Can Thomas Paine Calm the ‘Bathroom Bill’ Panic?

The Human Rights Campaign is now rounding up its gang of big business bullies to threaten Tennessee with economic gloom and doom if our Legislature dares to protect our young people from sexual predators who might infiltrate their school bathrooms and locker rooms. Most legislators support the “bathroom bill” (HB 2414) in principle, but some are finding their courage flagging in the face of these threats and a sense of panic over having to vote on the bill. These are the new “times that try men’s souls.”

That last phrase comes from the first of a series of pamphlets written by Thomas Paine. The first was published on December 23, 1776 and is known simply as “The Crisis.”1 To appreciate what follows, you must understand the context.

Defeat by the British Was Looming

When it was published in the Pennsylvania Journal, General Washington’s troops were encamped on the Delaware River opposite Trenton, New Jersey, having suffered humiliating defeats and losing New York City. That fall 11,000 American volunteers gave up and returned home. General Washington knew defeat was inevitable if the rest of his men returned home when their service contracts expired on December 31. There had to be a change in morale and a win that would inspire.

The words that follow, taken from “The Crisis,”1 were read aloud to Washington’s dispirited men, and the rousing prose had the effect he had hoped. The beaten-down troops mustered their courage and crossed the icy Delaware River to defeat hung-over Hessians on Christmas night, and on January 2, they defeated Britain’s Earl Cornwallis at the Battle of Princeton.

You know the story of that crossing. Now you know the story behind it.

May the following excerpts from the “story” that inspired those victories inspire us as we muster our courage to face down the tyranny of HRC and its allies that demand that we Tennesseans no longer govern ourselves according to the values we hold dear.

The Crisis by Thomas Paine

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that 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. . . .

‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. . . . Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. In fact, they have the same effect on secret traitors, which an imaginary apparition would have upon a private murderer. They sift out the hidden thoughts of man, and hold them up in public to the world. . . .

I once felt all that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the Tories [loyal to the Crown]: a noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand . . ., and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, “Well! give me peace in my day.” Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;” and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty. . . .

. . . The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. . . . Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America. . . .

. . . There are persons, too, who see not the full extent of the evil which threatens them; they solace themselves with hopes that the enemy, if he succeed, will be merciful. It is the madness of folly, to expect mercy from those who have refused to do justice; and even mercy, where conquest is the object, is only a trick of war; the cunning of the fox is as murderous as the violence of the wolf, and we ought to guard equally against both. . . .

I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it. . . . By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils—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. Look on this picture and weep over it! And if there yet remains one thoughtless wretch who believes it not, let him suffer it unlamented. (emphasis added)

It’s time for all Tennesseans, including our governor and legislators, to ask ourselves some hard questions. What will this current crisis and panic bring to light in us? Will we make a whore of our souls by swearing our allegiance to HRC, its allies, and their values of licentiousness, intolerance, and tyranny? Or will we protect our children and grandchildren who attend our public educational institutions?

By the end of next week we’ll know.


1. Thomas Paine’s prized work “The Crisis” is also known as “The American Crisis.”

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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