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Common Sense – Thomas Paine

Common Sense – Common Sense is a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1775–76 advocating independence from Great Britain to people in the Thirteen Colonies. Written in clear and persuasive prose, Paine marshaled moral and political arguments to encourage common people in the Colonies to fight for egalitarian government. It was published anonymously on January 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution, and became an immediate sensation.

It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history. As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today.

Common Sense made public a persuasive and impassioned case for independence, which before the pamphlet had not yet been given serious intellectual consideration. He connected independence with common dissenting Protestant beliefs as a means to present a distinctly American political identity, structuring Common Sense as if it were a sermon. Historian Gordon S. Wood described Common Sense as “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era”.

The text was translated into French by Antoine Gilbert Griffet de Labaume in 1790.

Editorial Reviews

Among the most influential reformers of his age, Thomas Paine (1737–1809) was born in England but went on to play an important role in both the American and French Revolutions. On January 10, 1776, he published his pamphlet Common Sense, a persuasive argument for the colonies’ political and economic separation from Britain.

Common Sense cites the evils of monarchy, accuses the British government of inflicting economic and social injustices upon the colonies, and points to the absurdity of an island attempting to rule a continent. Credited by George Washington as having changed the minds of many of his countrymen, the document sold over 500,000 copies within a few months.

Designed to ignite public opinion against autocratic rule, the pamphlet offered a careful balance between imagination and judgment. It immediately found a receptive audience, heartened Washington’s despondent army, and foreshadowed much of the phrasing and substance of the Declaration of Independence.

About the Author

Thomas Paine (February 9, 1737 [O.S. January 29, 1736] – June 8, 1809) was an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination”.
Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photo by Auguste Millière [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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