Monday, April 13, 2009
On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine published a 46-page pamphlet entitled 'Common Sense' that changed the course of America's destiny. Paine hit the bull's eye with this revolutionary pamphlet that put forth a powerful, persuasive argument for the cause of freedom. At the time, the prevailing sentiment in the country was one of reconciliation with England. It was not as though talk of independence from England was unheard of; the problem was that this view was whispered not proclaimed.
Although the colonists were divided on the issue, the majority of delegates elected to represent them in the Continental Congress favored continuing the present arrangement with England. Two documents drafted by the Continental Congress on the floor of the Philadelphia State House reinforced this conciliatory attitude. In 1775, the Continental Congress formalized their grievances against the British Parliament and the Colonial Ministers, but not against King George III by means of the Conciliatory Declaration and the Olive Branch Petition. As luck would have it, 'Common Sense' arrived on bookseller's shelves along with the news that King George had arrogantly dismissed the Olive Branch Petition.
Paine's 'Common Sense' didn't need King George's help to become one of the world's all-time, best-selling pieces of writing. The pamphlet 'Common Sense' united Americans in the cause for independence by presenting a passionate, pro-independence argument that captured the imagination of a fragmented colony. He did this by writing in a style that was appreciated on the street level. He appealed to the people not to the intellectuals of the day. It has been said that Paine's writing was energized by a "suppressed rage". Counsel from Paine's more timid peers advised him to tone down his message and his delivery and by all means avoid using the word 'independence'. Paine did the exact opposite. He was not afraid to openly criticize the status quo and did so in an audacious fashion. Thomas Paine achieved what no other pro-independence proponent had been able to achieve; he convinced readers to take the next step.
Paine dispelled the myth that King George III was a benevolent father figure to his subjects. He built a case against the King, as well as the English Constitution that favored the interests of the aristocrats over the will of the commoners. Paine referred to the King as the "royal brute" and the "crowned ruffian" as he highlighted the flaws of the English Constitution. He convinced readers to oppose the tyranny of England, as well as the King. 'Common Sense' advocated Paine's belief that government was but a "necessary evil" that should be kept in check. He wrote at length on the subject of the preeminence of "natural rights" as endowed by our creator, not a government. Although government has a role in society to safeguard those rights, it should never be more powerful than the people.
At that time in history, the pamphlet was an effective tool of political advocacy. Paine understood the connection and was intent on delivering this pamphlet into the hands of the people and he succeeded. The pamphlet 'Common Sense' was priced within reach of the average colonist and it was widely distributed. In time, Paine released the copyright to 'Common Sense' to increase its availability and donated the profits of the pamphlet to buy winter uniforms for the Continental Army. Paine demonstrated a selfless commitment to a cause he believed in and in response, 'common sense' and 'independence' became the catchwords of the day. There wasn't a coffee house, a public house, a town square or a street corner in the New World where the tenets of 'Common Sense' weren't being debated. In fact, it became a best seller in Europe, as well as America. It was said that General George Washington would read portions of 'Common Sense' to his soldiers when morale needed boosting.
Thomas Paine wrote passionately against the tyranny of oppressive taxation, entrenched governmental policies and government officials who represented their own interests over the will of the people. One can't help but wonder what Paine might have to say about the present state of affairs in America.