Breaking from Great Britain, 1776
by the Gilder Lehrman Institute
Sid Lapidus Collection: Liberty and the American Revolution
By 1776, Thomas Paine had become the most influential writer defending the break from Great Britain. Born in England, Paine arrived in the colonies in 1774, at age 34. His pamphlet Common Sense was published January 1776 and sold more than 150,000 copies. Paine summarized the case for separating from Great Britain, attacking hereditary privilege, and his direct argument and plain language resonated with ordinary people. This excerpt from Paine’s The American Crisis is the first of a series of articles printed in the Pennsylvania Journal. He elaborated upon the theme of separation in later articles asserting that "the only road to Peace Honor and Commerce is Independence."
To appreciate the power of Paine’s words and the directness of his language, students are encouraged to read this excerpt aloud. The excerpt may also serve as focal point for class discussion of the case for revolution.
- Thomas Paine, The American Crisis [Philadelphia, 1776].
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Paine’s excerpt from Crisis appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776. It was published during the winter of 1776 when Washington’s troops had retreated across the Delaware. The article was circulated among the dispirited soldiers.