Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’

Common SenseCommon Sense by Thomas Paine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There isn’t a single (good) book about the American Revolution in existence, that doesn’t mention Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ in some way or another. And rightfully so, as the effects of this pamphlet were great. Historian John Ferling, in his book ‘Almost a Miracle’ wrote the following:

“His [Thomas Paine] electrifying polemic captured what most Americans—if not most congressman—felt. He opened with a a nearly unanswerable assault on the folly of hereditary kingship, and indeed on monarchy itself, that drove the last nail in the coffin of monarchical rule for the revolutionary generation.”

It was published at a perfect time, when the Continental army was demoralized and the Continental congress was debating whether or not to send another plea for reconciliation to king George. Within days of the appearance of this pamphlet that motion was voted down and a motion for independence adopted instead.

Biographer Ron Chernov, in his book ‘Washington, a Life’ described it as follows:

“Beyond its quotable prose, Common Sense benefited from perfect timing. It appeared just as Americans digested news of the Norfolk horror as well as George III’s October speech to Parliament in which he denounced the rebels as traitors and threatened to send foreign mercenaries to vanquish them. The historian Bernard Bailyn has noted that ‘one had to be a fool or a fanatic in early January 1776 to advocate American independence,’ but Paine’s work—’slapdash as it is, rambling as it is, crude as it is’—produced that magical effect.”

Besides the great boost to moral the pamphlet provided, Thomas Paine donated the proceeds of his pamphlet to the Continental army, which was strapped for cash at the time.

Having read quite a few quotes from this pamphlet, as quoted by different historical authors, I had to read it myself in its entirety. It was a very readable text. The interesting thing about this pamphlet, is that is was written for the common man. This dragged the ‘common’ man into politics. Something that wasn’t the norm at the time. Before one was to engage himself into politics, one had to first distinguish himself as a ‘gentleman’. Benjamin Franklin for instance only deemed himself a ‘gentleman’ after he retired as a businessman. The common man, at the time, was not suppose to involve himself with politics. This custom was broken when Thomas Paine published his pamphlet.

I enjoyed reading it and it helps to better understand the revolutionary era. Thomas Paine said it best himself, when describing this most remarkable of times in history:

“…we have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the event of a few months.”

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