December 23, 1776 — Today, Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” for The American Crisis, a pamphlet series published during the American Revolution from 1776 to 1783.
“Throughout most of his life, his writings inspired passion, but also brought him great criticism,” shares ushistory.org. “He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States.”
Paine was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly. But his radical views on religion would destroy his success, and by the end of his life, only a handful of people attended his funeral.
More about Thomas Paine: Born in Thetford, England on January 29, 1737, Paine’s father was a corseter, who had grand visions for his son’s future. But by the age of 12, Thomas failed out of school. The young Paine began apprenticing for his father, but didn’t take to that profession either. By 1768, he found himself as an excise (tax) officer in England. Thomas was discharged from his post twice in four years.
• In 1774, he met Benjamin Franklin in London, who helped him emigrate to Philadelphia. His career turned to journalism, which raised his profile. Two years later, he published Common Sense, a defense for American independence from England. Paine then published the pamplet series, The American Crisis (1776-83), which helped inspire the formation of the US Army.
• In 1791-92, he wrote The Rights of Man in response to criticism of the French Revolution. This work caused Paine to be labeled an outlaw in England for his anti-monarchist views. He would have been arrested, but he fled for France to join the National Convention.
• By 1793, he was imprisoned in France for not endorsing the execution of Louis XVI. During his imprisonment, he wrote and distributed the first part of what was to become his most famous work at the time, the anti-church text, The Age of Reason (1794-96).
• Paine was freed in 1794. He narrowly escaped execution due to the efforts of James Monroe, then U.S. Minister to France. He remained there until 1802 when he returned to America on an invitation from Thomas Jefferson. He discovered that his contributions to the American Revolution had been all but eradicated due to his religious views.
• Derided by the public and abandoned by his friends, he died on June 8, 1809 at the age of 72 in New York City.
Words of Wisdom
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 by 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: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.