Common Sense

by Thomas Paine




"Among the most influential authors and reformers of his age, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was born in England but went on to play an important role in both the American and French Revolutions. In 1774, he emigrated to America where, for a time, he helped edit the Pennsylvania Magazine. On January 10, 1776, he published his pamphlet Common Sense, a persuasive argument for the colonies' political and economic separation from Britain. Common Sense cites the evils of monarchy, accuses the British government of inflicting economic and social injustices upon the colonies, and points to the absurdity of an island attempting to rule a continent. Credited by George Washington as having changed the minds of many of his countrymen, the document sold over 500,000 copies within a few months. Today, Common Sense remains a landmark document in the struggle for freedom, distinguished not only by Paine's ideas but also by its clear and passionate presentation. Designed to ignite public opinion against autocratic rule, the pamphlet offered a careful balance between imagination and judgment, and appropriate language and expression to fit the subject. It immediately found a receptive audience, heartened Washington's despondent army and foreshadowed much of the phrasing and substance of the Declaration of Independence"--Back cover.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nittnut
Required reading - well worth the time - and quite entertaining.

Favorite quote:

"One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion."

Another quote, which I find very applicable to current politics:

"Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if continued would grow into oppressions. Expedience and right are different things."

It's short, entertaining and very, very good. Read it. Borrow my copy.
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LibraryThing member MartinBodek
Thomas Paine is my favorite writer's (the late Christopher Hitchens) favorite writer, and therefore my responsibility to experience. Upon reading, I quickly understood the admiration. Paine, like Hitchens, is an enviously eloquent silver-tongued wordplayer who holds immoral sycophants to account for their cowardice. For shame that this was not part of my curriculum. How could a work like this be buried in general, purportedly as a result of future quasi-antitheistic work? This writing should be judged upon its own merits. History should have been kinder, as it is a masterpiece of reasoning and rationalism and a supreme galvanizer of men.… (more)
LibraryThing member
Well, this was written in 1776 and during a time completely different than our modern era. A review from my perspective wouldn't really be fair...but here it goes.

I found the beginning more interesting than the end. The idea of hereditary succession was interesting. I enjoyed reading Paine thrashing the British monarchy, that took a lot of courage to not sugar coat. He did a great job, though I do think it might could have been a little shorter. Some of the ideas I thought were a bit long-winded.

I think a fascinating thing is while reading and thinking the ideas are then begin realizing everything Paine is pointing to is just "common sense." I guess readers just needed it pulled from their thoughts and placed in a more rational line of thinking.

Great man. Sad life.
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LibraryThing member CarlineMaserati
It seems wrong to rate a masterpiece that changed the course of American History. It's like rating the Constitution or the works of Plato. I give it five stars because it is READABLE. The words are still easy to understand and moving. The first paragraph of this historic pamphlet is guaranteed to make your blood hot.
LibraryThing member beserene
If you ever get the urge to read this book, try reading some passages aloud. It makes all the difference -- and causes you to take on this semi-British accent which can involve hours of amusement. Okay, seriously though, this was the Penguin edition from that lovely important thinkers series that they have, and so the conveniently pocket-sized book is really beautifully put together (it also contains "Agrarian Justice" by the way, which outlines a very early social security-like system) and of course Paine's thoughts, foundational as they are to American democracy, are both inspiring and important. The lack of a solid introduction or appendices, though, which a larger, more scholarly edition would have, means that you already have to be familiar with the full context of Paine's comments to appreciate them completely. This volume is designed more for those who want to admire Paine's words than for those who seek to understand them. Nice as an accessory for those occasions when you just want to look smart, but I wouldn't pay Penguin's prices for this slim version.… (more)
LibraryThing member ORFisHome
Viewed through Colonial eyes, it would have indeed been revolutionary. I enjoyed the Bibilical history parallels.
LibraryThing member sgerbic
Reviewed Sept. 2006

