Episode 156: The Power of the Press in the American Revolution

How did Americans find out about the Revolution?

What effect did printed materials like newspapers, pamphlets, and books have on shaping the debate about independence? And just how big of a role did Thomas Paine’s Common Sense play in causing Americans to declare their independence from Great Britain?

In this episode of the Doing History: To the Revolution! series, we explore these question with four scholars of Revolutionary communication: Alec Zuercher Reichardt, Eric Slauter, Seth Cotlar, and Trish Loughran.

About the Series

The mission of episodes in the Doing History: To the Revolution series.  is to ask not just “what is the history of the American Revolution?” but “what are the histories of the American Revolution?”

The Doing History series explores early American history and how historians work. It’s produced by the Omohundro Institute.

Be sure to check out Doing History season 1, Doing History: How Historians Work.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Doing History: To the Revolution! series, we explore the role the press played in fomenting and furthering the American Revolution and its ideas.

Alyssa Zuercher Reichardt, Eric Slauter, Seth Coltar, and Trish Loughran help us investigate the power of the press and communications in the American Revolution and the specific role that Thomas Paine and his pamphlet Common Sense played in causing Americans to declare their independence from Great Britain.

What You’ll Discover

  • Colonial correspondence within British North America
  • How colonists received news and information from around British North America
  • How colonists communicated with Europe
  • Role of the post office in British North America
  • How imperial warfare between Great Britain and France impacted the flow of information in North America
  • Pamphlets in the mid-to-late 18th century
  • Why Thomas Paine chose to write pamphlets and publish in colonial newspapers
  • How early Americans read pamphlets, newspapers, and other materials
  • Pamphlet reprinting
  • How scholars use reprinting to measure the popularity of pamphlets
  • How books make revolutions
Thomas Paine
  • Why Paine emigrated to Pennsylvania
  • Types of work Paine undertook upon emigrating to Philadelphia
  • Why Paine entered the American political debate in late 1775
  • Paine’s “common sense”
  • Why Paine rejected the idea of American reconciliation with Great Britain
  • The Loyalist campaign against Paine and independence
  • Common Sense as the turning point of the Revolution
  • Thomas Paine’s broad portrayal of the American Revolution
  • Why Paine thought the colonies would unite for independence
  • Paine’s dispute with his printer, Robert Bell
  • Publication of Common Sense
  • Whether Common Sense was really a bestseller


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