January 5, 2024 at 11:00 p.m.

Common Sense

Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

You have likely read multiple comments on social media from people lamenting how news coverage by various networks has become politically slanted.  Many have expressed a longing for news reporting they remember as less politically motivated.  

The truth is that the reporting of news in our nation's history has always been subject to what some would consider a lack of objectivity.  It was true of many newspapers in the 19th & 20th centuries and even before that, political rhetoric was often more prevalent than honest reporting.  

It played an important role in our history that helped to ignite the fire that became the American Revolution.

Common Sense

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

There had been bloodshed alongside acts of power and vengeance that prompted many reactions from the American colonists. One of the most widely known methods of the pre-Revolutionary War period was to share the events of the day in pamphlets which were often filled with what would be labeled as political rhetoric in modern times. But these pamphlets had a power to stir the soul and force independent thought among colonists. One of the most powerful was “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine.

Paine grew up in a household of modest means, and only came to America a year before the start of the Revolutionary War at the age of 37. Yet, before long, his writings had set the continent aflame and Paine established himself as the preeminent voice for independence from Great Britain, and later as one of the great Enlightenment thinkers on either side of the Atlantic.

In 1774, Franklin made an offer to Paine to come to Pennsylvania. By then, there was very little holding Paine to England: his first wife, Mary Lambert, had died in childbirth six years prior, and his second wife, Elizabeth Ollive, left him after his new obsession with political advocacy. With the aid of some wealthy friends, Paine gathered what he could and paid for a voyage across the Atlantic.

Typhoid fever nearly killed Paine while during the crossing, but once he recovered, he soon began making a living as a writer and editor for the Pennsylvania Magazine. In contrast to his fellow Englishmen, American colonists were on average wealthier, more literate, and more politically engaged, meaning that Paine had a more receptive audience, which contributed to his popularity. For his part, Paine took a strong liking to Philadelphia society and more broadly, the discontent against Great Britain that had been simmering since the end of the Seven Years (French & Indian) War.

Though the First Continental Congress had already convened by the time of Paine’s arrival in America, many of the leading Patriot voices were uncomfortable to fully come out in support of independence, even after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Their general complaint had always been that their natural rights as British subjects had been violated by Parliament, and they wished to see those wrongs rectified. Paine’s far more radical outlook led him to see the situation quite differently, and so he set out to make the case for independence and describe his vision for America’s political future in his most famous work: the 47-page pamphlet titled “Common Sense.”

This famous publication begins:

“Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.

"As a long and violent abuse of power is generally the means of calling the right of it in question, (and in matters too which might never have been thought of, had not the sufferers been aggravated into the inquiry,) and as the king of England hath undertaken in his own right, to support the parliament in what he calls theirs, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpations of either.

"In the following sheets, the author hath studiously avoided every thing which is personal among ourselves. Compliments as well as censure to individuals make no part thereof. The wise and the worthy need not the triumph of a pamphlet; and those whose sentiments are injudicious or unfriendly, will cease of themselves, unless too much pain is bestowed upon their conversion.

"The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested. The laying a country desolate with fire and sword, declaring war against the natural rights of all mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof from the face of the earth, is the concern of every man to whom nature hath given the power of feeling; of which class, regardless of party censure, is

The Author.”

Published on January 10th, 1776, “Common Sense” decries not just British tyranny, but the concept of monarchy itself, and calls for the formation of an American republic in the purest sense of the word: a government run as a res publica, or “public affair.” Paine’s radical rhetoric and skillful argumentation electrified the colonies, and “Common Sense” quickly became one of the best-selling written works in America, followed only by the Bible. As one Connecticut reader wrote to a Philadelphia newspaper, “We were blind, but on reading these enlightening words the scales have fallen from our eyes.” Seven months after the publication of “Common Sense,” the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, announcing their intention to formally sever ties with Great Britain.


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