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Saturday, July 4, 2015

INDEPENDENCE DAY (and one largely overlooked fact)

Independence Day!  For most people, this Day probably means fireworks, family picnics, parades, and perhaps a passing nod to the armed forces of this country who have fought, at certain times, to maintain our independence and freedom.  For others, it may go a bit deeper into the historical and philosophical underpinnings of our representative democracy.  It may even be a somewhat sobering reminder to others that this nation was born out of rebellion and a revolutionary war of independence against a very strong nation that maintained rather strict control over its colonies.   What I want to do today, however, is to call attention to the all-but-forgotten fact that our nation has at its very roots a history of protest, rebellion, and revolutionary activism.  Somehow we tend to ignore our inheritance of public protest and redress of grievances, even though our country was founded upon such activism.

A brief look at an historical timeline reminds us of a few events, occurrences and concepts that led up to our War of Independence, but which may not have clearly resonated with the bulk of our citizenry (taken from several sources: http://www.revolutionary-war.net/revolutionary-war-timeline.html; http://www.historyisfun.org; http://www.americanhistory.about.com/od/americanhistorytimelines/a/Events-Leading-to-Revolution-Timeline.htm )

1763

  • February 10 - The Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War although it lasted from 1754-1763).  The financially draining war combined with the increased military presence for protection will be the impetus for many future taxes and actions of the British government against the colonies.
  • October 7 - The Proclamation of 1763 is signed forbidding settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. This area was to be set aside and governed as Indian territory.   Settlers lodge objections on being forced to move out.
1764

  • April 5 - Grenville Acts pass Parliament. These include a number of acts aimed at raising revenue to pay for the French and Indian War debts along with the cost of administering the new territories granted at the end of the war.  The most objectionable part was the Sugar Act, known in England as the American Revenue Act. It increased duties on items ranging from sugar to coffee to textiles.

  • April 19 - The Currency Act passes parliament, prohibiting the colonies from issuing legal tender paper money.
  • May 24 - Boston town meeting protesting the Grenville measures. James Otis first discusses the complaint of taxation without representation and calls for the colonies to unite.
  • June 12-13 - Massachusetts House of Representatives creates a Committee of Correspondence to communicate with the other colonies about their grievances.
  • August - Boston merchants begin a policy of nonimportation of British luxury goods as a form of protest against the British economic policies. This later spreads to other colonies.
1765

  • March 22 - The Stamp Act passes parliament. It is the first direct tax on the colonies. The purpose of the tax is to help pay for the British military stationed in America. This act is met with greater resistance and the cry against taxation without representation increases.
  • March 24 - The Quartering Act goes into effect in the colonies which requires residents to provide housing for British troops stationed in America.  This shows up in the American Constitution as a protest against citizens being made to quarter troops (militia) in their homes and extends further to the older concept of common law that a man’s home “is his castle.”
  • May 29 - Patrick Henry begins the discussion of the Virginia Resolutions asserting that only Virginia has the right to tax itself. The House of Burgesses adopt some of his less radical statements including the right to self-government.
  • July - Sons of Liberty organizations are founded in towns across the colonies in order to fight against the stamp agents, often with outright violence.
  • October 7-25 - Stamp Act Congress meets in New York City. It includes representatives from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Petitions against the Stamp Act are created to be delivered to King George III.
  • November 1 - The Stamp Act goes into effect and all business is basically stopped as colonists refuse to use the stamps.
1766

  • February 13 - Benjamin Franklin testifies before Parliament about the Stamp Act and warns that if the military is used to enforce it, this could lead to open rebellion.
  • March 18 - The Stamp Act is repealed. However, the Declaratory Act is passed which gives the British government the power to legislate any laws of the colonies without restriction.
  • December 15 - The New York Assembly continues to fight against the Quartering Act, refusing to allocate any funds for housing the soldiers. The crown suspends their legislature on December 19th.
1767

  • June 29 - Townshend Acts pass parliament introducing a number of external taxes including duties on items like paper, glass and tea. Additional infrastructure is set up to ensure enforcement in America.
  • October 28 - Boston decides to reinstate nonimportation of British goods in response to the Townshend Acts.
  • December 2 - John Dickinson publishes Letters ‘From a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies’ explaining the issues with British actions to tax the colonies. It is highly influential.
1768

