Viral. That's what he was. Thomas Paine was America's first viral writer whose pamphlet, Common Sense, enjoyed 500,000 printings in a nation of only 1.2 million souls. He was therockstar writer of the Revolution and his words ring as true now as they did in 1776.
Common Sense and her sister pamphlet, The American Crisis, were passed round in taverns. Read aloud for the benefit of the illiterate. They lit the flame of Freedom in the hearts and minds of the blacksmith, the farmer, the homemaker. “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain,” John Adams wrote.
Yet Paine himself was a complicated figure. For starters, he wasn't even American. He was English with a penchant for pissing people off wherever he went. Whistleblowers like Paine have a way of doing that.
In the course of his life, he would make America, England and France all too hot to hold him. When he passed away in 1809, only six people attended his funeral and his bones are still showing up in collectors' possession to this day.
But for the purposes of this article, we're just focusing on Paine's pamphlet, Common Sense. If words can establish a Constitutional Republic in the 1700s, then words can also save her in the 2000s. And I betcha the same words work for both circumstances. Even the titles of Paine's pamphlets are perfect. We're in dire need of Common Sense and we're damn sure in the midst of an American Crisis!
The problem is that in this frenetic day and age, few of us have ever actually read Common Sense nor The American Crisis beyond the famous, "These are the times" opening line of the latter. I certainly haven't. I have the attention span of...oh look! A squirrel!
Because I always appreciate when other people digest history for me, breaking it down into bite-sized pieces, here for your reading enjoyment are just the best parts of Common Sense (in blue font.)
Oh! And a hat tip to the printers who put their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line to typeset, print and stitched the Common Sense pamphlet, thereby put a target on their own backs. After working in an offset lithography print shop in my twenties, I know that printers are quiet, background men yet they wield great power! That's why Fidel Castro killed all the printers when he came to power in Cuba. He recognized their incredible power to print written words that would sway the nation against him.
And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, excerpts from Common Sense by Thomas Paine.
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