Common Sense : Part 1 Summary : Chapter 4

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Summary On the Present Ability of America, With Some Miscellaneous Reflections

The author claims he has never met a person who did not believe America and Britain would one day separate. He wants to plead that now is the time, not later as some believe.

It is the unity of the colonists and not their numbers that is their great strength. They have the largest body of disciplined civilian forces of any country. The colonies singly cannot survive but all together they are strong. The land army is sufficient, but Paine makes a plea for building a navy. The colonies are not in debt; they only need to leave posterity a settled form of government. They have already spent millions to get the stamp acts repealed. The momentum should be used for a greater purpose, to gain independence.

He gives a list of costs for building a navy, saying what a valuable asset it is, and how America is situated to have a great navy. They have the timber and knowledge of shipbuilding. They are no longer a little people but moving toward greatness. He speaks of Britain's mighty navy but predicts an American navy could beat it. Paine lists the rich stores of saltpeter, gunpowder, and small arms the country has. Americans have a character of courage, so why hesitate?America is not in an infant state as some believe. It is at the proper size for venturing to war without much to lose, and with much to gain. It is a young nation in formation, and this time will never come again. He believes that the government should protect religious diversity.

They have to go to war, for there is no one who can mediate this quarrel. He does not expect support from France or Spain, but the Americans should publish a manifesto to foreign powers explaining their grieves and reasons for leaving Britain. On the other hand, as British subjects, they have no right to approach other governments to negotiate. The sooner Americans undertake this venture, the better it will be, rather than put it off until it becomes more difficult.


Commentary On the Present Ability of America, With Some Miscellaneous Reflections

In this section Paine tries to make it seem that everyone agrees on independence, but they just want to put it off. He moves past trying to convince readers of the justice of the cause and instead, explains why Americans are ready for war and will be successful. His vision of an American navy is powerful and compelling, showing that the country is far beyond being a colony. It is already mature and should be on its own. It needs to be able to negotiate with other countries as a separate and sovereign power.

Paine makes a point of the readiness of the colonials. The colonial people were very well prepared to break away from Britain and rule themselves. Every village had a town hall used to debating local issues. It had a standing civilian militia that drilled and stood ready to march. The colonies had a network set up, a Committee of Correspondence, a resistance force with newspapers, pamphlets (like this one Paine is writing), to disperse the ideas that would propel the colonists to fight for their rights. Paine was an important part of this propaganda machine. The Committee circulated the news of British atrocities against the colonials, such as forcing the colonies to buy British products at high prices and with a tax, such as the taxed tea that the colonials threw into the Boston Harbor (Boston Tea Party). The British put tariffs on non-British products. The colonials wanted to conduct their own trade. Most of them were property owners fighting for their own land.

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