48 pages 1 hour read

Thomas Paine

The American Crisis

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1776

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Summary and Study Guide


Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis is a series of pamphlets published between 1776 to 1783 during the American Revolutionary War. Paine uses eloquent, emotional language to persuade the American people to support their states’ new union and contribute to the revolutionary cause. Paine idealizes Americans and their country’s origins to galvanize them to fight for independence, rather than submit themselves to the indignity of being British colonial subjects.

Paine uses his platform to attack the enemies of independence at home and abroad. He frequently criticizes “Tories,” colonists who are loyal to Britain, and either convinces them to join the revolutionary cause or calls for their punishment or exile. He addresses many of his pamphlets to specific people, including British leaders General Howe, Lord Howe, and the Earl of Shelburne. Paine attacks their specific proclamations and policies in order to question their morals and military strategies, undermine their reputations in Britain, and encourage Americans to continue to fight against them.

While many of Paine’s essays are poetic and motivational, he also engages his readers in detailed analyses of military strategy and financial matters. He offers detailed descriptions of specific events in the war, always using his accounts to undermine British leaders and spur on the American people and military. Paine relies on careful military and financial reasoning in his attempts to persuade the British government and people that they are harming their own nation by prosecuting the war, and that they should negotiate peace with an independent America.

As the war continues, Paine pays special attention to the financial matters of both countries and begins introducing his own policies in regard to taxation and military conscription. He urges his fellow Americans to support higher taxes and a military draft so America can effectively defeat the British. At the end of the war, Paine reiterates the importance of the states’ union and warns his American readers that America’s success as a nation depends on the states’ continued cooperation. Paine celebrates America’s newfound independence and extols its potential as a world leader.