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Carolyn Lukensmeyer Headshot

Reflections on 'Common Sense' This July 4th

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It was in January of 1776 that Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense was published in the 13 colonies. His pamphlet is remembered today not because he offered new ideas on the need for America to separate from England and replace monarchy and hereditary rule with republicanism. These concepts had been and were being debated fiercely among the founders of our nation. But Paine's pamphlet was widely distributed to the people and it was its widespread circulation that woke the colonists up.

Central to Paine's thoughts and a guiding belief of the Declaration of Independence was the belief in republicanism -- a government of the people, by the people and for the people where citizens are imbued with sovereign rights and are not subjects to be ruled.

Just six months after the publication of Common Sense, Thomas Jefferson sat at his desk in a Philadelphia boarding house drafting what he later called a "common sense" treatise. Jefferson later said in writing the Declaration that he was striving for an "expression of the American mind."

"Common sense" refers to what we, all of the people, hold in common. The "certain inalienable rights" we share that are central to the document written by Jefferson in June 1776 that endures 238 years later.

The tone of inclusiveness that is central to the Declaration poses real challenges today but is no less important than in 1776. Today's "American mind" must rightfully include the thoughts and ideas of blacks, women, Muslim and Christian -- a much more diverse population than the land-owning white males who approved the Declaration of Independence.

Today's leaders struggle and wrangle loudly over the proper role of government, just as the Confederate Congress did that hot summer of 1776. In today's world, it is even more vital to hew closely to the notion of "common sense." The "American mind" today is more diverse, messy, cantankerous and full of a passionate intensity which means, holding the middle course, the common sense course is ever more vital. Common sense holds at its center the greater good which is the true strength of our nation, providing hope and opportunity for all Americans.

July 4th is a day when we all need to slow to the rhythms of the summer heat, pause, listen to one another, remember the goals and dreams that were articulated by our Founding Fathers in 1776 and still hold true today.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the promise of America that, working together, can still be delivered today to Americans of every color, gender and belief if we silence the partisan rhetoric, open our hearts and ears to the other and work together to build a government that can be both fiscally responsible and caring.

Concern for human lives, not partisan politics, must guide our every word spoken and action taken. An America of common sense and common good is the America our founders envisioned, and it is an America that can still thrive today if we the people and those that represent us in government think first of the common threads that bind all Americans and lastly of personal power and politics.