Common Sense summary

At the beginning of 1776, when the king had proclaimed the colonists to be rebels, rejected their petitions with disdain, and was preparing to send a crushing force hither, men in every station in life began to speak out boldly in favor of independence. Washington did not hesitate; and General Greene wrote to a delegate in Congress from his colony: "The king breathes revenge, and threatens us with destruction; America must raise an empire of permanent duration, supported upon the grand pillars of truth, freedom, and religion." And later Washington declared that when he took command of the army he "abhorred the idea of independence;" but "I am now fully convinced," he wrote, "that nothing else will save us." The flame of desire for absolute independence glowed in almost every bosom. It was fanned by the brave words of Thomas Paine, the son of an English Friend who had lately come to America as a literary adventurer and missionary of freedom. He was full of aspirations for liberty, and the opportunity to do good for mankind. At the beginning of 1776, he put forth a powerful plea for independence, suggested by Dr. Rush of Philadelphia. In terse, sharp, incisive and vigorous sentences, glowing with zeal and sincerity, he embodied the sentiments of reflecting men and women throughout the colonies in telling words of common sense, like these:

"The nearer any government approaches to a republic, the less business there is for a king; in England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places. Volumes have been written on the struggle between England and America. Arms must decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the king, and the continent hath accepted the challenge. The sun never shone on a cause of greater worth. 'Tis not the affair of a city, a county, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent--of at least one-eighth part of the habitable globe. 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in it even to the end of time. It matters little now what the king of England either says or does. He hath wickedly broken through every moral and human obligation, trampled nature and conscience beneath his feet, and by a steady and constitutional spirit of insolence and cruelty, procured for himself a universal hatred. Independence is now the only bond that will keep us together. We shall then see one object, and our ears will be legally shut against the schemes of an intriguing, as well as cruel, enemy. We shall then, too, be on a proper footing to treat with Great Britain; for there is reason to conclude that the pride of that court will be less hurt by treating with the American States for terms of peace, than with those whom she denominates 'rebellious subjects' for terms of accommodation. It is our delaying it that encourages her to hope for conquest, and our backwardness tends only to prolong the war. Every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual; our prayers have been rejected with disdain; reconciliation is now a fallacious dream. Bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature; can you hereafter love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land? Ye that tell us of harmony, can ye restore to us the time that is past? The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, `Tis time to part.' The last chord is now broken; the people of England are presenting addresses against us. A government of our own is our natural right. Ye that love mankind, that dare oppose not only tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression; Freedom hath been hunted round the globe; Asia and Africa hath long expelled her; Europe regards her like a stranger; and England hath given her warning to depart: O! receive the fugitive, and prepare an asylum for mankind."

So pleaded this earnest man, and he called his appeal by the significant name of Common Sense. The effect of the pamphlet was marvellous. It carried dismay into the camp of the enemy, and illustrated the truth of the assertion, that "the Pen is mightier than the Sword." Its trumpet tones wakened the continent, and made every patriot's heart thrill with joy. It was read with avidity everywhere; and the public appetite for its solid food was not appeased until a hundred thousand copies had fallen from the press. Satisfied of its worth and salutary influence, the Legislature of Pennsylvania voted the author two thousand five hundred dollars. Washington wrote to Joseph Reed from Cambridge: "A few more such flaming arguments as were exhibited at Falmouth and Norfolk, added to the sound doctrine and unanswering reasoning contained in the pamphlet Common Sense, will not leave members at a loss to decide upon the propriety of a separation." It probably did more to fix the idea of independence firmly in the public mind than any other instrumentality.

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