A Persuasive Writer Inspires a Nation

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Thomas Paine wrote an important pamphlet called Common Sense which was published on January 10, 1776. Written in clear, easy-to-read language, it became an overnight best-seller. About 500,000 copies sold shortly after publication. Many newspapers around the country reprinted quotes from Common Sense.

Paine lived in England until 1774 when he came to America. He got a job writing articles for the Pennsylvania Magazine. He wrote about issues such as slavery and women’s rights.

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, George Washington was appointed as commander-in-chief of the Continental army. We were already at war with England and still many hesitated to split from England.

In Common Sense, Paine wrote about the need to separate from England and urged the colonists to declare independence. He also stated that he’d never met a man in America or England who didn’t believe the two countries would eventually part ways, but they couldn’t agree on the timing. Paine wrote that “the time hath found us.” This meant that the time had arrived.

People praised his work, and it convinced many that they must act now.

Paine volunteered for the army. He was appointed as the aide-de-camp (assistant) to General Lee in September of 1776. Washington’s army had been badly defeated in the Battle of Long Island in August. The soldiers’ confidence took a beating.

Paine noticed that everyone’s spirits were low. He sat beside a campfire near Newark, New Jersey, and wrote another article encouraging people not to lose their courage in this time of crisis. The Pennsylvania Journal published it on December 19, 1776.  It was the first article in a series of writings that became known as The Crisis. This is part of his opening lines:

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. 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.”

 George Washington had Paine’s article read to his soldiers. It inspired those brave men. They had to cross the Delaware River during a snow storm that turned to sleet during Christmas night in 1776. The American army surrounded the British forces at Trenton and won the battle. The people now believed in Washington’s leadership. Their victory increased the confidence of the soldiers.

Paine’s article showed that he agreed with everyone – times were tough. As he said, the harder the fight, the more wonderful we feel when we win. His words encouraged the nation.


– Sandra M. Hart

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