What Was Thomas Paine's "Common Sense"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

"Common Sense" was a 48 page pamphlet published anonymously in early 1776 to encourage American citizens to revolt against Britain and declare independence. The author of the pamphlet was later revealed to be Thomas Paine, a revolutionary writer and thinker who went on to write "The Crisis," a series of pamphlets published in 1776-1777, and "The Age of Reason," another notable work published in the late 1700s which had a profound influence on the French Revolution. This document is often credited as one of the deciding factors in the American Revolution, and it is commonly taught and discussed in American history classes.

"Common Sense" was written by a revolutionary writer named Thomas Paine.
"Common Sense" was written by a revolutionary writer named Thomas Paine.

Paine started work on the pamphlet in 1775, originally calling it "Plain Truth." On the recommendation of a colleague, the name was changed to "Common Sense," and on 10 January 1776, the document was published by R. Bell of Philadelphia. At a time when Americans were uncertain about revolution, "Common Sense" provided a series of plain, clear appeals to logic which were designed to persuade readers to conclude that independence was the only viable option for America.

Thomas Paine donated the profits he received from "Common Sense" to the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington.
Thomas Paine donated the profits he received from "Common Sense" to the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington.

In the first year alone, 25 editions were printed, and the pamphlet was a bestseller in the United States and abroad. Paine donated the profits to the Continental Army, headed by General George Washington. Curiously enough, although modern historians view "Common Sense" as a tremendously influential document, contemporaries actually rarely discussed it, at least publicly. This may be because the contents were treasonous and people feared punishment.

Thomas Paine is one of the many contenders for the title of "Father of the American Revolution," thanks to this pamphlet. What made "Common Sense" unique was not simply the fact that it was published at a time when such documents were very dangerous to print, but that the pamphlet was written in plain, clear language which was designed to be accessible to everyone. "Common Sense" was laid out much like a sermon, a format which would have been familiar to Americans, and it laid out a clear, logical progression of arguments, rather than meandering or becoming entangled in verbose tangents.

The pamphlet included four sections: "Of the Origin and Design of Government In General," "Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession," "Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs," and "Of the Present Ability of America." In addition to providing some compelling reasons to separate from Britain, the pamphlet also mapped out some suggestions for the future government of the new country.

"Common Sense" encouraged the colonists to revolt against the British.
"Common Sense" encouraged the colonists to revolt against the British.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon300028

He named it common sense because it sounded more profound and more educated than plain truth. It means that the ideas issued in common sense are: common sense.

anon298164

But what arguments did the pamphlet make?

anon127603

he named his pamphlet that because he wrote it in down to earth language that everyone could read. also the points he was trying to get across to the people of the colonies he believed to be "common sense" that the colonies should break away from britain and not be ruled by a satellite country/island etc.

anon79731

These books made Americans see the truth and that they must start the revolution.

Paine and other authors, especially Jefferson, they are the leaders of american revolution.

But I have a question: Why did Paine name his pamphlet 'common sense' and not the old name,

and what does that title mean?

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