A nice common sense argument against British rule over America. Published at just the right time - King George III’s speech was released at the same time. Paine mentions this in his appendix but I wish the King’s speech was included in this volume. Paine also includes an essay to Quakers apparently some Quakers had published a testimony supporting (?) the King. Paine tells them that as Quakers they should not involve themselves “ye ought not to be meddlers on the other, but to wait the issue in silence.” (p.57) He also tells them, “mingling religion with politics may be every inhabitant of American.” What a hyprocrit Payne is because throughout his main essay he appeals to religion for reasons to overthrow the King. Payne makes excellent points against hereditary passing the throne, “in the next succession...rogue or a fool.” (p. 13) If all men are born equal, how can someone’s children rule forever? The first King probably was a bully or tyrant what gives him superiority? Payne feels that an island 3000 mies away should not govern a large continent. Also it takes 3-4 months to get direction from the Mother country. England has enemies, America has none, why should we not be able to side with whom we want, or stay our of events and wars not of our choosing?

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LibraryThing member elfortunawe
Thomas Paine has few rivals in the ability to impress an idea on the mind of a reader. At times Common Sense can seem a bit ambitious in the level of certainty it aspires to, but this is propaganda. What seemed most striking to me was the combination of this propaganda with an impressive intelligence. The Founding Fathers were true statesmen: well-read and capable with both reason and rhetoric (qualities rarely found in public figures these days). Paine states early on that he intends to write in clear and uncluttered prose, but still maintains a strong sense of both urgency and dignity with the spare resources he allows himself. Reading this has whet my appetite for more writing from this period.… (more)
LibraryThing member AshRyan
"Men read by way of revenge."

A forerunner of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Common Sense should properly be regarded (at least in a historical, though not a legal, sense) as one of the founding documents of this nation.

Paine makes the case for independence in strong moral terms, clearly based on the Enlightenment political theories of John Locke. The list he gives of the Crown's abuses should already be familiar to the reader from the Declaration (Jefferson did not give sufficient credit to Paine for his obvious influence on that document), though Paine's recounting is somewhat more detailed, as he could treat the topic at greater length in his pamphlet.

Paine also offers suggestions in some detail about a Constitutional Congress and the drafting of such a document, and based on the course of subsequent events it seems that the other Founders took Paine's suggestions to heart.

And of course, few other books in history (and particularly non-fiction works, since art can have a power that plain argument does not) have so effectively rallied public opinion.

Read this book. You will be surprised, even if your expectations were already high, and you will certainly be inspired.
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LibraryThing member mrgreg
These essays could be written yesterday. They are so timely, even today.
LibraryThing member CarlaR
I have read this a few times now. If anyone has any interest at all in American history then this book is a must read.
LibraryThing member xenchu
I don't understand why this book is not required reading in school, indeed why it not a required study. It is one of the basis of the American political structure. What Paine wrote is one of the foundations of Independence.

I will not discuss the contents of the book (actually a pamphlet and quite short). I urge everyone to read it for themselves.… (more)
LibraryThing member Unionhawk
Nice short read. Interesting to see what someone like Thomas Paine was actually thinking at the time of the American Revolution. I would recommend reading it, even though I did not exactly love reading it. It was good, but not awesome.
LibraryThing member beau.p.laurence
A classic, and a pivotal work, in U.S. history.
LibraryThing member kaulsu
I did not read it closely enough to fairly state, but it seems to me that some of Paine's argument was a bit spurious. However, since we clearly needed in those days to convince the population to support the revolution, Paine did a good job! Besides, when has political speechifying ever been absolutely, 100%, unbiased?
LibraryThing member JNagarya
The heated propaganda needed to stir the masses to revolution, but then discarded by the Founders/Framers after the "revolution" was won as contrary to the different reality and contrary to their aims: the establishment of gov't not to be overthrown.
LibraryThing member hermit
Published in 1776, Common Sense challenged the authority of the British government and the royal monarchy. The plain language that Paine used spoke to the common people of America and was the first work to openly ask for independence from Great Britain.
LibraryThing member Diwanna
As powerful today as it was 240 years ago. So short, should be required reading for all Americans. Society promotes our happiness by uniting our affections, government negatively by restraining our vices.
LibraryThing member jpv91
Common Sense is a very interesting piece of American History. Thomas Paine definitely knew what he was talking about. He tears apart monarchies from both his time period and previous eras. He gives a modern day state of the union address in the middle of the book. He even predicts a little bit of the future of America. He covers it all in this short pamphlet he wrote to express his strong desire to declare independence from Britain. One of the more interesting colonial writings.… (more)
LibraryThing member HistReader
A must read "pamphlet" of the day, which, is uncommonly apropos to today! In Common Sense, Mr. Paine deconstructs the monarchy of Great Britain and its destroys its concept of empire; where by, he cries for the independence of a continent from a tiny island crown.

