Common Sense published January 9, 1776
No book was more important to the early republic than Common Sense. Its author, Thomas Paine, is often forgotten among the Founding Fathers generation. Not a signer of the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution, nevertheless, Paine’s work sometimes has him referred to as the “Father of the American Revolution.”
Paine was a British citizen living in London when he met Benjamin Franklin who urged him to go to America. In late 1774, Paine took that advice and arrived in Philadelphia near death from a fever. He recovered, and with Franklin’s help was able to get a job as a magazine writer. It was during this period that he wrote and published Common Sense, a 47 page pamphlet that urged Americans to demand their independence from Great Britain.
At the time of the writing of Common Sense, the American colonists mostly viewed themselves as aggrieved Britons. The first shots of what would become the Revolutionary War were fired on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. However, in January 1776, a majority of colonists remained undecided about seeking independence from Britain. Paine’s work was instrumental in changing this thinking. Paine wrote with a passionate and bold style that quickly resonated with the colonists. His words remain as relevant today as they were then:
“We have boasted the protection of Great Britain, without considering that her motive was interest not attachment; that she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account.”
“Everything that is right or reasonable pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’tis time to part!”
“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!”
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
“Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer…”
“But where; say some, is the King of America? I’ll tell you, friend, He reigns above.”
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
“The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind.”
Common Sense swept through the colonies. Thousands of colonists read Paine’s words and agreed with its message. A waive of independent fervor took hold. The spark was lit. Eventually, the independence Paine sought came to pass. Common Sense is still considered, proportionate to population, the most popular book ever published in America. It’s a work all Americans today need to know about and understand.
Footnote of Interest: Common Sense was originally published anonymously.