Study Guide

Common Sense Race

By Thomas Paine

Race

[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. (2.3)

According to Paine, the first peoples of the world lived a happy existence until the Jewish people ruined everything by creating the tradition of having kings as rulers. In Paine's time, blaming the Jewish people for the problems of human civilization was unfortunately a common thing.

Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. (2.4)

Monarchy is probably the worst thing in the world as far as Thomas Paine is concerned. And he more or less blames the Jewish people, or "children of Israel" for bringing this scourge into the modern world.

Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. (2.7)

Thomas Paine is basically saying that one day, God will punish the Jewish people for bringing the scourge of monarchy into the world. Just to make things clear, he never really says where he's getting the idea that the Jewish people invented the idea of monarchy. But to say that God will one day punish them suggests that the dude is really anti-Semitic.

The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the Heathens, is something exceedingly unaccountable. (2.9)

According to Paine, the Jewish people are a bunch of idolaters, meaning that they tend to worship certain people and objects instead of worshipping the one true God. Paine has no clue why the Jews are this way, but he's certain that they are. Again, it's not clear what his evidence is for this claim, apart from his own prejudices.

[But] as few or no records were extant in those days, and traditional history stuffed with fables, it was very easy, after the lapse of a few generations, to trump up some superstitious tale, conveniently timed, Mahomet like, to cram hereditary right down the throats of the vulgar. (2.12)

Back in the old days, it was easy to make up a legend or old story to explain why a certain family got to produce kings instead of anyone else's. Paine compares this makeshift belief systems to the Muslim religion ("Mahomet like") and suggests that Islamic people are just as ignorant as the Jewish people are. Basically, he's saying that only white Christians know what they're talking about. Ugh.

This is supposing the present race of kings in the world to have had an honourable origin. (2.12)

Many people think that their kings come from noble races that go back centuries. But Paine is quick to point out that all the kings of England have come from William the Conqueror, a French barbarian who took over England way back in the day. Therefore, every king who has come after him is not from a great English line, like people want to believe.

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. (3.11)

When it comes time for Paine to criticize Britain, he compares their behavior to that of "savages" or Native Americans. Or in this case, he says that not even savages hurt the people they love, meaning that the Brits are even worse than savages for causing so much harm to their colonies. The main point here is that Native Americans are savage, but the British are even worse. The argument relies on racist assumptions either way.

There are thousands, and tens of thousands, who would think it glorious to expel from the continent that barbarous and hellish power, which hath stirred up the Indians and N****es to destroy us. (3.50)

Paine accuses the British of causing unrest with the black slaves and Native Americans, which might one day lead both of these groups to attack the white American settlers. Eventually, both of these groups would do exactly this. But Paine's fear shows his deep-seated concern about the fact that Native Americans and African slaves have very good reasons to want to hurt the so-called "freedom-loving" Americans.

And every line convinces, even in the moment of reading, that He, who hunts the woods for prey, the naked and untutored Indian, is less a Savage than the King of Britain. (A.2)

Once again, Paine takes a shot at the King of Britain by saying that even a savage Native American is better than him. It also happens to be an insult to Native Americans, who Paine sees as a bunch of uncultured animals.

[And] we, or those who may succeed us, would have been as ignorant of martial matters as the ancient Indians. (A.10)

Paine believes that America must attack the British immediately while they still have men in their country with good military knowledge. If they wait too long, these people will get old and die off. Then they'll be left with no more military knowledge than the "ancient Indians" of America. In other word, he thinks America will go into a primitive state of knowledge, which of course assumes that the traditional knowledge of Native Americans is worthless and primitive.