Common Sense. WITH: Plain Truth

Thomas PAINE   |   James CHALMERS

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(AMERICAN REVOLUTION) [PAINE, Thomas] [CHALMERS, James]. Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America… A New Edition, with several Additions in the Body of the Work. To which is added an Appendix; together with an Address to the People called Quakers. Philadelphia. BOUND WITH: [CHALMERS, James] Plain Truth: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America concerning Remarks on a late Pamphlet, Intitled Common Sense…. Written by Candidus. Second Edition. BOUND WITH: [PEMBERTON, John, et al] Additions to Common Sense. American Independency Defended. Philadelphia, Printed; London, Re-Printed, for J. Almon, 1776. Octavo, recent full tan polished calf gilt, red and black morocco spine label, raised bands, marbled endpapers; pp. (4), 54; (4), 47, (1); 47, (1).

Rare 1776 London edition of Paine’s Common Sense, printed within months of the first American edition, a work of such paramount interest to both America and Britain that this fourth London edition was issued almost certainly before the Declaration of Independence—that founding document whose issuance on July 4, 1776 “was due more to Paine’s Common Sense than to any one other single piece of writing,” bound in one volume with the scarce second edition of Plain Truth, attributed to James Chalmers and considered “the most famous answer to Paine’s advocacy for independence in Common Sense” (Howes), along with Additions to Common Sense by various authors and featuring an early retranslated draft of the Articles of Confederation.

“The Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, was due more to Paine’s Common Sense than to any one other single piece of writing” (Grolier American 14). “Despite everything the English had done or failed to do, the decision to declare independence was not an easy one. Americans were tied by kinship, culture, and commerce to England; America and England shared a common heritage of liberty. During the winter of 1775-1776, many Americans remained confused by recent events and uncertain about what action the colonies should take. No more than a third of the Continental Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia that winter, was definitely in favor of independence. In the middle of that season of doubt and uncertainty… [Thomas Paine], who had just arrived in the colonies, published a pamphlet that ignited the American drive for independence… In a crisp, vigorous style, Paine told Americans what they had been waiting to hear. In a few short pages he summarized the case against the institution of monarchy and presented an argument for American independence that was elegantly yet so simply stated that it could be understood by nearly every American. Common Sense was by far the most influential tract of the American Revolution, and it remains one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language” (A Covenanted People 27). Common Sense made history as “the most discussed and most widely circulated pamphlet in America” (Gimbel, 49). The 1776 British editions, such as this copy, had a similar impact, greatly affecting public opinion and drawing many influential Englishmen to support the American cause. Common Sense was of such general interest that it was issued in England almost certainly before the Declaration of Independence. “It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting… Common Sense turned thousands to independence who before could not endure the thought. It worked nothing short of miracles and turned Tories into Whigs” (Trevelyan, History of the American Revolution).

This scarce fourth British edition of Common Sense, issued in 1776, the same year as the first, contains Paine’s additions, increasing the original work by one-third. Like most English editions, this contains hiatuses deleting material critical of the English crown and government to avoid prosecution. This copy is notably bound, as issued, with the second British edition of Plain Truth, “one of the better known attacks on Common Sense. [Initially] appearing in March of 1776, shortly after the publication of Paine’s tract, Plain Truth was published anonymously by an Eastern Shore of Maryland Loyalist named James Chalmers” (Fruchtman, 83). Considered the “most famous answer to Paine’s advocacy for independence in Common Sense” (Howes S696), Plain Truth is usually attributed to Chalmers, but has also “been variously assigned to Alexander Hamilton, Rev. Charles Inglis, Joseph Galloway and others” (Sabin 84642n). Ironically Paine had once proposed giving Common Sense that very title of “Plain Truth.”

In addition, this copy is bound with Additions to Common Sense: a collection of ten essays responding to Paine’s Common Sense (though none were written by Paine). Featured are: American Independence Defended; The Propriety of Independency; A Review of the American Contest, and Ancient Testimony and Principles of the People Called Quakers. The latter piece, believed to “have been stimulated by the publication of Common Sense,” caused Paine to reply in the third edition of Common Sense (February 1776) with his Address to the People Called Quakers (herein). There he argues that Americans were not waging war against the British, but were, instead, “punishing transgressors (an activity considered more acceptable)” (Aldridge, Paine’s American Ideology, 87-89). Also of importance is the inclusion of a purported draft of the Articles of Confederation entitled, “Proposal for a Confederation of the Colonies.” The latter piece is especially fascinating. For after the United States declared independence from Britain and Congress set about drafting the Articles of Confederation, John Dickinson prepared two drafts of the proposed Articles, in July and August of 1776—neither of which was, in the end, adopted. One of these drafts found its way to Europe and was published in French translation in the periodical Affaires de l’Angleterre et d’Amerique. The French version of the proposed Articles was then retranslated into English, and several other languages, and published in England and Europe. The present version in this copy of Additions is one of the earliest appearances of this text in English. Because this text was a translation of a translation, it was understandably altered and inaccurate from the original proposed Articles, which were not ultimately the Articles adopted by the new American government. The British government, however, assumed that this retranslated text was correctly representative of the American government with which they would be dealing, providing for a classic case of miscommunication and bad information.

This scarce volume thus constitutes an important volume of Revolutionary thought, centered on Paine’s seminal work. This edition “is made up of the Almon editions of Paine’s Common Sense [Adams 76-107d] and James Chalmers’ Plain Truth [Adams 76-19c]” (Adams, 76-108a). This copy with the general half title, present in some fourth editions, no priority established (Gimbel CS-38). “Both the Monthly Review and the London Magazine indicate that this was the form in which the two pamphlets appeared. The Monthly Review (55:502) suggests that the two were combined ‘from prudential motives’ but refers to Common Sense (55:399) as a ‘celebrated triumph… The London Magazine says that it has been ascribed to both John and Samuel Adams but doubts that they could have written it” (Adams 76-108a). This copy with all the hiatuses of the fourth edition. With signature F of the 1st and 2nd editions containing “understanding “ in the singular; as noted by Gimbel: “mixed copies are known, made up of signatures from different editions” (Gimbel, 86). “The difference in the paper used in at least some copies suggests that some if not all of the copies of the two pamphlets were printed at different times” (Adams 76-108a). All 1776 editions of Common Sense are rare and desirable and increasingly difficult to obtain. The first edition of Plain Truth, issued in Philadelphia, was advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette for March 13, 1776, with the Second Edition advertised in the same paper for May 8, 1776. This copy of Plain Truth with two rear text leaves provided from another copy: “Extract from the Second Letter to the People of Pennsylvania… By a Writer under the Signature of Cato” (45-7) and rear page of publisher’s advertisements. Additions to Common Sense bound without title page, initial preliminary leaf; with rear advertisement page. The first edition of these Additions was advertised in the Pennsylvania Evening Post for February 17, 1776, with individual pieces initially appearing “in various Philadelphia newspapers”: first English edition advertised in the Monthly Review for November 1776 (Adams, American Independence 223a). Gimbel CS-36-39; CS-203; CS-211; Table III:86. Adams 76-108a; 76-75b. Adams, American Independence 222y; 208f; 223d. Howes P17, S696. Sabin 58214; 58215. See Gimbel CS 5-9; Evans 14966; Church 1135.

Text clean and fine. A rare and important 1776 American Revolutionary collection.

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