Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 30
Thomas Paine Publishes Common Sense, 1776

Common Sense was the work of an 'original genius,'" an unknown writer calling himself "An Independent Whig" declared in the New-York Journal; or the General Advertiser on February 22, 1776. Whether Thomas Paine's pamphlet, published anonymously on January 10, 1776, was the work of a genius is not as important as the influence the tract had on Americans. Even though America and Britain had been in open confrontation since April 1775, many Americans were still unsure about whether a war with Britain and independence were the right courses to pursue. One month after its publication, Common Sense had sold a half million copies and was in its third printing.1 In it, Paine advocated as "common sense" a complete separation from England via a declaration of independence. These ideas grew in popularity.

Common Sense motivated Americans. "I find Common Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of men," George Washington said.2 The commander in chief was correct. Paine had taken ideas current in America and succinctly structured them into a logical argument against continuing as colonies to Great Britain subservient to the monarchy. Within six months of the publication of Common Sense, the American colonies had declared their independence from England and were ready to face the world as a sovereign nation.

For Thomas Paine, the transformation from Englishman to rebellious colonist happened quickly. After talking to Benjamin Franklin in London, Paine emigrated to America with a letter of recommendation from the renowned Pennsylvania doctor. In America, Paine got a job working for

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