‘When my country … was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir’
Published anonymously in 1776, six months before the Declaration of Independence, Paine’s Common Sense was a radical and impassioned call for America to free itself from British rule 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 both embodied the democratic spirit he advocated, and converted thousands of citizens to the cause of American independence.
Isaac Kramnick’s introduction examines Paine’s life and work within the context of the political and social changes taking place in Europe and America in the late eighteenth century.