Edward J. Gallagher
Dept of English
generation ago A. Owen Aldridge, reviewing the state of Paine
formulated a series of questions designed to prompt future work, one of
was “What were the precise elements in Paine’s literary style which
to become the foremost propagandist of the American Revolution?”
143). As David C. Hoffman has recently
in great detail, scholars have diligently pursued that question in
regard to Common Sense but, surprisingly, except
for an unpublished dissertation by Charles J. Norman, not the Crisis papers. “At every
critical point during the war,”
writes Paine editor Philip S. Foner, “a new article came from his pen,
in language the plain people in the Continental Army and on the home
could understand, to bolster the Patriot forces, to explain the reasons
defeat and to rally the Americans for the next battle” (I: 48). One would think that by this time each of the
sixteen papers would have been set precisely in its historical crisis
and exhaustively explicated in detail.
We “know” Paine was successful.
We “know” the Crisis papers
were instrumental in American victory. But
in reality we know next to nothing in-depth about how Paine’s essays
indispensable work. Even Edward Larkin’s
recent book about Paine and – promisingly -- “the literature of
totally silent on the Crisis papers.
This omission is especially egregious in
regard to the first Crisis paper, an
indisputable classic of American literature, whose full contents seem
partially known, and which hasn’t received much more than patriotic
gesturing. My purpose here is to look
closely at the
rhetorical strategies of the first Crisis
paper and thereby to suggest the valuable work yet to be done (and long
overdue) across the whole series before we can truly understand Paine’s
in matching method to the moment.
The Black Times of Seventy-Six
however, let’s rehearse the background information we need to know. What precisely was the crisis Paine was
addressing in the first paper? In early
July 1776, right after independence was declared, Paine went to Amboy
joined the troops as secretary to General Daniel Roberdeau at the time
British were preparing to invade
tells us that, “on the advice of several principal officers,” he left
succession of defeats was bad enough, but now the British were on the
populace in December 1776, then, indeed needed some animating. In the blunt words of one of
This was the situation in mid-December
read in the camp, to every corporal’s guard, and in the army and out of
more than the intended effect. The
December 25-26, a week after the first Crisis
confirmed. The minds of the people are
much altered. A few days ago they had
given up their cause for lost. Their
late successes have turned the scale and now they are all liberty mad
again. Their recruiting parties could not
get a man,
except he bought him from his master, no longer since than last week,
men are coming in by companies . . . . They have recovered [from] their
and it will not be an easy matter to throw them into that confusion
It is impossible, of course, to gauge the direct influence of Crisis 1 on the military victory -- and some, in fact, doubt that it had any (Fast 78; Aldridge, Man 49) -- but perhaps some recognition of Paine’s pervasive rhetorical power at that cultural moment lies in Charles Biddle’s remark that the opening lines of the first Crisis paper “were in the mouths of every one” now flocking to join the army (Aldridge, Man 49).
that background in the background, then, let’s begin to look at the
dynamics of Crisis 1. Despite
the conjunction of its publication
with the victory at
The Comfort of Time
Let’s postpone for a moment the tendency to genuflect before the absolute brilliance of Paine’s famous opening sentences about the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot and look at the equally brilliant but totally unremarked overall rhetorical strategy of his introduction (paragraphs 1-4). Intriguingly, Paine’s immediate cure for panic and confusion involves redefining time present, time past, and time future – thereby giving his audience stabilizing coordinates that quell anxiety and foster clarity. The present is a good time, a time to secure the celestial article of freedom and merit the honor of communal appreciation (paragraph 1). The past has had no irremediable effect on the present and isn’t worth fretting over (paragraph 2). And the future is secure because God is in heaven and all’s right with the world (paragraph 3). Paine’s readers can be cheered knowing that in the past their oppressors have also been the victims of panic; in the present, panic will have the beneficial use of exposing enemies; and in the future they’ll see their enemies suffer like they do now (paragraph 4). In fact, we find Paine structuring his conclusion with the exact same comprehensive time pattern: in the past “we sustained an orderly retreat for near an hundred miles” and “the sign of fear was not seen in our camp”; in the present “our new army at both ends of the continent is recruiting fast”; and in the future “we have the prospect of a glorious issue” (paragraph 13). Paine’s framing strategy for the entire Crisis 1, then, is to wrap people in the comfort of time, something that panic and confusion had robbed them of.
