King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences

Thomas Paine’s Common sense

Title page of  Paine’s Common senseTitle page of  Paine’s Common senseCommon sense was the most widely circulated pamphlet published during the American Revolutionary War. Within three months of its publication in 1776 it was claimed that 120,000 copies had been sold and second editions of the work were published within weeks. Benjamin Rush, an associate of Paine and one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, recalled in July 1776:

Its effects were sudden and extensive upon the American mind. It was read by public men, repeated in clubs, spouted in schools, and in one instance, delivered from the pulpit instead of a sermon by a clergyman in Connecticut.

Half-title page to both worksHalf-title page to both worksThe pamphlet made the case for independence for the American colonies, arguing in favour of a democratic republican government. Paine’s accessible prose style and impassioned arguments garnered enthusiasm for the cause of independence, and even those opposed to his arguments were inspired by his devotion to the cause.

A page from Paine’s work showing the use of hiatusesA page from Paine’s work showing the use of hiatusesThis edition of Common sense was reprinted in London in 1776 (from the original edition published in Philadelphia). The copy featured here is bound with James Chalmers' critical essay Plain truth, which was written in opposition to Paine’s arguments.

The advertisement in this edition states how Common sense has been ‘held up as proof positive that the Americans desire to become independent’ and that the publisher is ‘happy in this opportunity of publishing Plain truth; which we take to be as good a proof that the Americans do not desire to become independent’. 

This copy of Common sense has hiatuses (omitted words and phrases) throughout the text. The printer omitted controversial parts of the text to avoid accusations of seditious libel.

The hiatuses in this copy have been filled in with pen and ink, possibly by a person employed by the printer to do so. The image to the right shows an example of one of these pages.

In this exhibition

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