Common Sense

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First page of Common Sense

Common Sense was a pamphlet written and published (anonymously) by Thomas Paine in January 1776. It denounced British rule over the thirteen colonies. The pamphlet was written in a language that spoke to the common man, and was immensely popular. It was enormously influential in fostering the desire to be independent from the British monarchy.

Common Sense achieved a feat accomplished by no other work except the Bible: sales of Common Sense totaled half of the number of people who could read in the American colonies. This work, above all others, created an American identity among colonists. Previous to Common Sense the most widely read work among the colonists was Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, by Founding Father John Dickinson.[1]

Distinction between Society and Government

Society is not government, and government is not society. The leaders of the founding generation understood this fact very well. But some writers, both then and now, seek to confuse and mix the two. Paine wrote:

SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.[2]

External links


  1. The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition
  2. Common Sense, page 15.