In January 1776, Thomas Paine published the 48-page pamphlet Common Sense. The pamphlet, which advocated for American independence in plain English, caused an immediate sensation in the colonies. At the time, the issue of American independence was very much undecided—many colonists identified themselves as Britons, not Americans—and Common Sense played a critical role in convincing the public to take up the cause for freedom. Over the next two years, the pamphlet was reprinted all over the colonies, read aloud in taverns and meeting houses, and even distributed among the Continental Army by General Washington himself.
Here are a few other facts about this landmark work of American political philosophy:
- One of the primary reasons that Common Sense had such a large impact on public sentiment is that it was one of the first arguments for independence that was written in language that the everyday colonist could understand. Unlike many Enlightenment-era political texts, Paine did not use obscure Latin references or complex philosophical analyses. Any average person, even an illiterate colonist hearing the pamphlet read aloud, could be swayed by his straightforward discussion of the benefits of democracy.
- Common Sense was copied over 500,000 times during the years of the American Revolution. When you take into account the population of the colonies at the time—roughly two and a half million—Common Sense has the largest circulation of any book published in American history.