English: Lesson 60
“The most illogical argument in Common Sense“
Thomas Paine: a tax collector, businessman, and ship stay maker from Europe, left for America in 1774 in the hopes of finding success. What did he decide to do there? He became a journalist and helped write and edit the Pennsylvania Magazine, and within the first few years, he became the most well-known author in America. His most popular piece of work, Common Sense, spread like wildfire when it was published in 1776. It was a political pamphlet aimed against the British Empire and with the task of rallying support for the American revolution/civil war. Common Sense is the most important document in American history, one that every citizen had read or heard, all the way up to George Washington who said, “I find that Common Sense is working a powerful change there in the minds of many men. Few pamphlets have had so dramatic an effect on political events.” So, if this important document was so well known and regarded as such a wonderful piece of literature, it must be full of mind-blowing ideas and incredible logical arguments. Unfortunately, that is not so.
Thomas Paine was a master at writing simply yet effectively, so that every person, no matter what their education, could understand what was written. He was also a master and using rhetoric to persuade his readers emotionally, and Common Sense was packed full of this rhetoric and lacked that logic which you would expect in a document that influenced the whole of America. It was full of emotional rhetoric and illogical arguments, and he included arguments like war is peaceful, skewing the King’s unnamed speech, the justification of the execution of Charles I and George III, and the justification of the Cromwellian revolution. All of these arguments Paine wrapped up in strong rhetoric, but when looked at logically, do not make sense. Because of this, it is hard to point to one argument that is more illogical than the others, but one that stood out to me was his ideas on National Debt.
“No nation ought to be without a debt. A national debt is a national bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case a grievance” (pg. 29, Common Sense).
Thomas Jefferson saw national debt as a national shame. Not Thomas Paine. He saw it as a positive sanction. He argued that a national debt would give all Americans a common enemy, something that everyone could fight against together and have a bond with other citizens. This of course is preposterous, and if it was true, Americans today should all be joined hand in hand with their fellow national debt brothers. Well, I don’t see anyone happily bonding over the national debt. America has never had a national debt of $0, except once. In January 1835, President Andrew Jackson achieved his goal of entirely paying off the United States national debt. No one has done it since.
Although, Federalists favour a stronger central government and argue that debt is a useful way of fuelling the country’s economy, Paine’s arguments for national debt are logically weak and bear no weight when stood up against arguments like those of Thomas Jefferson. Paine was a brilliant writer, there is no doubt about that, but his lack of logical thinking makes his pamphlet’s title, Common Sense, an embarrassment to himself, as he seemed to lack a bit of it.