“Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” – “The American Crisis,” December, 1776.
“The American Crisis” was written anonymously by Thomas Paine, an aide-de-camp to American General Nathanael Greene. It was immediately published in the Pennsylvania Journal, Dec. 23, 1776.
General George Washington was so moved by “The American Crisis” that he ordered it read out loud to his troops, rallying them not to disperse at the end of the year when their six-month enlistment was up, and to have courage before the Battle of Trenton. Not having a table in camp, Paine used the head of a drum for his desk.
In “The American Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote: “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 by 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. … Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. …”
Paine went on: “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 … that … is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery. … So unlimited a power can belong only to God. … God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction …who have so earnestly … sought to avoid the calamities of war. … Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that He has relinquished the government of the world … to the care of devils. … I cannot see on what grounds the king of Britain can look up to heaven for help against us: a common murderer, a highwayman, or a house-breaker. …”
Paine wrote further: “‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes 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 (fifteenth) century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear … by a few broken forces … headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! …”
Paine added: “I am as confident as I am that God governs the world, that America will never be happy till she gets clear of foreign dominion. … Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that … the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to … to repulse it. … Throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but ‘show your faith by your works,’ that God may bless you. …”
This last statement of Paine’s “throw not the burden of the day upon Providence,” echoed that of Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull who wrote to General Washington in August of 1776: “In this day of calamity, to trust altogether to the justice of our cause, without our utmost exertion, would be tempting Providence. … March on! – This shall be your warrant: Play the man for God, and for the cities of our God. May the Lord of Hosts, the God of the Armies of Israel, be your Captain, your Leader, your Conductor, and Saviour.”
Thomas Paine continued in “The American Crisis”: “It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil … will reach you. … The blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole. … I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. …”
Paine’s “The American Crisis” went on: “Not all the treasures of the world … could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and … threatens 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? … Let them call me rebel … I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America. …”
Paine was referring to the “last day” judgement in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation 6:15-16: “And the kings of the earth, and the great men … hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”
Paine continued: “There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both.”
In “The American Crisis,” Paine warned that “men must be fools” who surrender their weapons in exchange for a “promise” of peace: “Howe’s first object is, partly by threats and partly by promises, to terrify or seduce the people to deliver up their arms and receive mercy. … This is what the Tories call making their peace. … A peace which would be the immediate forerunner of a worse ruin than any we have yet thought of. … Were the back counties to give up their arms, they would fall an easy prey to the Indians, who are all armed: this perhaps is what some Tories would not be sorry for. Were the home counties to deliver up their arms, they would be exposed to the resentment of the back counties who would then have it in their power to chastise their defection at pleasure. And were any one state to give up its arms, that state must be garrisoned by all Howe’s army of Britons and Hessians. … Howe is mercifully inviting you to barbarous destruction, and men must be … fools that will not see it. …”
Thomas Paine ended: “I thank God, that I fear not.”
Thomas Paine had written in his third edition of “Common Sense,” published in Philadelphia, Feb. 14, 1776, of the danger of kings claiming a hereditary right: “Most wise men, in their private sentiments, have ever treated hereditary right with contempt; yet it is one of those evils, which when once established is not easily removed; many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest. …”
Paine explained: “The present race of kings … could we take off the dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, that we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, whose savage manners or preeminence in subtility obtained him the title of chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power, and extending his depredations, over-awed the quiet and defenseless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions. …”
Paine ended by referring to Mohammed (Mahomet): “In those days, and traditionary history stuffed with fables, it was very easy, after the lapse of a few generations, to trump up some superstitious tale, conveniently timed, Mahomet like, to cram hereditary right down the throats of the vulgar.”
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