Study Guide

Common Sense Race

By Thomas Paine


People sometimes forget that even while Thomas Paine spends all of Common Sense talking about the importance of freedom, he was still writing in a country where slavery was a regular part of life. That's why it's important to remember that whenever Paine talks about freedom in this book, he's actually talking about freedom for white men.

Black slaves and Native Americans don't quite make the cut for him, and as we see in some sections of the book, Paine also blames the Jewish people for many of the problems in the world. Yeah, don't let all the "Ra! Ra! America!" stuff cloud your judgment. Paine might have had some great ideas, but he had some serious shortcomings.

Questions About Race

  1. What is Paine's main problem with the Jewish people in Common Sense? Would you call his opinions racist? Why or why not?
  2. What types of arguments is Paine making when he brings up the "savage" Native Americans in this text? Does he have anything good to say about these people? Use evidence from the text to support your point.
  3. Could Paine have made just as strong an argument without talking negatively about the Jewish people, Native Americans, or black slaves? Why or why not?

Chew on This

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine shows us that the cause of American independence is unfortunately tainted by the legacies of slavery and Native American oppression.

In Common Sense, it's possible to take out Thomas Paine's unfortunate references to racism without affecting the main thrust of his argument.

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