“…the acts and choices of ordinary people…”

2012 February 2

You may have thought I was finished with the Florida primary. I certainly thought so, but I had to comment on this.

I was both amused and appalled to read this column. I don’t understand how anyone who’s read some of Thomas Paine’s pamphlets could think this phrase was written by him. These blunt words don’t match Paine’s fiery prose.

Mitt Romney Misquoted Thomas Paine In Victory Speech: Is his staff relying too heavily on QuotationsPage.com?

Mitt Romney repeated Thomas Paine’s oft-quoted aphorism, “lead, follow, or get out of the way,” in his victory speech last night….

…According to Paine biographer Craig Nelson, Paine “never said it. George Patton did.”

…Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul noted that the candidate had hedged a little bit: “In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, ‘Lead, follow, or get out of the way.'”

University of Texas professor and Paine scholar William Scheick called Romney’s misquoting of Paine “another deplorable example of politicians distorting history to advance themselves and their shadowy supporters” and said that Paine “hardly is apt in Romney’s case.”

“For me, that’s the real story here — that Romney and his audience apparently have no clue to what a searing liberal freethinker Paine was,” said Scheick.

I suppose Romney thinks patriotism is defined by google & bromide. Perhaps he heard the Tea Partiers liked old stuff from 1776, and his aides thought this would work.

I could laugh or cry at this cluelessness about our foundations of liberty and who we are as a country.

If you’d like to read one of my long history posts, then click…

In Washington’s Crossing David Hackett Fischer writes of the circumstances and impact of Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. After George Washington’s defeat in New York in November 1776, described by Fischer as a “A Cataract of Disaster,” Washington retreated across New Jersey into Pennsylvania as Cornwallis pursued him. Thomas Paine had previously joined the army in July of that year.

In his chapter, “The Crisis: Thomas Paine and the Black Times of 1776,” Fischer writes:

…The army was shrinking before his eyes, and the people of New Jersey were not turning out to support it. Paine concluded that something had to be done. “It was necessary,” he decided, that “the country should be strongly animated.”

On November 22, when the army was crossing the Passaic River, Paine came to a decision. He resolved to write another pamphlet, like Common Sense but with a different message….

A rough draft was more or less complete by the time he crossed the Delaware River. He carried it to Philadelphia, but when he reached the city, he was shocked to find the houses shuttered, the streets deserted….The air of panic in the town increased Thomas Paine’s sense of urgency. He remembered, “I sat down and in what I may call a passion of patriotism, wrote the first number” of his new pamphlet in a final draft.

He called it The American Crisis. The first sentence had the cadence of a drumbeat. Even after two hundred years, its opening phrases still have the power to lift a reader out of his seat. “There are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine began. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

…Such was the panic and chaos in Philadelphia that it took Thomas Paine ten days to get his essay into print. Finally, the first number of The American Crisis appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776. Four days later it was published as a pamphlet. Paine insisted that it be sold for two pennies, just enough to pay the printer’s expenses. The author asked nothing for himself and encouraged printers everywhere to copy it freely. It traveled through the country as fast as galloping horses could carry it.

Within a day of its first publication it was circulating in the camp of the Continental army along the Delaware River. Even Paine’s bitter political rival James Cheetham testified to its impact. Cheetham wrote that The Crisis was “read in the camp, to every corporal’s guard, and in the army, and out of it had more than the intended effect.” The troops used its first sentence as a watchword and later as a battle cry….

There is an old American folk tale about George Washington and the Crossing of the Delaware. It tells us that the new American republics nearly failed in the winter of 1776, that George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night, and that his victory at Trenton revived the Revolution. All of this story is true, but it is not the whole truth. There was more to it. The great revival did not follow the battles of Trenton and Princeton, important as they were. It preceded them, and made those events possible (though not inevitable). Further, the revival did not rise solely from the leadership of George Washington himself, great as he was a general and a man…it emerged from the efforts of many soldiers and civilians, merchants and farmers, leaders in the army and members of Congress. Most of all it rose from the acts and choices of ordinary people in the valley of the Delaware, as Thomas Paine’s American Crisis began to circulate among them.

