Study Guide

Common Sense Setting

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Colonial America

In order to make his case for war with Britain, Thomas Paine needs to convince his readers that America is properly situated for such a war. At the time Paine was writing Common Sense, many people thought that America wasn't a populated enough country to take on the British, but Paine answered that,

It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies; yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the world. (4.3)

On top of his argument for human resources, Paine is proud to say that America has more than enough natural resources to sustain its war with Britain. In 1776, only a quarter of American land was populated by European colonists, and it seemed to Paine as though the country had infinite resources.

As Paine happily argues, "Tar, timber, iron, and cordage are her natural produce. We need go abroad for nothing" (4.10). As we can see, the physical setting of America is a central part of Paine's argument for why America could—and should—wage war with Britain.

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