Thomas Paine’s COMMON SENSE:

Historical Context:

  • Loyalty to the Empire deeply ingrained
  • Colonial unity is poor
  • Fear: Britain is very powerful, and open rebellion was dangerous
  • Inconsistency of American actions

(simultaneous acts of reconciliation and violence)

  • Harsh British reaction to American rebellion

Rebellion or reconciliation? Issue still unresolved….

Thomas Paine’s COMMON SENSE:

Key Facts

Who: Thomas Paine

What: A 50 Page pamphlet, written in plain, everyday language, which argued for independence from Britain and the creation of a new government, a democratic republic.

When: Published January 10, 1776

Where: Paine wrote and published Common Sense in New York. It was a best seller (150,000 copies) and widely read throughout the 13 colonies in homes, churches, taverns, streets and town halls.

Why is it important? Common Sense made the ideals of independence accessible to the masses.

It inspired common men and women to believe in the revolution (as opposed to a minority of elite radical leaders). It convinced many people who were undecided about independence to support the cause.

The words of Common Sense captured the essence of the Revolutionary spirit, created popular support for separation from Britain, and helped shape American ideas about democracy and government.

Thomas Paine’s COMMON SENSE:

Key Arguments & Ideas

  • WE SHOULD DECLARE INDEPENDENCE FROM BRITAIN. American hesitation to separate from Britain is contrary to “common sense”
  • WE SHOULD FORM A DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT. Create a democratic republic where power flows from the people.


Key Facts

Who: Delegates from each of the 13 colonies, the most wealthy, powerful and influential men from each of the American Colonies. Factions within the Congress include Loyalists (a.k.a Tories), radicals (a.k.a Patriots) and moderates.

What: A temporary decision-making body that debated, deliberated and made decisions on important issues related to the conflict with Britain

When: May 1775-July 1776 (Becomes Congress after Independence is Declared)

Where: Philadelphia

Why: Coordinate war, attempt at reconciliation with Britain and attempt to defend the rights of the American Colonies. Ultimately decides to declare independence.

How the Second Continental Congress differs from the First:

All 13 Colonies are represented at the Second Continental Congress

America is at war with Britain

Key Decisions:

1. Create a Continental Army and appoint George Washington as commander of it (May 1775)

2. Send Olive Brach Petition to England

3. Declare Independence

Why George Washington was chosen as Leader of the Continental Army:

1. Political (Choosing a Virginian brings the South into the war)

2. Military Experience in the French and Indian War

3. Reputation/Character –Washington was know as a man of integrity and as the kind of leader soldiers could follow

The Olive Branch Petition

(Proposed by John Dickinson)

PURPOSE: declares Loyalty to the Crown, but asks that the Americans be treated fairly in terms of laws, taxes and trade.

REACTION: King George III ignores it.

1.declares colonies in state of rebellion

2. Hires Hessians (German mercenaries)

3. Sends more troops to America