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COMMON SENSE—Thomas Paine, 1776

Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” is credited with having precipitated the move for independence. In fact, the exact nature of the American cause would have been rather hard to define in 1775 or early 1776. Clearly the Americans wanted the English to stop abusing them, as they saw it, but how was fighting a war supposed to achieve that end? What would constitute victory? As long as they were still British subjects, they would still be subject to British law, and by 1775 it was unlikely that Parliament would grant them any real form of self government. As the Declaratory Act of 1766 had made clear, Parliament claimed the right to govern the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.” Since achieving quasi-independence was an unrealistic hope, therefore, the only thing that finally did make sense was American independence, a case made very powerfully by Thomas Paine.

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