Common Sense

by

Thomas Paine

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The Role of Government Theme Icon
The Case Against Monarchy Theme Icon
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After establishing his views on government in general, Paine takes the more radical step of arguing that monarchy is a bankrupt institution and must be abandoned. In his view, there are many absurdities of monarchy to choose from, such as the isolation and ignorance of rulers from those they govern: “There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of monarchy […] The state of a king shuts him from the world, yet the business of a king requires him to know it thoroughly[.]” But this is just one example of the weaknesses of a form of governance that Paine sees as not only ineffectual, but actively harmful. By appealing to historical and literary precedents and showing how monarchical succession worsens conditions over time, Paine argues that monarchy isn’t just corrupt in itself, but ultimately corrupting of society more broadly.

Historically, Paine claims, it’s been proven that monarchy is corrupt and corrupting. Paine builds an anti-monarchical case on the basis of the Bible. In the early ages of humanity, “there were no kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion.” Whether Paine considers this part of Christian scripture to be straightforward history or not is beside the point. Regardless, he makes rhetorical use of the Bible to persuade his largely Christian audience that kingship is a corrupt form of government, founded on pride, that only leads society into strife. Even though there were eventually biblical kings, even good kings, that doesn’t prove that kingship in itself is a desirable form of government. Paine points out that “[…n]either do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the origin; the high encomium given of [Israel’s King] David takes no notice of him officially as a king, but only as a man after God’s own heart.” In other words, individual virtuous examples don’t negate the fact that the office of kingship is still inherently faulty, the result of human pride and envy and thus inevitably tending toward corruption of society at large.

Though bad enough in itself, monarchy is made worse for society by its connection to the practice of hereditary succession. The idea of succession, in fact, is insulting to humanity. Succession “claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and though himself might deserve some decent degree of honors of his contemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them.” Paine is saying that, while monarchy denigrates humanity by artificially elevating a select few over the vast majority of others, succession multiplies the insult by arbitrarily embedding those honors in a single family line forever. Such a tradition can only lead to disaster, since “it opens a door to the foolish, the wicked, and the improper, it hath in it the nature of oppression. Men who look upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.” Not only does hereditary succession inevitably lead to the coronation of individuals unworthy of the office, it weakens the character of those who wear the crown. It feeds entitlement, and, as Paine elsewhere argues, a lifetime of royal privilege fails to prepare individuals for the duties they’ll one day assume. In fact, it does the opposite, ensuring a pattern of incompetent rulers who cannot effectively serve their people.

Paine’s anti-monarchical stance is one of the most radical aspects of his pamphlet. To make his case, he doesn’t rely on abstract political theory, but on examples and arguments that would have been culturally familiar and therefore plausible to a mass readership. By portraying monarchy as distorted and oppressive, he helps build his larger case for America’s independence from Britain and the move toward a more representative form of government.

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The Case Against Monarchy Quotes in Common Sense

Below you will find the important quotes in Common Sense related to the theme of The Case Against Monarchy.
2. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession Quotes

In short, monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom only) but the world in blood and ashes. ‘Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.

Related Characters: Thomas Paine (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:
3. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs Quotes

Wherefore, her own interest leads her to suppress the growth of ours in every case which doth not promote her advantage, or in the least interferes with it. A pretty state we should soon be in under such a second-hand government, considering what has happened! […] And in order to shew that reconciliation now is a dangerous doctrine, I affirm, that it would be policy in the king at this time, to repeal the acts for the sake of reinstating himself in the government of the provinces; in order, that HE MAY ACCOMPLISH BY CRAFT AND SUBTILTY, IN THE LONG RUN, WHAT HE CANNOT DO BY FORCE AND VIOLENCE IN THE SHORT ONE. Reconciliation and ruin are nearly related.

Related Characters: Thomas Paine (speaker), King George III
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING.

Related Characters: Thomas Paine (speaker), King George III
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis: