During Revolutionary War, Thomas Paine wrote The American Crisis, a series of pamphlets, the first of which was published on December 23, 1776. It’s a lengthy piece by today’s standards, detailing the trials of the early battles of the War and Paine’s thoughts on the Tories (the loyalists to King George).
I was reminded of Paine’s essay this week. Nancy Pelosi alluded to it on Tuesday, “the times have found us,” she said, citing Paine. Yesterday, David Rothkopf, author and commentator, tweeted:
“We need to stop a moment and recognize the stakes, the grievous nature of Trump, McConnell & Barr’s crimes, the preciousness of the institutions and values they are defiling, and the unspeakable damage to America and the world that would be caused were justice not to be done.”
Rothkopf’s initial tweet was followed by a substantial thread, all of which is worth reading.
But for me, Paine’s 18th Century language says it best. I’ve excerpted from his full essay, which then General George Washington thought to be so inspiring that he ordered it to be read to the troops at Valley Forge:
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. …
…I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. … It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. … if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to “bind me in all cases whatsoever” to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? …Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. …
There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one. There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war….. men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.
…By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils …. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 23, 1776.
Paine’s essays appear on a website owned by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942. Copyright © 1999-2019 by the Independence Hall Association. Publishing electronically as ushistory.org. On the Internet since July 4, 1995.