by Alison – CTSSAR Winner of the Knight Essay Contest, 2000
“These are the times that try men’s soul’s. 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 women”
These famous words from The American Crisis written by Thomas Paine inspired the American troops to continue their battle for independence from England. This was neither the beginning nor the end of Paine’s involvement in the American Revolution.. Prior to this he edited and wrote several pieces for the Pennsylvania Magazine and he wrote the famous pamphlet Common Sense. Paine also served with Washington’s army and contributed money to the war effort. Paine once said that he had “a passion of patriotism” (Whitman, Page 630)
Paine was born into a poor Quaker family in Thetford, England on January 29, 1737. He attended school until the age of 13 when he was forced to leave and become an apprentice. For the next 24 years of his life, Paine held various jobs. He “spent his spare time and money on books, lectures, scientific apparatus. He read widely but always seriously, worked hard at mathematics, experimented with mechanical contrivances.” (Malone, Page 160) In October of 1774, luck finally came to Thomas Paine. In London, he met Benjamin Franklin who encouraged Paine to move to America. Paine took Franklin’s advice and immediately moved. In America, Paine wrote for the Pennsylvania Magazine and within 6 months became the editor. Ironically, “he never learned to write faultlessly grammatical English.” (Malone, Page 159) Paine wrote many articlesencouraging the abolition of slavery and the colonial fight for independence from England. Paine soon became obsessed with the American Colonies flight for independence from Great Britain.
In 1776, Paine wrote Common Sense, a 79-page pamphlet in which he offered “nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense” on the idea of American independence from England. He questioned the English monarchy and the English Parliament. He stated, To say that the Commons is a check upon the king, presupposes… that the king is not to be trusted without being looked after,” (PaineCommon Sense, Page 553) Within 3 months Common Sense sold 120,000 copies in America alone, not to mention sales in European countries such as England and France. This pamphlet inspired many people to get involved in the strive for independence. It also prepared the colonists for the Declaration of Independence, written later that year.
Thomas Paine did not only use his pen to support patriotism. He also served with Washington’s Army “during the retreat across the Jersies.” (Encyclopedia…, Page 66) However it was his pen that lifted the spirits of the soldiers in The Crisis papers, released between December 1776 and April 1783. In the papers, Paine spoke out against the loyalists and inspired the colonists to continue to fight.
Paine made very little money from the success of his writing. He was appointed secretary to Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs, but after 2 years was removed. Fortunately, he was appointed clerk of the Assembly in Pennsylvania, where he “wrote the preamble to the state’s law abolishing slavery.” (Encyclopedia…, Page 66) Selflessly, Paine offered financial help to Washington’s army by donating $500 from his small savings to the army.
Paine continued to write for the good of America. He wrote the pamphlet, Public Good, to help the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. He also wrote letters to the Providence Gazette and Country Journal to encourage Rhode Island to approve a national tariff that would put more money in the treasury. At the end of the American Revolution, on April 19, 1783 he ended The Crisis papers with the line, “The times that tried men’s souls” are over-and the greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and happily accomplished.” (Encyclopedia… Page 66-67)
Paine decided to bring his talent for journalism overseas to England and France. There he wrote pieces such as The Rights of Man, Letter to George Washington, and The Age of Reason, which inspired democratic governments, freedom of thought, and religion, respectively.
Throughout his life Thomas Paine encouraged free thinking and standing up for one’s beliefs. He believed that all people have the right to be free. Paine exposed his thoughts to the world through his Writing. He had a profound influence on the American Revolution and on many people in America and Europe. Thomas Paine proved that it does not matter what class you are born into, or how great a formal education you receive. What matters is what is in your mind and heart.
Paine, Thomas “The American Crisis”” Heritage of American Literature Beginnings to the Civil War. Editor-James E. Miller, Jr., Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Collage Publisher, 1991
Paine, Thomas “Common Sense.” Heritage of American Literature-Beginnings to the Civil War. Editor-James E. Miller, Jr., Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Collage Publisher, 1991 Secondary Sources:
“Thomas Paine.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Second Edition
“Thomas Paine.” American Reformers. Ed. Alden Whitman; New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1985
“Thomas Paine.” Dictionary of American Biography. Ed. Dumas Malone; New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934