Common Sense this Independence Day

Steve Buckstein

I’ve taken two tours of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Though it was full of vivid history about the signers of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration, I don’t recall seeing much about a relatively unsung hero of the American Revolution, Jefferson’s friend Thomas Paine, who stirred the new nation to action.

In the months before our country declared independence from his native England on July 4, 1776, Paine anonymously published what became an instant bestseller, his pamphlet Common Sense. Later that year, after the war for independence had started, Paine began publishing a series of pamphlets known as The American Crisis, which began with these now-famous words:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

In Common Sense, Paine wrote,

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

He argued for free trade and individual liberty with phrases that captured the imagination of his adopted countrymen.

Paine and Jefferson realized that government and society are not synonymous. They argued that government’s purpose is to protect the inalienable rights of the individuals that make up society—so-called negative rights that don’t put a burden on other individuals beyond their obligation not to violate them. They understood that any positive rights granted by government must be paid for by diminishing someone else’s right to life, liberty, or property. What would they think of today’s politicians in Washington, D.C. and Salem, Oregon who propose law after law ordaining right after right?

In the introduction to Common Sense, Paine wrote,

“[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”

Paine and Jefferson didn’t wait for time to convert people. We at Cascade aren’t waiting either; we’re providing the intellectual ammunition today’s freedom fighters need to win new peaceful battles for liberty.

Many Americans believe modern society requires more government control; we believe just the opposite. Free individuals are perfectly able to run their own lives today, just as they were in 1776. Paine and Jefferson would be dismayed at the size of modern governments, and so are we.

Read Common Sense and The American Crisis this Independence Day, and remember what the holiday is really all about.


Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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  • Steve Gunther

    To promote defense access equity, to reduce crime, to increase our sense of community, to improve public safety…Portland needs a Gun-Sharing program. This program being proposed is to be modeled on bike-sharing programs that receive public support in U.S. cities including Portland. The NRA has been contacted in response to the initiative, but did not respond in time for this announcement. The Oregon ACLU has rejected the idea, based on the violation of privacy that proposed implementation gun sharing would entail. Neither Congressman Earl Blumenauer (a proponent of bike-sharing) or Alta Bike Sharing Inc. (recipient of related public funding) responded to requests for comment in time for this announcement. Please stay tuned…

  • Eric Blair

    They also were wary of corporations and they appear to be quite prescient. The Citizen’s United decision would definitely shock them. Today’s large banks and corporations would certainly bring up images of the British East India company. They were not only wary of big government, they were wary of big business as well.

    “I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush
    in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already
    to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to
    the laws of our country.”

    -Thomas Jefferson

    • T. Partee

      What would Charlton Heston say?

      Ready on the Right, heady on the Left, commence firing the insurgents galoot’n our constitutional paradigms awry.

      • Eric Blair

        Why would I care about what Charlton Heston has to say?

        Seems to me your problem is with Jefferson.

        • T. Partee

          The problem with Thomas Jefferson is William Jefferson Clinton, his snooker-belle spouse and the current pied piker occupier of the White House are really half fast Marxist-Socialist elitists in league with a New World Disorder.

          • .

            Nuts2U, cockhold!!

          • T. Partee

            Have it your way, EB, or is that DW?

  • Jack Lord God

    Nice post Steve, and it brings up a great point. Thomas Paines attitude then has been replaced by the platitude now all too often uttered

    “taxes are the price we pay for a civil society”

    This is an absurd notion, as taxes have virtually no correspondence with increasing civility. Indeed, there is often a direct inverse correspondence.

    Increasing taxes, and with it the direct consequence of increasing government size and control, almost always results in a less civil society.

    We are at the point now where a substantial portion of our society sees massive government control of others as the way to freedom for themselves. A small example of that would be the recent Supremes decision with Hobby Lobby.

    What was once a benefit, employer provided insurance, is now seen as a right. A right so such an extent that to even ask the recipient to cough up their own $45 for a plan B pill(s) is considered an outrage. To some the demand for the bosses wallet in the bedroom is reasonable, but should the boss follow is outrage is now considered a reasonable proposition.

    Increasing government control has lead to this kind of absolute sickness in our population, the concept that a want is a right and that a right is something it is incumbent on others to fulfill. This is increasing government sprawl, and it is hardly more civil in any sense of the word.

    • Eric Blair

      Interesting… do you believe this country was more civil when government was smaller? Do you have a particular era in mind?

      • guest

        Celebrating Independence Day, 1776, resonates an era when our sovereign nation leaders got things going right.

        • Eric Blair

          And that would, of course, include slavery and not allowing women to vote? That doesn’t seem very civil.

      • Jack Lord God

        You are trying to form an argument with a classic logical error – assuming if a statement is true, then the converse must be true. This does not always hold, thus disproving a converse has no implication for the original statement. It’s a classic mistake.


        If the car hits a tree then the car is ruined

        Converse – If the car is ruined, then it hit a tree.

        This first statement is true, the second is not, thus we know that proving or disproving the converse has no implications for the validity of the original statement.

        I said increasing taxes and government scope had no correlation with increased civility, as the catch phrase implies. You are taking the converse of that, the truth or of which, has no bearing on the validity of my original statement.

        Thus irrelevant.

        See how that works?

        • Jack Lord God

          Wow am I mean.

          • guest


          • Eric Blair

            LOL. mean to yourself. Why do you set yourself up for embarrassment like that?

            Adding this one just makes it… even worse.

        • Eric Blair

          You made the classic mistake of not reading what I wrote. I asked a question, I didn’t form an argument.

          And, indeed, you did make that argument when you said:

          ” Indeed, there is often a direct inverse correspondence.”


          “Increasing taxes, and with it the direct consequence of increasing government size and control, almost always results in a less civil society.”

          Jesus, can you please read for comprehension and then not compound your error by not even knowing what you wrote?? Seriously Jack, you make the claim that I was taking the converse when you were the one that made that argument? Unbelievable. Unless you had a different meaning for the phrase, “direct inverse”. Well? Was there?

          Take this as friendly advice — when you get condescending you’re frequently about to make yourself look like an ass and leave people with the impression that you’re not very smart.

          Want to revisit irrelevant?

        • Eric Blair

          So I’m curious because this isn’t the first time you’ve done this. Why do you cherry pick one statement from your post and ignore the subsequent statements? In your rush to be an ass, do you believe that no one will check? Or is it that you’re so angry at being disagreed with, or even the hint of disagreement that you fly into some sort of fugue state and discount everything else your wrote?

          A long way to ask, what the hell is wrong with you?

          So, are you going to admit you were wrong this time, which in the past you’ve claimed you always do? Or are you going to hold true to form and run and hide? Pretend you didn’t see this?

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