Thomas Paine’s “American Crisis”

July 2, 2008

In honor of the Fourth of July holiday, I picked up Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. Even if you’re not familiar with the title, you probably will recognize at least one of its quotes. This is where the famous quote, “These are the times that try men’s souls” comes from.

And if you’re not familiar with any of this, Thomas Paine is more commonly known, today, I think, as the author of Common Sense. He was an American printer at the time of the American Revolution, and his incendiary Common Sense called for the establishment of an independent country, separate from the British, in January 1776 – a full six months before the Declaration of Independence made it official.

I feel certain I must have read The American Crisis, long ago, in an 8am college history course, though I remember nothing but sleepiness from that. But rereading it now, many years later and much more conscious, I am struck by not only Paine’s eloquence and passion – but how much of our fundamental American ideals are contained and elaborated in this series of essays.

He talks about colonialism, royalists efforts to suppress the will of the common people, economic instability, the folly and costs of war (and sometimes its necessity), honor and deception among leaders, the willing sacrifices made by American citizens, and so very much more. I found it not only a surprisingly easy read – but also fascinatingly relevant in many many ways to today’s world. It truly took me back to the most fundamental aspects of our American democracy – our virtues and our faults – and maybe most importantly at this time of year, our ideals.

The essays are short enough they can be read on a short bus or train ride while commuting, or an hour without TV, or maybe while you are waiting for it to get dark enough to shoot off fireworks on the Fourth. Get back to basics, read about American ideals and freedoms, and take a look at this American classic.

© writingreading 2008