This great revival grew from defeat, not from victory. The awakening was a response to a disaster. Doctor Benjamin Rush, who had a major role in the event, believed that this was the way a free republic would always work, and the American republic in particular. He thought it was a national habit of the American people (maybe all free people) not to deal with a difficult problem until it was nearly impossible. “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity,” Rush wrote “We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.”

On December 18, 1776, George Washington wrote to his brother, John A. Washington, and to another relative, Samuel Washington. This is the letter to his brother. The bracketed phrase within it was part of his letter to Samuel Washington.

I have no doubt but that General Howe will still make an attempt upon Philadelphia this Winter. I see nothing to oppose him a fortnight hence, as the time of all the Troops, except those of Virginia (reduced almost to nothing,) and Smallwood’s Regiment of Maryland, (equally as bad) will expire in less than that time. In a word my dear Sir, if every nerve is not strain’d to recruit the New Army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in a great measure, to the insidious Arts of the Enemy, and disaffection of the Colonies before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short Inlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the Militia the Evil consequences of which were foretold 15 Months ago with a spirit almost Prophetick….

You can form no Idea of the perplexity of my Situation. No Man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them. However under a full persuasion of the justice of our Cause I cannot [but think the prospect will brighten, although for a wise purpose it is, at present hid under a cloud] entertain an Idea that it will finally sink tho’ it may remain for some time under a Cloud.

Those letters were written the day before The American Crisis was published in the Pennsylvania Journal and five days before it was printed as a pamphlet for widespread distribution. Washington did not know the events that would follow in the days after he wrote those bleak words. But that great man persevered.

Paine opened his “December Crisis,” by writing, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Today again our souls are tried and tested, and who will we discover that we are? I don’t know. I cannot tell you the extent or depth of the character of our country or if the acts and choices of ordinary people of today will fare well. Our souls are tried individually, but our acts and choices always affect and influence others.

Is the game pretty near up for us? Again, I don’t know. But I encourage and exhort you not to mire yourself or others in cynicism or contempt, but within your own realm of influence to speak the truth, to build up and to consider the task that with your soul and your skill you should do.

One reason I love history so much is its stories of courage and perseverance in the face of disaster. When you read the history of our country, you see this again and again. You also see something else. You see timings and deliverances that can only be called miraculous—when the disaster of one day is turned around by events of the next.

So I would also encourage and exhort you to pray. I know some of you don’t share my faith, but those who do, remember to seek God’s mercy and help for our nation. When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting in 1863, he wrote, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…”  Read Lincoln’s words. The poverty of lack of a deep and abiding faith in God is seen everywhere.

These are the days of the acts and choices of ordinary people. Of grit and endurance. Of everyday exasperation and setbacks. Whether the game is up for us or not, remember the courage and faith of those who preceded us. Be worthy of them, and leave the results in the hands of God.

BuzzFeed: Mitt Romney Misquoted Thomas Paine In Victory Speech.
David Hackett Fischer,Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York): 80, 127, 138, 140-143, ushistory.org, Library of Congress.
See: http://www.ushistory.org/Paine/crisis/c-01.htm and http://www.ushistory.org/Paine/crisis/index.htm
Abraham Lincoln Online.

55 Responses leave one →
  1. 2012 February 2 1:54 am
    HalJordan permalink

    “I suppose Romney thinks patriotism is defined by google & bromide.”

    Patriotism has been best defined by Mark Twain. He had more than one definition depending on the angle.

    Perhaps the best –

    We teach them to take their patriotism at second-hand; to shout with the largest crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter — exactly as boys under monarchies are taught and have always been taught. We teach them to regard as traitors, and hold in aversion and contempt, such as do not shout with the crowd, and so here in our democracy we are cheering a thing which of all things is most foreign to it and out of place — the delivery of our political conscience into somebody else’s keeping. This is patriotism on the Russian plan.

  2. 2012 February 2 1:59 am
    HalJordan permalink

    Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. ~Mark Twain

  3. 2012 February 2 3:39 am
    beej permalink

    Wow. Just wow. Maybe your finest post ever, INC. Just excellent in every way.

