Think Like Me—It’s the “American Way!!”

Thomas PaineSmaller Thomas Paine Picture for Blog 3

Several years ago, I read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.  While I read it for different personal reasons (it was required for school and I was not taking classes at the time), I did not read it to search for any particular reason or for analysis.  However, this past week, I had to.

I found Paine to be very vociferous in his rhetoric, which I say from a complementary perspective.  Considering that during the time of Paine’s Common Sense writing specifically, the King was abusing and taking advantage of the Colonists and they appear to be waffling more or less between fighting a war of independence and remaining with England.  I, therefore, can appreciate the fearlessness in creating such a work from someone who was directly from England himself.

What I found most interesting about Paine’s Common Sense however was the exclusion. He did apply what I thought was good old fashion reasoning to determine why slaves (what did they have to gain?) and Native American’s (The Colonists more or less took their land) should not fight for the cause.  But I thought it was very interesting that he emphatically excluded the Jesuits and Quakers.

For those of who are unaware of who the Jesuits are (I was raised devout Catholic and I am supposed to know this stuff), the Jesuits are a religious order within the Catholic Church.  It was founded in 1540 A.D. by a former Spanish solder who later became St. Ignatius Loyola.  The order originally had seven members and is now one of the largest groups within the Catholic Church with more than 1,500 houses and monasteries in over 100 countries today.  During Paine’s time, Jesuit convert and follower, Sir John Dalrymple, possessed a great deal of political favor with the King George III.  Sir John’s piece entitled The Address of the People of England to the Inhabitants of America, of course, brought Paine’s severe wrath and intense loathing of the Jesuitical lot.  What I found most interesting is that while Paine basically states (or at least my interpretation of it) that one can remain a Christian and fight, he wants nothing to do with those who although Christian, may maintain some type of loyalty to a king that holds the Colonists in what was deemed to be bondage.

The other group Paine addresses involves the Quakers.  Founded in England in the late 1640’s, the Quakers maintain a strong dislike and disapproval of war and slavery.  In fact, many of the Quakers were strong and prominent abolitionists who jailed or lost their lives helping slaves.  They are considered pacifists Christians and believe it is a sin to pick up arms and engage in battle.  However, because Paine viewed this particular revolt as a blow to oppression, he did not believe it would be against Quaker beliefs.  Paine instead argues that their pacifists views are more or less helpful to the oppressor rather than to the Colonists.  In the section entitled Epistle to Quakers, Paine outlines why they should join in the fight and if not, why they are useless to the cause.

While I obviously appreciate Paine’s argument (we would probably still be mere Colonists if he had not made his writings available), I walked away from this week’s class with one prevailing thought—there will always be an “us vs. them” no matter what we as humans do.  There will always be someone (myself included) who believes that if you do not think as I do, then there is no place for you.  I am beginning to understand that such thoughts and beliefs are human nature whether I like it or not.

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4 Responses to Think Like Me—It’s the “American Way!!”

  1. Harmon Gale says:

    One thing I’ve learned while studying great ideas is you have to remember that that people came up with them. People, with their prejudices and bigotry, and ignorance. That doesn’t make make those views any less despicable, nor should it invalidate what what good about the ideas themselves. Unfortunately, we like to put people on pedestals which often prevents us from gaining a more nuanced understanding of who those people were.

    An example, I often point to is how Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had a very strategic military purpose: foment slave revolts in the South. That doesn’t mean the EP as any less noble or important, but if we fail to acknowledge that fact, we lose the understanding that Lincoln was a very practical leader making incredibly difficult decisions.

  2. bmfdub says:

    As I understand the chronology, Paine wrote Common Sense when significant revolutionary tones already existed throughout the colonies. Additionally, Common Sense was seemingly a piece designed to gather as much support and solidarity for a cause that would affect the lives of everyone in the colonies.
    That being said, and though I have not read the piece you refer to, I feel that Paine was right in responding to Sir John’s piece with ‘wrath and intense loathing’ as it was ignorant to the plight of the people it addressed. From the colonists’ perspective, there was little loathing directed at their historical brethren remaining in England; instead aimed at the tyranny of the King. However, the title The Address of the People of England to the Inhabitants of America does not reflect the same connotation. It implies that those in England are ‘people’ while those living in America are something less. This isolates and demeans those it seems to intend to address. Just looking at the title is enough to incite angst when the rhetoric being slung already leans toward volatility. Additionally, if the Address was intended to bolster support in England, there is no question that Paine was right in his remarks.
    Was Paine right in writing off an entire sector of society that maintain loyalty to the King holding ‘the colonists in what was deemed to be bondage’? Absolutely. In a fight for independence, loyalty to oppression sows seeds of betrayal.

  3. ajgoldsmith says:

    I did not expect such the debbie downer statement of “there will always be an us vs. them no matter what we as humans do” coming from reading Thomas Paine. His work sets out the foundation for a revolution that literally changed the course of the world! The idea that such a scenario will always exist between people is, in my opinion, not a good way of going about living one’s life. This is because it provides an out from trying to use reason and other methods of persuasion in order to try to make the world a better place. Paine reminds us of this truth because of the accomplishments of the American Revolution. I know that I am up on my soapbox, but I feel as though we need to try and do what we believe in and not resign from this task because “things do not change.”

    • beyers2013 says:

      Thank you for your comments regarding my initial post. It was never my intention to be “Debbie Downer.” I, like you, read Paine’s work and would agree that had he not written this masterpiece we would not be the strong America we are. I merely attempted to point out one extremely small and microcosmic shred of observed information that I took away from the reading.

      Your comments are one of the things that makes our country great–freedom of speech. Thank you again.

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