“THESE are the times that try men's souls” names the present moment with bumper-sticker efficiency (paragraph 1). Paine’s bullet-like opening phrase faces negative facts unflinchingly. It must have stirred a shock of recognition. But, though it ruthlessly captures a trying reality, the phrase also immediately starts to spin a new interpretation of that present reality. For it is souls that are being tried. In this opening paragraph Paine develops a sustained religious analogy that offers consolation as it normalizes the struggle (conquering tyranny is like the universal fight for personal salvation over the forces of hell), spiritualizes the goal (freedom is God’s article), and satanizes the opposition (British law is impious).
Not, however, that Paine overdoes the religious dimension. For he leaves silent the blistering and blasphemous contrast between the 1766 Declaratory act that indeed “declared” British right “to bind the colonies and people of America . . . in all cases whatsoever” (Commager 61) with Peter’s legitimate earthly powers conferred by Christ and familiarly recorded in Matthew 18.18: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And instead of invoking Soldier of Christ imagery or some similarly potent religious basis to justify war with hellish tyranny, Paine marshals three (three!) homely clichés in a row (“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”) as commonsense reasons to value conflict. And even the crucial present choice in this crisis between shrinking and standing is embodied in a sentence that offers earthly, not heavenly reward (“the love and thanks of man and woman”) and owes its rhetorical power to Paine’s artful phrase-making (like “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot”) and the beautifully balanced sentence construction (note, for example, the three coordinate pairings) rather than any religious resonance.
Paine’s tack in regard to religion seems to be to use it enough to tap fundamental beliefs in his Christian audience but not enough to have them depend on their faith rather than their works for victory, a point he subsequently makes explicit (paragraph 11). Though Paine will later ascribe providential causation to actions by Generals Howe and Washington, it is literally the last word in those paragraphs (paragraphs 5-6), and there is really no significant appeal, for instance, to anything like the notion of a Chosen People who enjoy a unique relationship with the Almighty. Here in the introduction, in fact, Paine describes himself as barely religious (“I have as little superstition in me as any man living”) and even part infidel (paragraph 3). Rather, Paine’s God simply is a God of justice. A God who acts on “grounds.” This God will favor us because of what we did – seeking “to avoid the calamities of war, by every decent method which wisdom could invent.” This God will not favor the British king because of what he did – murder, robbery, house-breaking. Crisis is not chaos. Order still exists. God has not “relinquished the government of the world.” Moral values not earthly power will determine the outcome of this war. In the future justice will prevail.
Speaking of maintaining an emphasis on works, here in the introduction Paine also implicitly addresses the natural question about the past by those caught in a crisis -- is there anything we could have done to avoid it (paragraph 2)? In my opinion, we did make a mistake in not declaring independence earlier, Paine says, a belief he holds strongly and forthrightly makes known but – and here is the key point -- declines to argue. In a very interesting move, in fact, he dramatizes his voluntary unwillingness to foreground an “I told you so” by relegating to a footnote – the only one in the essay -- a particularly vicious quote about delaying independence from Common Sense, his January 1776 pamphlet. Now is the time for unity and looking forward, not going over old ground, infers Paine, and, moreover, in a concise sweep he absolves the past of any meaningfully negative effect on the present: first, there simply may not have been any fault in the past; but if there were, it was our fault and therefore, by implication, in our power to correct; and, second, properly viewed and then re-named through judicious wordplay (the first of several such re-labelings in this essay), all that the British have done thus far is superficially “ravage” rather than definitively “conquer.” So that – eyes forward now, everybody – time is actually on our side.
opens the last paragraph in his introduction the way he does the first,
reality, accepting pervasive “panic” as the appropriate descriptor for
condition of the country (paragraph 4). His
tone, however, is calm, unexcited, matter-of-fact.
