How Thomas Paine Popularized American Independence

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Oil Painting of Thomas Paine by Auguste Milliere (1880)

On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine anonymously published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense.  Identifying himself as “an Englishman,” the recent immigrant to Philadelphia aimed to persuade the common American colonist to believe in the cause of American independence on the account of British tyranny.  While the idea of independence was espoused by several members of the Continental Congress and many of the colonial elite, it was Paine who helped spread the idea of independence and colonial unity throughout the American colonies.  The historian Robert Ingersoll wrote, “It is but the meager truth to say that Thomas Paine did more for the cause of separation, to sow the seeds of independence, than any other man of his time.”[1]

Thomas Paine was born on January 29, 1737 in the small town of Thetford, County Norfolk,England.  The son of a Quaker corset maker, Paine attended grammar school but received his “exceedingly good moral education” from his father, inheriting the belief in “the essential goodness of mankind, as well as a lifelong commitment to public service.”[2] Since Quakers rejected Anglicanism, they were outsiders who were not afforded many of the rights of other citizens.  Raised in a Quaker household, Thomas Paine witnessed equalities in the British system that may have shaped his belief in it being a tyrannical government.

As an adult working in London, Paine would meet Benjamin Franklin through his interest in Whig politics.  In January 1775, Thomas Paine would arrive in the United States without “money, reputation, or prospects” and with nothing more than letters of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin.[3] Despite only modest writing experience, Paine would shortly become the primary contributor to Pennsylvania Magazine, a magazine which would grow in readership with Paine’s pen. Paine would often write about radical ideas of the time period – the idea of women’s rights or the abolition of slavery.  However, “he saved his sharpest quills for the subject increasingly close to his heart – the fundamental corruption, venality, and tyranny of the English system of government.”[4]
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