The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.
(Letter to Edward Carrington, May 27, 1788)
Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great
courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness,
from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence,
from dependence back again to bondage.
~Alexander Fraser Tytler~
I often wonder, whenever I say our government has become tyrannical and oppressive, what your personal vision of tyranny and oppression is. Do you envision Nazi Germany, Soviet era Russia, or maybe Communist China with an authoritarian government and jackbooted thugs who march the streets suppressing freedom? While I’ll be the first to admit that those are forms which tyranny may take; they are not the ONLY form it takes.
I have been told, (numerous times I might add), that I have too much time on my hands; meaning that I think too much, come up with too many strange thoughts and ideas. That may be true; but I cannot help myself; my brain continuously is tossing ideas around inside my skull; weighing this idea against that idea, often resulting in the articles I write.
This question of what you think tyranny looks like is the result of one of these brain-storming exercises I do. If you think back to the period preceding the American Revolution what image comes to mind? Does it match up with your image of what you think tyranny looks like?
Most of the unrest and resistance to the authority of Parliament and the King was localized in the area surrounding Boston, Massachusetts. The jack booted thugs could be considered as being the Redcoats who enforced the will of the King; but they were not always considered enemies of liberty. In fact in earlier times they fought side by side the Colonists; like in the French and Indian War.
You might want to think about it like this; if you own a business that is highly valuable to you, you would hire security guards to protect it; wouldn’t you? Well the Colonies were property of the King; being established by charters granted by him to those who settled them. Therefore the Redcoats, or British Regulars, were much like security guards protecting the Kings property. So when did they go from being protectors and allies to being the enforcing arm of a tyrant? The answer is simple really; it was when they began enforcing laws which the Colonists felt violated their rights under Natural Law, Common Law, and as free men.
The Colonists, aside from a few taxes, (which by the way were far less imposing than all the taxes we pay right now), were free to do as they pleased. It was not until they began complaining about, then openly resisting these taxes that they felt the strong arm of government bearing down upon them.
Therefore, these jack booted thugs of the 1770’s were much like law enforcement today; first they were friends who kept the peace and protected the liberty of the people. Then, when they began enforcing laws which violated our Unalienable Rights, they too became jack booted thugs who enforce the will of tyrants in Washington D.C and the various State Legislatures.
Our nation’s founders did not wait until tyranny had become so oppressive that it affected every aspect of their lives; unlike 20th & 21st Century Americans; they opposed it when it first raised its ugly head. As James Madison would later write in his Memorial and Remonstrance, “We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequence in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”
What that means is that they saw what would happen if the tolerated the slightest violation of their rights as free men; they saw the eventual outcome of allowing for a single violation of their rights. Therefore they resisted the slightest violation of their rights to prevent further, and more serious violations, of other rights.
Madison said this prudent jealousy about our rights is the first duty of citizens and one of the noblest characteristics of the revolution. What has happened to America that people ignore that duty and have forsaken that noble characteristic? If you look to the quote at the beginning of this article by Tytler, where would you say that places us in that progression? If you want my opinion it places us in the complacency to apathy stage.
How did we go from being a people willing to lay down their lives for liberty to a people who don’t care one way or the other whether our government takes that liberty away from us?
I can say it didn’t just happen overnight; it was a slow steady process that has taken us to where we are today. There is another thing Madison said, this time during the Virginia Ratification Convention, “I believe there are more instance of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
It’s ironic that I quote the man who I am beginning to believe is responsible for pushing for the establishment of a system of government designed to become tyrannical; but there you have it in Madison’s own words; tyranny does not happen overnight, it sneaks up on you lest you keep a watchful eye for it. And to get to the point where we are today, American’s must have had both eyes closed for quite some time.
Our Founders fought a war against their rightful sovereign, and his minions, to secure their independence and liberty. Upon the successful conclusion of that war these 13 Colonies became free and independent States; each with full authority to govern their internal affairs.
At this point in time we had a system of government, established by the Articles of Confederation. Madison, Hamilton, Washington, and others felt it too weak; giving the States too much power and sought to create a system with a stronger, more centralized government with a subsequent loss of State authority. Had you studied the notes of the Constitutional Convention you would have seen that Madison himself stated that the States could be useful in the administration of the government they sought to create, but that the States would be severely diminished in their sovereignty and authority; in short, subservient entities UNDER the rule of the central government.
Of the proposals made by Madison for this central government was that it have an absolute veto over all laws passed by the State Legislatures. This did not go over so well among the delegates and was shot down; but it gives you an idea of what Madison had in mind as to the powers he sought to confer upon the government he sought to establish. Hamilton went even further and sought for almost monarchal powers for the central government; totally stripping the States of all authority. Yet these are the two men whose writings, The Federalist Papers, are referred to when it comes to understanding what the Constitution does. As I recently stated, the Federalist Papers were nothing but an ad campaign to get the people of New York to adopt the Constitution; and we all know how truthful ads can be, don’t we?
Patrick Henry, that firebrand who said “Give me liberty or give me death” feared this transition from a confederacy to a consolidation under a centralized government and spoke out against it often; his voice falling mostly upon deaf ears. In that I know exactly how he must have felt as I too feel that my words are falling upon deaf ears and eyes too blind to see what is happening right in front of them.
