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Government is best which governs least - Thomas Paine
Government is best which governs least - Thomas Paine

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In January 1776, a Philadelphia publisher named Robert Bell sat down before his presses, and set to work printing the first edition of a new pamphlet. Mr. Bell could have hardly guessed that the anonymously authored essay – entitled Common Sense – would soon sweep across the colonies like wildfire and alter its destiny forever. The author was a ‘down-at-the-heels’ English immigrant named Thomas Paine, a newcomer to America with little more than the clothes on his back… and grand dreams of freedom from the monarchy.

At a time when the call for independence was still shaky, Common Sense presented an argument the likes of which the colonists had never seen. Paine avoided the Latin references and philosophy that was the hallmark of Enlightenment era writers, and instead structured the pamphlet like a common sermon. “Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness,” he wrote. “The former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil.”

The plain-speaking pamphlet raced across the continent, selling 100,000 copies just within the first two months. Newspapers could not keep up with demand. Colonists that had before been arguing merely for their English rights were now Americans, calling for complete independence. Six months later, that call would be answered by Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress.