The “Lost” Founding Father Who Secretly Shaped America

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Many people don’t recognize Thomas Paine’s name. But he was the man likely responsible for the very conception of the United States as a country.

Thomas Paine is one of the “forgotten” Founding Fathers of history who has been lost to the pages of time. But without his existence, it’s possible that America as we know it would have never existed.

Paine’s Anonymous Pamphlet

Before “going viral” on the internet was a thing, people read news pamphlets.

In the late 1700s, the news was delivered in paper form and was consumed by a far greater percentage of the population than modern-day newspapers.

The wide audience of newspaper readers made the written word very, very powerful at the time. It was powerful, yet hard to infiltrate as an outsider from a community.

The only real way for your written work to “go viral” at the time was for your work to be shared from neighbor to neighbor.

This “physical barrier” to virality made it hard for information to go viral.

And yet, one man succeeded.

Thomas Paine, only 40 years old at the time, wrote a 47-page pamphlet in 1776 calling for British subjects to fight for independence from Great Britain.

Paine wrote his document secretly, not letting his name be known to his readers.

But despite his anonymity, Paine wrote a strong, concise letter that caused a stir among the 13 colonies. That letter was called Common Sense.

What Paine Wanted

In his pamphlet Common Sense, Paine wrote that people should learn from the errors of other nations:

“From the errors of other nations, let us learn wisdom.”

Paine called the government a necessary evil that can sometimes become overbearing:

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.”

Paine then called for an egalitarian state of freedom and liberty to be founded. And said that King George was not fit to rule the Americans all the way from England.

What Happened Next

With paper as his tool, Thomas Paine went viral.

According to historian Gordon S. Wood in his book, The American Revolution: A History:

“[Common Sense was] the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era.”

And that’s putting it mildly.

According to Gordon S. Wood’s own estimates, 500,000 copies were sold in the first year (in both America and Europe, predominantly France and Britain) alone. According to Paine himself, 120,000 copies were sold in the first three months.

Common Sense made public a persuasive and impassioned case for independence, which had not yet been given serious intellectual consideration.