On June 5, 1788 Henry stood on the floor of the Virginia Assembly considering ratification of the Constitution and declared, “It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case?” Of course they couldn’t; as the majority voted in favor of ratification.
Yet in less than half a century of operation Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence, saw that what Henry feared was, in effect, happening right before his eyes. In a letter to Nathaniel Macon, Jefferson wrote, “Our government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction; to wit: by consolidation first then corruption, its necessary consequence.” (1821)
Then four years later Jefferson would write the following to William Branch Giles, “I see, … and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power…”
The government created by the Constitution was not given unlimited power, and it was not given to them the authority to determine, or to use Jefferson’s wording, construction, to decide the limits to its own power; the Constitution itself both defined, and limited the power given government.
Yet there is one simple fact that people today fail to consider; the government is an agent of the people, created by men. When that body oversteps its authority, or abuses its power, it is the right of the people to resist these abuses, this tyranny, or if necessary, totally abolish it. I could spend a great deal of time discussing whether the States or the people should have had the authority to decide what type government we would live under, and the implications of the way things actually happened; but maybe that’s fodder for a later article. Let it be enough to say that the people agreed to this Constitution; giving government certain powers, and if the people decide that government no longer serves the purpose for which it was established, then the people can abolish that system of government; and the government would have no say in the matter.
Madison and his cronies, his cohorts, or whatever term of endearment you wish to use for them. were successful in getting the people of Virginia to accept his proposed system of government. Years later, his friend and mentor Jefferson warned of the dangers he saw in the consolidation of powers reserved to the States in the federal government. Then something happened…
Just three decades after Jefferson wrote his letter to William Branch Giles the State of Virginia decided that they had had just about enough of the federal governments assumption of powers reserved to the States. Coupled with the fact that the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, had called upon the States to send troops to form an army to invade their neighbors to the South, and Virginia decided that it was time they severed ties with the federal government.
The people of the South held no overall animosity towards the people of the North; it was the tyranny they felt the federal government exercised over them that led them to exercise their right to secede from the Union. Yet the federal government, or Abraham Lincoln to be exact, felt it was his duty to hold the Union together…at all costs; including war.
If you could just lock the issue of slavery into a closet for a minute, forget that it even existed, the Civil War was fought because certain states felt that their system of government had become tyrannical, and they decided to exercise what ALL States believed to be their right; the right to severe the bond which held them to the Union. The federal government, an entity created by the people, said to the South, “Oh no you don’t. And if you try we’ll send in an army to stop you.”
THAT, not slavery, is what the Civil War was fought over.
If you think back to what Jefferson said to William Branch Giles, the victory of the North in the Civil War was the culmination of what Jefferson said; the final consolidation of all power in the hands of the federal government. All that has ensued since then is corruption upon corruption.
According to the dictionary one of the definitions for tyranny is arbitrary use of power or control. I would hope you understand the meaning of the word arbitrary, but if not it means done without concern for what is fair or right, or without regard to established rules. Therefore arbitrary power is power that is assumed, or usurped, without regard to the law which governs the actions of our government; i.e. the Constitution.
You might find it interesting that Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law makes no reference to violence, force, or even jack booted thugs when it defines tyranny; it simply states; “The violation of those laws which regulate the division and the exercises of the sovereign power of the state. It is a violation of its constitution.”
Now that I’ve provided you with all this information, I would like to ask you the same question I asked when I began this little rant; “What is your personal vision of what tyranny looks like?” If you don’t answer by saying, “Our government today” then there is absolutely no hope for you and I may as well just go find a cave and await the eventual downfall of America.
But I’m not one to give up so easily. Tyranny does not happen all at once, it comes in stages, as Madison said, “…gradual and silent encroachments…” It also never stops, unless it is met with force by a people who have the courage to stand up to it.
I keep mentioning the fact that you are not free; often using the quote by von Goethe which says, “None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.” You think because you still make certain choices that you have freedom; that the loss of certain rights for the safety of the nation from terrorists, or to prevent more public shootings, justifies these violations of our unalienable rights. Yet no matter your justification, each act by our government which violates a single right, is by the very definition of the word, tyrannical.
That being the case, consider something else Jefferson once said, “Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers (administrators) too plainly proves a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.”
And one final thing before I finish up; when Patrick Henry argued against the adoption of the Constitution he gave one concern as his primary issue with this proposed Constitution, “My great objection to this Government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights, or of waging war against tyrants.”
The last time a group of people tried to wage war against a tyrant, or tyranny, they lost. That was in when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. Since then all that has happened is that our government has added link upon link to the chains that bind us deeper in slavery.
The problem is that most people have their attention focused elsewhere; on TV, video games, Sporting Events, or whatever else it is they do, and they fail to see their liberty slowing being taken away. I fear once it becomes aware to them they will find there is no alternative but to fight to restore it, and even then the odds of their being successful will be against them.
But as, Winston Churchill once said, “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”
And there you have it, today’s rant. I hope I’ve lightened your mood somewhat…