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Thomas Paine : Collected Writings : Common Sense / The Crisis / Rights of Man / The Age of Reason / Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters (Library of America) Hardcover – March 1, 1995
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From Library Journal
Paine is one of those who proved the pen is mightier than the sword. Included here are several of the writings that forged the spirit of our nation, including Common Sense, The Crisis, The Rights of Man, The Age of Reason, and Other Pamphlets, Articles, and Letters. Note that two new Paine biographies have been recently published (LJ 11/15/94 and LJ 1/95).
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
All the germinal works of the forgotten founding Father. -- Christopher Hitchens
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Of course, the content is exceptional. It details the argument for independence from Britain, while giving insight into the historical context.
I first read this over fifty years ago. My appreciation for it has grown now that I am older than its author at the time. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
Chapter 1 - On the Origin and Design of Government in General, With Concise Remarks on the English Constitution
This chapter starts with a perceptive assessment of government, “in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state is an intolerable one.” This conclusion remains true today even though governments are presided over by politicians who get elected by making themselves appear benevolent.
Chapter 2 - Of Monarchy and Heredity Succession
Paine cites historical examples to demonstrate the problems with both the existence of kings and hereditary succession. Some of the strongest arguments are those of Samuel from the Old Testament showing that kings will both exploit their subjects and interfere with their relationship with God. Paine concludes that it is a “manifest injustice” for one generation to acquiesce to hereditary succession and give away the rights of posterity to select their leader.
Chapter 3 - Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs
For many, if not most Americans, the choice between independence and reconciliation was difficult because choosing independence involved risking, and in many cases, sacrificing their lives. In this chapter, Paine appeals to their honor and logic by pointing out the problems of reconciliation. Among the more serious problems of reconciliation was that it would make Great Britain’s enemies into America’s enemies, and France and Spain could be significant enemies. As someone who enjoys the freedoms and the legacy of being an American 240 years after Common Sense was written, I am humbly thankful that Paine’s appeal was successful and that so many sacrifices were made.
Chapter 4 - Of the Present Ability of America, With Some Miscellaneous Reflexions
Forming a navy and becoming independent would require significant investments and involve going into debt. Paine justifies this investment from a financial, self-defense, and moral basis. He does this in several ways, including pointing out the vast resources of the American continent.
Paine uses figures of speech cleverly to make his arguments clear to his readers. Perhaps the most effective metaphors are the two involving prostitution. In the first chapter, he compares the predisposition of some colonists toward Britain’s unfavorable constitution, which makes them unable to recognize a good constitution, to the inability of someone affiliated with a prostitute to select a good wife. And in the third chapter, he concludes that trying to reconcile the interests of Britain and America is like restoring the lost virtue of a prostitute.
The word colonist is not used in this book. Thomas Paine refers to his readers as Americans, not colonists, because he wants that to be their mindset. It works.
I think that for any American common sense it is a good book to read as it is a good primer on early America political thought. I have given this 4 stars in lieu of 5 on account of the "appendices". To my understanding the appendices were added in later additions as responses to some criticisms which had arisen. There is nothing wrong with the appendices per se but they are not nearly as punchy or poignant as the rest of the work, I appreciate their including but I think they did bring down the overall polish of the work somewhat.