Credit George Washington for mobilizing our military to win the Revolutionary War. It was Thomas Paine, though, who did the most to mobilize the people in support of the cause of freedom and independence from Britain. He did it with his stirring pamphlet, Common Sense.
Originally published anonymously on this very date 235 years ago, and addressed to “the Inhabitants of America,” Paine’s polemic circulated to a higher percentage of the American population than any book save the Bible.
One reason for its success was Paine’s style, which was much more accessible to the common person than most political writing of that time. In fact, Common Sense was read aloud in public, allowing citizens who lacked letters to engage in the debate over separation from the British empire — some seven months before the Declaration of Independence.
Common Sense attacked both the evils of monarchy, generally, noting that “Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins . . .” and the British monarchy specifically, referring to William the Conqueror as a “French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives.”
Paine’s pamphlet cogently endorsed republican forms of future government. “Society in every state is a blessing,” he wrote, “but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one. . . .”
More than two centuries after its publication, Paine’s message still rings prophetic: “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”
That remains true. And Paine’s mission remains ours: To resist tyranny, to “prepare an asylum for mankind.”
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.