The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 11. Thomas Paine
Of the writings which contributed immediately to the final break, the foremost place must be given to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776). Paine, after an unimportant and not wholly respectable career in England, came to America in 1774, in his thirty-eighth year, armed with introductions from Franklin, and settled at Philadelphia. His pamphlet Common Sense, published in January, 1776, seized the psychological moment. Brushing aside all legal and historical argument as no longer to the point, and resorting to the wildest exaggeration and mis-representation for the purpose of discrediting England and its people, Paine laid his finger on the heart of the situation. The colonies had gone too far to turn back. They were already alienated. The British connection was no longer valuable to them, and reconciliation would be an evil rather than a good. Common sense dictated that they should be free. Enthusiastic acclaim from leaders and public, and a sale of over 100,000 copies within three months, attested the success and power of Paine’s first essay in political pamphleteering.