A Translation of Common Sense: Reasons for Independence from Great Britain

This past week our US History students were deep in thought discussing the events that lead to the Revolutionary War. For homework, they were asked to translate Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which was an article written to the early colonists in support of independence from Great Britain. Paine’s words were perhaps the most influential of the time in convincing the 13 Colonies to separate from the English Crown.

By translating the formal and forgone language of the 1700’s students are better able to understand the common sense points that Paine asserts to his countrymen. Throughout the translation students were also asked to bold Paine’s specific points of contention so that their reader can clearly identify the reasons for a call to independence. Below is a copy/paste of one such translation from a student.

A Translation of Common Sense: Reasons for Independence from Great Britain

For a while now, everyone in all social classes and occupations have argued about America and England. It is high time to stop the debate and take action.

Some argue that America’s success is based upon its relationship to England, and that future success also depends upon that same relationship. This is a false conclusion. Someone could just as easily say that because a baby must drink milk to thrive, they will always only need milk. One could say that the first 2 years of a person’s life determines how they will live for the next twenty. But even the initial argument is giving too much credit to England. America would have done much better without Europe’s notice or influence to begin with! America specializes in growing necessities of life, therefore as long as Europeans need to eat, which they always will, America will have a good economy.

Some claim that England has defended America when she needed help, however England has been known to defend countries that are not its own for the sake of trade and power. For example, England defended Turkey. From this, one can conclude that England would have defended America whether she belonged to Britain or not.

We have been fooling ourselves for so long, and we have believed old lines of thinking and superstition. We have felt secure because we are protected by Great Britain, however we have neglected to notice that her “guardianship” has been for her own benefit, not necessarily ours. She has sheltered us from countries that we would not be opposing if we were not connected to Britain. If we were separated from England, we would not be at war against Spain and France, as England would be.

Others assert that Britain is the parent country. If that claim were true, then that argument would condemn Britain, for even cruel parents do not eat their children! But the claim is not the whole truth, merely partly. The king uses the phrase “mother country” to try to imprint upon our minds that we belong to Britain. We do not. Europe, not England, is the parent country of America. This New World is a safe haven for religious freedom for people all across Europe. Moreover, the people who flee Europe and England are not running because they have a loving mother, but because there is a cruel monster behind them!

To those who desperately desire to reconcile with England, I ask you to give one good reason why we should stay with them. I ask again, yet not one reason is found. Our goods can be sold anywhere. We will find strong business on our own.

The disadvantages we have because of our connection to England are too numerous to count.   It is our duty to ourselves and to others that we cut the alliance with Britain. We cannot trade with other European countries to our full potential because we are drug into strained politics that England has with other countries. If our main trading is to be with Europe, we need the ability to be in friendly relations with all the countries, and we cannot do that while we are a bonus added to Britain.

Europe is comprised of many kingdoms. These kingdoms continue to wage war against each other, and America seems to be caught in the cross fire. The upcoming wars may not end up the way the last did, and even those of you who wanted reconciliation would desire to separate. In the event that England loses, it would be far more dangerous to be bonded with her, instead of declaring neutrality. Everything around us begs us to separate with England! The people who have died for this cause, along with the voice of nature cries out, “It is time for you to part!” Even the distance that God has placed between Britain and America proves that it was never heaven’s will for one to rule over the other!

It is a blessing that many people do not live in the midst of the sorrowful scene created from England; evil is not brought to everyone’s door and many do not feel the instability with which Americans own their property. But for a moment, let’s imagine Boston: the example that they set should help us all to see the wisdom in renounces a power that is untrustworthy. The population of Boston is suffering, and many are begging to keep from starving if they stay. They are endangered by their own friends if they remain, and if they leave, all they have will be plundered by the British soldiers. No matter what, they are caught by one side or another, and the situation renders them prisoners.

But if you say that we can ignore these hardships that England inflicts, then I ask you: Has your house been burnt? Has your property been destroyed before your very eyes? Are your wife and children going to bed without dinner and without a bed to lay on? Have you lost a child or a parent by their hands, and been the devastated survivor? You cannot rightfully judge those who have been through this if you have not been through it yourself. Moreover, even if you can answer ‘yes’ to the questions above, yet you still shake hands with the murderers, you are not even worthy of the title husband, father, friend, or lover. You have heart of a coward and a flatterer.

Every way that we have tried to obtain peace in a quiet manner has failed. Our prayers have been ignored, and the more we beg the King, the more powerful he becomes with every veto. We must pull out and completely separate now, otherwise future generations will suffer and be forced to deal with cutting the ties with England.

We cannot say that the England will not attempt to hold power over us again. That conclusion is empty. We can clearly see that after England “repealed” the stamp act, we still suffered from other laws. Similarly, just because a country declares peace with another does not mean that the two will have future mishaps.

About government issues, soon Britain will no longer be able to sustain our intricate problems and needs. England does not have the power to deal justly with us. If they cannot defeat us, they cannot rule us. It would be quite silly for us, as we continue to grow, to always be sailing back and forth, back and forth in order to get business done. Any petitions we have will take months to be answered, and possibly years before they can be enforced. By then, the issue will seem childish. There was a time when this procedure was proper, but that time is past, and now it is proper for us to develop and new method.

Small islands which cannot even take care of themselves, should by order practicality, be under the authority of kingdoms. So I find it very ironic that our continent is constantly governed by in island! There is not place in nature where the moon is larger than its planet; and English and America go against this natural order. England belongs to Europe; America belongs to itself!

Where is the king of America? I will tell you: He who reigns above, God, who does not make distress of mankind like Britain the Beast. We do not desire to appear faulty by human standards, however, so we will officially proclaim the contract that our law will be our king! After all, in places of monarchy, the king is the law, so why can’t our law be our king? But to please the people, at the end of this ceremony of separation, we will demolish the crown symbolically and distribute it among the people to who it truly belongs.

It is our right to make a government of our own! When one deeply contemplates the fragile nature of human interactions, he will realize that it is much safer for us to form our own constitution now, than to wait for a lucky chance later on in history.

You who desire to make amends with Britain, can you restore the time that has been wasted? You cannot reconcile us and them. The last string has snapped; the people in England are confronting us. There are wrongdoings that Nature itself cannot forgive, and if she did, she would no longer be Nature. Just as a lover cannot pardon the one who steals his spouse, America cannot overlook England’s murderers. These burnings in our hearts are from God! It is these feelings that reflect the Almighty’s image and separate us from the animals. If we were to ignore our gut and our anger, the social structure of humankind would disintegrate. Robbers and murderers would escape without any punishment, if our souls did not urge justice.

Oh, to all of you who love mankind, to those of you who hate the tyranny, come forward! Every part of the former world has remained in oppression. Freedom has been hunted down across the globe. Africa and Asia have long ago demolished her, and Europe is a stranger to the ideas of liberty. England has threatened her. We must take in the refugees! We must prepare a safe haven for all mankind!


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