    It gives hope.

    “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…”

    This seems to describe the prevailing sentiment in society of late…especially from this administration: Man, in his intellect, is the supreme being. We have forgotten that gracious hand…by which we would not be the nation that led the world.

  4. 2012 February 2 6:11 am
    drdog09 permalink

    Wake up call!! — http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?ID=256186&R=R1 — Iran working on a ICBM capable of reaching the US.

  5. 2012 February 2 6:14 am
    justrand permalink

    Thomas Paine didn’t SAY it…he wrote it on his blog: “CommonSense.com”. Abraham Lincoln would himself reference this later when he was searching for tough commanding General (although Lincoln also famously said: “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet”)

    p.s. to INC…it IS an excellent post!! And like you, I cringed when I heard Romney say that

  6. 2012 February 2 6:18 am
    justrand permalink

    O/T, but critical to our contninued freedom:

    As I mentioned the other day, the Democrats published their “Pre-Game Analysis” titled: “But Mom, EVERYBODY did it!!” (the actual title was only slightly less whiney: ““Fatally Flawed: Five Years of Gunwalking in Arizona”… yup, FIVE YEARS so they could claim “Bush did it too!!!”)

    Read the article…and pray that Holder CAN’T run out the clock

  7. 2012 February 2 6:21 am
    drdog09 permalink

    Colorado considering a bill called Make My Day Better. It would permit a business owner to take down a perp and ask questions later in any attempted robbery — http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2012/02/business-self-defense-bill-getting-1st-hearing/2161396 — Colorado is quickly becoming my second choice for a State to live in.

  8. 2012 February 2 6:22 am

  9. 2012 February 2 6:28 am
    drdog09 permalink

    Thanks for the correction.

  10. 2012 February 2 6:30 am

    Colorado is quickly becoming my second choice for a State to live in. ~~~mutley

    Republicans now control the House but they’ll still have a difficult time in the Democratic-controlled Senate if the bill gets there.

  11. 2012 February 2 6:39 am
    justrand permalink

    drdog, as they say: “Better to be judged by 12, than carried by 6”

  12. 2012 February 2 6:45 am
    drdog09 permalink

    IP, probably true. But that very same legislature passed a Make My Day bill a year ago for homeowners.

  13. 2012 February 2 6:46 am
    drdog09 permalink

    So true JR.

  14. 2012 February 2 6:49 am
    justrand permalink

    I think Thomas Paine commented on the Colorado “Make my day” Bill as well…I hope Mitt Romney updates us on that!!

  15. 2012 February 2 6:52 am
    mulletover permalink

    Dichotomy = Obama at a prayer breakfast

  16. 2012 February 2 6:53 am
    bc3b permalink

    Do endorsements matter? Lots of endorsements made yesterday or are coming. ‘The Donald” is about to endorse Gingrich and Tom Tancredo and Sharon Angle have endorsed Santorum.

    Based on South Carolina, I would say endorsements matter. Based on the Florida results, not so much (although Rubbio seems to have influenced Hispanics).

    The Chicago Sun-Times stopped endorsing candidates on its editoirial page this year. The paper figured that since it was already making endorsements in its “objective reporting,” to do so on the editorial page was redendant.

  17. 2012 February 2 6:54 am

    Oxymoron===Obama at a prayer breakfast

  18. 2012 February 2 6:54 am
    bc3b permalink

    mulletover –

    Dichotomy = Obama at a prayer breakfast

    Hey, Muslims pray too. They just skip the bacon, ham and sausage at their prayer breakfasts. If Obama’s scrawny butt is sticking up in the air, he’s probably praying.

  19. 2012 February 2 7:02 am
    mulletover permalink

    Happy Groundhog Day

    I join other morons promoting the fallacy that a big rat pulled out of a stump can forecast the weather, or do anything except feed on worms and grubs and get run over on the highway.

  20. 2012 February 2 7:06 am

    The rominator is a wind up doll, whose energizer battery is running down.