  • February 11 - Samuel Adams sends a letter with the approval of the Massachusetts Assembly arguing against the Townshend Acts. It is later protested by the British government.
  • April - An increasing number of legislative assemblies support Samuel Adam's letter.
  • June - After a confrontation over Customs violations, John Hancock's ship Liberty is seized in Boston. Customs officials are threatened with violence and escape to Castle William in Boston Harbor. They send out a request for help from British troops.
  • September 28 - British warships arrive to help support the customs officials in Boston Harbor.
  • October 1 - Two British regiments arrive in Boston to maintain order and enforce customs laws.
1769

  • March - A growing number of key merchants support nonimportation of goods listed in the Townshend Acts.
  • May 7 - George Washington presents nonimportation resolutions to the Virginia House of Burgesses. Proclamations are sent out from Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee to King George III.
  • May 18 - After the Virginia House of Burgesses is dissolved, the delegates including George Washington meet at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg to endorse the nonimportation agreement.
1770

  • March 5 - Boston Massacre occurs killing five colonists and injuring six. This is used as a propaganda piece against the British military.
  • April 12 - English crown partially repeals the Townshend Acts except for the duties on tea.
1771

  • July - Virginia becomes the last colony to abandon the nonimportation pact after the repeal of the Townshend Acts.
1772

  • June 9 - The British customs vessel Gaspee is attacked off the coast of Rhode Island. The men are set ashore and the boat is burned.
  • September 2 - The English crown offers a reward for the capture of those who burnt the Gaspee. The offenders are to be sent to England for trial which upsets many colonists as it violates self-rule.
  • November 2 - A Boston town meeting led by Samuel Adams results in a 21-member committee of correspondence to coordinate with other Massachusetts towns against the threat to self-rule.
1773

  • May 10 - The Tea Act goes into effect, retaining the import tax on tea and giving the East India Company the ability to undersell colonial merchants.
  • December 16 - The Boston Tea Party occurs. After months of growing consternation with the Tea Act, a group of Boston activists dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded tea ships anchored in Boston Harbor in order to dump 342 casks of tea into the water.
1774

  • February - All colonies except North Carolina and Pennsylvania have created committees of correspondence.
  • March 31 - The Coercive Acts pass parliament. One of these is the Boston Port Bill which does not allow any shipping except for military supplies and other approved cargo to go through the port until the customs duties and the cost of the Tea Party are paid for.
  • May 13 - General Thomas Gage, the commander of all British forces in the American colonies, arrives in Boston with four regiments of troops.
  • May 20 - Additional Coercive Acts are passed. The Quebec Act is termed 'intolerable;’ one part extended the southern boundary of Canada into areas claimed by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia.
  • May 26 - Virginia House of Burgesses is dissolved.
  • June 2 - A revised and more onerous Quartering Act is passed.
  • September 1 - General Gage seizes the Massachusetts Colony's arsenal at Charlestown.
  • September 5 to October 26: The First Continental Congress meets with 56 delegates in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia.
  • September 17 - The Suffolk Resolves are issued in Massachusetts urging that the Coercive Acts are unconstitutional.
  • October 14 - The First Continental Congress adopts a Declaration and Resolves against the Coercive Acts, the Quebec Acts, the Quartering of troops, and other objectionable British actions. These resolutions mention the rights of the colonists including that of "life, liberty, and property."
  • October 20 - A Continental Association is adopted to coordinate nonimportation policies.
  • December 14 - Massachusetts militiamen attack the British arsenal at Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth after being warned of a plan to station troops there.
1775

  • January 19 - The Declarations and Resolves are presented to parliament.
  • February 9 - Massachusetts is declared in a state of rebellion.
  • February 27 - Parliament accepts a conciliatory plan, removing many of the taxes and other issues brought up by the colonists.
  • March 23 - Patrick Henry gives his famous "Give me liberty or give me death," speech at the Virginia convention.
  • March 30 - The crown endorses the New England Restraining Act that does not allow for trade with countries other than England and also bans fishing in the North Atlantic.
  • April 14 - General, now Governor, Gage in Massachusetts is ordered to use any force necessary to apply all British acts and to stop any buildup of a colonial militia.
  • April 18-19 - Considered by many to be the beginning of the actual American Revolution, the Battles of Lexington and Concord begin with the British heading to destroy a colonial arms depot in Concord Massachusetts.  Two lanterns are lit in the Old North Church steeple to indicate the British are crossing the Charles River, and Paul Revere begins his ride.
  • April 19, 1775: Battle of Lexington, won by the British
  • April 19, 1775: At the Battle of Concord the Americans introduce the British to guerilla warfare
  • April 19, 1775 to March 17, 1776: Siege of Boston: 15,000 Minutemen laid siege to Boston from April 19, 1775 until March 17, 1776, when the British troops withdrew.
  • May 10, 1775: The Second Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia and remains in session throughout the war.
1776

