In "Common Sense," was Paine right to say that "Europe and not England is the parent country of America?" Why should that concept be considered a factor for separation?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would argue that Paine was not correct when he said that Europe, rather than England, was the parent of the American colonies. However, it makes sense that he would claim this as the claim would support the idea that the colonies should break away from England.

Paine based his claim on the idea that there were a very large number of people in the American colonies who were not from England. He said that America had become the “asylum” for people from all over Europe who wanted freedom. Therefore, America was not part of England as much as it was a part of Europe populated by those people who wanted to be free.  You can see how this would be considered a factor for separation.  If the colonies were not really connected to England by ethnic ties, there would be less reason to say that they needed to remain a part of the British Empire.

I, however, do not think that Paine was really justified in making his claim.  If he were justified, we should find that the colonies’ population was largely non-English by the time that Paine wrote.  This is not the case.  According to this link, roughly 10% of the people in 1790 America (not long after Paine wrote) were Europeans from outside of Great Britain.  There were many Africans, most of whom were slaves, but they were clearly not Europeans who came for freedom.  It seems hyperbolic to say that England was not America’s “parent” if more than 80% of America’s population was English.  Paine might have said this, however, because he lived in the Middle Colonies which were much more diverse than other regions.

Overall, then, I would say that Paine was probably not justified in claiming that America was more European than English, but his saying so makes sense because it would help to justify the colonists’ desire to break away from England.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, Paine was in part right to say that Europe "is the parent country of America" because many French philosophers developed Enlightenment ideas that played a major role in the American Revolution (in addition to English thinkers, such as Locke, who also influenced the Revolution). For example, Rousseau (in addition to Locke, an Englishman) developed the idea of the social contract, which is that everyone is born free but that people must surrender some of their liberties to live in a well-ordered state. He believed that people should not surrender their basic rights to live in tyranny. The ideas behind the American Revolution, including those Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence, are built on this concept. Jefferson wrote that as the British throne had interfered with the inalienable rights (those rights that are natural and should be given to all people) of the colonists, they had a right to overthrow the throne. Britain's infringement on these rights was a factor in the American decision to separate from the mother country. Shortly after the American Revolution, France would have its own revolution based on Enlightenment ideas.

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Common Sense

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