The American Crisis By Thomas Paine Essays

Thomas Paine's The Crisis Number One 1776 - Richard DeStefano

After the colonists in America decided that they were going to attempt a move towards freedom from British rule, they found themselves faced with several problems. Many of these problems dealt directly with the threat of a British invasion to stamp out such a revolution. However, a major problem was an internal one. The feelings regarding independence were mixed throughout the colonies and divided among classes. The Patriots found themselves among many devoted British loyalists who were totally against any ideas of secession. Many neutrals felt that any attempt at independence would be an incoherent one. They felt that living under British control was adequate. It was a situation which many knew would have to be altered if independence was to be achieved. It is not surprising that there was a large amount of loylaists and neutrals in the colonies. Many of these may have believed that Britain's hold on the colonies was tyrannical. Logically speaking, however, it would seem infeasible that thirteen colonies, made up of mostly farmers and craftsmen, would be able to mount such a defensive against the worlds most powerful nation.

Thomas Paine was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine in Philadelphia. An earnest supporter of the move towards independence he used media as a weapon against British rule. He was in strong favor of a war against Britain, if that is what it was going to take to gain independence. Knowing that the war was going to need the support of all the colonists, he understood that unity was essential and found it necessary to offer what he could to help unite the thirteen colonies into one nation. In 1776, Paine wrote The Crisis, Number One, a plain spoken commentary outlining obstacles the colonies faced in the struggle with Britain. His conviction was to unite all in the colonies and expose the stubborness and tyranny of Britain in hopes of gaining the support of the Loyalists and neutrals to support the cause with the Patriots.

Paine wrote with fever and passion. His idea of a land free from British tyranny was developed through his writing. The Crisis was written in an elegantly simple voice. Paine stayed away from terminology that was incoherent to the many un-educated common artisans and craftsmen. It was written in common, everyday language. He understood that an easily readable circular would be accepted. In it he not only outlined the problems and struggles with Britain but argued them. He starts out by telling people that "These are the times that try men's souls". He made the point that a soulful person would no longer allow themselves to be oppressed through the unfairness of such an evil kingdom as the British monarchy. He wanted the reader to become outraged and ignited with the same emotions that he and other patriots felt.

Paine knew that the average colonist was not going to simply support a war for independence. He had to make it more than that. He used many common relations between the American cause and beliefs that colonists held close. He used many referrals to God in his writing. This referral was used, no doubt, to promote the idea that a war against Britain would be a war in support of God and religious ideals. The British were seen, by Paine, as trying to accumulate a power that he claimed belonged only to God. He helps arrouse support by stating that "God almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who had so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent". They would be protected with God on their side. The point being made that there were no peaceful methods left and that war would be accepted by God because thay tried several times before through peace but to no avail.

Paine's interpretation of the British was a disapproving one. he wanted the colonists to understand that they did not have to accept restraint from the British. He made references to the British hold on the colonies as an intruder breaking into a private home to steal and ravage. "...if a thief break into my house, burn and destroy my property, and kill or threaten to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever," to his absolute will, am I to suffer it?" Paine wanted the colonists to know that it was their right to live happy lives at their will. He wanted to give the feeling that the British were not only unjust in their acts on on the colonies. Rather, it was personally against the colonists. Allegiance to the British, he claimed, would make less of a person.

Paine promoted the American cause, not necessarily a war. Though it is commonly known as the American Revolution he never used the term "Revolution" for obvious reasons. Many colonists, when thinking of a revolution, think of a bloody, violent attempt of overthrowing a goverment. It is understandable that the colonists would not be willing to fight a long, drawn out, bloody revolution. Therefore, Paine knew it was necessary to portray the upcoming war as a glorious event that was to give hope to all the repressed peoples of the world.

His objective was aimed towards the Tories and especially the neutrals who just wanted to be left alone and let the fighting for some other time. He claimed the British government was going to use the Tories against the Patriots be keeping the seat of war in the middle colonies where the Tories stood. He wanted the Tories to understand the danger they were in stating that "...either they or we must change our sentiments, or one or both must fall." He claimed the Tories were cowards, that under British rule can never be brave. The Crisis was written with such force aginst the British monarchy that many British loyalists were, after reading it, turned against the crown. Many loyalists now understood that it was not just about independence. After reading Paine's work they had a better understanding of the desire that had gripped so many of their fellow colonists. The thoughts of loyalists were changed due to Paine's writings.