1783

1787

1788

It is interesting to note the parts of this timeline that I have emphasized by bolded font.  We so often emphasize only independence, freedom, liberty and patriotism of those early days forgetting the elements of protest and rebellion that constituted the basis for a final act of revolution that enabled our independent nation status to be effected by means of our own constitution. It is perhaps disturbing to some who value “law and order” above all else, that protest and rebellion are built into the very fabric of our founding and our history as an independent nation. In fact, some of those early protesters were renowned – especially in England as well as in the colonies – as rebels and revolutionaries but more so as traitors, criminals and “patriots” which had a distinct negative connotation in England. The following quote from Wikipedia sets the stage for what essentially motivated the Patriots.

 The Patriot faction came to reject taxes imposed by parliament in which the tax-payer was not represented.  "No taxation without representation," was their slogan, referring to the lack of representation in the British parliament. The British countered there was "virtual representation," that is, all members of Parliament represented the interests of all the citizens of the British Empire.
Though some Patriots declared that they were loyal to the king, they believed that the colonial assemblies should control policy relating to the colonies... and be able to run their own affairs."

This concept of direct representation lay at the heart of the vision of Congress: that each representative chosen by the people of a local district would be represented by that elected person.  It was almost equivalent to the idea that people were sending one of their own to represent them so that they would know that their voices and concerns were being heard and acted upon.  The epitome of a representative democracy. 

Equally important was an accompanying concept called “republicanism.”  According to one definition (quoted in Wikipedia), “’Republicanism’ may be distinguished from other forms of democracy as it asserts that people have unalienable rights that cannot be voted away by a majority of voters. Alexis de Tocqueville warned about the "tyranny of the majority" in a democracy, and advocates of the rights of minorities have warned that the courts needed to protect those rights by reversing efforts by voters to terminate the rights of an unpopular minority.  The term ‘republicanism’ is derived from the term ‘republic’, but the two words have different meanings. A ‘republic’ is a form of government (one without a hereditary ruling class); ‘republicanism’ refers to the values of the citizens in a republic.”

As important as these two concepts were to the colonialists and the Founding Fathers, they are even more important in our modern era where threats to both abound. Unfortunately, it is a Supreme Court and lower federal courts that have attacked both concepts, along with a right-wing Congress, putting our representative democracy in peril, and promoting judgments that put equal and unalienable rights at risk.  I don’t want to dwell too long on this, because I have commented elsewhere on this situation.  Judicial decisions such as:
Citizens United (allowing and promoting a system of bribery by rich individuals and corporations under the guise of free speech granted to corporations as individuals);
 Voting Rights Act  (The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on June 16, 2013 that key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are no longer valid, left it to a divided Congress to revise the law;  specifically, Section 4 -- the formula the federal government uses to determine which states and counties are subject to Pre-clearance and continued oversight -- was struck down as outdated and unworkable)

 Various decisions related to rights such as freedom from unreasonable search & seizure; a man’s home is his castle and equal protection under law are all under siege, as discussed in my last few posts.

This is exactly why the concept of protest and ‘redress of grievances’ is embedded in our history and in our rights and in our Constitution.  The fight to protect and defend the Constitution’s provisions of freedoms and rights is never over.  It is a constant.

So let us on this July 4th, take a quick look again at what those colonialists did when they sensed the tyranny of Great Britain was endangering their lives, liberty, property and well-being.  They rebelled as all protesters have done throughout our history.
 
1)      First came complaints, some organized some not;  

2)      Meetings of like-minded protestors to gather support on an organized basis quickly followed;

3)      An economic boycott of products and services that affected the power-base was also organized

4)      Certain legislators in both Virginia and Massachusetts sponsored resolutions and rights statements to further the cause;

5)      A Committee of Correspondence was established by the Massachusetts Assembly and soon other colonies follow with their own Committees of Correspondence in order to work together and to unite as many as possible behind the protest movement; in modern parlance, this might be referred to as joint or collaborative effort; a definite step toward building a coalition in support of a cause;

6)      Organizations were formed across the colonies with a common name to identify them and their cause: the Sons of Liberty

7)      Petitions were gathered to make the growing protests known to the King and to Parliament;

8)      One of the most important pursuits is that of public writing –articles, pamphlets, tracts, declarations of rights, newspaper publications and speeches – all were of great value then and continue to be of value now, along with the added factor of the social media on the Internet

