This morning on radio, Glenn opened the show by telling the story of Thomas Paine and how he came to write the pamphlets that made up The American Crisis, a document written during The American Revolution famous for its line “These are the times that try men’s souls”.
It was in the middle of December 1776. It was cold; the men were tired. They had started out an amazing summer in early July of that year. They all gathered, the leaders, in Philadelphia, after years and years and years and years of begging the king. None of them wanted to stop being an American citizen ‑‑ or a British citizen. They didn’t want to become a new country. They were British. They loved the king; they loved their country. But over and over and over again they would sail the open waters, make the slow, arduous journey to plead with the king, “Please.”
Finally in July of 1776 in a hot summer with the windows open and the men sweating under their powdered wigs, they penned the words, “We hold these truths to be self‑evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They then outlined all of the things that the king had done that compelled them now to say, “We must be separate.” It is their duty to state those things.
Thomas Jefferson wrote at the end, “And in firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” It was a moment inspired by God. It was a moment of bravado in many ways. It was done in humility but they knew they were going to win. And they brought George Washington in. He was going to be the general. George Washington didn’t want the job.
That summer they had over 20,000 men. Think of that. When we met at the stadium here in Dallas, it was in July. Think how little time has gone by. What were you doing in July? Where were you on July 4th? The country was excited in July. “We’re going to go to war. We’re going to separate ourselves. We’re going to be a new country.” And by December they had been driven all the way down back to Philadelphia and George Washington, with now less than 2,000 troops, only a tenth remaining, stood there on the shores of the Delaware knowing what he had to do but not knowing how he was going to get the men in the boats to turn around and go back into New Jersey, go back to Trenton and take on the equivalent of the Navy SEALs, the Hessians.
At the same time he was wondering that, Thomas Paine was marching with American men, the farmers that had grabbed their guns over their fireplace and were now marching in the cold, wet, snowy mud. And he was listening to the drums. I imagine in my head just because I know me, I don’t know Thomas Paine, and maybe at the time a good drum set’s more appealing than it is now, but I’ve never heard anybody play a drum for very long in a drum solo, maybe in the garden, but I’ve never heard a drum solo that I enjoyed for more than about a minute and a half.
But he had been walking beside the drummer and hearing that guy drum, and it stirred him. You see, back before they signed the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine had written Common Sense. It was a pamphlet. He was the ‑‑ he was the blogger of his day, except there was no information superhighway because Al Gore hadn’t been invented yet. And so what he had to do was he would have to write something out and then he would go to the printer and they would put the typeset in one at a time and then they would print these pamphlets one at a time, and you would go into a store and you would buy it and they would rip it out of this giant so stack of pamphlets. There weren’t such things as book covers anymore. Those were far too expensive. If you wanted to have a book cover for it, well, you’d have to put it on yourself. And then you would read it and pass it on to a friend.
Common Sense was a short little pamphlet. It just said, “Hey, come on, you guys, we know this. We know these things. We know the king doesn’t have absolute rule over you. We know that he doesn’t have a right to do these things. You should be able to chart your own destiny. You should be free. It’s your land. You were born free. Nobody rules over you. This is common sense.” That’s what stirred everybody to get into that room and pen the Declaration of Independence and then state, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And so they put together an army, and they had lost every single battle. And now Thomas Paine was like, “I can’t believe it. It was just last summer.”
As he’s listening to this drum, and I don’t know if it was because it really was the only piece of paper that he could find, the only thing he could write on, or if it was just a very clever trick from a very clever man to get rid of that damn drum. But he looked at the drummer and he said, “I need your drumhead now.” And he scratched these words on the head of a drum: 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 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. That what we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything 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. Britain with an army to enforce her tyranny has declared that she has a right not only to tax but to bind us in all cases whatsoever. And if being bound in that manner is not slavery, then there is not such a thing as slavery upon the Earth. Even the expression is impious. So for so unlimited a power can only belong to God. These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink now from the service of their country. But he now who stands… deserves the love, deserves the thanks of man and woman.
Did we think that things could be achieved with such high value with such little effort. We have worked hard, but heaven knows how to fix a proper price on something so dear, so precious, so rare as freedom.
That message was rolled up on the head of a drum, given to a rider. “Take this to Philadelphia. Find Mr. Franklin if he is still there. Print it and find General Washington.” It was printed, and it found its way on December 23rd, 1776, on a cold, wet, snowy evening. It was handed to him in a tent that I’m sure was riddled with mud.
I imagine in my mind’s eye the great giant… sitting in his tent, wondering… how, how, dear God. After all that his men have seen. Look at them. They are not rich. They’re farmers. They’re just the regular Joe that haven’t been trained. “How am I going to get them into the boats? I’ve lost every battle. I am not the man for this task,” he must have thought.
When somebody missive from Mr. Paine, I imagine him reading by candlelight, and after that first paragraph standing and reading the rest of the pamphlet, knowing this is the message the men need to hear. That, that which we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
Thomas Paine gave a message at the end. He appealed: You knew these things to be right and righteous and full of common sense. You knew what was true. But the man who is called a deist, a man who believed that God was a watchmaker who later said there is no God said at this time that God almighty will not give up a people to destruction or leave them unsupported to perish. He will not abandon those who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid calamities by every decent method which wisdom could invent. Though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal shall never expire.