Thomas Pain and Common Sense
By Janet Jameson
American Public University System
HIST101: American History to 1877
Thomas Paine was an influential political writer during the 18th and 19th century and could be named the Father of the American Revolution. Common Sense was a political pamphlet written by Paine in 1775 that swayed the American colonists toward revolution and independence from Britain during a critical time in America’s history. Who was Thomas Paine and where did he come from? What circumstances caused him to write Common Sense, and what effect did it have on the American colonists that led to the break from British rule and the American ...view middle of the document...
Unfortunately there was not one available at the time so he spent some time as an English teacher and preacher until a position opened in Sussex in 1768. During this time Paine developed an interest in politics and published his first work The Case of the Officers of the Excise (1772). This pamphlet, “detailed the low wages and arduous duties of excisemen, the temptations to dishonesty this incited and the consequent dangers for revenue collection.” Paine discovered his talents as a writer during this period of his life.[ii]
Paine became more involved in politics and gained popularity as a writer. He continued to lobby for higher exciseman salaries and, “operated a tobacco mill and small grocery shop for a time but was hard hit when he lost his excise post again in April 1774.” After losing his position as an exciseman a second time he returned to London where he followed the ‘Wilkes and Liberty’ campaign and met Benjamin Franklin. Franklin recognized the potential in Paine, suggested he should travel to the colonies and wrote him a letter of recommendation. Heeding Franklin’s suggestion, Paine left for the colonies shortly thereafter. Paine arrived in Philadelphia in December 1774. He was carried from the ship due to an outbreak of typhus that he barely survived. Paine recovered six weeks later and with the help of Benjamin Franklin became the editor of a small paper.[iii]
At first, Paine did not support the idea of colonial independence from England. After the Lexington Massacre in April 1775, where colonists were shot and killed by British troops, Paine decided that revolution was inevitable. Using the pseudonym Curioso, Paine wrote two articles in the July 1775 issue of Pennsylvania Magazine titled, “Observations on the Military Character of Ants”, and “An Easy Method to Prevent the Increase of bugs.” “While neither article overtly states a political position, they each clearly express anti-British sentiments.”[iv]
Paine spent the autumn of 1775 writing Common Sense which became an instant success.
The popularity of Common Sense can be attributed to the fact that is what written “to and for the common people as political participants of the day.”[v] At first it was read by only the literate colonists. As it grew in popularity the literate would read it aloud at large gatherings. As Common Sense grew in notoriety it was revised and six months later it had twenty five editions and had reached hundreds of thousands of colonists.[vi]
“In Common Sense, Paine launched an assault on the traditional monarchical order in language that stirred popular...