Thomas Paine was born in Britain, on January 29, 1737. Paine's formal education lasted only until the age of thirteen, at which point he began working for his father. Eventually, took low-paying job in tax-collecting, educating himself further in his free time. In 1772, Paine was fired for publishing an article arguing that raising tax-collectors' salaries would reduce corruption. Shortly thereafter in London, Paine met Benjamin Franklin, who convinced Paine to move to America.

Paine emigrated to America in late 1774, only a few months before the revolutionary war began on April 19, 1775. Paine immediately became involved in American political life, editing Pennsylvania Magazine and writing a variety of articles. After the first battle of the war, Paine began to argue that the American colonists should seek complete independence, rather than merely fighting to free themselves from unfair British taxation. Paine made this argument in his pamphlet Common Sense, which first appeared in January, 1776, and immediately became popular and widely read. Paine's ideas played a central role in rallying public opinion and were an important precursor to the Declaration of Independence, which was written six months later. The pamphlet thrust Paine into the national spotlight, earning him a prestigious government appointment later on during the war.

The roots of the war for American Independence can be traced back at least as far as the French and Indian war of 1763. Although the British won this war, they incurred immense costs, and began to increase the monetary burden placed on the American colonies. With the Townshend Acts of 1767, Parliament imposed new taxes in the American colonies, and although these were repealed in 1770, the tax on tea remained. Colonial frustration erupted in 1773 at the famed Boston Tea Party when Americans stormed a ship owned by the British East India Company and dumped large volumes of tea into Boston Harbor. In retaliation, the British Parliament imposed a variety of restrictions aimed at reasserting their control over the colonies.

These measures, known in America as the intolerable acts, spurred the convening of the first continental congress in 1774. Although the American colonies now had a centralized forum in which to discuss policy, their path was far from clear. Even after a battle erupted on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, the colonies lacked a clear plan. Opinions on the purpose of the war with Britain and the future the colonies varied widely. Many, of the delegates to the continental congress were not convinced that complete independence was desirable.

In Common Sense, which was published at this time, Paine argued that the colonies should seek full independence from Britain. His pamphlet convinced many who were unsure of the purpose of the war and played a profound role in influencing the opinion of laymen and lawmakers alike. Common Sense was crucial in turning American opinion against Britain and was one of the key factors in the colonies' decision to engage in a battle for complete independence.