The ability to write an influential rhetoric is a strong thing. America’s knowledge of good rhetoric traces far back into its roots, using revolutionary writers as a prime example. One example in particular, that of Thomas Paine in The Crisis, No. 1, is still praised for its successfully and carefully written persuasion to the soldiers that their cause is worth fighting. While Paine’s diction may be seen as excessively strong or passionate today, it works in combination with his attempt to identify with the common man, appeal to the audience with strong diction, and include God in order to form an overall very successful rhetoric.
Literally from the start of his work in the very first line, Paine works to identify with his audience, the common man, with the famous line, “these are the times that try men’s souls”. By starting the pamphlet as such, he is sympathizing with the men by acknowledging that what they are going through is challenging and will continue to be as he further explains that “tyranny…is not easily conquered” (647). What further strengthens Paine’s appeal to the audience is his inclusion of “we” throughout the pamphlet, suggesting that Paine is experiencing this difficult time along with the men. This proves to be an effective rhetorical technique as it allows Paine to put himself on the same level as the men and therefore allows them to build trust and confidence in him and his message. A particularly strong instance in which this can be seen is as Paine blames, not just the men for their inaction, but himself as well stating that “the fault…was all our own; we have none to blame but ourselves” (648). This expression once again works to demonstrate to the men that Paine is “one” of them and capable of making mistakes just as they are. Furthermore, this shows that Paine is not ashamed to consider himself one of them as seen when he later addresses the men as “friend[s]” as he regards them with a “warm ardor” (651).
To further appeal to and win over his audience, Paine writes in a particular manner, first beginning calmly and nonchalantly (as a way to first garner the trust of the men) then transitioning to a more impassioned language and tone in which the real heart of his rhetoric lies. An example in which this strong, passionate diction is presented is within Paine’s descriptions of Britain, likening Britain’s hold on America as something like slavery and describing the King of Britain as no better than a “murderer, a highwayman, or a housebreaker” (648). Paine’s strongly worded description works to unite the men against a common enemy, the British, and possibly instill some anger within them.
Paine’s passionate diction continues as he begins to address the men more forcibly as he writes, “Ye men of Pennsylvania, do reason upon these things!” and continues by saying that he “brings reason to your [the soldier’s] ears…in language as plain as A, B, C, [and] hold[s] up truth to your [the soldier’s] eyes” and that “men must be either rogues or fools… [to] not see it” (652). This marks a noticeable shift from the way Paine addresses the men as friends and equals in the previous paragraphs. Although some could argue that these lines are spoken rather condescendingly or too forcefully, these lines also serve to gather the attention of the men and encourage the need for action by explaining that, simply put, there is no other solution than that which Paine suggests and any rational man should be able to see this. Further on, Paine’s diction finishes strong with his concluding illustration of what would happen if the men were to not follow Paine’s advice and fight (in somewhat of a fire-and-brimstone approach), thus becoming “a ravaged country—a depopulated city—habitations without safety, and slavery without hope” (653).
Along with the strong diction and imagery, another significant and obvious feature of the text is the inclusion of God and biblical references, which works as a very effective way to pull the whole argument together. Paine uses God as a way to get the men to believe in and have confidence in their cause as he tells the men that “God…will not give up a people to military destruction” (648). By presenting this idea, Paine allows the men an alternative route in which to send their faith and trust and hopefully eliminate many of their fears.
Paine also uses God as a way to solidify his argument against the British by essentially assuring the men that God is on their side (as their actions and causes are noble) and against the British as “[he] cannot see on what grounds the King of Britain can look up to heaven for help against us [the American soldiers]” (648). Paine then builds off of this idea by explaining that God has been responsible for Washington’s “uninterrupted health, and…a mind that can even flourish upon care” (650). The inclusion of the role of God in the development of Washington, a heroic person in the lives of these men, is a wise decision on Paine’s part as it offers the men further reason to trust in the doings of God, and therefore their own actions (as those are also supported by God).
In the final instance that Paine mentions God he insists that “[he] thank[s] God that [he] fears not. [That he] sees no real cause for fear” (652). Paine’s idea here is that the solution (which God supports per earlier references) to this crisis is so clear and simple he nor anyone else should doubt it. By finishing with this final allusion to God, Paine is reminding the men that, as there is but one solution, if they are to follow it they will have no reason to fear as well.
Overall, it is quite obvious that Paine wrote The Crisis, No. 1 with an agenda in mind, which he manages to portray quite convincingly. His successes lie in the rhetoric techniques that Paine uses as he begins his writing by striving to appeal to his audience, then working to persuade them with strong diction and imagery, and tying his whole argument together with allusions to God. Clearly, there are reasons why Paine’s The Crisis, No. 1, was and is still considered an exemplary example of a successful, American revolutionary rhetoric.
Paine, Thomas. “The Crisis, No. 1.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Julia
Reidhead. Vol. A. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 647-53. Print.