The American Crisis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The American Crisis
The first page of the original printing of the first volume
Author Thomas Paine
Language English
Publication date

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.[1] The first of the pamphlets were published in Pennsylvania Journal.[2] 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. Paine, like many other politicians and scholars, knew that the Colonists weren't going to support the American Revolutionary War without proper reason to do so. They were written in a language that the common man could understand, and represented Paine's liberal philosophy. Paine also used references to God, saying that a war against Kingdom of Great Britain would be a war with the support of God. 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."


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:[3]

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 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,[4] 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."[5]


The Crisis No. 1 starts out with the famous line "These are the times that try men's souls,"[6] and goes on to talk about how Britain has no right to invade America, saying that it is a power belonging "only to God."[6] He also says that "if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then there is not such a thing as slavery on earth."[6] Paine obviously believes that Britain is essentially trying to enslave America. He then speaks a little about how the panicking of our sudden revolutionary war has both hindered and helped us. Paine then speaks of his experience in the fight for Fort Lee and their subsequent retreat. Afterwards, Paine remarks on an experience with a tory, a loyalist. He says the man told his child, "'Well! give me peace in my day,'"[6] meaning he did not want the war to happen in his lifetime. Paine says that this is very "unfatherly"[6] and he should want the war to happen in his time so it does not happen in his child's time. Paine then gives some advice on how to do better in the war. Finally, he finishes Crisis No.2 with a few paragraphs of encouragement, a vivid description of what will happen if we act like cowards and give up, and the closing statement, "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."[6]

The Crisis No.3 starts with, "Universal empire is the prerogative of a writer." [7] Paine makes it obvious his feelings toward George III of the United Kingdom when he said, "Perhaps you thought America too was taking a nap, and therefore chose, like Satan to Eve, to whisper the delusion softly, lest you should awaken her. This continent, Sir, is too extensive to sleep all at once, and too watchful, even in its slumbers, not to startle at the unhallowed foot of an invader."[7] Paine makes it clear that he believes that King George was not up to their former standards when it came to his duties with the American Colonies. Paine also sheds light onto what he felt the future would hold for the up and coming America, "The United States of America, will sound as pompously in the world, or in history The Kingdom of Great Britain; the character of General Washington will fill a page with as much lister as that of Lord Howe; and Congress have as much right to command the king and parliament of London to desist from legislation, as they or you have to command the Congress."[7] Paine then goes on to try to bargain with King George lll, "Why, God bless me! What have you to do with our independence? we asked no leave of yours to set it up, we asked no money of yours to support it; we can do better without your fleets and armies than with them; you may soon have enough to do to protect yourselves, without being burthened with us. We are very willing to be at peace with you, to buy of you and sell to you, and, like young beginners in the world, to work for our own living; therefore, why do you put yourselves out of cash, when we know you cannot spare it, and we do not desire you to run you into debt?" [7] In the conclusion Paine explains that he believes that, "... I consider independence as America's natural right and interest, and never could see any real disservice it would be to Britain."


  1. ^ Foner, Phillip S, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol.2 (New York: Citadel Press, 1945) p.48
  2. ^ "Thomas Paine publishes American Crisis - Dec 19, 1776 -". Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  3. ^ William B. Cairns (1909), Selections from Early American Writers, 1607-1800, The Macmillan company, pp. 347–352, retrieved 2007-11-25 
  4. ^ "Age of Reason, Part First, Section 1". Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e f Baym, Nina; Levine, Robert S. (2012). The Norton Anthology of American Literature Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. pp. 647–653. ISBN 978-0-393-93476-2. 
  7. ^ a b c d Paine, Thomas (1819-01-01). The American Crisis. R. Carlile. 

External links[edit]