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. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ‘t is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
—Paine, in “The Crisis”
Thomas Paine was an English mechanic, of Quaker origin, born in the year Seventeen Hundred Thirty-seven. He was the author of four books that have influenced mankind profoundly. These books are, “Common Sense,” “The Age of Reason,” “The Crisis,” and “The Rights of Man.”
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-four, when he was thirty-seven years old, he came to America bearing letters of introduction from Benjamin Franklin.
On arriving at Philadelphia he soon found work as editor of “The Pennsylvania Magazine.”
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-five, in the magazine just named, he openly advocated and prophesied a speedy separation of the American Colonies from England. He also threw a purple shadow over his popularity by declaring his abhorrence of chattel slavery.
His writings, from the first, commanded profound attention, and on the advice and suggestion of Doctor Benjamin Rush, an eminent citizen of Philadelphia, the scattered editorials and paragraphs on human rights, covering a year, were gathered, condensed, revised, made into a book.
This “pamphlet,” or paper-bound book, was called “Common Sense.”
In France, John Adams was accused of writing “Common Sense.” He stoutly denied it, there being several allusions in it stronger than he cared to stand sponsor for.
In England, Franklin was accused of being the author, and he neither denied nor admitted it. But when a lady reproached him for having used the fine alliterative phrase, applied to the king, “The Royal British Brute,” he smiled and said blandly, “Madame, I would never have been so disrespectful to the brute creation as that.”
“Common Sense” struck the keynote of popular feeling, and the accusation of “treason,” hurled at it from many sources, only served to advertise it. It supplied the common people with reasons, and gave statesmen arguments. The Legislature of Pennsylvania voted Paine a honorarium of five hundred pounds, and the University of Pennsylvania awarded him the degree of “Master of Arts,” in recognition of eminent services to literature and human rights. John Quincy Adams said, “Paine’s pamphlet, ‘Common Sense,’ crystallized public opinion and was the first factor in bringing about the Revolution.”
The Reverend Theodore Parker once said: “Every living man in America in Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, who could read, read ‘Common Sense,’ by Thomas Paine. If he was a Tory, he read it, at least a little, just to find out for himself how atrocious it was; and if he was a Whig, he read it all to find the reasons why he was one. This book was the arsenal to which the Colonists went for their mental weapons.”
As “Common Sense” was published anonymously and without copyright, and was circulated at bare cost, Paine never received anything for the work, save the twenty-five hundred dollars voted to him by the Legislature.
When independence was declared, Paine enlisted as a private, but was soon made aide-de-camp to General Greene. He was an intrepid and effective soldier and took an active part in various battles.
In December, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, he published his second book, “The Crisis,” the first words of which have gone into the electrotype of human speech, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” The intent of the letters which make up “The Crisis” was to infuse courage into the sinking spirits of the soldiers. Washington ordered the letters to be read at the head of every regiment, and it was so done.