In the series of sixteen essays now known as THE CRISIS, Thomas Paine, called by Benjamin Franklin “an ingenious worthy young man,” emerged as the ablest propagandist of the cause of liberty during the American Revolution. The first CRISIS essay appeared during the darkest days of December, 1776, after Washington’s forces had retreated from Fort Lee down through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Not only the army but the Continental Congress had been forced to flee before the advancing forces of General Howe. Many people believed that conditions had become so bad that Washington’s army could be liquidated and the revolt suppressed before the end of 1776.
Paine, who had attached himself to the Continental Army as a civilian aide, was free to mix among the officers and enlisted men during the retreat, and he was well aware of the dire situation in which the new nation found itself. In the midst of those troubled times the military situation received another blow by the plotting of the Conway Cabal, which threatened to remove Washington from the post of commander-in-chief and place the army under the direction of General Gates. It was under these conditions that Thomas Paine, America’s first great propagandist, entered the struggle as a writer to defend the honor of Washington and to advance the cause of the Revolution among the people. The first and best-known of the sixteen pamphlets appeared on December 19, 1776; it was signed...
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