The American Revolution: A History in Documents

By Steven C. Bullock | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
Building
Governments
Revolutions in Government

On April 19, 1783, exactly eight years after the Revolution's first battle, Thomas Paine, quoting himself, announced in his pamphlet The American Crisis: [The times that tried men's souls, are over.] With a peace treaty signed and the fighting ended, Paine declared, [the greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew, [has been] gloriously and happily accomplished.] But, Paine went on to say, simply winning the war was not enough. Adjusting to peacetime would be difficult: [pass[ing] from the extremes of danger to safety—from the tumult of war to the tranquillity of peace, though sweet in contemplation, requires a gradual composure of the sense[s] to receive it.]

The transition turned out to be even more problematic than Paine predicted. Figuring out how to define liberty—and put it into practice in government and society—was just as difficult as fighting for it. Revolutionary-era Americans experimented widely with different forms of governments on both the state and the national levels. These changes culminated in the United States Constitution written in 1787, creating a full-scale revision of the rules under which the nation was governed. Paine strongly supported this controversial document because it attempted to strengthen the national government. Even in 1783 he had identified the dangers of disunity created by a weak central government as the primary question facing the newly independent country. [Our great national character,] he wrote in the pamphlet, is based on [the UNION OF THE STATES.] [Our union … is the cheapest way of being great—the easiest way of being powerful, and the happiest invention in government which the circumstances of America can admit of.] Not all Americans agreed, however. Rather

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