The Rebuttal to Common Sense

Charles Inglis. By: Robert Field.

Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was a hugely influential pamphlet that has been cherished by several generations of Americans. However, it had its detractors who did not believe that “republicanism for America was a matter of common sense.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 94.

There were two major responses to Paine’s Common Sense: Charles Inglis’s The True Interest of America Impartially Stated and James Chalmer’s Plain Truth. Both Inglis and Chalmer opposed American independence based on “a vigorous defense of the English monarchical constitution.” Id.

But more than anything, Inglis and Chalmer warned of the “social dangers of republicanism” that would result from declaring independence. Further, both wrote that the American people were innately incapable of sustaining republicanism. Id. They looked to past republics and only saw failure, as each was torn apart “by faction and internal struggles, tumults from which America would never escape.” Id.

Inglis, in The True Interest of America Impartially Stated, wrote that, “All our property throughout the continent would be unhinged,” and “the greatest confusion, and the most violent convulsions would take place.” Id. quoting Inglis, True Interest of America, 49, 52-53.

Chalmer wrote that republicanism would only result in anarchy and eventually a dictatorship, with “commercial chaos and agrarian laws limiting the possession of property.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 94 citing Chalmers, Plain Truth; . . . Containing, Remarks on a Late Pamphlet, Entitled Common Sense . . . (Phila., 1776), 63-64, 70.

Both Inglis and Chalmer were sure that “The Americans are properly Britons. They have the manner, habits, and ideas of Britons.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 94. Because Americans were essentially Britons, just as the English Revolution of 1688 failed, so must the American Revolution, so Inglis and Chalmers believed.

More than anything, they believed, Thomas Paine gave many assurances of the promise of revolution, all without justification. According to Inglis and Chalmer, this was Paine’s fatal error, and it was America’s fatal error to trust Paine.

While pamphlets like these would prompt John Adams to say one was “too absurd to be considered twice,” the anti-republicanism that they injected into American society made a difference. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 97. But in reality, Americans appeared to have reconciled themselves to knowing that they were different from previous republics and were, in fact, capable of establishing and sustaining a republic.

This discourse about the merits of the Revolution captured a fundamental debate at a most pivotal time in American history. The very purpose and rationale for the Revolution was being relentlessly and thoroughly debated.

In doing so, individuals like Paine, Inglis, and Chalmer were influencing public opinion so as to later create and tailor a system of government best designed for the American people. Perhaps this is one explanation of what has made America a relatively successful country, as it only adopted a government after its people rigorously debated its structure and merits.

Perhaps other countries who are considering political change would do well to remember that they must have these uncomfortable confrontations with each other about what the best government is for their people. The vigorous debate during the Revolutionary years resulted in the best government for the American people, as evidenced by its stability and success.

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