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Common Sense | Study Guide

Thomas Paine

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Common Sense | Introduction to the Third Edition | Summary

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Summary

Author Thomas Paine's brief introduction to the third printing of Common Sense was written on February 14, 1776, just a month after the pamphlet's initial release. Without divulging his name, he emphasizes he, the text's anonymous author, has no affiliation with a particular political party or with a certain nation. He also insists his arguments "studiously avoided every thing which is personal" by focusing on logic and reason instead of his biases for and against certain individuals. Paine acknowledges his radical ideas about American independence from England are "not yet sufficiently fashionable" and therefore not yet very popular. He believes more and more people will agree with him as time goes on and as they realize it is the right of the oppressed to question and reject the actions of the oppressor. His ideas about independence and the relationship between king and subject are applicable to all humans, not just those living in North America. "[D]eclaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind ... is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling," he writes.

Analysis

Common Sense was originally printed on January 10, 1776. The first two printings sold out immediately, and 25 official editions were printed by the end of the year, as well as dozens of unsanctioned copies. From the second edition onward the pamphlet was published under the pseudonym "an Englishman," partially because of its potentially treasonous content and partially because Paine wanted the readers' focus to be on the ideas within the text, not the man who came up with them. His cover was blown within just a few months, and soon everyone in the colonies knew who had written the revolution-inspiring tract. More than 150,000 copies of Common Sense were sold in its first few months of publication, and some historians estimate 500,000 copies were sold by the end of the year. That's a huge number considering the colonial population was less than three million people when the pamphlet was released. Paine's ideas were popular for a number of reasons. While few political leaders at the time publicly advocated independence, many individual citizens had grown weary of British rule, especially after the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. They were primed to fight back. Paine understood this, and he knew the only way to capitalize on public disapproval of the Crown was to speak in a language "regular" people understood. Instead of referring to classical Greek and Roman texts as his contemporaries had done, Paine made allusions, or literary references, to something everyone knew: the Bible. Although his argument was based on logic and critical thinking, his words and ideas were literary and metaphorical but also plain spoken, which made them more palatable for a widespread audience.

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