I Is this what it felt like to live in the colonies of America in the summer of 1765? Back then, Parliament had just passed the Stamp Act, which taxed the colonists for the first time. The government was adopting bold new powers that would affect every American, and America responded.
Patrick Henry was 29 years old in 1765. A freshman legislator in Virginia, he took to the floor of the House of Burgesses just nine days into his term and denounced the Stamp Act with such passion and fervor that the Speaker, John Robinson, pounded his gavel and cried “Treason”! Robinson was joined by other members of the House in accusing Henry of the vile crime of treason, but Henry’s resolves against taxation actually passed the House.
That story leads me to believe that we aren’t re-living history. When Congress passed the recent spending bill, the rhetoric on both sides was heated, to be sure. Still, neither side called the other treasonous. The Democrats who supported the bill were called misguided, the bill itself was called a measure that would bankrupt our children, but the legislators, we were told, were simply trying their best. On the Republican side, they were accused of obstinacy and partisanship, but their opposition wasn’t deemed treasonous.
Our current state is more perilous than that of the colonies in 1765, yet we seem too frightened to face the possibility that we are now called, as our forefathers were, to defend freedom with every bit of air in our lungs, every muscle and tendon of our body, and every measure of our honor. It is a terrifying proposition: the government of, for, and by the People isn’t listening to us, nor are they listening to the wise counsel of those who came before them. It is a duly elected government, but is it really “of the People” anymore?
Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. The path we are forging is completely contrary to the ideals and principles of this great nation. The hero of the earlier anecdote, Patrick Henry, once said, “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” Yet Congress just approved nearly 800,000,000,000 in spending without anybody being able to read the legislation. The transactions of our rulers were concealed from us. In that same speech, Henry said, “it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty?” No, it is not. We must recognize the truth of our situation, no matter how hard it is to do so.
Samuel Adams, another member of the Founding generation, once said, ““What property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?” We may have “consented” to this massive spending by electing our representatives, but how can our children, who will themselves be burdened by this overwhelming and crippling debt, have consented to the taking of their money? We are committing an act of treachery upon our children and grandchildren that would have ashamed our ancestors.
Those men and women, it must be noted, were not railing against “the British”. They were arguing against their own government, and the individuals who made up their government. They were not opposed to a Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister who pushed for taxation without representation. They were not opposed to the idea of Parliament, but the members of Parliament who voted in favor of taxing the colonies for revenue without consent of those being taxed. For more than a decade, they were fighting for their rights as Englishmen, not as free Americans. They weren’t yet arguing for independence, but for real hope and change in their own established government. Do we not possess that same inherent right?
In 1775, just weeks before civil unrest erupted into civil war at a small village called Lexington, a young doctor named Joseph Warren stood in front of a crowd of Bostonians. It was the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and the South Meeting House was crowded, not only with residents, but also with officers from His Majesty’s Army. They were given the best seats in the house that day, sitting just feet away from where Warren stood. Looking down from the lectern at the men he would soon face in armed combat, Warren spoke to them and the thousands of ordinary men and women, the Joe Six-Packs of their day, about the sacrifices their forefathers had made in order to establish a life free from tyranny.
“Even anarchy itself, that bugbear held up by the tools of power (though truly to be deprecated) is infinitely less dangerous to mankind than arbitrary government. Anarchy can be but of short duration; for when men are at liberty to pursue that course which is most conducive to their own happiness, they will soon come into it, and from the rudest state of nature, order and good government must soon arise. But tyranny, when once established, entails its curses on a nation to the latest period of time; unless some daring genius, inspired by heaven, shall, unappalled danger, bravely form and execute the arduous design of restoring liberty and life to his enslaved, murdered country.”
This country had not one daring genius in those days, but a whole host of men and women who were determined to fight for the liberty of themselves and their posterity. Warren himself lost his life a few months later at the Battle of Bunker Hill, leaving his four children orphans. With our population now more than 300 times that of our ancestors, imagine how many daring geniuses exist among us today!
