Do You Have Enough Common Sense to Answer These Trivia Questions?

On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine published his pamphlet “Common Sense,” setting forth his arguments in favor of American independence.  See if you can answer these trivia questions about one of the most influential pamphlets in American history.


What Change in Perception Did "Common Sense" Create? # The American colonists actually didn't think of themselves as Americans before the revolution, but as British, and Paine argued persuasively that this was really not the case. "Common Sense" put forth the view that the colonists were not really Britons, but a separate country descended from Europe in general. This was not how the colonists had seen themselves before; as far as they were concerned, they were British living abroad and getting the short end of the colonial stick. Paine argued that the colonies were an opportunity for everyone in Europe who wanted to start over again, and that Britain was basically a tyrant trying to squeeze the colonies.

What Influenced Paine to Start Writing? # Late bloomers, take heart: Paine didn't have a lot of luck in his younger years, but as he wrote more and more, his influence increased. As grand as Paine's reputation is today, he spent a good chunk of his early life as a person with a generally mediocre life with more than a few failures under his belt. He didn't have a lot of education and wasn't very good at the jobs he held in his native England. He suffered business failures. While working as an excise officer, he wrote a pamphlet on increasing pay for excise officers. The pamphlet got him fired, but it was the first in a long line of political writings that later included "Common Sense." In fact, when he first came to America after being encouraged by Benjamin Franklin, his first job was at a newspaper.


What Effect Did "Common Sense" Have on Paine When He Was Alive? It basically led to him writing more and more, which might seem obvious, but you have to understand that "Common Sense" sold a half million copies, which was stunning at the time. He continued his writings with the "Crisis" papers, meant to increase troop morale and support. If "Common Sense" had gone nowhere, he might not have attempted any more writing, or at least not so extensively.

What Effect Did "Common Sense" Have on Paine After He Died? Paine died and was assigned a frustrating legacy at first. After the revolution, he had gone to England and then France, where his writings actually landed him in jail. He later headed back to the United States only to find that people no longer thought of him as the influential and inspiring revolutionary writer -- but as a mere troublemaker. That reputation followed him after his death until 1937, when -- of all things -- the "Times of London" labeled him as the "English Voltaire." That was enough to redeem his reputation. Thanks to an English newspaper, Paine is now remembered as one of the key figures in the fight for American independence from Britain.

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