These are the times that try men’s souls

Below are some of my favorite lines from the December 1776 pamphlet by Thomas Paine that helped inspire a worn out, rag tag band of men to follow George Washington across the ice choked Delaware River, on Christmas night, during a blizzard, then march 8 to 10 miles in freezing mud to take on the most seasoned, best equipped, well fed, skilled and war-hardened group of mercenaries Europe had for hire.

Many of these men were barefoot, leaving a trail of blood as they walked into the sleeting wind. Yet they prevailed at the Battle of Trenton. Only two died from enemy fire. Hundreds died later from exhaustion, malnutrition, dysentery, and disease. But it was the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

If Washington had not led these men on this audacious mission, if these men had not followed him bravely with the fire of a dream in their hearts, you and I would not be Americans. This incredible story is told in To Try Men’s Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. I just finished it this morning. It moved my soul.

It also made me very angry that I had never hear this story before. Children need heroes. Why was I forced to look to made up characters in Star Trek when our nation was founded by genuine heroes?!

I also got Lynne Cheney’s picture book When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots by Lynne Cheney and Peter M. Fiore. She says in the foreword that she tells the kids this story every Christmas. That’s what I’m talking about.

Chrissy’s Site Bites:
Click on graphic to embiggen.

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: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. …

It would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. … 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.

My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to “bind me in all cases whatsoever” to his absolute will, am I to suffer it?

What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other.

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.

There are cases which cannot be overdone by language, and this is one.

There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful.

It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both. …

Men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes. …

This is our situation, and who will may know 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.

Thomas Paine



Filed under George Washington

3 responses to “These are the times that try men’s souls

  1. KellyM.

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful, powerful words of Thomas Paine. What a way to start my day!


  2. GP

    This is the kind of patriotism I was taught in small town America. It speaks to our soul and is the heart of the tea party movement. It is the antithesis of those led by a man who did not go to US schools and has a black power mindset. He does not know what it feels to be American, or understand the toll on all of our ancestors. He just looks at the injustice of one race. What he fails to see is that blacks in the US still have more opportunity than they do in Africa, just as whites have more opportunity that our distant relatives have today in Europe.
    This is indeed the second American Revolution.
    “We have just begun to fight!”


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