Thomas Paine remarks that perhaps his ideas aren’t “fashionable” enough to gain much popular support. After all, a long habit of thinking something’s right gives that thing an appearance of being right, and people will defend it out of custom, even if it is actually wrong.
Befitting a work titled Common Sense, Paine opens the pamphlet with an appeal to human reason. He points out that ideas are often defended out of tradition, not because those ideas are truly right, thus implying that the coming arguments will challenge people’s comfortable assumptions about morality.
A “long and violent abuse of power” is sufficient reason to question that power. Since Americans are oppressed by both England’s King and Parliament, they are justified in investigating and even rejecting the “usurpation” of both.
Paine previews some of the main arguments he will advance against British rule: that monarchical power tends toward oppression and that Americans are morally justified in rebelling against it.
Paine says that in his pamphlet, he avoids personal attacks. He just wants to look into America’s cause, which is, in large measure, the cause of “mankind” as a whole. Any person with the “power of feeling” should be concerned by England’s declaration of war against the “natural rights of all mankind.”
Paine refers to the idea of “natural rights” such as life, liberty, and property, which were thought to be discernible by human reason and would become the bedrock of the Declaration of Independence. Paine would have developed this idea from the 17th-century English political philosopher John Locke. He also invokes moral instinct as a factor in human reason.
In a postscript, Paine adds that it’s unnecessary to know the identity of the pamphlet’s author; rather, the attention should be on his ideas. He is not under the influence of any party, but merely “the influence of reason and principle.”
Paine remained anonymous as the author of Common Sense for about three months. When it was first published in January 1776, it was signed “by an Englishman.” Perhaps he hopes to support the idea that reason, not personalities, should be the main factor in evaluating his argument.