Extracts from Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis (1776)


Thomas Paine, author of ‘Common Sense’ spent several months travelling with the Continent Army in late 1776. Shortly before Washington’s successful attack on Hessian troops at Trenton, Paine wrote the first of a series of essays called The American Crisis. In this extract he rallies readers by discussing the crisis, before warning of the dangers of Tories [Loyalists]:


“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 their 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: it is dearness only that gives every thing 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. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right not only to tax but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever” – and if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth…

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them without support to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war by every decent method which wisdom could invent. Neither have I so much of the infidel in me as to suppose that He has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils…

‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague [fever] at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the 14th century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc…

Yet panics have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before… They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world…

I shall conclude this paper with some miscellaneous remarks on the state of our affairs; and shall begin with asking the following question, Why is it that the enemy have left the New England provinces and made these middle ones the seat of war? The answer is easy: New England is not infested with Tories, and we are… And what is a Tory? Good God, what is he? I should not be afraid to go with a hundred Whigs against a thousand Tories, were they to attempt to get into arms. Every Tory is a coward: for servile, slavish, self-interested fear is the foundation of Toryism; and a man under such influence, though he may be cruel, never can be brave…”

  • 1
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •