There are moments in history that stand out and are remembered more than others. Moments like these are crucial because they tend to change the lives of many populations throughout our world. How could a pamphlet with a simple message make such a drastic change in the lives of the American population? There was such a pamphlet, and its writer was Thomas Paine, an American immigrant, who strove to make his American dream come true. Paine pursued his career as a writer, and joined the movement for creating a new nation. He immigrated to America in 1774, and shortly thereafter became involved in revolutionary circles in Philadelphia. In early 1776, he published an anonymous pamphlet, titled Common Sense. The pamphlet called for the end of British tyranny in the American colonies and a break with a country ruled by kings. Common Sense made its appearance at a crucial moment as the debate for American independence reached a tipping point.

Americans during this time were changing their minds about fighting the British for a few reasons. Many Americans were still undecided on the question of independence, and these Americans were the audience that Paine targeted in his pamphlet. Paine laid down several reasons for fighting for independence from the Crown. First, the casualties from the war were too large to justify anything less than independence. Second, the Patriots had a lingering affection for England that fell apart when the British began recruiting Indians, slaves, and Hessians, all of which were not Americans. Third, the colonies were closed to all overseas trade due to the British enforcing the Prohibitory Act with a blockade of colonial ports.1 Paine wanted the American people to be free from all these imperfections that he was subjected to endure while living in England. To keep the reader’s attention, he did not bring the idea of independence into the writing until his conclusion. This pamphlet, Common Sense, fought for the idea of independence with logical reasoning and fiery passion. Like its title, the denotation to having common sense is to possess simple and practical reasoning that gives a clear and wise course of action for a situation; this is what Thomas Paine worked to provide. He wrote that wanting independence for the country is not a hard decision to make due to the numerous wrongs that had been done to Americans at the hands of the British.

Title page from Common Sense, 1776
Title page from Common Sense, 1776 | Library of Congress

With the publication of this pamphlet, Paine not only galvanized Americans, but gave them a voice. His pamphlet changed the American outlook on the war. Although Paine denounced the many British injustices in the pamphlet, the English constitution was the issue that he primarily wrote about in Common Sense. This was not enough on its own to bring about the radical thoughts to the people, so he continued to argue that the people ought to blame the King. Paine stated, “it is simple common sense to break away from such a corrupt and brutal government,” which gives support to his claims that the only solution left is that of independence.2 Paine provides multiple reasons in the pamphlet for independence, especially when he writes about the promotion of the best possible government for the people.3

Common Sense contained a total of four sections, taking up the body of the pamphlet. The sections were as follows: On the Origin and Design of the Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution; On Heredity and Hereditary Succession; Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs; and Of the Present solely Ability of America with Some Miscellaneous Reflections. The first of these four sections states that society is a blessing, but the government is a necessary evil. Paine gives an example of this by saying that society can rally together; however, if the rally causes disruption and makes a mess of society, government will undoubtedly behave unjustly. Paine attacks the English government with this and claims it to be bloated. The second section attacks the monarchy itself. Paine attacks the Crown by saying that it came to possess power, and therefore the monarchy was born.4 Paine uses the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, to constitute his argument. He writes of how the old Hebrews were ruled by elders and judges instead of a king. He targets American Protestant followers, providing reasons to view independence in the same light as he.5 The third section that Paine covers is in regards to colonists and the growth of America. He claims that America could have grown the same way it did under the rule of England, without their support. He strongly believed America needed to be divided from England in its entirety. He did not want people to think about the ideas of independence alone, but also to take action in fighting against the tyrannical hand of the British, particularly linking tyranny and monarchy. The final section was his argument for independence. He speaks of freedoms that encompass religion, military, and living. He makes the claim that since America has no debt, the country can afford to create its own army and not rely on the English military.6

Because of the controversy that may be stirred up due to the pamphlet, Paine remained anonymous. In addition, the ability for him to be anonymous made a stronger impact because the ideas and arguments were less personal and more interchangeable within the population of Americans; these individuals were better able to identify and relate to the issues he discussed. He published his work on January 9, 1776, anonymously; the following day in Philadelphia, it appeared for a moment in the genesis of the American Revolution.7

Thomas Paine used what he believed to be his own common sense to construct the message and reality of the British tyranny, and make it stick in the minds of the audience he was addressing. He was a strong writer with beliefs that he had accumulated from his own life experiences. The pamphlet was the best form of writing at the time to reach the majority of the American people due to its low cost and wide availability. He wrote with a style that enabled him to make phrases memorable. Paine’s influence in politics also gave him the status of a great political writer. He gave the people of America the chance to make a change during this time of uncertainty and fear.

