Pamphleteering and the American Revolution

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On Pamphleteering and the revolution

The purpose of this paper will be to prove that the flow of information between individuals and the masses through the form of pamphlets helped create the ideological ground necessary for the war.

I will prove this by showing how the American colonies were uniquely suited for pamphlets to be effective, with a long history of both education and opinion

I will prove how influential writers used the pamphlet to disseminate ideas, and how this was not possible in other forms of media -Thomas Paine
-Letters from a Pennsylvania farmer

A sense of community among the colonies

The Revolutionary war occurred for many reasons- economics, the need for expansion, etc. However, before it occurred there was a period of time wherein the contention between Britain and her colonies was expressed in a war of words. While the events that would set into motion the revolution occurred, there was constant commentary from the people who lived through them and those who merely had an opinion. These views were most often expressed by those who could in the form of a pamphlet- a cheaply printed booklet between eight and thirty pages long. In this paper I intend to prove that the pamphlet was an instrumental part of the Revolution, helping to foment the political atmosphere to the point that men were ready to take up arms against Great Britain. These printed diatribes were unique and the nation would never see them play a role quite like this again in the course of its events, but for the time period they existed the pamphlet was uniquely suited for American consumption and allowed for some of the greatest thinkers behind the patriot and loyalist causes to expound on their views to the masses.

Thomas Paine is widely considered to be one of the most important ideologues to take up a pen in American history. His pamphlet Common Sense is perhaps the most widely reprinted of the era, and is still read today. No one else is able to evoke the ideals which would lead to the founding of America quite like Mr. Paine, an Englishman by birth and a man without much in means to the worlds. The words of Common Sense speak of the natural rights of individuals and the duties of the state, drawing on the Lockesian philosophy of a social contract. Locke published after the beginning of the revolutionary war, and probably did not have much influence on the continental congresses declaration of independence. It did have a profound effect on the common American people as evidenced by its unprecedented rate of publication. Framed in terms designed to be appealing to people of low education, Paine calls upon religious authority to justify his arguments for independence from the British.

The medium he chose was particularly suited to express his message- he penned a lengthy diatribe that required multiple sources to be cited. This would have been impossible in a daily publication like the newspapers of the day, in that the feasibility of expressing so much in so little space would have been unlikely. The self published style embraced by Paine had a long history in both Europe and America- handbills detailing the political or merely self aggrandizing stylings of writers appeared almost immediately following the creation of the moveable text type printing press. The common characterization of these tracts were that they were almost all published to address contemporary issues, most often dealing with political or religious conflicts, and were aimed to address the common people. They were, unlike books, short enough that a series of repudiations and responses could be published, invoking a certain amount of academic discussion amongst the partisan ship. It was in America, however, that the pamphlet was most widespread and influential. The colonies population centers were much more distant and the people dispersed. Common political narratives were almost impossible to establish on a colony to colony basis,...
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