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Thomas Paine and “Common Sense”

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            The article, “Common Sense” was one of the most valuable sources of propaganda for the young American colonists and one of first bestsellers in the new world.  The pamphlet was written by Thomas Paine, a young man who made his way to the American colonies with the financial help of Benjamin Franklin in 1774 (Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” 2010).

            Shortly after coming to the colonies, Paine found work writing for a newspaper in called the Pennsylvania Magazine in Philadelphia.  His first work was in advocating freedom for the slaves in America.  One month after his first anti-slavery article appeared in print, the first anti-slavery society congregated in Pennsylvania (Andrews, 1981).

During this period, skirmishes were breaking out between the colonists and the loyalists in the region.  But public opinion was yet to side with the colonists over the monarchy of England and revolution.  Soon those actively promoting the idea of revolution turned to Paine and asked him for help in swaying public opinion.  Paine agreed and began writing a series of articles which promoted the idea of revolution. (Loughran, 2006).

            Many in the colonies saw the great potential in the area of trade and as the British became more restrictive as time went on, the potential to touch a nerve in colonial thought was ripe.  The door was opened for a man of Paine’s talents to prepare revolutionary propaganda.

            In January of 1776, a pamphlet called “Common Sense” was published anonymously.  The article soon became a bestseller (Loughran, 2006). In the article, Paine managed to capture the sentiment in the colonies for revolution and bring it into focus by using the English king as the person responsible for the suffering of colonists. Paine used the article to call for revolution and suggested that the colonists had a moral duty to the rest of the world to secure human rights (Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” 2010).

            “Common Sense” was the first publication to push the idea of a break with the country of Britain.  In the pamphlet, Paine challenged the authority of the king and suggested a preference for a republican form of government (Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” 2010).

            Paine’s publication resonated with the people in the colonies and helped to strengthen the movement for independence. He urged a new government be developed with a written constitution, and checks and balances between the different parts of the government (Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” 2010).

            Throughout American history there has not been any article that has stirred the American spirit more than “Common Sense.” It was widely read by colonists and Europeans alike, and provided a call for nationalism within the young colonies (Loughran, 2006).

            Howard Zinn, an American historian, made the statement in 1993 that “Common Sense” was perhaps the most important publication in American history (Loughran, 2006).  The article sold hundreds of thousands of copies and had 25 editions made in 1776 alone.  Henry Cabot Lodge wrote “The Story of the Revolution” in 1898.  In the publication he said that “Common Sense” was reprinted and sold in every “colony and town on the Atlantic seaboard,” (Loughran, 2006).

            According to John Fiske, “It was difficult for the printers, with the clumsy presses of the day, to bring out copies of “Common Sense” fast enough to meet the demand” (Loughran, 2006).  An article in the Connecticut Gazette reported that the article was “a land flood that sweeps all before it. The doctrine of independence hath been in times past greatly disgustful… it has now become our delightful theme and commands our purist affections” (Andrews, 1981).

            “Common Sense” sold an estimated 120,000 copies in a three-month period.  It was translated into French and touched a chord in the old world that had long been dormant (Loughran, 2006).

            In the work, “Common Sense,” Paine presented the idea of American independence as the only rational way to deal with the grievances against the British.  He attacked the English king as “the Royal Brute of Britain” (Andrews, 1981). For his part, Paine did not believe American roots rested with England.  Instead he believed the roots instilled in the American soul were European (Andrews, 1981).

            Paine advocated many new approaches to government in “Common Sense.” He suggested domestic assemblies that were subject to a congressional authority.  He also advocated that this congress secure basic freedoms to all men, and promoted freedom of religious choice.  In “Common Sense,” Paine was the first to suggest the development of a declaration of independence (Andrews, 1981).

            Many people of the day had to make a decision as to whether to support the King or fight for independence.  It was not easy to revolt against their King as most colonists were of British heritage and respected its traditions and cultures.  However, those British colonists who were on the fence on the issue of Revolution soon found sanctity in the worlds written by Thomas Paine.  These subjects realized that their rights were slowly deteriorating and that the King’s only interest in the colonies pertained to the potential to raise money through trade or to provide resources for the parent country to use to make goods. As the British government took more and more rights away from the colonists, more citizens looked towards the revolution as an answer to their prayers. In retrospect, examining the issue, I agree with those who saw the revolution as the only way to counter British tyranny.

            Most people today agree, as I do, with Paine’s argument against the tyranny of the British king.  King George III struck down the representative form of government that was established in the colonies.  These assemblies provided Americans the opportunity to decide for themselves what their laws should be in consideration of the public good.  Instead of colonial assemblies, King George III appointed ministers to make the laws and enforce them. Any legislation presented by the colonies was automatically rejected by the King. The King took over all judicial power within each of the American colonies.  Instead King George III appointed judges to be in charge of the districts.  These judges, however, were dependent on the king for both their job and their rate of pay (Declaration of Independence, 2010).

            When it became clear that the United Kingdom had fallen under severe economic hardship due to military spending in conflicts abroad, the King attempted to repay war debts on the backs of the colonists.  The Sugar Act was passed in 1764, The Townshend Act was passed in 1767, the Stamp Act, 1765, and the Tea Act was passed in 1773 to raise funds for the empire (Declaration of Independence, 2010).

            The people of the colonies protested and the king responded by enacting the Intolerable Acts.  These acts closed the port in Boston, appointed a military governor, and enacted a quartering act forcing citizens to house and feed soldiers from Britain (Declaration of Independence, 2010).  In essence, revolution was the only retort left for the colonial citizens.

            In conclusion, the pamphlet, “Common Sense” was a propaganda piece of literature that promoted the revolt against King George III and the establishment of a new nation.  Paine was so effective in his work, and blamed the British monarch specifically for not embracing human rights in the American colonies.  The colonists were swayed by the work of Paine, and public opinion swayed to the position of revolution.

            There was no alternative position for the people of the colonies, according to Thomas Paine.  People are all governed by individual human rights.  Paine’s position is acceptable to me, today, and remains powerful.  The lists of grievances against the King are strong, and effective.  With such a strong propagandist, it is no wonder that the United States developed into a leader in the world.


Andrews, S. (1981). Paine’s American pamphlets. History Today, 31, (7), 97

“Common Sense.” (2010). In BookRags. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from, http://www.bookrags.com/Common_Sense_%28pamphlet%29

Loughran, T. (2006). Disseminating Common Sense: Thomas Paine and the problem of the early bestseller. American Literature, 78, (1), 1-28

The Declaration of Independence. (2010). In Sparknotes.com. Retrieved May 15, 2010

Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.” (2010). In Archiving Early America. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from, http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/milestones/com

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