Most Americans have a pretty short sense of history, yet it’s our most valuable intellectual tool for understanding perspective—and perspective is everything. The words of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill have always, and will always, ring true: “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Without possessing either understanding or perspective, we might see the events of January 6, 2021, when the Capitol building was stormed by insurrectionists, as an isolated incident. Yet it was not. Far from it, in truth. There was one in Boston in 1770 which set the stage for freedom, American style.
In 1770, our young country was a British colony. The English king demanded tribute in the form of taxing goods. The American colonists felt that British rule was anathema to them. A series of anarchistic, insurrectionist events led to our founding as the United States of America.
Yesterday, March 5, 2021, was the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, in which the British redcoats and “the Patriots” as they were known, clashed. Accounts vary, but a British soldier, without orders to do so, shot a young boy; five were gunned down in cold blood and three others wounded. The patriots, led by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, had led the demonstration, but lives were lost nonetheless.
Eight soldiers were charged with murder, but were acquitted in a trial in which John Adams defended them. Interestingly, Adams, purportedly a Patriot (who would become the second President of the United States) orated on their behalf, making a blatantly racist claim that the ensuing conflict was all the fault of Crispus Attucks, a black man. Six were acquitted; two were found guilty of manslaughter and given reduced sentences.
Three years later, the colonists (now known as the Sons of Liberty) clashed with the British again, in the event remembered for all days as the Boston Tea Party. Claiming “taxation without representation,” hundreds of cases of British East India Company tea were thrown into Boston Harbor.
Three years later, on July 4, 1776, America’s political leaders wrote the Declaration of Independence, which in essence gave our people the right to revolt against British rule. To demand our freedom as we ourselves defined it. To invoke insurrection against those who would determine or take from us our freedom. The Gadsden Flag was emblematic of the American stance against Britain.
We became a nation of staunch individualists who believed in our rights to abrogate against anything and anyone who would attempt to take those rights away from us.
We would like to think we are a nation guided by the Constitution and bound to the so-called “rule of law,” a principle under which all persons, institutions, and entities are accountable to legal definitions. Yet many—for example anarchists and insurrectionists—dispute the justice and equal accountability ascribed to the rule of law.
To my mind, trying to determine who is abiding by the rule of law against the right to freedom of thought and speech is a tough one. It is a thorny issues and one not easily resolved. Again, look to history to see just how true, and how often occurring, that is.
Was the Capitol insurrection in January without precedent? Hardly. You might find it interesting to research how many acts of anarchy and insurrection—even, in a few instances, sedition—have occurred throughout our country’s history. The Boston Massacre might have been the first recorded act of rebellion against an established government, but many, many, many have followed.
We Americans love our freedom, perhaps more than any other people. When compared to some other societies and cultures in which conformance and obedience are cherished, we’re obsessed with the opposite. Stories tell this tale truly, so I’m enclosing an audio entertainment from “Inheritance,” an old-time radio show entitled “He Died Free” broadcast in 1955:
Another story, drawn from the dark days of the Vietnam War, can be found in my novel, Anarchy.
Ours has been the road traveled by individuals who cherish their freedom, pushing back against the Establishment in whatever form it takes for better or worse – even when it’s a COVID-19 virus health warning that’s for our own good.
Next week: A new episode in “The Trials of Lucinda.”