Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Common Sense, a sixty-seven-page pamphlet advocating complete separation of Great Britain’s North American colonies from the parent country, is one of the most influential pieces of political writing ever published. It is also an important landmark in the history of literary development, representing the first major piece of political writing, in any language, to effectively reach the working classes. The pamphlet appeared in Philadelphia on January 10, 1776, at a critical juncture in the genesis of the American Revolution. A state of armed rebellion had existed in Massachusetts since April, 1775. The Continental Congress, first convened in 1774 and reconvened in 1775, was meeting in Philadelphia. Many of its members, selected by colonial assemblies, were cautious in their approach to independence and believed a compromise was possible. Thomas Paine wrote on behalf of those who felt such caution did not reflect the will or best interests of most North Americans. Common Sense aimed to bring pressure to bear on indecisive politicians by galvanizing popular opinion in favor of complete separation backed by force of arms.
The pamphlet appeared at a particularly opportune moment. Its publication coincided with the arrival of George III’s address to Parliament declaring the colonies to be in a state of rebellion and pledging to use military force to prevent separation. The resentment against the British monarchy that this communication...
(The entire section is 1416 words.)
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