Common Sense is the book that created the modern United States. Thomas Paine's incendiary call for Americans to revolt against British rule converted millions to the cause of independence and set out a vision of a just society liberated from the yoke of the crown. Published anonymously in 1776, six months before the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense was a radical and impassioned call for America to free itself and set up an independent republican government. Savagely attacking hereditary kingship and aristocratic institutions, Paine urged a new beginning for his adopted country in which personal freedom and social equality would be upheld and economic and cultural progress encouraged. His pamphlet was the first to speak directly to a mass audience-it went through fifty-six editions within a year of publication-and its assertive and often caustic style embodied the democratic spirit he advocated.
Thomas Paine was born Thomas Pain in Thetford, England, on January 29, 1737, the son of a poor corset-maker. Paine came to America in 1774, was appointed editor of Pennsylvania Magazine and became active in the call for American independence from England. His revolutionary pamphlet, Common Sense, was published in 1776, sparking some of the first public calls for America to rid itself of British rule. He spent the next fifteen years of his life in England and France and wrote several more political pamphlets, including The American Crisis (1776-1783), Rights of Man (1790), The Age of Reason (1794), and Agrarian Justice (1796). Richard Beeman is John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of seven previous books, among them The Penguin Guide to the United States Constitution and Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution and editor of the six-volume Penguin Civic Classics series.