Common Sense and Letters From an American Farmer

Common Sense and Letters From an American Farmer

Thomas Paine was a true revolutionary. In his pamphlet “Common Sense,” he repeatedly cried for independence from England. He believes the cause of America is the cause of all mankind. He writes that the king of England has undertaken in his own right, “to support the parliament in what he calls their, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpations of either” (Paine pp).

Paine depicted a desire for an ideal society, however, he did not romanticize colonial life and its society in general, as Hector St. John de Crevecouer did in his writings, “Letters from an American Farmer.”

Paine was a man of politics and given the title of his writing, common sense concerning the affairs of the world. While, John de Crevecouer’s writings, on the other hand, in general, seem at times tainted with an almost patronizing quality. His writings seem elaborate, sentimental, flowery, and lacking the spark of realism that Paine creates.

Perhaps Paine’s most famous quote is “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” (Paine pp). Paine did not sugarcoat his sentiments. He presents a clear understanding of the affairs of the world in his essay. He does not paint colonial life as a utopian society, however, John de Crevecouer depicts colonial life as an almost communal society, all striving for the same ideals, when in truth, there were a myriad of factions, political and religious. John de Crevecouer writes, “We are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself” (Crevecouer 67). As Paine says, “for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamities is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer” (Paine pp).

John de Crevecouer writes, “Here are no aristocratical families, no courts, no kings, no bishops, no ecclesiastical dominion, no invisible power giving to a few a very visible one; no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury” (Crevecouer 67). He also comments on the fact that the rich and poor are not as distant in status as the two classes are in Europe. John de Crevecouer goes on to describe Americans as a people of cultivators who communicate by means of “good roads and navigable rivers, united by the silken bands of mild government, all respecting the laws, without dreading their power, because they are equitable” (Crevecouer 67). Again, his writing creates a society that appears almost too utopian, too idealistic, and even says, “we are the most perfect society now existing in the world” (Crevecouer 68). Even religion is painted as ideal, “a congregation of respectable farmers and their wives, all clad in neat homespun…not among them an esquire…a parson as simple as his flock, a farmer who does not riot on the labour of others” (Crevecouer 68).

Paine writes, “Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence, the palaces of kings are build on the ruins of the bowers of paradise” (Paine pp).

For all his utopian depictions of colonial life, John de Crevecouer does write realistically of slavery, and like Paine’s government comparison, Crevecouer also describes a loss of societal morals to commerce, concerning the issue of slavery. Of Carolina, he writes,

Carolina produces commodities, more valuable perhaps than gold, because they are gained by greater industry; it exhibits also on our northern stage, a display of riches and luxury, inferior indeed to the former, but far superior to what are to be seen in our northern towns” (Crevecouer 166).

He then goes into great length regarding the lifestyle of the citizens, describing their homes, how they feast and dine, enjoy luxuries and galas, and how this entire culture and commerce is built on the backs of slaves. He claims, “they neither see, hear, nor feel for the woes of their poor slaves, from whose painful labours all their wealth proceeds. Here the horrors of slavery, the hardship of incessant toils, are unseen” (Crevecouer 168).

Paine writes that as emigrants arrive and become comfortable within their lives, society will change, stating, it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other; and this remissness, will point out the necessity, of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue” (Paine pp).

While describing the monarchy, Paine wonders how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind (Paine pp).

Paine was more a man of reason than John de Crevecouer. Paine never swayed in his writings, never contradicted, never flowered or over-demonized an issue. John de Crevecouer writes that there are few crimes and life is seemingly ideal, however, his writings of slavery are filled with graphic details of horrendous practices, and believes that it would be more humane if slaves were not allowed to father children because this only increased their misery. Paine would have spared the details and simply called for an end of slavery.

Thomas Paine was a man of action, while Hector St. John de Crevecouer was an observer. Paine sounded the alarm, while Crevecouer chronicled. However, Crevecouer might be considered more a republican than Paine, because Paine was more anit-government, not merely anti-monarchy. Both wrote passionately about the new nation in which they lived and both writings are important documents for future generations, yet, Paine’s work appears to have more value regarding the history of America and its call for independence, while Crevecouer’s is a journal of American life, including minute details of everyday existence. One is a call for arms, while the other propagandizes.

Works Cited

Paine, Thomas. Common Sense.

Hector St. John de Crevecouer. Letters from an American Farmer; and,

Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America. Penguin Books. 1981; Pp. 67, 68, 166, 168.

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