  21. 2012 February 2 7:08 am
    drdog09 permalink

    I join other morons promoting the fallacy that a big rat pulled out of a stump can forecast the weather, or do anything except feed on worms and grubs and get run over on the highway.

    Worked for Obama so far….

  22. 2012 February 2 7:15 am
    drdog09 permalink

    Looks like Phil has some competition — http://wtop.com/?nid=41&sid=2731903

  23. 2012 February 2 7:39 am

    AAHHHHH~~ I love the smell of isotopes in the morning.

  24. 2012 February 2 8:10 am
    bc3b permalink

    You probably caught this, but speaking to a Hispanic group yesterday, Ron Paul claimed that Hispanics are being scapegoated much like Jews in Nazi Germany:


    Paul opposes “barbed wire and guns” in securing the border. I oppose barbed wire too. Rasor wire is far more effective. I like Jeb’s idea about the gators too.

    I guess the “round one” doesn’t have a monopoly on “Hispandering”

  25. 2012 February 2 8:17 am

    The rominator claims he wants to help small business, then signs off on this.

    Cognitive dissonance anyone?

  26. 2012 February 2 8:20 am
    justrand permalink

    for the last two years, Mexico has been building a fence, with armed backup, along it’s entire border with Guatemala. In some cases swamps provide choke-points, but in all others they are building and VERY HARSHLY enforcing the fence they are building.

    Were our “beloved” media not busy keening over the plight of poor Mexicans being potentially inconvenienced by a fence between the US & Mexico…they might have noticed this. Nah.

  27. 2012 February 2 8:21 am

    That fence may stop some of the influx of illegals into this country.

  28. 2012 February 2 8:25 am
    justrand permalink

    I just read Obama’s remarks at the “prayer breakfast” wherein he invoked Jesus…claiming HE, Obama, knows EXACTLY what Jesus would do!


    But then, Obama and the media have ZERO shame…and ZERO true faith. Odd that Obama didn’t tell us what ALLEN would do???

  29. 2012 February 2 8:36 am
    judyt2012 permalink

    As always, another excellent and profound post from Inc.

    We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…” Read Lincoln’s words. The poverty of lack of a deep and abiding faith in God is seen everywhere

    Nothing more need be said

  30. 2012 February 2 8:41 am
    judyt2012 permalink

    And irony exists and left misunderstood by the very people who post..

    Thanks HalJordan … for you are the one who popped up here on Tuesday night to mock us for not “shout[ing] with the largest crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter”

    tsk tsk tsk

    I know the hearts of the people here and the deep examination that each has made in coming to their own conclusions as to the right and wrong and truth. Only a few here have turned a blind eye to examining all aspects of the tasks we have before us.

  31. 2012 February 2 9:04 am
    bc3b permalink

    JR #27

    Try being an illegal alien in Mexico. If you get caught, I’ve heard it is not a pleasant experience.

    Amnesty is the one thing we can never undo!!!!

  32. 2012 February 2 9:15 am

    Trump to endorse Romney

    They are a match made in heaven – two liberal idiots.

    (waiting for a Newt bash in 3…2…1…)

  33. 2012 February 2 9:18 am
    JustMary permalink

    #5 😆

  34. 2012 February 2 9:20 am
    JustMary permalink

    INC- this was an amazing post. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write it. This part in particular really struck me. Seriously well done.

    Paine opened his “December Crisis,” by writing, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Today again our souls are tried and tested, and who will we discover that we are? I don’t know. I cannot tell you the extent or depth of the character of our country or if the acts and choices of ordinary people of today will fare well. Our souls are tried individually, but our acts and choices always affect and influence others.

  35. 2012 February 2 9:20 am
    judyt2012 permalink

    Are the folks at HHR now saying we have always been at war with Eurasia?

    I heard several Rombots give Trump grief (the Romney treatment) when it was thought that Trump would endorse Newt.

    Now they will pretend they never said what they did.

  36. 2012 February 2 9:51 am
    bc3b permalink

    Donald Trump is kinda like the circus coming to town – at least the clowns car.

    I doubt he has much credibility with many voters.

