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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

You Say You Want a Revolution

“I offer nothing but the simple facts, plain arguments and common sense,” wrote Paine in his famous pamphlet published this month 230 years ago. While fighting between Great Britain and the American colonies broke out in 1775 at Lexington and Concord, there wasn’t a lot of support for complete independence until Paine published Common Sense on January 10, 1776.

His short treatise, which sold 150,000 copies in its first printing, became a blueprint for those who gathered to draft and adopt the Declaration of Independence seven months later. In it, he argued that a continent should not be ruled by an island; that being a part of Great Britain would drag the American colonies into irrelevant European wars; and that the distance between Great Britain and America created almost a year delay in communicating the need for changes in government policy.

An inventor, as well as a political philosopher, Paine might have remained a footnote in history books if Thomas Edison had not rediscovered him a century after his death and rescued him from oblivion.

Paine believed that government is needed because of the darker side of human nature. In Common Sense, he wrote: “Society is produced by our wants, and government by 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.”

What do you think?

For more on Paine and the birth of Common Sense, check out:

Rebel! A Biography of Tom Paine by Samuel Edwards.

Thomas Paine: Revolutionary Author by Karin Farley.

Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye.

Tom Paine: a Political Life by John Keane.

46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense and the Turning Point to American Independence by Scott Liell.

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