In time for the upcoming election season, Penguin presents a series of six portable, accessible, and—above all—essential reads from American political history, selected by leading scholars. Series editor Richard Beeman, author of The Penguin Guide to the U.S. Constitution, draws together the great texts of American civic life, including the founding documents, pivotal historical speeches, and important Supreme Court decisions, to create a timely and informative mini-library of perennially vital issues.
Common Sense is the book that created the modern United States, as Paine's incendiary call for Americans to revolt against British rule converted millions to the cause of independence and set out a vision of a just society. Published anonymously in 1776, six months before the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense was a radical and impassioned call for America to free itself and set up an independent republican government. Savagely attacking hereditary kingship and aristocratic institutions, Paine urged a new beginning for his adopted country in which personal freedom and social equality would be upheld and economic and cultural progress encouraged. His pamphlet was the first to speak directly to a mass audience—it went through fifty-six editions within a year of publication—and its assertive and often caustic style embodied the democratic spirit he advocated.