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Chapter 5 - The Times
That Try Mens' Souls
It did, in fact, take
some time for the thoughts of independence of the
colonies from England to be voiced.
When Thomas Paine first
met Benjamin Franklin in London, England, the
elder statesman was trying to smooth over
relations with the mother country.
He was trying to voice
the concerns of the people who lived in the
colonies ... concerns such as paying taxes to the
English with nothing in return, wanting
well-qualified people to run the local
governments, disliking the English laws that were
prohibiting free trade in the colonies and
costing them money.
After Thomas Paine came
to Philadelphia, Franklin followed the next
they met again, it was actually Franklin who
first asked Paine to write something about the
Paine then wrote a
pamphlet he titled The Plain Truth.
However, another friend,
Dr. Benjamin Rush, thought Common Sense
would be a better fit for the American colonists.
Paine delivered his work
to Philadelphia printer Robert Bell for printing,
and Common Sense hit the streets on
January 10, 1776.
This was the start of a
very important year for the colonies and for
It was Paine's pen, and
others, that would spread the words of
independence until July 1776, when the
Declaration of Independence was finally saying it
all-independence for all the colonies.
And after that, when
Paine went to war, that pen was still working,
stirring the troops to keep going and finish the
deed. He was America's first war correspondent,
writing articles that were published in
Philadelphia's newspapers throughout the war.
* * *
After Frederich and Anna
found out who wrote Common Sense, they
found they were quickly not the only ones to know
The days passed, and the
frozen winter streets of the city turned mushy
under the spring rains and then hard under the
All the time, the
colonies were seething with unrest.
It was on a hot summer
day of 1776, in a corner of his father's
bookshop, that Frederich found his sister Anna
crying softly. She held Common Sense in
said. "What is wrong?"
"Mr. Paine has
joined the army. He has gone to war," she
said. "We shall never see him again."
"Oh, no, Anna,"
said Frederich, as he put his arm around her
shoulders. Frederich's arms at his age of 15 had
suddenly become very long. He was surprised and
proud at their growth, but felt a little awkward.
"He will come
back," Frederich said.
"Uncle Amos went to
war and now he is in heaven. We will never see
him again on earth," Anna replied.
Frederich took a piece of
their mother's bread from Anna's basket and gave
it to her. But Anna's tears made the bread salty
and mushy before she ate it.
"Anna, Uncle Amos
took his gun to the war. Mr. Paine has not taken
a gun," said Frederich.
Anna stopped crying and
eating. "What has he taken?"
Frederich took a pen from
his father's desk and held it high. "Mr.
Thomas Paine has taken his pen to war!"
Anna's blue eyes grew
large and she smiled.
* * *
Paine joined the
Continental Army and became aide-de-camp to Gen.
Nathaniel Greene. He wrote and read orders and
letters for the general.
Paine not only thanked
and encouraged the American troops during the
Revolutionary War, but he wrote details about the
retreat of Washington's army. Never before had
reports of battles been so timely printed in
He wrote on the front
line of the battles of the war and so became
America's first war correspondent.
Paine had witnessed the
terrible retreat of the Continental Army in
December 1776 at Fort Lee, New Jersey.
He followed them on that
retreat that wound its way through what is now
Bergen County, past the Hackensack River and what
is now the Steuben House on its shores, and on to
the Delaware River.
When he saw how
heartbroken the soldiers felt, he wrote the first
of his 13 The American Crisis articles.
In an area around
northern New Jersey, on a drumhead one night by
the campfire, he 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 it now, deserves the love and thanks of
man and woman."
ordered The Crisis I read to all his men
before crossing the Delaware River just north of
Trenton, N.J., on Christmas Night 1776.
Thomas Paine's words
lifted the spirits of those tired, poorly clothed
soldiers and sparked their resolve to fight on.
Their American victory in Trenton, against an
army of German mercenaries, the Hessians, truly
stunned the watching world.
The European military
strategists scratched their heads. How could the
rag-tag Americans beat the best of the
European-trained expert soldiers?
Even though Paine
reported about the war, strategies, outcomes,
etc., he also wrote his feelings about the war
and always stressed how important it was for the
colonies to act together in unity.
"I call not upon a
few, but upon all; not on this state or that
state, but on every state: up and help us; lay
your shoulders to the wheel; better to have too
much force than too little, when so great an
object is at stake."
When Thomas Paine
returned to Philadelphia in January 1777 to have
the first of his Crisis articles
printed, he took time to see Anna and Frederich
at the bookshop.
He talked to Anna, who
worried about his safety: "I knew the time
when I thought that the whistling of a cannonball
would have frightened me almost to death; but I
have since tried it, and I find I can stand it
with a little composure...."
By then, everyone knew
that Thomas Paine had written Common Sense,
so Paine signed his The American Crisis
articles with his new pen name, Common Sense.
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