  1. Alan Brinkley, American History: Connecting with the Past (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2015), 184.
  2. Alan Brinkley, American History: Connecting with the Past (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2015), 184.
  3.  Craig Nelson, Thomas Paine : Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (Penguin Books, 2006), 75.
  4.  Robert Lamb, Thomas Paine and the Idea of Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2005), 181.
  5.  Sophia A. Rosenfeld, Common Sense (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2011), 138.
  6.  Edward Larkin, Thomas Paine and the Literature of Revolution (Boston: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 48.
  7.  Martha A. Sherwood, “Common Sense,” (Masterplots, Fourth Edition 2010, 1–3), 45.

16 Responses

  1. First, I would like to say that this article was well written and very informative. Secondly, examining Thomas Paine and his pamphlet of common sense, you can see how adamant he was on views on the British crown and the injustices that it caused him and some many other Americans. His boldness to write such a document with the intentions to persuades possibly thousands of people to just cause of the revolution is inspiring.

  2. Before this article, I thought I knew all I needed to on Thomas Paine and his writings. However after reading this I realized how wrong I was and how little knowledge I had in reality. The research and subsequent detail within the article is astounding. not only were the paragraphs describing and explaining “common sense” to the point, but they also were detailed enough to give the reader the full picture. The 4 sections are a perfect example of how the Author of this article says whats needed in few words, while at the same time giving a perfect amount of information that gives the reader all the detail they’d ever need on “Common sense”. I am, to say the least, impressed.

  3. Hey Oscar Sepulveda, I really enjoyed the piece you wrote about the “Common Sense” pamphlet. Some people might not recognize the big importance of this. I like how you highlighted its effects and the ways he really made this such an effective writing piece. This really tipped the scale for the unbalanced feelings during this era of hate towards the motherland.

  4. First I would like to say that this article was well written and very informative. Secondly, examining Thomas Paine and his pamphlet of common sense, you can see how adamant he was on views on the British crown and the injustices that it caused him and some many other Americans. His boldness to write such a document with the intentions to persuades possibly thousands of people to just cause of the revolution is inspiring.

  5. This article is so good! I did not know that this pamphlet even existed until reading and learning it about in my History course. Reading about why the pamphlet was written cleared some of the remaining questions I had. It is so interesting to read about something that ultimately led to the Declaration of Independence being written. It’s interesting to see that he published it anonymously, probably to protect himself. Overall, the article was well-written and great.

  6. The article does a great deal to go into detail about the pamphlet ‘common sense’ that Thomas Paine had spread around. The photos used in the article help the reader understand what the page really looked like to the colonist and how it had been printed. The article did not fail to veer off too much from the subject and kept the information relevant to the effects and the problems that arose from the British actions which were used as proof to help his argument be presented and fought for.

  7. I found this article to be well written and well researched. Oscar held the reader’s interest through the entire article.
    He explained not only the history of Common Sense but why Thomas Paine wrote it and put it in context by mentioning that he had it published anonymously to avoid backlash from the English government.
    It was also true that publishing anonymously would prevent the reader from assuming an political agenda or point of view, just the Common Sense of his case against King Georrge and Parliament.

  8. Before reading the article I did not really understand why Common Sense was such a
    historical piece in history. However I now know that it was almost like a turning point in history
    since it caused Americans to desire change and desire stripping itself from “British Tyranny” I
    understand that America would not be what it is today if this pamphlet hadn’t popped off
    because it is a big reason we were eventually able to be our own independent country. The
    author did a great job at sharing how Thomas Paines Common Sense impacted many and
    showed it’s important in American history.

  9. I enjoyed this article because I find all the parts that lead up to independence and the Revolutionary War to be very fascinating. It seems somewhat crazy that one little pamphlet was able to shift a large amount of the public opinion of the time. Without Common Sense, I wonder what would have happened during this time period. Would the United States ever even become a country? Or, would have support for the independence movement lacked and the states would have remained British Colonies.

  10. Personally, I find this article very informative and interesting. I think that the author did a very good job describing with accuracy the content of the pamphlet and contextualizing the reading on what was happening at the time. Also, I can see that the author did proper research and used multiple sources.

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