On this day January 10, 1776

Common Sense by English revolutionary Thomas Paine, a document denouncing British rule which contributed to stimulating the American Revolution among the populace of the Thirteen Colonies, was published.

It was first published anonymously on January 10, 1776, during the American Revolution. Common Sense presented the American colonists with an argument for independence from British rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided.

Paine wrote and reasoned in a style that common people understood; forgoing the philosophy and Latin references used by Enlightenment era writers, Paine structured Common Sense like a sermon and relied on Biblical references to make his case to the people.

Historian Gordon S. Wood described Common Sense as, “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.”

Thomas Paine began work on Common Sense in late 1775 under the working title of Plain Truth. With the help of Benjamin Rush, who suggested the title Common Sense and helped edit and publish, Paine developed his ideas into a forty-eight page pamphlet.

Paine published Common Sense anonymously because of its treasonous content. It sold as many as 120,000 copies in the first three months, 500,000 in the first year, and went through twenty-five editions in the first year alone. Paine donated his royalties from Common Sense to George Washington’s Continental Army, saying:

As my wish was to serve an oppressed people, and assist in a just and good cause, I conceived that the honor of it would be promoted by my declining to make even the usual profits of an author.

Paine’s arguments against British rule

  • It was ridiculous for an island to rule a continent.
  • America was not a “British nation”; it was composed of influences and peoples from all of Europe.
  • Even if Britain was the “mother country” of America, that made her actions all the more horrendous, for no mother would harm her children so brutally.
  • Being a part of Britain would drag America into unnecessary European wars, and keep it from the international commerce at which America excelled.
  • The distance between the two nations made governing the colonies from England unwieldy. If some wrong were to be petitioned to Parliament, it would take a year before the colonies received a response.
  • The New World was discovered shortly before the Reformation. The Puritans believed that God wanted to give them a safe haven from the persecution of British rule.
  • Britain ruled the colonies for its own benefit, and did not consider the best interests of the colonists in governing them.

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