Study Guide

Common Sense Chapter 1

By Thomas Paine

Chapter 1

Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution

  • According to Paine, it's important for people not to confuse the concepts of Society and Government. Society is when people come together to support one another and to accomplish something that they couldn't do on their own. Government, on the other hand, is a force that seeks to punish anyone who steps out of line. In other words, Government only exists because people do bad things. If people were kind to one another, we wouldn't need Government.
  • At best, Government is a sort of necessary evil for Paine. And people need to know that the larger a society grows, the more it will have to rely on a limited number of people to represent everybody. In other words, it becomes hard to take a vote on every single issue when you've got hundreds of thousands of people spread over a large area. That's why people tend to elect representatives like members of congress.
  • After making these arguments, Paine sums up his point by saying that Government needs to express the direct desires of the people as a whole. And do you know who doesn't do this? A king!
  • And that's exactly what America had to deal with up until 1776, when the King of England was telling them what to do.
  • At the moment of this pamphlet's publication, there are three levels of British Government: The King, the Aristocracy, and the Commons (elected representatives). The first two levels are based totally on which family someone was born into, and they have nothing to do with the skill or wisdom of the people who are ruling.
  • There are all kinds of contradictions with this British system. For starters, the Commons is treated as a check against the power of the King. But the King is supposed to be elected by God, so why would a political system want to put a check on the will of God?
  • Paine takes this contradiction as a sign that the British don't really know what they're doing when it comes to Government.
  • Ultimately, the English people only continue to support their nonsensical political system out of national pride. They think it's a part of their tradition and don't care whether it makes sense from a logical point of view. Basically, there is nothing that keeps England from becoming a completely bloodthirsty dictatorship—which it already is, according to Paine.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...