On this date in 1776, Thomas Paine published the first chapter of The American Crisis. As historian Robert Dennehy put it, the essays helped “recharge the American Revolution.”
“These are the times that try men’s souls…”
It is the week of Christmas in 1776, and for the Continental Army under the command of George Washington, it has been a long and tiresome year. As they sit opposite of Trenton, New Jersey, at McConkey’s Ferry on the Delaware River, the morale of the fighting men could not be much worse. With over 10,000 troops already home and contracts for the remaining forces about to expire, it was time for a radical message to inspire a rally to the call of freedom.
That message came at the hands of Thomas Paine, one of the penmen who greatly influenced the American Revolution. In his pamphlet, The American Crisis published a few days earlier, he reminds the people of the colonies that opposing tyranny is not going to come easy for them and that the cause to stand against all forms of despotism has never been greater.
“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered…”
To rally the remaining Continental Army, General Washington commanded that the freshly printed pamphlet in the Pennsylvania Journal be circulated and read to his men. Paine’s impassioned words were just what those men needed, and they were sufficient to salvage the fighting spirit of the colonies in their revolution.
On December 25, they embarked on a Christmas night journey across the icy waters of the Delaware River to make a surprise attack against the hungover and sleepy Hessian soldiers. This action caused a sudden shift in the direction of the War for Independence and set the tone for the future of the colonies.
I had the pleasure of attending a recent living history event at Washington’s Crossing, and during my time there I could not help but to think about how the writings of the founding fathers are just as relevant today as they were back then. As I stood on the bank of the Delaware where some of those men crossed, I reflected on another phrase from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet that speaks to me.
“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;” and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty.
I can only hope that we let these words awaken us to the call of liberty and encourage us to continue the task left to us. We have been given a great gift, and we are charged with maintaining it for generations to come. Don’t let the crisis of today’s times discourage you and turn you into the “summer’s soldier” or “sunshine patriot” that Paine spoke about, but rather stay dedicated to the task at hand and be free.
“I thank God that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it.”
- Today in History: Thomas Paine Publishes First Chapter of “The American Crisis” - December 19, 2022
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