Not even Thomas Paine is above using a dirty trick or two to get his way.

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