“These are the times that try men’s souls…” Many are familiar with the famous quote but few can quite put a finger on its origin. Is it taken from a Shakespearean tragedy or perhaps a line from a Faulkner novel?
Believe it or not, it is the first line in a political pamphlet entitled The American Crisis by Thomas Paine that was published in the Pennsylvania Journal on this day in 1776.
If it sounds like a rallying cry, it may be because indeed it is nothing less. As the conflict between the colonists and the Crown heightened, the rebels began to grow weary of continued war. A large number of Continental soldiers were returning home after several crushing defeats, not to mention the British capture of New York. And General Washington feared they may choose to abandon the cause after their enlistment periods ended, a time that was fast approaching. The intent of the series of sixteen pamphlets was to buoy the spirits of the colonists and give them a reason to truly get behind the Patriot cause.
Paine’s style was decidedly plain-spoken which held great appeal for the masses. They also likely related to the references he made to God. He often spoke of God’s support for the American fight for freedom from an increasingly oppressive regime which appeared to have enslavement as its ultimate goal.
Paine stated in very clear terms that Britain was attempting to usurp the authority of God by trying to take freedom away from the colonists. How could a God-given right be stolen away by a mortal authority?
As if Thomas Paine had not proven his case with the aforementioned prose, he gently reminded the colonists that they had been more than patient in enduring the ever-encroaching tyranny of the British government. They had attempted, by every peaceful means possible, to stave off the advancing assaults to no avail. The Crown left them no choice but to fight for their independence.
So was the brilliant “pep rally” pamphlet series by Paine enough to get the colonists fired up? Well, as they say, “the proof is in the pudding.” And while the pudding tasted rather sweet to the patriots, it left a very bad taste in the mouths of King George III and his loyal following.
As for the beautiful and eloquent quote mentioned earlier, it summed up perfectly the sentiment of Revolutionary times and hopefully serves to remind us of the very real sacrifices those who came before us made so that we might live free:
“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.”