Thomas Paine: Common Sense

The document known as Common Sense was published on January 10th 1776 and was meant to encourage those not fully on board with separating from Great Britain and to convince the Colonists that it was possible to form “the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth” and that they “have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

In the phamplet, Thomas Paine argued that it was not only a bad idea to have a king but that the idea of having a Monarch is rooted in sinfulness and that the Jews crying to God for a king, led God to put a curse on them. (1 Samuel 8:6-22).

He argued that “The constitution of England is so exceedingly complex, that the nation may suffer for years together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies, some will say in one and some in another, and every political physician will advise a different medicine,” Paine wrote. Paine called government a “necessary evil”, which exists to give people a structure so that the people could work together to solve problems and prosper, not for the government to attempt to solve problems for the people.

At the time, it wasn’t clear who published this 47 page document as it was published anonymously and simply signed “The Author”. Some thought it was Benjamin Franklin. Some thought it was John Adams. Others thought it was Samuel Adams. Thomas Paine later confirmed that it was in fact him that published Common Sense and that Benjamin Rush was the one that approached him to write Common Sense and convince people that there was indeed a need for Independence.

Rush gave the first draft of the pamphlet to several others including Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and David Rittenhouse. The only recorded reaction was from Benjamin Rush. None of the others even admitted to reading the document that was orginally titled Plain Truth. Rush suggested the title Common Sense would be more appropriate.

Common Sense was released at the perfect time. Local newspapers had just published King George’s speech in which he called the rebels “an unhappy and deluded multitude” and threatened to send more troops to destroy the rebels.

Common Sense “swept through the colonies like a firestorm, destroying any final vestige of loyalty to the British crown”, according to Thomas Jefferson’s biographer Joseph J. Ellis. By March, 120,000 copies had sold, which was huge in a country of only 3 million. By the end of the revolution, Common Sense ended up selling 500,000 copies.

Within a few months of publication, the Contiential Congress ordered every colony to write new Constitutions and just a few months later, in June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.


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