Common Sense, Modern English

There is a book on my shelf titled “The Constitution and Other Documents of the Founding Fathers”. Slowly, I am making my way through it. Today’s excerpt is from the introduction, and part one, of Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense”, written in 1776. I have taken and interpreted quotes that I felt were applicable to the year 2020.

The following thoughts may not be popular, but just because something is customary, does not mean it is right. When the custom is called into question, many will cry out in defense of it. But when the dust settles, time will tell who was right. 

A pattern of violent abuse is what brings these questions forward. We are told to submit to the law, and then turn a blind eye when this same law is violated by its executors. People in this country are suffering for it. We, as citizens, have the privilege to ask why this is happening, and reject the notion that we have no say in the outcome. 

Nothing that is said here is to be taken personally.

What we are discussing applies not only to our own country, but to the whole world. Forcing your power on others, and silencing voices of descent, is an egregious sin of humanity. We each have a responsibility to fight it, where we stand.

Many politicians would like you to believe that society and government are the same thing. This is not true. The former promotes unity and discussion, the latter separates and punishes. Society, or community, is at every form a blessing. But government, even at its best, is no more than a necessary evil. At its worst, when we are exposed to the same miseries one might expect in a country with no government, it is intolerable. Our taxes have footed the bill of oppression. Our own white house was built by slaves.

Government is simply an admission of our fallen state. If we could trust our impulses with a good conscience, there would be no need for lawgivers. Because of this, we acknowledge the need to contribute to a system of protection. Security, from each other, is the true design and end of government. It then follows that said government should operate at the least expense, and greatest benefit, to the people.

To get at the simplest form, let’s consider a small, remote settlement. In this state of natural liberty, community will be their first thought. We are not meant to be alone in this world. We are meant to be in relationship, giving and receiving as needed. A house is built much more efficiently as a group. When we are alone, hunger, disease, and misfortune all reduce us to a state of perishing.


Community then becomes a necessity. Reciprocal blessings supersede any obligations of law and government, while a society remains perfectly just to one another. But as every person is prone to vice, eventually someone in the community will relax in their duty to each other. This is when the government steps in, to supply the defect of moral virtue. 

Some sort of building must be assigned for assembly and deliberation on public matters. At first there will likely be loose regulations. Penalties will be no other than public disesteem. In the beginning, every citizen will have a say.

But as the population grows, so will public concerns. It won’t be easy to meet, as when people were few and close together; their concerns small and trifling. Convenience would then demand consent, to leave the legislature to be managed by a select few. These people are supposed to have the same concerns at stake as those who appointed them. They are to act in the same manner as the whole body they represent. When population increases, so should the number of representatives. To make sure each community has a say, each population should be divided equally. Elections should happen often, so that the elected never form an interest separate from the community. When public servants are returned to the general population, they get re-acquainted with the concerns of the community. This is what strengthens leadership.

The inability to self-govern by moral virtue, deems government necessary. The design and end of it are freedom and security. However our eyes may be dazzled by snow, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and reason will say, this is right.

My open question to you reader: how will we deal with the injustice and hate we see in our own streets? Will we admit there needs to be a change in our own lives? Or will we continue to blame a system that was never meant to rule us absolutely?

-This post was originally from the author's personal blog-

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