Thomas Paine published Common Sense on January 10, 1776, and it is believed to have greatly influenced support for the Patriot cause. Using clear, plain language, Paine rallied the colonists to support the break from Britain. He declared, “I am not induced by motives of pride, party, or resentment to espouse the doctrine of separation and independence; I am clearly, positively, and conscientiously persuaded that it is the true interest of this continent to be so.”

In arguing for American independence, Paine denounced the monarchy and argued that people are born into a state of equality. An advocate of natural rights theory, Paine claimed that there are no natural rulers among men. He then proposed a system of representative government for the colonies. Finally, Paine gave reasons for why the time was right to break from England. The pamphlet was published and widely read—read, in fact, by as great a proportion of the population as watches the Superbowl today. Congress approved the Declaration of Independence months later. Paine donated all his earnings from the sale of the pamphlet to the revolutionary cause.

Paine did not stop there. He began a series of sixteen essays entitled The American Crisis in 1776 while he was serving in the Continental Army. General George Washington had the Crisis essays read to the troops at Valley Forge. Famously beginning, “THESE are the times that try men’s souls…” these essays bolstered the morale of American troops in their fight with the British.

The essays also strengthened Americans’ commitment to self-government and the break from England. He argued that it was the responsibility of all to act with courage against the British, and that integrity demanded that all Americans lend their support. He wrote, “I call upon not a few, but all: not on this state or that state, but every state: up and help us.”

Thomas Paine’s writings were an influential part of the Founding period.  What other primary source documents do you use with students when teaching about the Founding?

Learn more about civic values and important heroes in Being an American: Exploring the Ideals that Unite Us.

Posted in A More Perfect Blog, sidebar, The Constitution Throughout History

Leave a Reply