So we are in a panic, so what? First,
relax, we are nothing special, “All
nations and ages have been subject to them,” and, in fact, take heart,
past) shows us that our very
oppressors were themselves panicked “by a few broken forces collected
headed by a woman.” (Something a “Jersey
maid” like Joan of Arc could repeat – an obvious dig at the failure of
News from the Front
cover of providing first-hand news about recent events in the war for
who live at a distance,” Paine opens the body of his essay with a brief
of events from the fall of Fort Lee on November 20 through about
and the retreat to
The first thing to note, perhaps, is that in relaying bad news in this time of crisis Paine adopts a straightforwardly journalistic tone and manner. The opening part of this section is grounded in facts, in concrete details: the exact date, the relevant mileage between actions, the precise time it took Washington to arrive, the narrow neck of land, the temporary nature of field forts, three ways the troops crossed the Hackensack river, the location of a mill on a small creek, ground that was marshy, the specific duration of time spent at Newark, and so forth. Through this densely realistic approach, Paine, without seeming to push an agenda of his own, deflects attention from the current grim interpretation of events and establishes a “trust me” kind of attitude toward the past in his readers that, in a subtle way, also lays the foundation for later seeing the future through his eyes as well.
low-key approach, together with his judicious selection of facts, is
have a calming effect, a point easily seen by comparing this section
account of the same events – even using some of the same language –
after the victory at
second strategy to note in this section is the way Paine undercuts
mastermind of the British army. In
keeping with the low-key tone and manner of the section, Paine pins
Howe with a
simple declarative sentence: “Howe, in my little opinion, committed a
error in generalship in not throwing a body of forces off from
to Paine’s handling of Howe and Washington, however, is the third and
important strategy of this first section, yoking God to the action. We noted above in the discussion of the
introduction Paine’s avowal, especially in paragraph 3, that God’s in
the world and divine order is operative, and the two paragraphs in this
both end with invocations of that divine agency. God
is on our side. God is in play. God is the reason for both Howe’s great error
Tarring the Tories
second body section of this first Crisis
essay is also focused on knowing the enemy, but not Howe and the
this time, the battlefield enemy, but, rather, the Tories, the
enemy, the enemy who lives down the street (paragraphs 7-10). In this time of crisis, how should Paine’s
readers feel about them? In a delicious
opening gambit, Paine literally blames the Tories for the present
crisis! He faces his panic-stricken
probably the most obvious questions on their minds.
What did we
do to deserve this mess we’re in? How is
it that the British army shows up on our
doorstep? And the answer Paine gives is
that this region is “infested with Tories”!
This answer is probably a fabrication.
I have found nothing to suggest the presence of a particularly
percentage of Tories in the middle states than
related dig at
the Tories – for cowardice -- is surely a fabrication.
In a mock-address to the Tories, Paine
accuses them of subverting Howe’s plan by refusing to fight, thereby,
regardless of their neighborhood numbers, erasing the military threat
patriot cause from the enemy in their midst.
This is obviously too rosy a claim.
There is substantial evidence that the Tories were willing to
did fight. For example, “From the
beginning of November, when it became clear that New Jersey was to be
writes Leonard Lundin, “Loyalists had been forming associations to join
British as fighters upon their arrival” (162).
Even Tories who did not enlist as regulars with the British
militia that, “receiving arms and ammunition from the royal forces,”
work “with a will disarming Whigs and settling old grudges” (162). In fact,
This charge of cowardice is a direct answer to the rhetorical question “what is a Tory?” Initially, Paine straightforwardly defines a Tory as a coward – the technique he uses is verbal, the appeal to his readers intellectual. For instance, double alliteration heightens the impact of the serial invective of “for servile, slavish, self-interested fear is the foundation of Toryism.” In addition, the specific elements of the invective are consciously chosen to resonate both inside and outside the essay. “Servile” and “slavish” as markers for the enemy are especially meaningful contrasts for rebel partisans in a war for independence, in a war precisely to escape slavery. And the marker “self-interested” resonates meaningfully as well for unselfish patriots whose reward, Paine tells us in the opening lines of the essay, is “the love and thanks of man and woman.” Finally, re-labeling Tory behavior as “cruel” rather than “brave” is another example -- like substituting “ravage” for “conquest” previously -- of Paine’s penchant for strategic word play. Paine lets stand the fact of the Tory commitment to their cause – something his audience could readily see and thus could not be denied -- but through the new adjective puts a completely different interpretation, a very negative interpretation on the quality of that commitment. In this first answer to the question “what is a Tory?” Paine, then, aims at his readers’ minds. He would have them know Tories.
