After Thomas Paine released the first part of the Rights of Man, it flew off the bookstalls in England, and printers could not meet the demand it received.

It was soon distributed throughout Europe and the United States, and about 50,000 copies were sold within 2 months, a rate that quadrupled Burke’s work he answered.

After his anti-monarchical work stirred such a commotion with commoners, British agents considered charging the penman with sedition. The crown decided against it, possibly because they came to believe that any legal retaliation against Paine would merely catapult the popularity of his work to newfound heights.

As it turned out, its success required no governmental assistance, and it became by far the most widely read political work ever published at the time.

According to one account, even the kingdom’s Tory Prime Minister William Pitt, who was at the same time organizing a mass propaganda campaign to promote the empire’s orderly society and denigrate the unhinged French lunatics, admitted the merits of the work. “Tom Paine is quite in the right, but what am I to do? As things are, if I were to encourage his opinions we would have a bloody revolution,” he lamented.

Paine was eventually charged with seditious libel, by the way, and condemned to death in absentia, but that didn’t happen until he released the second part of The Rights of Man.

Dave Benner

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