The purpose of Thomas Paine's Common Sense was to encourage the colonists to seek independence from Great Britain. This pamphlet is often called the writing that sparked a revolution. Many scholars feel it is one of the most incendiary works of its time.
Originally published anonymously, its signature merely said, "Written by an Englishman." It advocated strongly against British rule, and America's colonists found it quite shocking that an Englishman should encourage them to revolt. Paine, an expatriate from England who settled in the Philadelphia area, was later revealed as its author.
A Progressive Thinker
Although Paine had been trained as a corset maker, he had also been politically active in England and was known as a persuasive debater. After Paine reached the colonies, Benjamin Franklin encouraged him to begin a career in journalism. Paine had strong opinions and wasn't afraid to share them. He published a piece in Pennsylvania Magazine that spoke out against slavery, which was an unpopular view during Paine's time.
Common Sense came out at a time when many colonists were considering breaking with English rule. The work resonated with those that craved independence. Distributed in January of 1776, the pamphlet was an instant success. It had the largest sale and circulation of any work at that time. In fact, the pamphlet was so popular in Philadelphia that several editions were printed. Versions were republished in all parts of the United States.
Its success was due in part to Paine's ability to write in a style that was easy for the common man to understand. Other published works of the time relied heavy on Latin references and heavy philosophical language. Common Sense was written more like a sermon, and relied on biblical references to make its point.
During the Revolutionary war, Paine continued to write, he penned a series called The American Crisis. His articles always spoke of the superiority of democracy over monarchy. His works were meant to inspire and encourage the patriots.
While he served in Washington's army, he was not involved in government after the war ended. He did go on to write several other works, including The Rights of Man, which became popular in the days leading up to the French Revolution.