Common Sense

by

Thomas Paine

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Common Sense: Appendix Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the same day that Common Sense was released, a speech of King George III was published in Philadelphia. The speech helped ripen people’s sentiments for independence. Paine describes the speech as “a piece of finished villainy,” and libelous. He will argue that, first, it is in America’s interest to be separated from Britain, and second, that separation it is a more practicable plan than reconciliation.
The Appendix did not appear with the first edition of Common Sense. In light of the reaction to the King’s published speech, Paine issues this appendix with the second edition in order to reiterate certain of his arguments with greater urgency.
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In answer to the first, Paine begins by arguing that independence is a worthy goal because it will be necessary sooner or later, and the longer it’s delayed, the harder it will be to accomplish. For one thing, America’s experience in the recent war means that, militarily, she has already gained valuable experience.
Most of Paine’s arguments in the Appendix are familiar. He restates both the urgency of independence and America’s preparedness to pursue that goal.
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In answer to the second, Paine argues that independence is simple, whereas continued dependence on Britain is tremendously complicated. America’s present condition of being held together by sentiment, not law, is precarious. Without a common goal, the opinions of the masses are subject to fancy. “The Continental Belt is too loosely buckled,” and if something isn’t ventured soon, it will be too late for either reconciliation or independence. And now that British soldiers have actually fired muskets against Americans, the way forward should be obvious.
Paine has elsewhere favored simplicity as most conducive to society’s thriving, and he reiterates that here, fearing the strangling entanglement of continued dependence on Britain. Toward that end, America needs to draw together more tightly for the sake of united action.
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Going forward, independence will either be achieved by law, by a military power, or by a mob. If the first prevails, then America has the chance “to begin the world over again” by creating the purest constitution ever seen. If one of the latter two options prevails, then America has no one to blame but herself. Independence is the only bond that can ensure ongoing union among Americans.
Independence will occur one way or another, Paine argues, and if America is to have the most auspicious beginning possible, she must take initiative now. Doing so will have positive effects for the world at large as well as posterity.
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Paine rests his case here. He says that no one has refuted earlier editions of the pamphlet, which assures him that his case is correct and that it enjoys substantial popular support. He urges Americans therefore to unite, not to divide into divisions over such party lines as Whig or Tory, but seek in common to support the rights of mankind and an independent America.
Paine fears the possibility that, if Americans delay for too long, they could easily splinter into factional disagreements that could endanger the cause of independence altogether. It’s vital, therefore, to pursue action now. Note that the appendix was attached to the February 14th edition of the pamphlet; by the standards of the day, the rapid printing of the second edition shows considerable urgency.
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Lastly, Paine addresses a recently published piece by the Quakers with regard to America’s situation. He does not quarrel with the Quakers’ religious views, but with their “dabbling” in political matters. He shares the Quakers’ desire for peace. He points out that most Americans are fighting in self-defense against British aggressions, and feel a tenderness for American sufferers that perhaps the Quakers don’t. Against the Quaker view that all bearing of arms is sinful, he holds that there is a distinction between “willful attack and unavoidable defense.” If the Quakers were serious in their objections, they would object equally to the behavior of the British crown. This, in Paine’s view, makes them inconsistent in their principles.
The Quakers, or Religious Society of Friends, were a radical Protestant group, with strong pacifist commitments, which was influential in Philadelphia at this time. Paine’s father was a Quaker, so he was likely familiar with their beliefs, and his familiarity perhaps adds to his palpable sense of irritation with their unwelcome “dabbling” in his political cause. In accordance with his view that independence is a moral imperative, he argues that the Quakers are insufficiently outraged over British violence and unserious in their application of pacifist principles. Though Paine is a supporter of religious liberty, he sees the Quakers’ position on revolution as undercutting that very principle.
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