Thomas Paine began writing Common Sense in late 1775 under the working title of Plain Truth. With Benjamin Rush, who helped him edit it, publish it, and suggested the final title, Paine developed his ideas into a forty-eight page pamphlet. He published Common Sense anonymously because of its treasonable content. Rush recommended the printer Robert Bell, promising Paine that, where other printers might say no because of the content of the pamphlet, Bell would not hesitate nor delay its printing. Paine and Bell had a falling out, but Bell still felt strongly about printing a second edition. Bell added the phrase "Written by an Englishman" to his second edition without Paine's permission. Paine had stressed that it was "the Doctrine, not the man" that was important. Paine wanted to remain anonymous for as long as possible and felt that even such a general phrase as Bell's addition would take attention away from the ideas in his pamphlet.
This did not seem to matter; printed by Bell, Common Sense sold almost 100,000 copies in 1776, and according to Paine, 120,000 copies were sold in the first three months. One biographer estimates that 500,000 copies sold in the first year (in both America and Europe – predominantly France and Britain), and another writes that Paine's pamphlet went through twenty-five published editions in the first year alone.
Aside from the printed pamphlet itself, there were many handwritten summaries and whole copies circulated. At least one newspaper, the Connecticut Courant, printed the entire pamphlet in its February 19, 1776, issue and there may have been others that did the same. While it is difficult to achieve a fixed figure for the number of circulated copies, what is certain is that Paine's words reached far and wide out to most of America's 2.5 million colonists. His pamphlet was read at countless town meetings and gatherings even to those who could not read.
Paine managed to carefully maintain his anonymity, even during potent newspaper polemics generated by Robert Bell, for nearly three months. His name did not become officially connected with the independence controversy until March 30, 1776. He donated his royalties from Common Sense to George Washington's Continental Army, saying: As my wish was to serve an oppressed people, and assist in a just and good cause, I conceived that the honor of it would be promoted by my declining to make even the usual profits of an author. —Thomas Paine
As the controversy with Bell, which only served to fuel the pamphlet's sale and distribution, wore on, Paine publicly repudiated his copyright to give all colonial printers the legal right to issue their own edition.
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