2010 – 4th Grade 2nd Place Winner

Walter E. Stackler, New York.

Is the Pen Mightier than the Sword?

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Imagine the sorry state of the continental Army in late December, 1776. A fierce blizzard hit and a blanket of freezing snow covered the earth. The army was in tatters. The number of soldiers was dwindling- many had deserted, some were sick and some were wounded, and most members were poorly armed or clothed. Everyone was freezing and food was scarce. On Christmas Eve, before his famous crossing of the Delaware, General George Washington pulled out a copy of a new pamphlet written by Thomas Paine called The American Crisis, and read it aloud to his troops. The words inspired his troops to fight on and not give up, and the next day at Trenton, New Jersey, Washington’s forces devastated Hessian forces fighting on behalf of the British. in this essay I will use Thomas Paine’s life and writings as an example of my belief that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Thomas Paine always supported the idea of independence for the colonies, from the time he moved to Philadelphia from England in 1774. In his first and perhaps most widely known pamphlet, Common Sense, Paine challenged the reader to come up with one good advantage the colonies would have by continuing to be governed by Great Britain. Paine also presented many arguments a Loyalist would make about why it would be best to stay under British rule, and one by one he argued them in a very logical way that was easy for the reader to understand. For example, he wrote in Common Sense, “But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families.” He also strived to make people want America to grow, and not remain so dependent. He wrote, “we may well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, it is never to have meat, or that the first twenty years of our lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty.” After reading the logical and simple arguments in Common Sense, colonists started thinking seriously about independence.

When the war started, Paine joined the rebel forces to serve as a Private. However, his writings had a much greater impact on the American Revolution. His pamphlet, The American Crisis, make the patriots remember what they were fighting for. Paine wrote, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” What this means is, a true soldier does not fight only in good conditions, or only when it is convenient for him A true soldier will always try his hardest and he will never quit, even in severe conditions. Twelve additional Crisis papers were published through 1783.

The vast majority of Americans read Common Sense and The Crisis papers. Thomas Paine’s writings were so popular that a new spirit took hold in the hearts and minds of the colonists and the Continental Army. Thomas Paine’s words gave people strength, courage, and the determination to be free. In my opinion, his pen was mightier than one thousand muskets.


Commager, Henry Steele. The Great Declaration: A Book for Young Americans. New York: The Bobs merril Co., 1958

Fish, Bruce and Becky. Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. ed. Thomas Paine: Political Writer. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.

Hayman, LeRoy. Lenders of the American Revolution. New York: Four Winds Press, 1970

Marrin, Albert. The War for Independence: The Story of the American Revolution. New York: Atheneum, 1988.

Meltser, Milton. The American Revolutionaries: A History in Their Own Words 1750-1800. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1987.

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