What Did Thomas Paine Argue in “Common Sense?”

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In “Common Sense,” a pamphlet published anonymously at the outset of the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine argued for the need for the independence of the American colonies from Great Britain. In the beginning, he wrote about general theories of government, focusing then on the specific situation in the colonies.

Paine first wrote about the relationship between society and government and how a government’s efficacy could be judged only on its ability to protect the liberty and property of its citizens. He argued that the government laid out in the English constitution failed to do this.

Next, Paine argued against the concept of monarchy and hereditary succession. He used the Bible to illustrate God’s condemnation of monarchies. Then he argued that America no longer needed England’s help, and that because England had attacked its colonies, it was no longer deserving of their loyalties. He wrote that American commerce would be better off without England’s help. He proposed a government of representative democracy. Finally, he discussed America’s military strength and potential.

Once published “Common Sense” was amazingly popular. In 1776 it sold about 150,000 copies. George Washington ordered the pamphlet read to all his troops. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon S. Wood, “Common Sense” was “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.”