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Common Sense

The fighting at Lexington and Concord did not immediately transform American public opinion into supporting independence from Britain. Instead, a great debate was touched off, which took place in the homes, taverns and assemblies of the colonists. Thomas Paine One of the most important elements of this debate was furnished by Thomas Paine, who published the pamphlet Common Sense in January 1776. It is arguably the most successful political essay in American history and may have done for the War of Independence what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the Civil War. Paine made the following points:

  • Governments, even good ones, are at best necessary evils; they were less desirable the farther the government was from the governed.
  • Ignoring the lingering loyalty many Americans still felt for the king, he argued ardently for independence. Monarchy was branded an absurd form of government and George III a “Royal Brute.”
  • It made no sense, in Paine's mind, for a small country like Britain, an island, to rule a continent like America.
  • Independence would foster peace and prosperity. An independent America could avoid the senseless progression of European wars and grow rich by trading with all countries, not just the mother country.
Presented in a popular form, Common Sense reached a large audience and helped to sway the undecided to support independence.
See timeline of the War of Independence.