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[141] 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 misrepresentation 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.

Sweeping as Paine's success was, the course of events had nevertheless prepared the way. In February, 1775, Lord North had startled the House of Commons by introducing and passing a conciliatory resolution; but the offer, unsatisfactory less because of its terms than because of want of confidence in the ministry and the king, had been effectually prejudiced by the passage, in March and April, of bills restraining the trade of the colonies to Great Britain and the British West Indies, and by further provisions for the prosecution of the war. It was on the first of the restraining bills, that relating to New England, that Burke made his great speech on conciliation. In June came the battle of Bunker Hill and the appointment of Washington as commander-in-chief. On 6 July Congress adopted a Declaration of the causes and necessity of taking up arms,1 the joint work of Dickinson and Jefferson, and one of the greatest of the state papers of the Revolution. Still protesting that “we have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states,” the declaration reviewed, vigorously but with dignity, the course of recent events, protested in the name of liberty against a policy that would enslave the colonies, and proclaimed solemnly the intention of fighting until freedom was assured.

1 Text in W. MacDonald, Select Charters, 374-381.

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