But complementing and perhaps even trumping this first answer, Paine’s second answer to the question of what is a Tory – the anecdote of the Amboy tavern keeper and his child – aims at the readers’ emotions, at having them feel and feel about Tories. The Tory tavern keeper is a self-interested parent relishing peace in his day rather than a “generous parent” insuring his child’s future welfare. Paine presents himself as a family man judging another family man. The “mean principles” that damn the Tories are not political but parental and thus cut to the core of their humanity. Toryism is not simply one option on a political spectrum, not some adopted doctrine that one can co-exist with, tolerate, or forgive. No, Toryism is an evil way of life. This representative Tory is a bad father, a bad man, a bad human being. This representative Tory is a man you can hate; this is a man whose actions are “sufficient to awaken every man to duty”; this is a man you should fight with clear justification. The anecdote is, of course, no doubt another Paine fabrication for strategic effect, for it is directly based on, and gains added power from, the biblical story of the unbelievably insensitive Hezekiah, who, after hearing from Isaiah that his sons and his son’s sons would be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon as partial punishment for his indiscretions, answered complacently, “Good is the word of the Lord which thou hast spoken . . . . For there shall be peace and truth in my days” (Isaiah 39.1-8; 2 Kings 20.12-19).
his sweep of the Tories in this second section of the body with a plan
disposing of them, one way or another, after Howe’s likely “attempt on
city.” Paine builds up to this plan with
a series of no doubt overly optimistic observations about the military
situation: the militia was effective, but we are wiser now about the
an army; even if
But, on the contrary, ominously, “should the Tories give [Howe] encouragement to come, or assistance if he come, I as sincerely wish,” says Paine, “that our next year's arms may expel them from the continent, and the Congress appropriate their possessions to the relief of those who have suffered in well-doing.” Expulsion. Appropriation. Paine turns tough. There will be reckoning. The Tories will pay. But the toughness is Christianly tempered (one would like to think with tongue-in-cheek) by at least the third major instance of the Paine word dance we have noted before, this time in one of the most noble sounding sentences in the whole piece: “Say not that this is revenge, call it rather the soft resentment of a suffering people, who, having no object in view but the good of all, have staked their own all upon a seemingly doubtful event” [my emphasis]. Label it “soft resentment” not “revenge” – is that not to make such extreme nastiness toward this despicable enemy more palatable to a Christian audience characterized as often subject to “an excess of tenderness” and who “repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war”? For the bottom line is that Paine deems the Tories unsalvageable: “nothing can reach the heart that is steeled with prejudice.”
Bashing the King
It would be interesting to know specifically who those were “stand[ing] the matter out” Paine was addressing in the third section of the body of this first Crisis paper (paragraph 11), for in obvious contrast to the Tories addressed above and those holding the mercy position next, he says he finds their stance noble and approaches them “with the warm ardor of a friend.” The central strategy in this section, however, is bashing the king, so it is tempting to speculate that Paine was addressing those following the old European tradition of “passive obedience” even to an evil monarch, a position concisely captured in colonist John Ross’s “Let who will be king, I well know that I shall be the subject” (Fischer 165).
But, first, the specific purpose of the friendly ardor is to raise an army, which everybody realized was the absolute key to rebel success, from this pool of non-combatants. Paine is recruiting here, asking those who have not yet laid “your shoulders to the wheel” to “up and help us,” and to up and help us big time, not just -- gaining a nice bounce from the allusion to I Samuel 18.7 -- like a Saul (with his thousands) but like a David (with his tens of thousands). Paine is extremely oratorical here, tending toward the pompous, in fact (“Let it be told . . .” and “Say not that . . .”), and, without some better dramatic reason why these passives should feel emotionally guilty, the play on dead hearts and children’s curses tends toward the bombastic. Even the biblically-backed call for action that merits God’s good attention (James 2.18: "show your faith by your works") seems motivationally soft, since simple assertions like “It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all” are not likely in themselves to immediately engage people living out of harm’s way. So far, then, I’m not sure I see anything here but rather flashy rhetorical flourishes -- nothing that would generate shouldering or soldiering.