Many neutrals felt that a revolution was necessary but did not feel that the present time was the right time. Paine rallied these people by claiming that America has the ability to be and should be the happiest place on the earth. While the colonists were debating the idea of independence, the British were preparing for war and mounting their troops. He goes on to assert that the situation in America is unique and seperate from other nations and that should be taken advantage of. The only way to take advantage of this would to be free from the British monarchy.

Taking advantage of the media, Paine became the first to use such a method as a weapon and to gain support for the fight. Paine's The Crisis became widely accepted throughout the colonies and persuaded many to join in the fight for independence. He had achieved what he set out to do. His adored, democratic style of writing changed the thoughts of many. It also changed the view of what independece meant. Before his writing many thought it was just going to be a bloody war. Paine took this idea further claiming it was a basic human right to fight against the terror of the British. His work was read by thousands and gave clear insight to just what the cause was all about. Through his writing he ignited the revolutionary sentiment the before the publication of The Crisis was held only by Patriots. Through The Crisis Paine employed the values of human dignity and was able to associate his ideals with everyone else in the colonies. Ideas of freedom were now grasped by many and unity towards the American Cause was heightened throughout America.

Research for this article was conducted while the author was a history student at the Pennsylvania State University. Thank you to Dr. Amy Greenberg, Ph.d. for her critique and

The first page of the original printing of the first volume

AuthorThomas Paine

Publication date


The American Crisis is a pamphlet series by eighteenth 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 16 pamphlets in total.[1] Thirteen numbered pamphlets were published between 1776 and 1777, with three additional pamphlets released between 1777 and 1783.[2] The first of the pamphlets was published in Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776.[3] 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 person 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, 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:[4]

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,[5] 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 the colonies as "impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God." Paine states that he believes God supports the cause of the American colonists, "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 American colonists do not lack force, but "a proper application of that force" – implying throughout that an extended war could lead only to defeat unless a stable army was composed, not of militia, but of trained professionals. Paine maintains a positive view overall, hoping that this American crisis could be resolved quickly, "for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire."[6]


Crisis No. 1 starts out with the famous line "These are the times that try men's souls,"[7] and goes on to opine about how Great Britain has no right to invade the colonies, saying that it is a power belonging "only to God."[7] He also says that "if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then there is not such a thing as slavery on earth."[7] Paine obviously believes that Great Britain is essentially trying to enslave the American colonists. He then opines a little about how the panicking of the sudden revolutionary war has both hindered and helped the colonists. Paine then speaks of his experience in the Battle of Fort Lee and their subsequent retreat. Afterward, Paine remarks on an experience with a Loyalist. He says the man told his child, "'Well! give me peace in my day,'"[7] meaning he did not want the war to happen in his lifetime. Paine says that this is very "unfatherly",[7] and the man 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.

He finishes Crisis No. 2 with a few paragraphs of encouragement, a vivid description of what will happen if colonists 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."[7]

Crisis No. 3 starts with, "Universal empire is the prerogative of a writer."[8] Paine makes it obvious his feelings toward George III of the United Kingdom when he says, "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."[8] 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 emerging country, "The United States of America, will sound as pompously in the world, or in history[, as] 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."[8] Paine then goes on to try to bargain with King George III, "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?"[8] In the conclusion Paine explains that he considers "independence as America's natural right and interest, and never could see any real disservice it would be to Britain."

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^Foner, Phillip S, The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol.2 (New York: Citadel Press, 1945) p.48
  3. ^"Thomas Paine publishes American Crisis - Dec 19, 1776 -". Retrieved 2015-10-27. 
  4. ^William B. Cairns (1909), Selections from Early American Writers, 1607–1800, The Macmillan company, pp. 347–352, retrieved 2007-11-25 
  5. ^"Age of Reason, Part First, Section 1". Retrieved 2015-10-21. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ abcdefBaym, 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. 
  8. ^ abcdPaine, Thomas (1819-01-01). The American Crisis. R. Carlile. 

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