American Revolution

Common Sense also contained a ringing plea for independence. The ongoing British efforts to put down the rebellion in New England made reconciliation between Britain and the American colonies impossible, claimed Paine. The colonies had to become independent and sever their ties with the king, Parliament, and the entire British Empire: everything short of that would be mere patchwork. Common Sense’s call for independence, however, did not speak to the difficulties of war. In the months following the Declaration of Independence, the Continental army suffered a series of defeats and withdrawals, and support for the war slipped. Paine responded with The American Crisis, a series of essays first issued in December 1776, at the war’s low point.

These are the times that try men’s souls, began the first Crisis letter, which reminded the now-independent colonists of the high cost of independence and liberty. 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. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, explained Paine as he implored Americans to support the war effort. The pamphleteer Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense (1776) aroused pro-independence sentiment, also wrote a series of essays, The American Crisis, during the war. These are the times that try men’s souls, it began. (Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania) During the war, Paine continued writing additional American Crisis essays and other pamphlets. He served with the army in 1776 and 1777, served as secretary for the Continental Congress’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, and, in 1781, served as an unofficial assistant for an American diplomatic mission to France. Paine also remained active in Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s turbulent wartime politics, serving on various city committees charged with addressing wartime problems and shortages, and clerking for the Pennsylvania assembly.

The states of New York and Pennsylvania, the national government, and prominent Revolutionaries like George Washington all acknowledged Paine’s important contributions to the effort to secure American independence. Pennsylvania granted him 300 pounds, Congress granted him $3,000, and New York granted him a 300-acre farm in New Rochelle. In the 1790s, Paine became embroiled in the struggles between the Federalists and Republicans in the United States, as well as in the transatlantic debates spawned by the French Revolution. Rights of Man (1791, 1792) was well received by American Republicans. His Age of Reason (1795), however, with its deistic attacks on organized religion and orthodox Christianity, garnered him a reputation as an atheist infidel, and Paine fell out of favor with many of his adopted countrymen. Paine returned to the United States in 1802, after nearly a decade in England and France. He eventually settled on his farm in New Rochelle, where he died on June 8, 1809. In 1805, Paine’s bitter antagonist, John Adams, wrote a tribute. Adams deplored Paine’s ideas about society and government, but he admitted I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs over the last thirty years than Tom Paine. John Craig Hammond See also: Common Sense (1776); Revolutionary War; Document: Common Sense (1776). Bibliography Foner, Eric. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Foner, Philip S. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine. 2 vols. New York: Citadel, 1945. Kaye, Harvey J. Thomas Paine: Firebrand of the Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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American Revolution


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