But if the audience here is the passively obedient American who is umbilical’d intellectually to rigid identity as the king’s “subject,” then Paine’s strategy in the latter part of this section not only makes sense but is really quite striking. For Paine uses himself to make the case for precisely being a rebel, famously proclaiming (turning his usually vicious name calling around on himself this time!) “Let them call me rebel and welcome.” Paine deftly reduces continental war to a home invasion for maximum personal impact. And the straight line of his reasoning is that he would not participate in an offensive war, but that he would not be a man if he did not react to a string of serious domestic injuries, and that rank and nativity are no moral sanctuaries for the perpetrators of those injustices. Therefore, a thieving, housebreaking king – “a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man” – has himself severed the sovereign/subject relationship by initiating this war. So, and one should imagine the smile, Paine’s response to this crisis is free embrace of the term “rebel,” publishing, as it were, his own epitaph (it was Washington who said “we fight with halters around our necks”), and thereby by his very audacity stirring, permitting, authorizing, lubricating the release of heretofore repressed “revolutionary” sentiments in passive others.
But Paine goes well beyond simply bashing the king with criminal epithets and serial invective in the powerful climax of this section. “If we reason to the root of things” [my emphasis], Paine says, we will see that the king deserves to be punished for his manifest and manifold iniquities, but by evoking the Book of Revelation’s “great day of wrath” at the end of human history, Paine shows that the king himself also will see his just deserts – and try to flee them, “shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him.” In full, the richly dramatic Revelation 6.15-17 that Paine is drawing on here reads: “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Ever augmenting the innate power of his allusion, moreover, Paine even customizes the biblical scene, adding the king’s revengeful war victims -- “the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America” – as agents of his impending dissolution. Sub specie aeternitatis, then, allegiance to the king is simply absurd. On the Last Day he will not stand. Therefore, on this day it makes no sense to stand out because of him.
section of the body, Paine specifically addresses those who find
this time of crisis in the expectation that the British will be
(paragraph 12). Such response was, of
course, a goal of the Howe plan for reconciliation.
On November 30, in fact, after the string of
resounding military victories, Howe issued a proclamation offering “a
free pardon of all treasons and misprisions of treasons” to anyone
declaration that “I will remain in a peaceable obedience to his
will not take up arms, nor encourage others to take up arms, in
his authority” (Stryker 315). “No one
man in the continent is to be denied [Howe’s] mercy,” wrote patriot
Caldwell, adding sardonically, “The Lord deliver us from [it]” (Stryker
and similar rebel scorn was evident in a vigorous Boston
Gazette piece that called the offer “a puff in the place of
victory” and “the most consummate arrogance and folly” (Moore 354). Paine himself directly tees off on this
proclamation in the second Crisis
this Howe proclamation
achieved significant results. Within a
short period of time over 3000 people in
attack on this attractive mercy position is crisp, calculated, and
comprehensive: he discredits the bestower, dramatizes the consequences,
denigrates the recipients. To begin
with, Howe is hammered by a stinging cluster of three of Paine’s best
one-liners densely packed for maximum clout into a single sentence and
appealing for reader acceptance in various “common sense” ways: “It is
madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do
and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war;
cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we
guard equally against both.” Most
obviously, perhaps, Paine’s equation of fox and wolf in proverb or
form has the immediate instinctive cachet of universal folk wisdom so
well known and popular among all levels of society in
Paine’s dramatization of the destructive consequences of the mercy position involves a harsh dose of realpolitik introduced by the ironic use of the Bible. Playing wryly off Philippians 4.7 (“and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”), Paine asks his readers to compare God’s unbelievably beautiful peace with the British peace that simply can not be believed. But his strategy here does not involve indirection or innuendo as above. Instead, based on the grimly realistic doctrine that “mutual fear is the principal link in the chain of mutual love,” Paine starkly evokes an inevitable future course of internecine warfare among regions of a state and between states if parts break “the compact.” In addition to fighting the British, then, the ultimate consequence of the mercy position in Paine’s scenario is that Americans would also be fighting each other – truly a peace which passes all understanding, indeed!
those who choose to hold the mercy position are roundly denounced as
“rogues or fools.” Paine has engaged in
name calling before – against the king in paragraphs 3 and 11 and
Tories in paragraph 7. But the
noteworthy point here is the use of this tactic against a class of
at the outset don’t seem so deserving of scorn.
