“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; Tis’ dearness only that gives everything its value“.
So begins the opening paragraph of a very famous essay in American history; The American Crisis. It was written in December 1776 by one of our greatest founding fathers, Thomas Paine.
Thomas Paine did not sign the Declaration of Independence; nor did he help draft our Constitution; he was not an accomplished politician; and he never became a great war hero. Thomas Paine left his mark on history as the voice of the common man; a gifted writer who stirred the hearts and minds of the Colonists as they struggled for independence.
When Paine penned the first pamphlet of the The American Crisis, he was actually imbedded with George Washington and his troops as they were retreating out of New York. Washington had lost every major battle in New York and finally succumbed to defeat with the British chasing Washington through Trenton, NJ. The British held up in Trenton while Washington retreated across and set up camp along the south-western banks of the Delaware river.
The situation was quite dire for the Colonists in December 1776. Many of the voluntary enlistments began to expire in December, so Washington saw a large portion of his forces head back to their farms and families. In addition, inadequate shelter, food, and weapons in the midst of an early harsh winter further tested the waning morale of Washington’s dwindling troops. The Continental Congress had also began debating if Washington was the right man for the job, and was seriously considering a replacement. The Revolution, which had begun with such courage and enthusiasm five months earlier, was on the verge of collapse,
Thomas Paine finished the first part The American Crisis in mid-December and when Washington read it he was so motivated and inspired he declared it mandatory reading to the entire Continental Army. He read it aloud to his troops on Christmas night 1776; the night of Washington’s famous midnight crossing of the Delaware during driving sleet and hail. Washington launched a surprise attack and defeated the British at Trenton, NJ; despite the fact Washington was outmanned and outgunned.
The victory at Trenton was a huge tactical and psychological victory for the Colonists. Though they still had a large difficult road ahead, this victory marked a turning point for the revolution. Many historians attribute a large portion of this victory to the writings of Thomas Paine. John Adams even said that “George Washington would’ve never raised his sword hadn’t Thomas Paine raised his pen.”
What I love about this piece of American history was that, in the midst of a deep crisis, it was passionate common-sense inspiration from a common-man that helped turn the tide; simple & eloquent writings that inspired everyday citizens to do the extraordinary.
I believe we’re in the midst of a new American crisis; a crisis of Common-Sense Leadership. Everywhere we look from our personal lives, our households, our communities, our government; it’s all seems out of control. There are no shortage of challenges and obstacles.
These problems demand solutions for sure; but these solutions need to come less from the “larger-than-life” public figure and more from you and I. Our solutions need to be based in a grass-roots, individual based, leadership philosophy.
A leadership philosophy that puts less emphasis on the “charismatic”, and more emphasis on what it means to be calm, confident, consistent, and courageous in every aspect of our lives.
A leadership philosophy rooted in common-sense.