One of the most well-known and influential men of the United States was political philosopher and writer Thomas Paine. His writings inspired passion but also brought about a fair amount of criticism. Paine communicated ideas of the Revolution to common farmers just as easily as he did to intellectuals.
Paine’s pamphlet entitled Common Sense was published before the Revolutionary War, preceding the Declaration of Independence by seven months. In it, Paine argued for American independence from England and received an overwhelmingly positive response from his readers. In a world “overrun with oppression,” Paine wrote, America would be an “asylum for mankind.” Common Sense supported the principles of individual liberty, federalism, and limited and representative government.
The pamphlet sold approximately 150,000 copies in 1776, a tribute to both the persuasiveness of Paine’s argument and the clarity and power of his literary style became one of the most notable publications in American history. The title Common Sense was a reflection of Paine’s assertion that the nature of politics was less convoluted than it might appear and only required a little common sense.
Below is a copy of the Common Sense pamphlet. Next to that is a letter we have in our archives written by Thomas Paine to Samuel Adams, responding to a letter he received from Adams about a piece he wrote later in his life called The Age of Reason. Before publishing the piece, he sent it to Benjamin Franklin for feedback and review. What Paine received in reponse from Franklin was to “burn this piece before it is seen by any other person; whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a good deal of regret and repentance.” To read the letter Franklin wrote to Paine, see it transcribed on Wallbuilders.com.
Paine published The Age of Reason anyway. And, as Franklin predicted, it led to him to being ostracized from many of his friends and Founding Fathers.
Although Paine’s ideas in The Age of Reason neither resonated with people the way those in Common Sense did, nor gained the popularity he hoped they might, he enjoyed the right to share them because of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech. This right not only allowed Paine to share his ideas but it continues to protect us today against repressive government action and fosters the cherished open society that encourages debate without divisiveness, which is foundational to our freedom and prosperity.
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