In his essay, he lays out a framework which fairly closely resembles today's republican government of America.

I found some of his most famous and repeated line, yet found myself underlining much more.
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LibraryThing member hmskip
This little book is actually chockful of common sense as the title implies. It outlines the source and purpose of legitimate government in the early chapters and proceeds logically to its application to the American situation of that day. Although most of the discussion is specific to the 1775 conditions in America, the general truths, of which there are many examples, are of an almost eternal nature. The book is good to read also because it demonstrates a depth of reasoning that was highly prized in that earlier age, but that is so lacking in the present day. Today, the sound-bite dominates the political and philosophical scene. Paine could not have captured the public imagination as much as he did by means of a series of tweets, but he did so by a carefully thought out system based on logic and reason.… (more)
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
An interesting glimpse of this fascinating period - the birth of a nation. I've not read much about the American Revolution, but what soon becomes clear from this text is that it really was a war of words. Paine takes care to discredit other publications on the topic of the revolt - particularly the 'mere four pages' published by an unnamed Quaker.

Hindsight makes it all the more interesting - the idea that not having a monarch would make it much less likely that a civil war would happen in America. Hm...
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LibraryThing member gopfolk
Thomas Paine did a great job explaining to the common man why it was necessary to break away from Britain. While many of were made to read this when we were young it is always good to go back to these classics and re-read them with a more mature mind set.

This weekend we celebrate our 235 year as a free country and these documents are important to read and re-read throughout our lives to ensure that we remember why we are the country we are.

Happy Independence Day!
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LibraryThing member cjyurkanin
It is one of the most effective pieces of propaganda in the history of the world, and it's quite likely that without it the United States would not have garnered enough popular support to effect independence from England. Because it was so successful despite containing bucketloads of false logic, ridiculous science, and infantile grasps of history, philosophy, and religion, does that make it even more wondrous in its worth? Does that deserve 1 star or 5 stars? I don't know so I can't even give this a rating; it is a true marvel of history. I've only read the quotes and highlights of this throughout my life so reading it in its entirety has only deepened my insight into the provocative ass that was the man that despised George Washington and Edmund Burke. It's not just me that is repulsed by him, only six people attended the funeral of this hero. His obituary said it well: ""He had lived long, did some good and much harm."… (more)
LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
A very appropriate book to be reviewing on the Fourth of July! This is the argument that started the American Revolution - the argument that a break from British ties is the only way to make America great. His arguments are both very persuasive (as a 21st century reader, I found myself agreeing with him on all points) and is very enlightening on the politics of the time.

I found it difficult to read at some points - the shift in language required me to read the same passages multiple times to understand it. And sometimes, a sentence only made sense in the context of the larger page. But- the arguments are very clear.

I think all politicians should read this book - as a country, I think America have gone away from the intent of elected officials. Thomas Paine makes it very clear the best government is when each person gets to vote on an issue but when populations are too large second best is vote for a representative.

This is a book of it's time... There are non-politically correct references to "Savages" of Africa and Native Indians. It is very clear that Thomas Paine was writing to an audience who thought Christianity was the most "Civilized" religion. I say this because the introduction indicates that Thomas Paine was Deist and was against slavery. So, was he writing to his audience? or did he actually believe what he wrote. It is an interesting question.
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The Project Gutenberg e-book


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

64 p.


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