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The Crisis

Thomas Paine

Englishman Thomas Paine came to America in 1774 to take part in the American Revolution. While traveling with the Continental Army, Paine participated in the retreat from New York and saw the deteriorating condition of General Washington's army. Putting quill to paper, he began to write a series of essays from 1776 to 1783 to maintain support for the war effort. These essays became known as The American Crisis or simply as The Crisis. This first essay inspired George Washington so much that he ordered it read to all of his soldiers.

The following document has been modified from its original form to increase understanding.

The Crisis by Thomas Paine

Published in December 1776

Why We Fight

THESE are the times that try men's souls. Those that only support their country in the good times will, in this crisis, abandon their country. However, those that remain, deserve the love and thanks of the people. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we know that the greater the challenge, the greater the victory. What we get too easily, we do not value: it is those things that we must work for that make us appreciate them. Freedom is valuable and therefore worth fighting for. Britain, with an army to enforce its cruelty, has declared that they have a right, not only to tax us, but to tell us what to do “in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER,” and if this is not slavery, then what is?

Patriots and Tyrants

For the past month General William Howe has been attacking the countryside. It is my opinion that God will not allow us to be defeated because we have tried so hard to avoid a war. And I believe the king of Britain has as much a chance of receiving help from heaven as a thief.

I was among the troops at Fort Lee, and marched with them to the edge of Pennsylvania. Our army was less than a quarter of Howe’s army. We had no ammunition, cannons, or other supplies. We marched into the town of Newark taking only what we could carry and left the rest behind. I shall not explain everything about our retreat from New York to the Delaware River, but we marched without panic. Everyone’s thoughts centered on the hope that the country would come out and help us drive the enemy back.

Why are the British leaving New England and moving into the middle colonies? The answer is easy: New England has few Loyalists, and the middle colonies have many. What is a Loyalist? Every Loyalist is a coward; and although he may be cruel, he can never be brave. I once felt anger toward the mean ideas that Loyalists have. One time, I saw a Loyalist standing in the doorway with his daughter, and he said, “Well, give me peace in my day!” Every man on this continent knows that the colonies and Britain will eventually separate, and a responsible parent should have said, “If there is going to be trouble, let it be now so that my child when she grows up can have peace.” This example should wake up every man in America.

America can be the happiest place in the world. I believe that America will never be happy until it is free from foreign rule. War will continue until that time is reached.

A Call to Patriots

I always considered militia as the best troops in the world for an emergency, but they will not be enough for a long war. It is likely that Howe will attempt to invade Philadelphia. Once Howe has been pushed out of that city, in the following year, the Loyalists who supported him or helped him should be driven off the continent and Congress should take their possessions and give them to the people who suffered.

I turn with friendship to those who stand up for independence: I call out not to the few but to all; not to a single state but to every state: come and help us. It is better to have too much force than too little, there is too much at stake. Let the future remember, that in the middle of winter when nothing but hope and morality could survive, that Philadelphia and the country came to throw out the invaders. We all must take action. It does not matter where you live, the evil or the good will reach you all. Those who ignore the problem now will be cursed by their children for their cowardice when only a little effort might have saved the country and made the children happy.

We Can Succeed

I love the man that can smile during trouble, that can gather strength from disaster, and grow brave by thought. A man who will stand up for his beliefs is willing to die for his beliefs. Nothing could have made me start this war, for I think war is murder; but we do have a right to defend ourselves. I cannot follow a king who is a stupid, stubborn, worthless, violent man.

There are those who do not see the full power of the evil that threatens them. They hope that if the British succeed, they will be kind. It is madness to expect kindness from those who have refused to do justice.

I know our situation well and we can overcome it. With a handful of men, we managed to retreat from New York nearly a hundred miles with our ammunition, cannon, and food. Nor was our retreat a disaster for we marched back to fight the enemy twice. Now we are growing a new army, and we shall be able to begin the next campaign with sixty thousand men, well armed and clothed. This is our situation: by determination and courage we can succeed; by cowardice and surrender we shall have a destroyed country. And if one person doubts it, let them suffer.