In 1776, on this day the "American Crisis" ended when Commander-in-Chief William Howe's rampant British troops caught up with the bedraggled rebel army just outside Hackensack, New Jersey.
After fierce fighting that left New York City in flames (pictured), George Washington's men had fled their position at Fort Lee, but delays caused by the bleak winter prevented the Americans from making it to the comparative safety of their headquarters.
End of the American CrisisBefore the crisis, Washington had fought as a soldier for Great Britain during the French and Indian War. "I was a very happy British subject, living in the royal colony of Virginia," he said. "I fought for my king and my country". "We had all the rights of Englishmen," he said of life in the mid-18th century. "But then, in 1764, the king of England opened his treasury and he was shocked - it was almost empty. ... For the next 11 years, our lordly masters in Great Britain started reaching into our purses and stripping us of our rights as Englishmen".
Among those in retreat was an English-born radical, the author of the powerful, widely-read pamphlet "Common Sense". Because it was Thomas Paine who issued the galvanising cry "Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)". His plan was to flee to Philadelphia where he would publish a more substantive treatise. Instead, Paine was summarily executed for high treason when the redcoats discovered the draft first edition of "The American Crisis" amongst his few possessions.
"If there must be trouble, let it be in our day, that your child may have peace". ~ Thomas PaineMost tragic of all, during his flight, Paine might have begun to suffer intense doubts about the cause. Historian would speculate that perhaps had he made it to Philadelphia, he might have published a quite different volume. Because in his diary Paine recounted a meeting with a loyalist tavern owner "with as pretty a child in his hand ... as I ever saw". The taverner, complacent in the face of crisis, exclaimed "Well! give me peace in my day". Paine responded: "If there must be trouble, let it be in our day, that your child may have peace". Of course cynics have suggested on numerous occasions that the text of Paine's diary was modified by William Howe and his officers..