We are not yet enslaved, though we have traveled a long way on the road to serfdom. We are not yet subsumed by a brave new world of collectivism. We still possess the means to fight, and yet I fear we lack the will to do so. I myself am too afraid to put my name to these words, because I have no idea what kind of backing this will receive. I am not worthy to compare myself to the least of the Founding generation, and yet I keep looking to them for guidance and inspiration. These men and women staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the idea that liberty was worth arguing for, worth defending, and eventually worth dying for if necessary. Has that idea truly died a quiet death without us noticing? Or may we, like good Dr. Warren, help nurse our country back to health?
I have recently seen talk of Revolution, which to me seems far too premature. Despite what most Americans seem to believe, the Revolution did not spontaneously begin with the Battle of Lexington and Concord. There was a reason why thousands of regular men felt compelled to stop their work, grab their musket, and march several miles to shoot at His Majesty’s troops. You don’t get that conviction over the course of a night, and we are far from that level of societal conviction.
Yet if history repeats itself, how far down the road to Revolution are we? John Adams said that the seeds of Revolution were first planted in 1750, when a preacher named Jonathan Mayhew delivered a sermon called “A Discourse on Unlimited Submission”. In it Mayhew argues that submission to arbitrary government or a government that does not listen to the People actually aids in the promotion of tyranny. To maintain the status quo, “would be to join with the sovereign in promoting the slavery and misery of that society, the welfare of which, we ourselves, as well as our sovereign, are indispensably obliged to secure and promote, as far as in us lies.” In other words, when the government begins to ignore the People, apathy is aiding and abetting the abuse of power. Have we even begun to recognize that basic concept?
How do the People begin to take the power back? First, we have to recognize that while revolution’s not the answer, the People (and that’s you and me) always retain the right of veto power. If it’s important enough, we can say no. At that point, it’s up to our Government to listen.
The fact is, our President has decided that his election was a mandate for this type of suicidal spending, despite the blatant break with the bedrock principles of liberty and freedom enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. So far, he has not shown he has been willing to listen. Therefore, we must become louder. We can do that in two ways; the first by growing our numbers, and secondly by maximizing the power of our own voice.
The internet is a wonderful conduit of communication, but it has replaced far too much of the face-to-face contact that we need with our friends and neighbors if we are to ever establish real opposition to the destructive policies we seek to challenge. We must re-establish those local bonds, forge local friendships and connections, and not rely so much on the internet, which, when the dominant means of communication, leads to impersonal and distant relationships. The patriots had newspapers and pamphlets to be sure, but equally as important were the Sons of Liberty chapters and other organizations that spread throughout the colonies.
Get together with your friends and neighbors one night a week and talk politics. Organize yourselves… pick one person to run for city council, or other local office and work for that candidate tirelessly. At the same time, use the internet to communicate and coordinate with others on a local, regional, and national basis. Use social networking sites to develop, not augment your existing social relationships. Establish a “Sons of Liberty”-type organization in your neighborhood, your town, your county, and state, but be sure to maintain the local and personal connection. Yes, it will occupy a lot of time. It may require you to stop watching as much television, or to not spend so much time on the computer. But that’s a small sacrifice for a much larger cause. If we do not do this now, the country we leave our children will be in many ways unrecognizable to the one we grew up in, and I don’t think we will like the changes.
Recognize that you will have many different ideas on many different social issues, but that is not important. The politics of Massachusetts were very different than the politics of Virginia, but the two states were stalwarts of resistance in the 1750’s and1760’s. You need not agree with everything your fellow patriots believe, as long as you all believe that continuing to allow these economic policies to go unchallenged would be an aiding and abetting of the murder of this still-great nation.
I am convinced that we need to have many more town hall meetings, though I confess to not knowing how best to accomplish such a task. Still, our elected federal representatives need to hear from us, and it’s far easier for them to come back home to us than it is for us to go them. Do we demand that Congress return home to hear from their constituents face-to-face before they vote on a bill with a price tag of more than 100,000,000,000? Would that have a greater effect on our officials than flooding their offices with phone calls and emails?
It may be that a majority of us lack the will to fight. We are a soft society these days, after all. However, we are not required to fight with arms. We are only required to speak louder than we have, and I believe that there are enough of us who have the will to speak. We have the will to govern our elected servants with the magnifying glass our ancestors used on their public officials. Politics is a conversation, and it’s time our officials remembered that We the People have a voice as well. We have the right to be heard, and our representatives have a duty to listen.