Common Sense

by

Thomas Paine

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Common Sense: 4. Of the Present Ability of America Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Paine proposes to survey America’s present readiness for independence. America’s greatest strength, he says, lies not in its numbers, but in its unity. That being said, America’s army is still the largest and most disciplined on Earth. For that matter, it is also well worth going into debt in order to build and outfit a navy. Paine provides figures to demonstrate this claim, also pointing out that America is endowed with all the natural resources it needs for that task, needing to import nothing. America can have no hope of Britain defending it in the future, and its prosperity has grown to the point that self-defense is an important consideration. Further, raising a navy would allow a wise union of commerce and defense, displaying America’s overall strength.
Paine, moving from the moral imperative of seeking independence, addresses some practical considerations that America would need to face as a fledgling nation, arguing that its army is already well equipped and that establishing a navy is well within its resources and abilities. This section bolsters his previous arguments by demonstrating that independence is not just an idealistic daydream, but both achievable and sustainable over the long term.
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Paine also believes that the time is right because America is numerous, but not yet so large as to threaten its unity. “Youth is the seed time of good habits,” and as both trade and population increase, so will confusion, and the potential for rivalry between colonies. As its situation currently stands, the colonies enjoy friendship and harmony that’s been founded on shared misfortune. They should seize the opportunity to decide their form of government while these circumstances remain in place.
Here Paine appeals to the imagery of youth, or childhood, in a different way than previously—portraying youth not as a liability, but as an ideal state in which to lay the groundwork for a future nation. Fresh from the joint struggles of Revolution, the colonies will be in a perfect temperament to cooperate in forging a new nation.
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Paine concludes that nothing but independence would so neatly conclude America’s pressing issues. For one thing, if America declared independence, then another nation might be called upon to mediate between America and Britain. Secondly, if America is to remain under Britain’s authority, then a power like France or Spain couldn’t be expected to act against their own interests by intervening on America’s behalf. Third, America would no longer have a reputation as rebellious. Finally, America could issue a manifesto to foreign courts, explaining their situation and explaining their peaceable intentions. Without independence, though, America will receive no overseas hearing or help. And until America resolves to take steps toward independence, the necessity for it will continue to haunt the country as a whole.
Paine concludes his argument by addressing America’s situation among the existing nations of the world. For now, it has no status among other world powers, and for that reason, it can’t expect help from other nations, either. Declaring independence would change that, allowing America to solicit help and forge alliances with other countries. Until America is bold enough to act, however, its current problems will only fester.
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