Study Guide

Common Sense Passivity

By Thomas Paine

Passivity

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 towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. (3.7)

Some people argue that American's connection with Britain is the main reason America has grown to be such a successful place. But the truth is that Britain is just holding America back and the only way to make things better is with armed conflict. Sorry pacifists, but it time to fight.

I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew, a single advantage that this continent can reap, by being connected with Great Britain. (3.17)

Thomas Paine is well aware that people have lots of reasons for not going to war with Britain. But he still likes to challenge people to give one good reason why they shouldn't. Why does he do this? Well, probably because he's the one writing and no one has a chance to talk back.

[A] certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves; and this last class, by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this continent, than all the other three. (3.21)

For Paine, the most dangerous people in America are those who give Britain more credit than it deserves as a ruling power. Anyone who could possibly think that Britain is good is only going to poison the minds of true, patriotic Americans who need to stand up and fight for what's right.

Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offenses of Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, " Come, come, we shall be friends again, for all this." (3.23)

There are also lots of people in the U.S. who simply wish that America could get along with its enemies and become friends. Paine dismisses this argument as naïve to the point of childish. He is, after all, trying to get people to pick up guns and shoot at British soldiers, and he can't allow any doubt to creep into his readers' heads.

Your future connection with Britain, whom you can neither love nor honor will be forced and unnatural, and being formed only on the plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more wretched than the first. (3.23)

Paine is certain that sooner or later, America's bond with Britain is bound to dissolve. The only question is whether this will happen now or later. Pacifists want it to happen later so that other people will have to deal with it. But Paine thinks this is beyond irresponsible.

But if you say, you can still pass the violations over, then I ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed before your face! Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? (3.23)

Paine thinks that a lot of the people who are against war with Britain are just people who haven't been directly affected by British violence. In this case, he says that these people aren't fit to have an opinion on the issue of war because they haven't seen the true destruction that being tied to England brings.

But if you have, and still can shake hands with the murderers, then are you unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit of a sycophant. (3.23)

For those people who have faced British violence and still want to submit to British rule, Paine gives his biggest criticism. He says that these people aren't fit to have families if they aren't willing to fight for them.

It is not in the power of Britain or of Europe to conquer America, if she do not conquer herself by delay and timidity. (3.24)

At the end of the day, it won't be British force that conquers America. It'll be the fear and indecision of all the people who don't like the idea of going to war. For Paine, this kind of behavior is unforgiveable.

Every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual. Our prayers have been rejected with disdain. (3.26)

The pacifists have had their time. America has explored every possible option for a peaceful existence with Britain, but Britain insists on throwing peace back in America's face over and over. So now America has no choice but to go to war.

Ye that oppose independence now, ye know not what ye do; ye are opening a door to eternal tyranny, by keeping vacant the seat of government. (3.50)

Paine worries at one point that the people opposing the war with Britain don't truly understand what the impact of their actions will be. They don't realize that they're paving the way for a tyrant to keep ruling over America into the future, bringing chaos and violence to all Americans along the way. Paine knows that if these people could go into the future and see the consequences of their actions, they'd support the war.