1776: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense

Portrait by Laurent Dabos, c. 1792 (Public Domain)


In early 1776, the anonymous pamphlet Common Sense takes America by storm. The author Thomas Paine makes a merciless case for separation from the British empire. According to Paine’s own claims, it sells as many as 500,000 within the first year. Some historians think the actual number is closer to 75,000. But regardless, the pamphlet has a tremendous effect on the popular opinion on the separation question.


The pamphlet also makes a case for religious freedom:


“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensible duty of every government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith… For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be a diversity of religious opinions among us …”
– Thomas Paine: Common Sense (1776)