Today’s Writer’s Almanac notes that it is the anniversary of the day that Thomas Paine published Common Sense>.
It was on this day in 1776 that Thomas Paine published his political pamphlet Common Sense arguing for American independence from Great Britain. At the time of the publication, Paine had been living in America only two years. He’d grown up in England, where he’d struggled to earn a living as a tax collector. He saw firsthand the corruption of the British government, and had recently been fired from his job when he met Benjamin Franklin in London, and Franklin encouraged him to move to America.
He arrived just in time to see the colonies rebelling against problems in the British tax system, similar to what he had experienced back in England. He got a job as a journalist, and he immediately began to write about the political situation. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, he decided that the only solution to the conflict would be total independence for the American colonies. But when he expressed those ideas in his newspaper, he lost his job.
He spent the next several months traveling around Pennsylvania, going to various bars and taverns and talking to ordinary people about their opinions on American independence. He used these conversations to develop a writing style that an ordinary person could easily understand, and he used that style to write his pamphlet “Common Sense,” published on this day in 1776.
The pamphlet sold more than 500,000 copies, more copies than any other publication had ever sold at that time in America. It helped persuade many Americans to support revolution, and seven months later, the colonies officially declared independence.
Ah, the power of an idea, and the written word!