The Winning Oration Annual Congress National Competition 2010
By Kristi Bowers
It’s Only Common Sense
Contest held June 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio
When I studied history in my AP class, I could not understand the indecision and hesitation of the American settlers on the eve of the Revolutionary War. How could they hesitate to protect their rights? The leaders of the Revolution were offering Americans freedom and they did not immediately snatch it up? But then I put myself in a colonist’s shoes. If I were alive during the Revolution, I might not be as eager as I had previously thought. Nowadays, every aspect of our lives as Americans roots in one key truth: we are a free, democratic society. The colonists did not know that England would lose the war. England was all powerful, the motherland; its navy was a thing of legend and its army had protected the colonists from the French only a few years before. For centuries, the colonists (even before they were colonists) had pledged allegiance to a king. How, then, could they suddenly renounce their trusted leader? How could they say, “Forget all you have done for us Mother England; you are unfit to rule us colonies,” when, less than a decade before, English and Americans had fought side by side in the French and Indian War? If I lived at that time, I would see friends turn on each other: colonists were suddenly grouped under two large headings: Tories and Revolutionaries. The Tories wanted the ungrateful rebels hanged; the Revolutionaries wanted the unjust tyrants persecuted.
What side do you pick? If you remain loyal to the king, your neighbors want you dead and if you join the revolutionaries, you become a traitor to one of the most powerful countries in the world. If the revolutionaries lost, you would surely hang. And who are these revolutionaries? You may have heard talk of a Continental Congress…you may even have read an excerpt of a revolutionary speech but it was in such extravagant language that you could not understand it… what do you really know? The revolutionaries say they are fighting for freedom but what will they do if freedom is actually obtained? What is freedom?
Then a pamphlet was published that changed everything. Thomas Paine was a failure. He was a radical writer whose business attempts had all failed. He was poor… he was common… but he had faith in the cause of the revolutionaries. He had faith in liberty. Thomas Paine published one of the most influential pamphlets in American History, Common Sense. Paine declared that it was only common sense for people to support the revolutionaries who were trying to protect the basic human rights of life, liberty, and prosperity from a government that had forgotten what it was formed for. He advocated for the cause of the revolutionaries with frank and simple arguments about protecting our rights as human beings. And because he spoke up, hundreds, maybe thousands flocked to the revolutionary cause.
But Thomas Paines’s ideas were not new ones; many of the revolutionary leaders including Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and so on had long been advocating the same ideas. But what was so important about Common Sense was the style in which it was written. Thomas Paine wrote in common terms and made sure that his pamphlet could be understood by anyone from a poor farmer to the governor. Because of this style, more people could understand exactly what the Revolutionary War was founded on and be more likely to