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Common Sense | Key Figure Analysis


Thomas Paine

English-born Thomas Paine had many careers in his life, including corset maker, tax collector, and newspaper editor, but he is best known for the inspirational words he penned in favor of revolutions in the American colonies and France. Politically active and interested in the theories of the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, Paine moved to the American colonies in 1774 upon encouragement from Benjamin Franklin, whom he met in England. Paine quickly became interested in the worsening relationship between the colonies and their founding country, England, which came to a head at the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Horrified that Great Britain used force against its own subjects, Paine began campaigning for colonial succession from England. His ideas were radical for the time—even members of the Continental Congress, who were tasked with finding ways to establish colonial rights equal to those of British citizens, maintained their loyalty to the Crown. Paine compiled his arguments into Common Sense, a 46-page pamphlet calling for colonial independence from Great Britain. Fueled by logic and reason, as well as historical and biblical examples, Common Sense persuaded American leaders and citizens to take up arms in the name of freedom. Paine went on to write several more influential works, including The American Crisis, a series of pamphlets supporting the revolutionary cause; Rights of Man, a defense of the French Revolution; and The Age of Reason, a condemnation of religion's role in society. He died on June 8, 1809, at his New York farm.

King George III

King George III (1738–1820) ruled Great Britain from 1760–1820. His father, Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, died in 1751 when George III was 12, which meant he inherited the throne (and the French and Indian War) from his grandfather, George II. As a young king George III was riddled with feelings of inadequacy, which resulted in the overzealous assertion of his royal powers. Rebellion in the American colonies brought out a particularly nasty side of King George III, who had no qualms about going to war with the inhabitants of one of his territories. He wanted American colonists to submit to his authority, and when they didn't he declared, "America must be a colony of England or treated as an enemy." What is now known as the American Revolutionary War ensued, and though several of the king's advisers urged him to end the war at multiple points, George III refused to give in, which extended the fighting at least another two years. A metabolic defect, compounded by the stresses of the throne, led to several mental breakdowns during the last 32 years of George III's reign. Deemed "mad" by many, George III's eldest son, George IV, served as regent during his father's periods of incapacitation. George III descended into complete insanity in 1811 and remained in that state for much of his remaining years.


The British Parliament consists of two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Lords is the upper house. Its membership is limited to Lords Spiritual (including archbishops, bishops, and other religious leaders) and Lords Temporal (title holders, either through heredity or life appointments). The House of Commons is the lower house of Parliament. Unlike the House of Lords, its members are democratically elected to represent the British public. Parliament makes, overturns, and changes laws. While most 18th century American colonists supported the monarch's authority over the colonies, many protested Parliamentary rule. They viewed the laws restricting trade and local government as being functions of Parliament, not the Crown.

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