Summary of Introduction
The author realizes that the revolutionary ideas contained in his pamphlet are not yet fashionable because a long habit of thinking a wrong opinion (that America should be the colony of Great Britain) gives the appearance of being right. The long abuse of power by Great Britain, however, is now calling this old opinion into question. The author will inquire into these abuses with objectivity, avoiding anything personal.
The cause of America is the cause of mankind. The situation is not a local one, but a universal one, because the government of Britain has declared war on the natural rights of mankind.
A postscript mentions that the name of the author of this pamphlet is unimportant; it is the ideas that count. The author is unconnected to any party. The introduction is dated from Philadelphia, February 14, 1776.
Commentary on Introduction
Paine positions himself as an objective author, unconnected to party politics. He is the nameless voice of reason. The date is important as it is a few months before the Revolutionary War began. Paine mentions the timeliness of his publication as summarizing the long debate that has gone before in the colonies, about whether America should continue as a colony attached to Great Britain or declare its independence as a separate country. Philadelphia is the city where the delegates were gathering for the Second Continental Congress with representatives from all the colonies to speak on the matter of independence and how to organize the governing of the new country after it became free. Paine declares it is not party politics driving the revolution but “reason and principle” (p. 6). He is a reasonable man looking into and reporting the situation to fellow citizens. He appears anonymous in this pamphlet though he was to make his fame during the Revolution as a writer and speaker. He also is not as objective as he pretends to be, as he was gifted at debate and argument, knowing when to appeal to the mind and when to the emotions.
He begins by saying that the situation is not political but moral. Britain is threatening, not just America, but all of mankind and the natural rights of men to be free. There are various critiques of Paine's argument, for he is exaggerating Britain's position as the villain of mankind refusing universal human rights. Yet according to a postcolonial worldview, Paine was calling for what most people today believe is a reasonable right of self-government. The American colonies were not exactly as oppressed as other colonial countries such as India, but it is true they did not have adequate representation in the government ruling them from across the ocean.