  37. 2012 February 2 10:05 am


    love the heels, babe

  38. 2012 February 2 10:06 am

    The rominator,having stepped upon his tiny weenie, is now engaged in a shabby attempt to make amends for his phooey paws
    statement “I don’t care about the poor”etc. is now pandering to the “poor” by advocating a COLA for the min wage. This silver spooned
    patrician hasn’t a clue as to how the free market functions.

    Multiple trompings upon said bodily part may well spell doom for
    this born again hypocrite.

  39. 2012 February 2 10:15 am



  40. 2012 February 2 10:27 am

    I put this up late last night, or in the wee hours of the morning, I should say. I couldn’t check in on it before now because of some of those everyday things I needed to do.

    beej, thanks. I had some good material to work with!

    Fischer’s writes that when Fort Washington fell in New York it was shattering to George Washington, and the low point of his career; he felt “he had lost everything: lost the war, lost the Cause, lost his own way.” He kept on, not because he saw circumstances easing and the end in sight, but because his character demanded no less. When I read of his continuing courage and the privation and loss of ordinary people, I think how can I do any less.

    I firmly believe that no matter how limited we feel in our influence or abilities, there’s always something we can do. Because we cannot see the outcome or quickly make a difference in events, does not mean our work is of no value.

  41. 2012 February 2 10:32 am

    JR/5 🙂

    ip, scoundrels and scalawags are ever with us—then and now!

    I’m kind of relieved Trump endorsed Romney. I have to wonder how NRO will handle it. I think Jonah Goldberg got in some kind of high-handed pontification last night when it was rumored he was going to endorse Newt.

  42. 2012 February 2 10:43 am

    “I’m kind of relieved Trump endorsed Romney”


    I was thinking the samething. How do the RINOs respond? Their silence is deafening!

    Although the endorsement makes sense – neither man can’t be trusted on life issues.

  43. 2012 February 2 10:43 am

    Although the endorsement makes sense – neither man can be trusted on life issues.

  44. 2012 February 2 10:49 am

    I also wonder how NRO is going to defend the minimum wage. My husband’s jaw dropped when I told him about that. Mitt’s channeling Teddy.

    Judy & JM, thank you. I don’t want to hand out bromides myself, and I grappled with how to encourage in the face of the combination of disappointment and disgust over the last few months. Lincoln’s proclamation is still true.

    Washington still leads.

  45. 2012 February 2 10:50 am

    Eph, I don’t even know what The Donald thinks about life issues, but I would assume he thinks whatever’s best for The Donald.

  46. 2012 February 2 10:53 am
    bc3b permalink

    INC #47


  47. 2012 February 2 10:54 am

    RE: min wage. This is why we must hold and win both houses of congress. It is doubtful that romney could get a COLA through both.
    This is a phony sop to offset his “poor” statement.

    Min wage law===teenage/black unemployment law.

  48. 2012 February 2 11:00 am

    I read someone who said years ago on a summer job he was excited about the coming min wage hike and thought he’d make more money. Then his employer told him that his hours would be cut because the company couldn’t afford the minimum wage.

  49. 2012 February 2 11:06 am

    Large employers already pay more than the min wage,so the ones
    who will be adversely effected will be employees of the small to middle sized companies who will either lay off or not hire in the first place.Romney has to know this.

  50. 2012 February 2 11:10 am

    I agree. This guy was working for a landscaping company.

    I have to find a photo of one of those lizards or chameleons changing color to represent Romney. I think I’ve seen some where the lizard is against two different backgrounds and is two different colors. Is that right?

  51. 2012 February 2 11:21 am

    I just saw a bit on how BHO is twisting Scripture for his own devices. How ironic that I used the same Proverb as part of the title of an old pro-life post, “Open Your Mouth For The Mute.”

    He always makes me think of quoting parts of the Bible about false prophets, but this from Isaiah is quite descriptive:

    “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
    Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
    Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

  52. 2012 February 2 6:48 pm
    womanontheright permalink

    Fabulous article!

  53. 2012 February 3 7:19 pm

    Thank you.

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