The clear bottom line in this harshness is that there is no acceptable position in this crisis
moment except one of active enmity against the British and British
and except active support for, if not engagement in the revolutionary
cause. Paine is obviously exasperated by
manifest irrationality of the rogues and fools, and his conclusive
characteristically, is an aggressive, almost bullyish assertion (I
dwell . . .
I bring . . . I hold) of his unquestioned objectivity.
In addition, however, Paine’s depiction here of
a strong, brash, confident “I” who is understandably deeply frustrated
willful suspension of common sense models the condemning response to
position he wants from his readers.
The Heinous Hessians
Paine begins Crisis 1 by posing a choice – his readers may shrink or they may stand. And Paine begins Crisis 1 by redefining his readers’ time coordinates to alleviate their panic. He does the same things in his conclusion (paragraph 13). As I indicated above while discussing the introduction, the final paragraph presents an optimistic reading of time past (“None can say that our retreat was precipitate”), time present (60,000 troops seems wildly exaggerated), and time future, and now the choice elaborated is between a “glorious issue” if we stand with “perseverance and fortitude” and a “variety of evils” if we shrink with “cowardice and submission.” So, Paine ends as he begins. Except. Except that the negative option is handled quite differently in the conclusion. The variety of evils is spelled out in a way designed to be particularly heinous: “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” [my emphasis]. Starkly, the climactic choice is between a glorious issue and a bastard issue. Ironically, the section that begins with Paine saying “I see no real cause for fear” employs fear – and fear of rape and sexual pollution particularly -- more forcefully than anywhere else in the essay. The key word in this strategy is “Hessian.” It’s like the tip of an iceberg. Let’s look at the critical mass underneath.
The Hessians, of course, were German
mercenaries hired by the British (Fischer 51-65), and they have a
in the American Hall of Infamy. The
Hessians are cited in the Declaration of Independence as transported
compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.”
Their callous money-grubbing was the subject
of the brutally satiric “The Sale of the Hessians,” an essay ascribed
Franklin. The Headless Horseman at
Irving’s Sleepy Hollow was a Hessian.
And we also know that Southerners in the Civil War cursed
soldiers as Hessians. It was a Hessian
Hessians deserved all the blame for
exacting the spoils of war. “Upon
crossing the Passaic River, the invaders” – both British and
Hessian, writes Leonard Lundin – “found themselves in a
promised land, where everything they could desire was theirs for the
and the truth was that “the two in combination brought ruin and misery
prosperous countryside” (173). But
on both sides testify to the truth of the dire fate
To give one more example of what fearful images in the mind of his audience Paine was tapping when he gave climactic emphasis to the Hessians, listen to the Governor of New Jersey:
The rapacity of the enemy was boundless, their rapine indiscriminate, and their barbarity unparalleled. They have plundered friends and foes. Effects capable of division they have divided; such as were not they have destroyed. They have warred upon decrepit age; warred upon defenseless youth. They have committed hostilities against the professors of literature and the ministers of religion; against public records and private monuments; against books of improvement and papers of curiosity; and against the arts and sciences. They have butchered and wounded asking for quarter; mangled the dying weltering in their blood; refused the dead the rights of sepulcher; suffered prisoners to perish for want of sustenance; violated the chastity of women; disfigured private dwellings of taste and elegance; and in the rage of impiety and barbarism profaned edifices dedicated to Almighty God. (Stryker 25-26)
But it is specifically the dead-certain Hessian violations of chastity that Paine – who earlier has indicted the king as a home invader and who has attacked the Amboy Tory as a family man – singles out for special alarm. Unsurprisingly, first-person accounts of rape are rare, probably primarily because, as one reporter on the “horror of war” declared in the winter of 1776, of our unfortunate tendency to blame the victim: since “We despise these poor Innocent Sufferers in this Brutal Crime Even as long as they live . . . I am of the Opinion That many honest virtuous women have suffered in this Manner and kept it Secret for fear of making their lives miserable” (Collins 3, 14). But this writer recounts the vivid story of two soldiers who took a young woman to a barn on the pretext of searching for rebels:
