Nowhere is the impact of the printed page on the American Revolution more evident than in the printing and distribution of Common Sense. Published anonymously in Philadelphia in January 1776, Common Sense appeared at a time when separation from Great Britain was being fiercely debated. Through simple rational arguments, Thomas Paine focused blame for colonial America’s troubles on the British king and pointed to the advantages of independence. With more than half a million copies in twenty-five editions appearing throughout the colonies within the first year, this popular pamphlet helped to turn the tide of sentiment toward revolution. Because of its treasonable content, the pamphlet was published anonymously, but the printer Robert Bell (ca. 1732–1784) was willing to take on the risk. John Adams later commented that “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”
Thomas Paine. Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, on the Following Interesting Subjects. . . . Philadelphia: R. Bell, 1776.