What Is the Significance of “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine?

The pamphlet “Common Sense” remains one of the most important documents written at the time of the American Revolution. Written by former corset-maker Thomas Paine, “Common Sense” offers an open and concerted argument against British rule and advocates for a new nation free to govern itself. According to the University of Maine-Farmington, Paine offers rational arguments as well as philosophical, economic and political advantages to separation from Great Britain.

Paine wrote “Common Sense” in 1776, when a great many people still believed a negotiated settlement with Britain was possible. As stated by USHistory.org, “despite all the recent hardships, the majority of colonists since birth were reared to believe that England was to be loved and its monarch revered.” Paine, on the other hand, presented a different picture. He highlighted the abuses perpetrated by the crown, and he described the British as hypocrites who used or dismissed constitutional law when it suited them. Instead, Paine argued that Americans had the right and the necessity to form their own government and determine their own future.

According to USHistory.org, the pamphlet was an “instant best-seller.” While it contained points that could broadly be considered philosophical or theoretical, Paine wrote in simple language. He made his arguments accessible to all who could read, and this greatly enhanced the popularity of his writing and its dissemination. Additionally, Paine employed Biblical and religious metaphors that were recognizable to everyone and at one point called King George III the “Pharaoh of England.” Such propaganda helped to infuse the patriotic movement with a sense of righteousness and purpose that mere political rhetoric could not provide. In sum, USHistory.org asserts that “Common Sense” was an invaluable vehicle for revolutionary ideology during the American Revolution and for making that message effectively available to the widest number of people possible.