“Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.” James Madison (1751-1836), fourth president of the United States.
On August 21st 1786 a group of protesters led by Daniel Shays, a former Revolutionary war veteran, led a farmer’s rebellion against the local government. Their property was being confiscated by wealthy merchants, who insisted on the payment of debts in gold or silver, instead of the usual exchange of goods, due to their European investors demanding the same. When the farmers petitioned the legislature and the courts, they quickly found that many were beholden to those same wealthy local merchants and their lawyers, and the courts were therefore loathe to go against them. So the people formed private militias, led by Daniel Shays, to prevent the holding of courts which were confiscating up to 2000 pieces of property a day. Governor James Bowdoin, who had little sympathy for the farmers’ plight, ordered up an army to put down the rebellion, and finally did so when the protestors tried to take over the Springfield Armory. Five of the protestors were killed by the first cannon fire and fled.
In the end, most of the protestors were eventually pardoned for their role in the rebellion, but the event ended up being the catalyst that brought George Washington out of retirement and triggered the reevaluation of the Articles of Confederation. Our Founding Fathers realized that the Articles did not provide for a strong enough national government that would be able to provide more uniform economic policies and protect property owners (like Shays) from infringements on their rights by local majorities. Shays Rebellion revealed a growing fear that private liberty – like the enjoyment of personal property – could be threatened by public liberty, in the form of unrestrained power in the hands of the people.
Over 200 hundred years have passed and not much has changed. We still see the influence of crony capitalism in government as well as the desire of some to spread the wealth to those that have not earned it. And again, Americans have risen in protest, but the methods used today by each side have been drastically different. One side, the Tea Party, sees government as the cause of the crisis that we are in, and seeks redress of their grievances via peaceful (yet passionate) public rallies and civic engagement with their representatives. Instead of violence, they let their voices be heard at the voting booth. On the other side, the Occupied “fill-in-the-blank” protest groups, see businesses and the wealthy as the source of our problems. They think they have a right to what others have earned, and let their voices be heard via the destruction of public and private property, assaulting the public, attacking police officers, the forcible closing of a port of export, thievery, rape, molestation, rioting, drug use, American flag desecration, and general lawlessness and violence.
Why anyone of any political stripe or organization would choose to ally themselves with the violent “Occupy” movement is beyond me. As Americans do we really want to support those that are willing to physically hurt and intimidate their fellow citizens, neighbors and local businesses in order to make a political point? Does anyone really want to stand on the side of chaos and anarchy? While I do agree think that corruption exists on Wall Street and rightly needs to be addressed, we must remember that the corruption of government is what enabled the corruption of Wall Street to occur in the first place. In the 18th century Daniel Shays understood this, which is why he brought his protest to the feet of the local government, instead of his neighbor’s front yard or business. Now, in the 21st century, with corruption at both the local and national government levels, we seem to be in the same position as he. However, we have something that Daniel Shays did not have: the US Constitution, which allows for the peaceful and orderly change of government by the people.
Americans have always been a rebellious bunch – after all, our nation was birthed out of rebellion. We like our liberty and we like our stuff and we want to be the ones to decide on what to do with each, thank you very much. However, we put both our personal liberty and our private property (and income) at risk if we continue to allow those that seek the confiscation of both to have a foothold in either our government or on our streets. We have come to a crossroads as a nation and we must choose this day which side we will serve – our selfish selves or our country? Violent anarchy or peaceful protest? Chaotic destruction or respectful debate? Entitlements or hard work? Corruption or accountability under the law? Which side will you choose to speak for you?
Or perhaps, it is time to just start speaking for yourself.