9)      The Declaration of Independence grew out of the protest movement and spelled out exactly what the protesters stood for; what their grievances were, and what they proposed to do about it. It is a classic device and one that usually gets an immediate response, often negative, which is what occurred.  Manifestos” are equivalents in modern protest movements, and usually bring the same response.  They are not necessarily ‘threats’ or ‘coercive’ in nature (although they may be) but are often propaganda devices meant to energize the protesters and to move the establishment;

10)   Next, came a few skirmishes involving protesters and the establishment; they appear to be related to specific events or laws and are intended to focus the public’s attention on the unfairness and injustices that are taking place; the skirmishes are essentially symbolic gestures (not real battles or fights) but, like the Tea Party in Boston Harbor they may have far-reaching effects and outcomes.

11)   Final attempts to resolve grievances by petition, letters, personal visits, requests of Parliament, and numerous explanations of why self-rule would be advantageous to England went unheeded and led to the final step which was a War of Independence.  Unfortunately, that step cannot always be avoided, but modern protests are often more successful because of the bulk of protestors and the ability to instantly communicate, both with the members of a movement, and with the officials in elective and non-elective offices.

Although peaceful protests have been the modern mantra, there may come a time when the combination of attacks upon our system of governing gain such momentum that a revolution will necessarily have to occur.  We cannot forever endure attacks upon voting rights, upon women’s rights to unrestricted health care and equal pay for equal work, upon the rights of unions to organize and bargain collectively.  Nor can we forever endure the attack upon individual rights and civil rights; or upon those who live in poverty or who happen to be part of a minority group.  We cannot have a society in which some states can choose not to obey laws or court orders.  We cannot have some states allowed to pass voter laws that discriminate against certain minorities and groups who may vote for one party over the other. We cannot have representatives of the people who fail to provide legislation that meets their constituent concerns, issues and needs.

 We cannot long endure the take-over of our representatives in the Congress by a relatively small group of rich individuals and corporations that intend for their views to be heard above everyone else’s views.  We cannot endure a Congress unresponsive to ordinary citizens and entirely beholden to a small cabal of rich persons who intend to control all government endeavors for their own aggrandizement and benefit.  We cannot continue to allow control of government to pass from the people to the special interests so that a Plutocracy calls all the shots.  We cannot survive militarization of police forces, nor the usurpation of the rights and opportunities of any minority group, or the lessening of the rights of all of us in order to suppress those who live in poverty or who are members of certain races or creeds or areas of origin.  We certainly cannot survive the unequal application of laws, regulations and allocation of funds based on arbitrarily imposed limitations and restrictions that do not apply to all. Nor can we survive the unwarranted killing of innocent Black men and children by police officers, or the unequal incarceration of Black men who are caught in a disguised War on Drugs; a War that does not include urban and suburban white drug users to anywhere near the same extent.   

We cannot allow our government to be dictated to by religious sects and denominations.  The non-establishment of (national) religion is the primary method by which freedom of religion is maintained.  We cannot allow religious entities or any of their practices or dogmas to dictate our direction.  We make our nation vulnerable to unjust and unethical wars when we ignore the will of the people expressed through their elected representatives and instead give power to the Commander-in-Chief to declare a war upon another nation or people.  We must restore the constitutional standard of Congressional declarations of war.  Notwithstanding that step, we must find a way to limit our warlike attitudes and behaviors.  We cannot continue to survive a bellicosity that demands war as a first response.  Nor can we protect our people and our children if we continue to make the 2nd Amendment more important and inviolable than all the rest.  We must have common-sense gun violence control laws in order to protect our very existence. We cannot forget our need for comprehensive immigration reform, our need for comprehensive health care reform that builds upon the foundation of the highly successful reforms of ‘Obamacare’ until health care is truly a right (and not just a privilege) available to all our citizens from birth.  

 The list of attacks upon our system, and certain of our people, is endless.  Independence Day is a good time for examination of where we stand.  In my estimation, we stand where our colonial forbearers stood: under a tyranny of establishment power that denies unalienable human rights, defends aristocracy and plutocracy, and promotes policies and Acts that denigrate and oppress its own citizens.  We shall constantly face that dilemma if we do not stand up and declare our refusal to abide by tyrannous acts that are designed to destroy the very independence and freedom that we celebrate today. 

 July 4th must also be a time to celebrate and to re-capture that spirit of active protest and all-out rebellion that birthed this country and its ideals.