If you enjoy writing, like I do, there are times when something comes to mind and it almost writes itself as you sit before the blank ‘paper’ on the computer screen. The text flows like a mountain stream, careening over rocks and splashing into small pools as it winds its way down to the valley. Other times, there is a tug inside you, letting you know there is something you are to write and you hope it will burst forth like that stream and give you what you are to say. Still though, at times the tug is just that, a tug. There is a piece you are to write but no matter how long you stare at that blank screen, the only thing that envelopes you is how blank the screen truly is. Instead of a mountain stream you feel like a dustbowl farmer following a diviner with his crooked y shaped stick, hoping he will find a trickle of water somewhere! You couldn’t put two sentences together to make an interesting opening line if the threat of three more weeks of quarantine hung over your head! If there were no tug, no sense of something worth writing and, more importantly, something worthwhile for others to read, it would be no big deal. Without the feel of something to write, you turn off the computer and go take up couch-potato duty. Thankfully, revelation struck almost simultaneously with me stubbing the pinky toe of my foot on the leg of my desk. Of course, it was the same foot that carries the weight of the recovering broken ankle. Such an event is the confluence of the Laws of Physics and the Laws of Natural Stupidity.
Like many Americans, if I see come across my news feed another COVID-19 update, I will not be responsible for my actions. Anyone who sees a desk or laptop computer come sailing out of my study window or an I-phone hurled from my F-150 at 70 mph will know that likely, the saturation level for COVID-19 news has been breached. It is difficult enough to deal with America’s 24/7 news casts which have as many talking heads as there are opinions. When there is no new news, the editors and producers beat the bushes looking for someone who has trained their pet to don a mask and protective gear whenever it goes out to do its business.
At the risk of violating my own restriction and perhaps stretching the limits of my personal sanity just a bit further, there is something I would like to explore not about COVID-19 but because of it. I promise not to even refer to the 19 word again. If I do so, may the writing gods Penna and Pencilius and their elder minions, White-us Outus and Carbona Paperia, wreak havoc upon my writing forever more.
Most have seen a shortened version of a quote by Thomas Jefferson from a letter he penned while serving in Paris. A few know the background and some know the extended version of the quote. It is replicated here.
“And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms… The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
A bold statement for any man in those days and particularly one serving as a representative of his fledgling country. Jefferson wrote this in a letter dated November 13, 1787, to William S. Smith who was in London. It reflects upon poetry by Thomas Paine. The ballad was written in 1775 upon the eve of the American Revolution. In the ballad he paid homage to a 130 year-old elm tree that stood in Boston Commons, under which, according to historians, colonists gathered to discuss the events leading to revolution. He dubbed it Liberty Tree. The first stanza reads:
“In a chariot of light, from the regions of the day,
The Goddess of Liberty came,
Ten thousand celestials directed her way,
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.”
Delicate is the balance of the branches of the Tree which upholds a diverse nation of peoples gathered in unique states, each united together ‘with the consent of the governed to permit representatives to conduct national affairs for their common good. The sacred document ratified by the diverse states permits the national government to do only those few things enumerated within this Constitution. In times of national crisis, certain powers are given to both the federal government and the state-houses of the individual states which can impose upon and restrict the rights of the individual citizen when it is deemed as in the best interest of the common good. The viability of such decrees are tenuous at best and it is very much a sure bet, those who find themselves wielding such new power will do two things.
First, they will stretch the permission they have been given to decree from on-high too far. It will come almost to the breaking-point of the citizens’ willingness to obey, even if it truly is for ‘their own good.’ The citizen unused to such restraint will chafe at the bit and will not take kindly to the whip,
Second, they will battle against the disassembly of their new-found power, seeking to maintain such power as the new status-quo. The public should be vigilant of any efforts to codify the new powers into legislation that would extend the usurpation of citizens’ rights beyond the crisis for which they have been approved.
These two axioms are all but written in celestial stone as the negative result of the extension of power to fallible mankind. Therefore, citizens must consider at great length the nature of crises for which they are willing to subject themselves and their posterity to a curtailing of their basic rights. Persons in positions of power can always find enough experts, enough people of a single-mind who urge the restriction of citizens’ freedoms. They will claim to endow power to those who know best what is good for the majority. For that reason alone, citizens must refuse to permit such a transfer of rights from the many to the few except in the most grievous of circumstances and for a specific period of time. Yes, even under the declaration of a national emergency, there are limitations and such a forfeiture of rights cannot continue without the consent of the governed through their representatives. The people must also be vigilant to revoke their permission when the true common good dictates. To do less, is to invite tyranny where there once was a republic.
James Monroe understood the principle of certain basic rights which must never be traded for the promise of security. He wrote:
Of the liberty of conscience in matters of religious faith, of speech and of the press; of the trial by jury of the vicinage in civil and criminal cases; of the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus; of the right to keep and bear arms…if these rights are well defined, and secured against encroachment, it is impossible that government should ever degenerate into tyranny.
As an aside, for those who choose to twist the 2nd Amendment to refer only to the possession and carrying of firearms for sport and hunting or with some other imagined restriction, the mind of the founding fathers is clear in both Jefferson’s and Monroe’s quotes included here. The same follows for James Madison’s and Patrick Henry’s statements which follow. Tyranny cannot exist minus the voluntary or coerced acceptance by the majority. The latter cannot be coerced when the inalienable rights of the citizens as outlined by Monroe in the quote above are kept sacrosanct and inviolate.
In a brief titled, Second Opinion two others from the earliest days of our nation’s founding make their stand on the bearing of arms and the keeping of American government (or any government) in check regarding the rights of the citizens, James Madison and Patrick Henry write convincingly on the subject.
James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, wrote in Federalist No. 26: “The advantage of being armed…the Americans possess over the people of all other nations…. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several Kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
In Virginia, Patrick Henry argued: “The great object is that every man be armed…. Everyone who is able may have a gun. … Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.” George Mason said of the need to bear arms, “To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
These Founders are not talking about defending individual liberty from foreign invasion — but from tyranny within.[i]
May the lessons of the Spring of 2020 give us wisdom, encourage us to use our own common sense and embolden us to stand for what we know to be right.
Patriots met at the 130 year old Liberty Tree in Boston during the late 1760s. The tree got its nickname from an act of rebellion that occurred on August 14, 1765. On September 11 of that year, a plaque was placed on the elm tree commemorating the event with the words, The Tree of Liberty. [ii] The tree was chopped down by loyalists and British soldiers during the siege of Boston, August 1775 ten years following its rise to fame.
Circumstantial events lie the aligning of dates is cause for reflection. Notice the date the plaque was placed at the tree.
The aligning of the Laws of Physics and Laws of Stupidity (page 1 paragraph 1) do not take full responsibility for the inspiration of this piece. Next to the desk upon which I stubbed my toe is a credenza upon which I caught my balance. Resting in a locked case on that credenza is my custom made “We the People” Colt .45 1911 firearm. My epiphany came between the outbursts exclaiming pain and holding onto the table to keep from falling!