Saturday, January 30, 2010


January 10th was the publishing anniversary of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, a forty-seven page political pamphlet calling for American colonist to proclaim their independence from England’s governance, and promoting establishment of a constitutional republic. It has been alleged George Washington was so persuaded by Paine's words that he stopped supporting the King of England, and Common Sense inspired Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence.

Without this publication, chances are we would not be the United States of America we know today: it shaped America. And, via example, the noted quotation of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” certainly inspired by Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, may never have been conceived without Paine’s groundwork.

The essence of Common Sense lies within Thomas Paine’s vision when he wrote, "we have it in our power to begin the world over again"; it lies within the vision of Robert F. Kennedy, who put forth, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”; and, it lies within President Ronald Reagan’s declaration, “For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies,” and he further stated, “All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government”; it’s essence lies within the vision of Barack Obama wherein he said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Its essence dictates that hope is reserved for people, not governments, and that change founded on hope requires new ways of thinking by the people.

One of the most often repeated quotes in American politics is by our own [Massachusetts] former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, who said, "All politics is local": meaning political success is achieved when a congressional representative represents the everyday concerns of the place of traditional values commonly known metonymically as Main Street. I am fairly certain that Tip’s perspective came from his long experience and not from some enduring value taken from Common Sense. However, it fundamentally, too, is very much within the essence of Common Sense.

Common Sense’s idealism, advocation of principles, and profundity is as significant today as it was in 1776. Now as then, Common Sense conveys the same powerful message: “the government depends for its legitimacy entirely on the consent of the governed."

Today, however, we have seemingly lost our sense of those ideals. That’s apparently because Americans have adopted a view that the Constitution is of the government and not of the people, and they tend to blame government, whether it is federal, state, city, or town, rather than themselves for America’s, or their individual community’s, failures. America has acquiesced to a fading spirit, and instead adopted an unwillingness to stand up for what they believe.

If Americans are concerned over the decadence of their freedoms, and if they authentically want a “government is best which governs least,” then, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

That change begins with each one of us, extends to the family, expands to the community, which in turn influences other communities, and empowers the State.

An additional resource that adds a great deal to the very significant contribution Thomas Paine has made to America, and to the message that I was conveying: “The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine” by Mark Wilensky

Mark Wilensky commented on the original
Pembroke Express post: “I'm a fifth-grade teacher in Jefferson County, and an crucial part of teaching civics is providing students with our primary sources: the founding documents. This is critical in understanding what “We the People” really means. Today, as they did over 230 years ago, those documents instill in students the belief that all our voices are important. Every one of our citizens are given the right to pursue liberty. Futures do not have to be inevitable and "Little voices" can make dramatic impacts on events. That is Thomas Paine's greatest contribution to our country. His pamphlet, Common Sense, spoke to all the voices in the 13 colonies during a time of great fear and indecision. He gave a vast number of citizens a vision of what each could do, 176 days before the Declaration of Independence. A belief that power should radiate from the citizens. That message is still paramount to all our students today. For that pamphlet alone, Paine needs to be recognized as a integral part of the American miracle.”