“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 his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: Number 1, December 19, 1776
Above is the opening passage, and likely the most well-known, from Thomas Paine’s America Revolutionary War tracts.* He wrote it while serving as a personal aid to a general. “The American Crisis” resonates profoundly even when applied to our day. Think of how much service our country needs, in addition to military service.
“’Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them… Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows thro’ 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 for ever undiscovered. …They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them in public to the world.”
Did I ever think, perhaps in some naïve cubby hole of 1980s privilege, that the questions of civil rights and racism had been effectively settled by the ‘60s? Did I daydream our country had entered a post-Cold War golden age? Maybe.
I also remember standing about 60 feet away from then-candidate Barack Obama during his 2008 rally in Detroit, reveling in the electricity of his oratory, realizing he had my vote in November. Yet, I also gazed up and around at the cheering arena crowd and inwardly felt troubled. Did all these people really believe Obama would ever be able to keep all of the promises he was listing off? We should have chanted: Yes we wish!
When it comes to campaign spirit, many Americans across the political spectrum are just plain drunk. Although, rallies do help us keep tabs on the zealots.
“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.”
Part of me relishes this quote, but part of me balked at posting it. My job and hobbies constantly put me in contact with good people who have profoundly different beliefs. Of what value are you to a cause if you rail against the opposition’s champion in such a deplorable way? The student of history should ask, how much luck did Mr. Paine have changing the minds of British loyalists. Perhaps it would be more effective to try filling their hearts with doubt by saying something like this:
“Your opinions are of no use to him, unless you support him personally…”
Mark it. However understandable your anger may be, if you speak in untempered ways about someone else’s chosen leaders and beliefs, and you do it loud and often, what can you really hope to accomplish beyond keeping rival factions riled up? If that’s all you can do, what are you party to other than the tormenting status quo? Are bellicose voices good for anything other than putting the fight in someone?
In closing, if you’ve never read Paine’s “The American Crisis”, I recommend it. And whatever your partisan persuasion, I wish you summer days full of sunshine.
*My collection of Thomas Paine’s works, published in 1995 by The Library of America, contains many additional “Crisis” tracts published between 1776 and 1783. I am informed by Encyclopedia Britannica that General George Washington had the first one read to the troops at Valley Forge, in effect causing the tract to go viral. Hence, I call Paine a founding blogger.
I took this post’s featured image while attending the 2019 Memorial Day parade in Chelsea, Michigan. Chelsea is one of those lovely towns, situated on a fault line of gerrymandering, where you would be unwise to assume the person standing next to you votes the same way or prays to the same god.