[She] Went to the Barn with them to show them that no body was there. And when they had got her there, one of them Laid hold on her Strangled her to Prevent her crying out while the other Villain Ravisht her, and when he had done, he Strangled her Again While the Other Brute Repeated the horrid crime Upon her again. (Collins 15)
And then there is the account of thirteen-year-old Abigail Palmer to a committee of the Continental Congress investigating such crimes. A soldier asked to speak with Abigail in another room, and when she refused, he “dragd her into a back Room and she screamed & begd of him to let her alone . . . her Grandfather also & Aunt intreated . . . telling them how Cruel & what a shame it was to Use a Girl of that Age after that manner, but finally three of the Said Soldiers Ravished her” (Mitnick 149). Other incidents in the “epidemic of rape” documented by this committee included a woman “five months and upwards Advanc’d in her pregnancy,” “an old woman nearly seventy years of age . . . abused in a manner beyond description,” and the gang-rape of a ten-year-old (Fischer 178-79).
of such vicious sexual misconduct as these – which the reporter of the
episode above called “Worse in this Respect then an Indian War” and who
were so numerous because the “Unnatural Miscreants are sure of getting
with impunity” (Collins 14-15) -- must have been circulating, and Paine
the fear of such individual fate to fear of a massive alteration of the
of the entire city for his powerful last act.
He closes Crisis 1 more like a
fierce prophet challenging his auditors to curse the impending darkness
intimate domestic violation, to rue the abomination of a permanent
“Other” adding to the insult of their submission, and therefore to
path of “perseverance and fortitude” now – or
else! Hessian muskets and bayonets
aren’t the only weapons we have to fear.
Rape is an instrument of war, and Paine suggests that the
consciously or not, would implement what we would now call a program of
cleansing (his use of the word “race” is especially pointed here),
and deconstructing a culture in ways far more hideous than simply
defeat. Weep over
“Defeat wants a deal of explaining”
Paine had no easy task in Crisis 1. “Defeat wants a deal of explaining,” deadpans Harold D. Lasswell in his book on war propaganda, adding “One of the questions which rises in the conduct of [a] War is how to handle the news of losses” (102, 109). Crisis creates the need for propaganda. People need outside help to be able to face their dire condition. People need to be armed psychologically (Ellul 138, 160). Paine’s purpose here is to enable a people facing defeat to stand, to persevere, to have fortitude, and, as we have seen, there is much to say about how he goes about achieving that purpose. Paine at once meets and “settles down” his panic-stricken readers with a refurbished sense of time, then examines and rejects four routes of submission available to them, finally punctuating his common sense with a highly motivating dash of fear, and throughout it all he employs a medley of such rhetorical devices and strategies as different shades of narrative voice, direct address, anecdotes, religious analogy, journalistic detail, one-liners, divine providence, biblical allusions, word play, name calling, serial invective, family values, selecting facts, fabricating facts, rhetorical questions, coordinate constructions, and alliteration (even down to fussing over two abba schemes in the penultimate sentence).
As I mentioned at the beginning, I would like to see this kind of close analysis done for each of the Crisis essays, not just what for now is the most well known one. “Between 1776 and 1783 Paine published thirteen numbered essays and three extra numbers of The Crisis papers,” says Paine editor Philip S. Foner, and “All were perfectly timed and perfectly adapted to the needs of the time” (I: xvi). Now that’s a claim that needs testing. Who knows what rhetorical gems we would find among the other essays, what better understandings we would have of Paine’s techniques, what deeper insights we might have about propaganda in general? In fact, it might be valuable as well, as Moses Coit Tyler suggests, simply to read the “history of this long war . . . in the blazing light of these mighty pamphlets” ().
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