On January 9, 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, a
pamphlet that set the American colonies afire with a longing for
Paine was born in England to a poor family and received little
schooling. For several years he drifted from job to job – corset maker,
seaman, schoolteacher, customs collector, tobacco seller –
without success. His prospects were few when he met Benjamin Franklin,
then living in London, who suggested he go to America. Sailing across
the Atlantic, Paine caught a fever and was carried ashore half dead in
Philadelphia. Once recovered, letters of recommendation from Franklin
helped him get a job as a magazine writer.
It has been said that Paine “had more brains than books, more sense
than education, more courage than politeness, more strength than
polish.” But he could work magic with pen and paper. In Common Sense he made
bold arguments that Americans should demand their freedom. “The
birthday of a new world is at hand,” he insisted. He attacked the idea
that people must live under a king, and urged a break from Britain.
“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but
the tyrant, stand forth!” he wrote. “Every spot of the old world is
overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe.
Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a
stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! [America]
receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”
Paine’s words sounded like a trumpet blast through the colonies.
Thousands snatched up the pamphlet and decided that he was right. As
Thomas Edison, one of America’s great geniuses, wrote 150 years later,
“We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. . . . In Common Sense Paine
flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became