Benjamin Rush, a doctor who would later play a key role in the independence struggle. Rush encouraged Paine to write a pamphlet on independence, though he cautioned him not to use that word.
The idea of independence made many colonists uneasy. They might complain about British rule, but the prospect of separating from Great Britain scared them. It did not scare Paine, though. In October 1775, he began working on the essay he would call Common Sense.
Paine had more copies printed, and those sold out, too. Within a few months, readers had bought more than 120,000 copies of Common Sense. By the end of the year, 25 editions had been printed. Hundreds of thousands of copies were in circulation throughout the colonies. It is estimated that as many as half of all colonial citizens had either read the pamphlet or had it read to them.
By December, Paine had finished his essay. But he had trouble getting it published. The subject of independence was just too hot for many publishers to handle. As Paine noted at the time, colonists were so attached to Great Britain that it was “a kind of treason to speak against it.”
Common Sense did not start the movement for independence. That movement had been building for some time. Nor did it cause colonial leaders to declare independence. Another six months would pass before the Declaration of Independence was issued. But Paine's work opened up the debate on separation from Great Britain. It helped many colonists see independence as a real possibility.
Paine's ideas on rights and liberty also had an influence on other countries, particularly France. In fact, Paine later moved to France to play a role in the French Revolution. He also wrote several books, including The Rights of Man. But none of his other works would have quite the impact as Common Sense, the pamphlet that helped pave the way for American independence.