Thomas Paine

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What did Thomas Paine do to so dramatically affect the morale of the American army?

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Thomas Paine (1737–1809) had a profound influence on the morale of the American army during the early stages of the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). This is rather surprising because he had just arrived in America in 1774, just a year before the war's outbreak. Not only that, but his career and marriages in England had been abject failures.

Paine's first contribution to the colonial cause was Common Sense (January, 1776). George Washington, the American commander-in-chief, said that this pamphlet effected "a powerful change in the hearts of men." Common Sense helped push the American rebels toward the Declaration of Independence, which gave Washington's troops courage and motivation.

The war against the British was extremely difficult, and the Americans almost lost. Paine wrote a series of "Crisis" papers during the war. "These are the times that try men’s souls," he wrote. Washington read Paine's words to his men at Valley Forge (1777–78) as it was on the verge of complete defeat. Paine's inspiring message and Washington's determined leadership held the army together long enough for French aid and troops to arrive. In 1781, the Americans and French defeated the British at Yorktown.

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Paine's achievement was to articulate on paper, in dramatic and persuasive language, the reasons the colonists were fighting the war. During much of the first year of the rebellion, the goal of actual independence from Britain was not held by all of those who were fighting against the British. But there was a sense that the colonists' rights as Englishmen had been violated. The unfairness of taxation schemes and then the harsh response by the Crown in which the port of Boston was closed and a military occupation began were the issues that motivated the insurrection. But in the background, as a kind of subtext to events, was the fact that the colonies would never be granted the freedom they felt as a natural right unless political separation from Britain became a reality.

The somewhat unlikely person to express this subtext in the open, as it were, was Thomas Paine, a man who had come to America from England only a short time earlier. In the pamphlet Common Sense, Paine enumerated not only the reasons that America did not need to be under the rule of the Crown, but the generic reasons that monarchical forms of government are outdated and useless. His series of papers titled The Crisis, after independence had been declared, were a means by which Paine used stirring language to encourage men to keep fighting even after Washington's army had undergone near disastrous defeats in the New York area and had been pursued south across New Jersey by the British.

It was with phrases like "summer soldier " and "sunshine patriot," which have become part of our lexicon, that Paine encouraged the army not to give up even when it seemed the whole revolutionary effort in the autumn and early winter of 1776 was on the verge of collapse. The sudden turnabout that occurred at the battles of Trenton and Princeton did indeed show that the cause wasn't lost, just as Paine predicted.

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Thomas Paine was a writer and philosopher living during the American Revolution. His pamphlet Common Sense was the most widely read pamphlet of the era and is credited with galvanizing the average British colonist living in the Americas against the British Crown.

To appreciate Paine's argument, you have to appreciate the complex grievances the colonial elites had with the British government:

-The British were taxing the colonists without allowing them representation in government.

-The British were regulating tariffs, taxing exports, and limiting foreign trade opportunities.

This is complex economic stuff—more complex, perhaps, than the average colonist was willing to go to war for. The central contribution of Common Sense was to distill the revolutionary fervor within the 13 colonies into two simple, unifying ideals:

1) independence from England

2) form a new democratic republic

In so doing, Paine silenced a lot of infighting and disagreement within the colonies on issues such as slavery and the establishment of a national religion. He also created a villain the new nation could rally against: King George. Paine referred to the king as "the Pharaoh of England" and "the Royal Brute of Great Britain." By unifying the common colonist and creating a common enemy, Paine laid a critical paving stone on the road to the American Revolution.

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