January 10, 2022

Long before Facebook and Twitter, long before other types of modern media like TV and radio, there were two ways Americans heard about news, and current thoughts and ideas.

Newspapers.  And pamphlets.

That’s right.  In colonial times, writers expressed new ideas and stirred emotions against current government positions by writing pamphlets which were circulated around the communities of the American colonies in taverns and inns.  Often published anonymously under a pen name such as “The Farmer” or some name from ancient Greece or Rome, they exerted great influence and they planted the seeds of protest and new thought that laid the groundwork for much revolutionary activism in the colonies.

(One of the great pamphleteers of North Carolina was James Iredell, from Edenton, who went on to become one of our early U.S. Supreme Court Justices.)

Today is the anniversary of one of the most famous of those pamphlets, COMMON SENSE, published by writer and philosopher Thomas Paine on January 10, 1776.  It was published in Philadelphia and was signed “by an Englishman.”

Produced months after the American Revolution had started, the 100,000 copies of the pamphlet spread to the American colonies’ two million inhabitants within 3 months.  All told, around 500,000 copies of the pamphlet were produced and disseminated among the thirteen colonies over the period of the Revolution.

Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense to arouse the American colonists by attacking the English monarchy – which at that time was embodied by King George III.  Paine sought to unify the colonies and feed them enough information tapping into their distaste for tyranny that it would bring them to a choice they needed ultimately must make – take up arms and support the Revolution or side with the English king.

Common Sense was the most popular pamphlet of the Revolution and has been credited with stirring the hearts of many who would hear it read in taverns and be driven to join the patriot ranks.  In a world at that time that was conscious of class and the aristocracy was held in high regard, the concept of “common sense” reached out to the broad masses of folks who read it and were challenged to be part of a cause that anyone could join.

Common Sense was a catalyst for change in the hearts and minds of Americans.  Paine helped turned upside down the absolute power of a sovereign monarch – something we have no concept of in today’s world – as he listed grievances against the tyranny of an English Crown that enacted cumbersome laws and new taxes on its American subjects without allowing them to have any representation.

We celebrate Tom Paine’s courage, wisdom and talents on this anniversary of the publication of Common Sense and are thankful for the freedom of the press it helped produce in our Constitution that is a bedrock of our American freedom.