Several years ago, I read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. While I read it for different personal reasons (it was required for school and I was not taking classes at the time), I did not read it to search for any particular reason or for analysis. However, this past week, I had to.
I found Paine to be very vociferous in his rhetoric, which I say from a complementary perspective. Considering that during the time of Paine’s Common Sense writing specifically, the King was abusing and taking advantage of the Colonists and they appear to be waffling more or less between fighting a war of independence and remaining with England. I, therefore, can appreciate the fearlessness in creating such a work from someone who was directly from England himself.
What I found most interesting about Paine’s Common Sense however was the exclusion. He did apply what I thought was good old fashion reasoning to determine why slaves (what did they have to gain?) and Native American’s (The Colonists more or less took their land) should not fight for the cause. But I thought it was very interesting that he emphatically excluded the Jesuits and Quakers.
For those of who are unaware of who the Jesuits are (I was raised devout Catholic and I am supposed to know this stuff), the Jesuits are a religious order within the Catholic Church. It was founded in 1540 A.D. by a former Spanish solder who later became St. Ignatius Loyola. The order originally had seven members and is now one of the largest groups within the Catholic Church with more than 1,500 houses and monasteries in over 100 countries today. During Paine’s time, Jesuit convert and follower, Sir John Dalrymple, possessed a great deal of political favor with the King George III. Sir John’s piece entitled The Address of the People of England to the Inhabitants of America, of course, brought Paine’s severe wrath and intense loathing of the Jesuitical lot. What I found most interesting is that while Paine basically states (or at least my interpretation of it) that one can remain a Christian and fight, he wants nothing to do with those who although Christian, may maintain some type of loyalty to a king that holds the Colonists in what was deemed to be bondage.
The other group Paine addresses involves the Quakers. Founded in England in the late 1640’s, the Quakers maintain a strong dislike and disapproval of war and slavery. In fact, many of the Quakers were strong and prominent abolitionists who jailed or lost their lives helping slaves. They are considered pacifists Christians and believe it is a sin to pick up arms and engage in battle. However, because Paine viewed this particular revolt as a blow to oppression, he did not believe it would be against Quaker beliefs. Paine instead argues that their pacifists views are more or less helpful to the oppressor rather than to the Colonists. In the section entitled Epistle to Quakers, Paine outlines why they should join in the fight and if not, why they are useless to the cause.
While I obviously appreciate Paine’s argument (we would probably still be mere Colonists if he had not made his writings available), I walked away from this week’s class with one prevailing thought—there will always be an “us vs. them” no matter what we as humans do. There will always be someone (myself included) who believes that if you do not think as I do, then there is no place for you. I am beginning to understand that such thoughts and beliefs are human nature whether I like it or not.