What are some differences between the documents Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence?

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Common Sense and the Declaration both made the case for independence.

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Thomas Paine's Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence are both works calling for independence and unity among the American people, and they were precursors to true separation from the British monarchy. However, Thomas Paine's work is a much longer, more explanatory work, while the Declaration is a shorter,...

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more concise piece that delineates the actions and attitudes the colonists are taking in response to British tyranny.

Paine's work is a protracted and detailed overview of the necessity of equality and representation in the government, in the face of tyranny. Using political and moral arguments, Paine clearly and rationally explained what the rights of people were as a whole, and how those rights were being denied to the colonists by the British monarchy. He wrote this pamphlet as a way to explain to the common man why they were opposing Britain and hoped to conjure up support for their cause by educating the laypeople on what they needed and how to fight back against the Crown.

The Declaration of Independence is the brainchild of this same concept and is the final result of people deciding to step up and take the actions Paine outlined in his work. The document was drafted to state that the colonies were separating from the British government and would be setting up their own independent one.

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Paine's Common Sense and The Declaration of Independence (written by Jefferson) were both written in 1776, and both documents advocate for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. The difference between the documents is that the Declaration of Independence primarily makes a political argument about American independence. The document speaks about the rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," which are "unalienable," meaning that the government cannot take them away. While the document briefly refers to trade and taxes, which are in part economic issues, Jefferson's argument is mainly legal and political and is based on the idea of the social contract (the idea that the government must respect the rights of the governed). The style of the document is legalistic and formal.

Paine's Common Sense, which became a bestseller in the colonies, features a broader argument that includes economic and cultural reasons for a break with Great Britain, in addition to legal reasons. For example, he writes, "But admitting that we were all of English descent, what does it amount to? Nothing." He advocates for dismantling the cultural bonds between Britain and America, and he also states that American commerce will make the future country secure and diplomatically sound. His writing includes economic, political, and cultural reasons why the colonies should break away from their mother country, and its style is far more inflammatory and passionate than that in the Declaration of Independence.

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The Declaration of Independence and Common Sense are similar in that they argue that the American colonists have the right to govern themselves.  Both works discuss the abuses committed by Parliament against the Americans and that the people's rights have been violated.  However, the Declaration of Independence is shorter and refers to all governments in general.  There is a passage in the Declaration that speaks to the specific abuses of the British against the colonists, but it's quite concise and does not go into great detail.  The work is more remembered for its lofty statements such as "all men are created equal" and that the people have the right to alter or to abolish the government when it no longer serves their needs.  Common Sense was written as a call to arms and as a way to bolster interest in the patriot cause.  One of the opening statements points out the inevitability that the Americans should gain their independence because, according to Paine, it is not logical for an island to rule a continent.  While the Declaration of Independence was meant to symbolize what the patriots stood for, Common Sense was meant to rally them at a time when the war was not going well for their cause.  

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The major difference between these two documents comes mainly from the fact that Common Sense is a much longer work than the Declaration of Independence is.  This means that Paine’s work is able to touch on many more points than the Declaration is.

The Declaration of Independence is a very short document.  It touches only briefly on a number of subjects.  It is meant to argue that the American colonies have the right to break away from England and to become independent.  Paine’s work is meant to accomplish the same thing.  The main difference is simply that it is much longer and therefore more detailed.

For example, both documents argue that the system of government under the British was unjust.  The Declaration does this largely by talking about the ideas of the consent of the governed and inalienable rights.  It says that both of these were denied by the British.  By contrast, Paine goes into much more detail.  As one example of this, he sets out reasons why the British system fails to provide adequate checks on the king.  He simply can go into much more depth than the Declaration can.

Common Sense also serves as much more of a detailed call to action.  The Declaration does list supposed abuses by the king.  However, Paine’s work goes into great detail about why this particular point in history is a good time to rebel.

There is no real difference in the messages of these two works.  The main difference is really that Common Sense is much longer and therefore more detailed than the Declaration.

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How can you compare and contrast the Declaration of Independence and Common Sense?

The most obvious comparison is that the Declaration and Common Sense have the same core message, namely that the American colonies, in the words of the Declaration, "are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States." The Declaration bases this claim on Lockean natural rights, which, it argued, governments were established to preserve. When governments ceased to do so, they lost their legitimacy, and could be replaced by governments founded upon the consent of the people. Paine made the same case in Common Sense, a pamphlet that explicitly made the case for independence. Paine, indeed, went further, arguing that the English constitution itself was illegitimate, as it was ultimately founded on neither the consent of the people nor reason. Monarchy was ultimately not reasonable, as, Paine memorably wrote, the "FOOLISH, the WICKED, and the IMPROPER" might succeed to the throne through no virtue of their own. The chief differences between the Declaration and Common Sense, published early in 1776, before independence was declared, are in many ways stylistic. Whatever it became in American memory, the Declaration was intended to be, among other things, a sort of legal and philosophical brief for independence, and as such its language is steeped in soaring, sweeping philosophical statements. Common Sense, on the other hand, was in many ways a work of propaganda, with a broad appeal. It was written in the plain, acerbic, borderline earthy style for which Paine would be renowned. Paine did not mince words in excoriating the "King and his parasites." Along with appeals to reason, Common Sense is full of pathos, asking the ordinary American whose "wife and children" whom the British Army made "destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on" whether they still felt loyalty to the Crown. "The blood of the slain," Paine intoned, cried "'TIS TIME TO PART." Paine also argued along economic lines that the colonies were held back by their association with the British. In short, Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence made a very similar case, but in different ways and using very different language.

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