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On this date in history… January 10, 1776…

Thomas Paine published his treatise on independence from British rule, Common Sense.

Thomas Paine was an English author, radical, intellectual, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.  In varying contexts, he was often referred to as “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination”.

Thomas Paine by Auguste Millière

Common Sense presented the American colonists with an argument for freedom from British rule at a time when the question of independence was still undecided.

Tentatively titled ‘Plain Truth‘, Thomas Paine began writing Common Sense in late 1775.  In collaboration with Benjamin Rush, who suggested the title Common Sense, Paine developed his ideas into a forty-eight page pamphlet.   Because of its treasonous content, the booklet was published anonymously.

Common Sense Pamphlet

First published on January 10, 1776, Common Sense sold more than 500,000 copies, and went through twenty-five editions in the first year alone.  Paine donated his royalties from Common Sense to George Washington’s Continental Army.

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As well as participating in the American Revolution, Pain was also deeply involved in the French Revolution.  Paine’s beliefs and outspokenness would continue to bring him notoriety… his attacks on the British writer Edmund Burke led to a trial and conviction in absentia for the crime of seditious libel.  Allying himself with the Girondists in France, against the Montagnards and Robespierre (‘author’ of the ‘reign of terror’), Paine found himself arrested and imprisoned.

Paine’s book The Age of Reason, which advocated deism, promoted reason and free thinking and argued against institutionalized religion and Christian doctrines, gained him further notoriety.

Paine returned to America, where he died on June 8, 1809.  Only six people attended his funeral as he had been ostracized due to his ridicule of Christianity.

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