The Use of Exclusions as a Means of Retaining Support for Common Sense

A yearning for a civil society destined to enhance the “common good” is typical of most civic republicans. In an effort to promote the revolutionary spirit against the British crown, Thomas Paine exemplifies this ideology in his pamphlet, Common Sense. While civic republicanism suggests that the betterment of the society can be achieved through complete, collective cooperation, the question of what to do with dissenters is generally ignored. However, as unanimity is far from practical, opposition is inherently expected. Therefore, excluding particular groups is necessary in order for Thomas Paine’s philosophy to operate. Paine uses exclusion – explicitly and implicitly – as a ploy for maintaining support in a time where opinions were crucial to the rebellious fervor.

Paine delves into explicit reasons, regardless of their legitimacy, for why certain groups pose a threat to the revolution. In doing so, Paine noticeably rejects these opposing forces in order to facilitate his desire for radical change. For example, Paine lashes out at the colonial Quakers, who compromised a large population in Pennsylvania. Essentially Paine downplays Quakers as being hypocrites and having no place in political affairs. “The principles of Quakerism have a direct tendency to make a man the quiet and inoffensive subject of any, and every government which is set over him…wherefore, the principle itself leads you to approve of every thing, which ever happened, or may happen to kings as being his work” (Paine, 65-66). In other words, because of the Quakers’ strong connection between God and state, he argues that they do not belong in the political arena, and instead should wait to see how their God will determine the outcome of the revolution.  Furthermore, Paine continues to press against the Quaker ideology in that if God and government were so closely aligned, then one could not be blamed for overthrowing a king. By exploiting contradictions in Quakerism, Paine attempts to eliminate a rival to the revolution.

Paine also blatantly attacks Tories – those remaining loyal to the British crown – and Jewish people claiming, “monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews” (Paine, 13). Additionally, Paine never mentions racial minorities, women, slaves, Native Americans, and other groups from his work. Unlike the three previous groups he openly excludes, Paine implicitly excludes these people, as he does not discuss these their place in the revolution. It is plausible to assume this is because he does not even view the aforementioned groups as citizens. Should Paine have considered these groups as citizens, it would be necessary for him to discuss their association to the movement. However, because they are left out of the text, as readers, we must also realize the qualifications of citizenship of the time period.

Nonetheless, Paine systematically excludes such groups, as he saw them as a threat to Common Sense. By removing these perceived adversaries from the revolution, Paine could more successfully attract his intended audience – those uncertain about the future of the colonies as well. It is important to understand that this time in American history was extremely volatile. This made propaganda and other forms of editorials very influential in progressing the revolutionary movement. Paine ceased upon such instability in order to promote his concepts for an independent United States. However, Paine demonstrates that these goals could not be achieved if the aforesaid “challenger” were to be included. “It is the madness of folly to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war…” (Paine, 79).

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One Response to The Use of Exclusions as a Means of Retaining Support for Common Sense

  1. jlpach says:

    In order to claim that Paine “systematically” excludes certain groups of people in Common Sense to direct his beliefs of a new political system to an intended audience, it is important to highlight who Paine implicitly excludes more so, in my opinion, than explicitly excludes. Since he is rebelling against the monarchy, it seems obvious that Paine would not want to include the Tories in his ideal “cause for mankind,” especially because they would obviously oppose his arguments against the reign of the British monarchy. However, if Paine is claiming that his intentions for a new American society is for the “cause of ALL mankind” (Common Sense, 4), why does it seem he is implicitly excluding, for example, racial minorities, males without property, and the political influences of women in his pamphlet?

    Of course, especially during that time period, Paine’s intended audience was white males with property. Why? Essentially, it was because they would have had the most influence in society to promote and cause political change. Paine’s focus in Common Sense is obviously centered on moving the opinions of the elite class (being the white males with property) in order to ensure the future progression of America away from the political and societal restraints of the British monarchy. However, the elite class is only just a small, select group of people contributing to society. The other portion of society, being comprised of the separate, excluded groups including those in the minority, should have been equally represented, or referred to, in the pamphlet considering they are equally a part of the new American society, even though they contribute to that society in different ways.

    In class, we made the claim that Paine is ultimately a civic republican or at least has civic republican ideologies in Common Sense. We also defined a civic republican as a political ideology that has three characteristics:
    1. Focus on the community as a fundamental unit
    2. Prioritization of the common good
    3. and Support for a participatory democracy.
    So essentially I wonder what does this exclusion of specific groups of individuals mean in regards to Paine exemplifying civic republican ideologies in Common Sense and how does this overall influence our ideas about civic republicans? If Paine’s Common Sense is considered that of civic republican ideology, who then is the “community,” or even considered as part of the “common good”? It seems after reading the pamphlet it is the elite white males of the society, but as mentioned before that is only just a select portion of society and not representative of the true American society as a whole.

    Based on Paine’s Common Sense and other readings, including Kemmis’s Barn Raising and Morone’s Democratic Wish, I believe it is impossible for the ideal civic republican ideology to exist in a political society. If the community and the common good are at the highest importance for a civic republican, I believe that everyone should be equally represented politically and socially, as is characteristic of a participatory democracy. However, not only is Paine making exclusions in his pamphlet, but Kemmis also implicitly excludes groups of individuals in her essay about civic republicanism: “We have as little as possible to do with those whose ‘life-styles’ make us uncomfortable” (122). Considering that throughout American political history a majority of those who have been elected as members of the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches have been of the elite class (white men with money), Morone’s claim that a participatory democracy is a utopian idea is in fact true. Civic republicanism is the democratic wish, which therefore leads to the conclusion that exclusions to retain political support ultimately leads to a more liberal political system.

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