Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Common Sense was a phenomenon in the American colonies. While only a small political pamphlet, it helped change public opinion pave the way for independence more than almost any document of the period. Published January 9, 1776, it sold over 500,000 copies and effectively changed the flavor of public from that of frustrated and angry British colonists, to independent minded Americans, seeking their freedom from an oppressing foreign power. The publication of Common Sense is clearly one of the most important events of the Revolution. Why was Thomas Paine’s call for independence so influential? What was it about that 47-page pamphlet that could turn the heads of an entire region in an entirely new direction? That is a question that continues to interest people even today.
It is not unreasonable to consider that perhaps part of the reason for Common Sense’s popularity lay in part, if not in the whole behind the person of its author. Common Sense was originally published anonymously, so it would be erroneous to suggest that the author’s person or his public status brought about the public acclaim that his work received, but it is undeniable that an author’s personality and essence suffused in to their work. Therefore, understanding the man of Thomas Paine may help us to see why his book was so influential on the minds of his contemporaries.
Thomas Paine was born in England in Norfolk on January 29, 1737. He was the son of a poor Quaker who was a corset maker. When He was in his teens his Father could no longer afford to keep him in school, and he became his father’s apprentice. This was not, however, Paine’s idea of his destiny and he went to sea. This didn’t suit him either, so he became an excise man in Lincolnshire. After a little while of that he tried teaching in London, and then took another position as an excise man in Lewes, East Essex. After being predeceased by his first wife and separated from his second, together with several other disappointments, he became disillusioned with England and moved to American in October 1774. On settling in Philadelphia, became a journalist and wrote many articles for the Pennsylvania Magazine. It was during this time that he published his Common Sense. He had been in the colonies less than a year, but he became a well-known Revolutionary Propagandist after the pamphlet’s publication. After the war Paine was son near to financial ruin that he call in favors and lobby congress to award him for his services during the war. When he got his reward and some land, he tried his hand at invention, but he was too restless. He traveled to Europe, where he again got involved in political propaganda and wrote his book, The Rights of Man. The radical views he expressed in his book caused great alarm among the elites in England and he was forced to leave England and declared an outlaw after his departure. After this he became a French citizen and was elected to the national convention when, but became a victim of the Terror, as he was considered to be a moderate, and was locked up in the Luxembourg prison for almost a year. It was during this time that he wrote the Age of Reason, which was his rejection of the Bible and Christianity, to a position of deism and belief in science and observation. When he was finally released through the intersession of James Monroe, the American Minister. Coming back to America, he found that he was no longer in favor and became more and more of an outcast until his death in 1809.
One of the things that becomes clear as you look at the life of Thomas Paine is that he was never satisfied with the way things were. He was fully convinced of the equality of man and that each human being has rights. It was this steadfast and unwavering belief that drove him continually onward. This charisma, and his complete confidence in his beliefs is a major presence behind the views put forth in Common Sense. This type of writing and atmosphere naturally attracts people. In the uncertain times his audience was surrounded by, Thomas Paine’s work stood out. It promised something better. It promised justice and freedom from oppression. This had a significant effect on the popularity of his first significant, and widely circulated publication.
Another reason why Common Sense received so wide a circulation was the style in which it was written. Thomas Paine understood that it was not the educated elites of society that caused a Revolution to be successful. It was the populace, the everyday rank and file of the colonies. Armed with this knowledge, he proceeded to write a masterpiece. Common Sense was written the common person. It lived up to its name. His goal was to present the material and arguments in as intuitive and natural way as possible so that all could understand. This simplicity, however, did nothing to diminish the force of his arguments. Common Sense is essentially a series of extended syllogisms. The logical flow of his arguments would give him credibility with the most educated audiences.
It is clear that the reason for the success of Thomas Paine’s political pamphlet, Common Sense cannot be attributed to just one factor. It was one of those phenomenon, sometimes seen in history where the writer with the right message and the right style with the personality and personal drive that speaks to the hearts of common people produces a work at just he right time in history, and changes the world. Thomas Pain himself had a great deal to do with its success. His ability to synthesis powerful arguments with the intuition of his intended audience, together with his own force of character, played a significant role. The ultimate success of Common Sense, however, must be laid at the feet of circumstances. He wrote what the people wanted to hear, and they heard it.