The American Crisis
The first page of the original printing of the first volume
The American Crisis is a pamphlet series by 18th century Enlightenment philosopher and author Thomas Paine, originally published from 1776 to 1783 during the American Revolution. Often known as The American Crisis or simply The Crisis, there are sixteen pamphlets in total. Thirteen numbered pamphlets were published between 1776 and 1777, with three additional pamphlets released between 1777 and 1783. Paine signed the pamphlets with the pseudonym, "Common Sense."
The pamphlets were contemporaneous with early parts of the American Revolution, during a time when colonists needed inspiring works. They were written in a language that the common man could understand, and represented Paine's liberal philosophy. Paine's writings bolstered the morale of the American colonists, appealed to the English people's consideration of the war with America, clarified the issues at stake in the war, and denounced the advocates of a negotiated peace. The first volume begins with the famous words "These are the times that try men's souls."
Contents and themes
The first of the pamphlets was released during a time when the Revolution was still viewed as an unsteady prospect. Its opening sentence was adopted as the watchword of the movement to Trenton. The opening lines are as follows:
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 his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
The pamphlet, read aloud to the Continental Army on December 23, 1776, three days before the Battle of Trenton, attempted to bolster morale and resistance among patriots, as well as shame neutrals and loyalists toward the cause:
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Along with the patriotic nature of The American Crisis, it displayed Paine's strong deist beliefs, inciting the laity with suggestions that the British are trying to assume powers that only God should have. Paine sees the British political and military maneuvers in America as "impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God." Paine states that he believes God supports the American cause, "that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent".
Paine takes great lengths to state that Americans do not lack force, but "a proper application of that force" - implying throughout that an extended war can lead only to defeat unless a stable army was composed not of militia but of trained professionals. But Paine maintains a positive view overall, hoping that this American crisis can be quickly resolved, "for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire."
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