Thomas Paine’s Common Sense

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Thomas Paine and his pamphlet “Common Sense” which was published in Philadelphia in January 1776 and promoted the argument for American independence from Britain. Addressed to The Inhabitants of America, it sold one hundred and fifty thousand copies in the first few months and is said, proportionately, to be the best-selling book in American history. Paine had arrived from England barely a year before. He vigorously attacked monarchy generally and George the Third in particular. He argued the colonies should abandon all hope of resolving their dispute with Britain and declare independence immediately. Many Americans were scandalised. More were inspired and, for Paine’s vision of America’s independent future, he has been called a Founding Father of the United States.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Kathleen Burk 11 episodes
    Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London
  • Nicholas Guyatt 4 episodes
    University Lecturer in American History at the University of Cambridge
  • Peter Thompson No other episodes
    Associate Professor of American History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Cross College

Reading list

  • Tom Paine's America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic
    Seth Cotlar (University of Virginia Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • Scandal and Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy
    Marcus Daniel (Oxford University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution
    Nicole Eustace (University of North Carolina Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Tom Paine and Revolutionary America
    Eric Foner (Oxford University Press, 2004) Google Books →
  • Tom Paine: A Political Life
    John Keane (Bloomsbury, 1995) Google Books →
  • 46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to Independence
    Scott Liell (Running Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Unknown American Revolution; The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America
    Gary B. Nash (Jonathan Cape, 2006) Google Books →
  • Thomas Paine: His Life, His Time and the Birth of Modern Nations
    Craig Nelson (Profile Books, 2007)
  • The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding
    Eric Nelson (Harvard University Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • Thomas Paine
    Mark Philp (Oxford University Press, 2007) Google Books →
  • Rum Punch and Revolution: Taverngoing and Public Life in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia
    Peter Thompson (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998) Google Books →
  • Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
    Gordon S. Wood (Penguin, 2006) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b06wg9dw

Episode page:

Auto-category: 973.3 (Revolutionary period in United States history, 1775-1783)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In January 1776 in Philadelphia, an anonymous pamphlet was published entitled Common Sense, addressed to the inhabitants of America.