Friday, March 25, 2011

January 9, 1776: Common Sense

The January 9, 1776 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post featured the following advertisement:

Philadelphia, January 9, 1776
THIS day was published, and is now selling by Robert Bell, in Third-street (price two shillings) COMMON SENSE addressed to the INHABITANTS OF AMERICA, on the following interesting SUBJECTS.
I. Of the origin and design of government in general, with concise Remarks on the English Constitution.
II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession.
III. Thoughts on the present state of American affairs.
IV. Of the present ability of America, with some miscellaneous reflections.
Man knows no master save creating Heaven,
Or those whom choice and common good ordain.

The author of Common Sense (long known simply by the title of this famous work) was Thomas Paine. Paine published Common Sense as a pamphlet--with no binding and no cover--to keep it affordable for as many people as possible. As Welsh philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, "Paine's importance in history consists in the fact that he made the preaching of democracy democratic." This was true in the affordability of his works, as well as their style. Paine dedicated his profits from Common Sense and the Crisis series of essays to the Continental war effort.

Paine asked Robert Bell to publish the first edition of Common Sense, with Paine and Bell splitting any profits. Paine wanted to donate his share of profits to the Continental Army, but Bell denied making any profit. Bell continued to publish Common Sense without the author's approval, Paine released an expanded edition through another publisher, and still more book and newspaper publishers released the work around the world.

His sacrifices for the revolutionary effort left Paine obliged to petition Congress and state legislatures for financial support. Congress awarded Paine $3,000 while the State of New York awarded him an estate confiscated from a Tory in New Rochelle.

Please consult Caig Nelson, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (New York: Viking, 2006), Page 81; Harvey J. Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), pages 66-67; and Eric Foner, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 99, 192; Bill Henderson, "The Small Press Today and Yesterday," in Philip G. Altbach and Edith S. Hoshino, eds., International Book Publishing: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Pub., 1995), pages 323-324.

THOMSON: James Thomson (1700-1748) wrote the poem "Liberty" (1734-1736) in five parts. At the start of Common Sense Paine quotes from part four of "Liberty," which Thomson published in 1736. John Fuller, "James Thomson 1700-48," in George Watson, ed., The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature: Vol. 2: 1660-1800 (New York: Cambirdge University Press, 1971), 528.
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