Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) was a radical writer who emigrated from England to America in 1774. Just two years later, early in 1776, Paine published Common Sense, a hugely influential pamphlet that convinced many American colonists that the time had finally come to break away from British rule. No other figure played a greater role in moving the American people from a spirit of rebellion to one of revolution.
In Common Sense, Paine made a persuasive and passionate argument to the colonists that the cause of independence was just and urgent. The first prominent pamphleteer to advocate a complete break with England, Paine successfully convinced a great many Americans who had previously thought of themselves as loyal, if disgruntled, subjects of the king. In his pamphlet, Paine associated the corrupt monarchy with the despised taxation policy, persuading many readers to become proponents of the world's first republican government. Importantly, Paine was a master of transforming the complicated philosophical and scientific principles of the Enlightenment—individuality, reason, and liberty—into plain words that the masses could comprehend and rally around. Just as George Washington and his soldiers retreated across the Delaware River to the bitter winter encampment at Valley Forge, Paine wrote, "These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." Washington had this piece read aloud to his cold and starving soldiers. Paine went on to publish fifteen other Crisis pamphlets, participate in the French Revolution, and write his controversial work, The Age of Reason, in which he attacked organized religion. As a result of his atheism, Paine returned to America in 1802 to scorn and ridicule, and died in obscurity in 1809.