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. ….
The above are the beginning lines from an essay titled “The Crisis” by Thomas Paine, written on December 23, 1776 and read to the troops at Valley Forge. Paine writes in the essay about various battles, commanders, revolutionaries and their common struggles, in an attempt, I think, to “rally the troops.” Now, some 240 years later, it would seem the words ring just as true.
I have excerpted several passages, the ones that seem to speak so directly to events of today. It had been my thought to comment on each paragraph, drawing similarities to what we currently face as a nation.
I think, instead of inserting my own thoughts after some of Paine’s words, I’ll simply put the entirety of my excerpted passages so that you can read uninterrupted. Paine’s words flow eloquently and one can imagine the troops massed at Valley Forge that cold December day, hearing these words meant to spur them on in the battle for the soul of the new nation.
Without further ado:
‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. …
Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world. …
…that America will never be happy till she gets clear of foreign dominion. Wars, without ceasing, will break out till that period arrives, and the continent must in the end be conqueror; for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal can never expire…..
…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 have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands;…
…It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death…
Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America.…
…I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it. …
By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils – a ravaged country – a depopulated city – habitations without safety, and slavery without hope – our homes turned into barracks and bawdy-houses for Hessians, and a future race to provide for, whose fathers we shall doubt of. Look on this picture and weep over it! and if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented.
Powerful, gut-wrenching words that unbelievably seem so appropriate for today, some 240 years later. How can that be? How can Thomas Paine’s words be applicable to today? The American Revolution was fought and won and birthed our great nation. The centuries turned, the country expanded, the times- they changed. So much has happened since December 23, 1776 yet so much remains the same.
We are now massing in numbers to fight the tyranny of a leader, a government that seems hell-bent on putting their heel down on our backs. We are forming groups who are banding together under the slogan of #TheResistance, empowering each and every one of us to dig deep, to find our voice, to rebel against those that seek to oppress us.
A most trite and hackneyed phrase–history repeats itself–has never seemed more evident than now. As Paine writes above, it is frightening to see how rapidly a panic will move through the countryside. Panic are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy. Whew, that’s a loaded sentence that pains one to cogitate, ruminate a moment as to what exactly Paine is attempting to say. Hypocrisy is exposed to the light of those who are sincerely panicking? Hmmm. An interesting way to suppose I have an inkling of an idea as to what he meant.
I would have to say I believe we are currently in a state of panic. We are exposing much to the daylight and grappling with what the light has revealed.
How will we do? Will we choose the perseverance and fortitude put forth by Paine above? Or the cowardice and submission, giving in and giving up, throwing up our hands and saying “it’s too hard to fight all the time, I’m tired, we’ll never win anyway, my voice doesn’t matter.”
“Tis the business of little minds to shrink…”
He’s not mincing words there. And we must not shrink from this fight either, 241 years later. We must soldier on, we must find the courage to persevere. We must not give in to the hate, to the divisiveness, to the tyranny that threatens to tear asunder the very fabric this country was stitched together with.
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot must learn how to be all-weather! This is not the time to stand idly by and think the work will be completed by others, to languish on the sidelines, not sure if there is anything to contribute. This country was forged inch by inch by the blood, sweat and tears of those who have gone before us. Those who felt a stirring deep inside their bones of the absolute belief in the power of the people. The power of principles. A rag-tag bunch of colonists banded together to fight for what they believed in. If ever there was a story of the little guy against the giant, the American Revolution was certainly it. Our Revolution birthed a nation, birthed heroes for that nation, and birthed the people to populate that nation.
I’m conflicted as to whether or not it’s a good thing that it is becoming increasingly obvious we need to muster ourselves for another round. It seems to me our nation is under attack, and not just from a foreign enemy. If we want the blood of our forefathers, the founding fathers, and every patriot who battled for every inch of this country to mean something, then it becomes imperative that we take a stand today. If we believe that great harm is being done to this country and the ideals for which so many gave their lives so many years ago, then it is upon our shoulders the mantle lies. We must take this responsibility and, as Paine writes, “lay our shoulders to the wheel…come forth and meet and repulse it.”
I am reminded of another’s famous words, told to his children frequently as they were growing up:
“To those who have been given much, much is expected in return.” ~Joseph Kennedy
We, the people of this hallowed country, the United States of America, have been given much. It was handed to us by those who fought with everything they had to create it. We have many struggles here; the battles against us are many. But, truth be told, many of these are “first world problems,” a meme mocked around the world. None of us gets a free ride and none of us should be allowed to take without giving in return. We are blessed to be alive in this country, albeit with its many imperfections. But again, #firstworldproblems. To those of us who are able, those of us who have been given much, it is time to give in return. My ancestors fought alongside General Washington. I have a great(x many)-uncle who fought in the Civil War and died, wounded, as a POW in a Georgia prison. At the age of 22. My ancestors bled for this country. I have been given much–the freedom they fought for. Much is now expected from me in return.
The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.
This is not a time for shrinking. This is a time for us to gather together and grow stronger so that our children and our children’s children and their children will be able to look back upon this time period in the history of this nation, and state, unequivocally, that we answered the call. We summer soldiers and sunshine patriots smiled through the troubles and became braver and bolder and more courageous for it. That we did justice to the sacrifices made by those who walked before us, that we honored the government they so carefully crafted, the documents they so diligently debated. That is the story our children’s children’s children should tell. That we stood up and did our duty as American patriots.
For these are the times that try men’s souls and we must succeed, as history has its eyes on us.