To the self-described “patriots” of 2013: My friends, this is NOT what tyranny looks like

You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means


With the reelection of Barack Obama and the subsequent resurgence in tea party rhetoric about “tyranny”, stoked white hot by talk of enacting a handful of sensible gun regulations, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our present-day “patriots”, and I use that phrase very loosely, have perverted the meaning of the word tyranny and the philosophies of our Founding Fathers.

Although it is widespread across the nation, one particular example of it here in Michigan really ignited my thinking on this. A tea party state Senator, Patrick Colbeck, has taken to posting passages from the Declaration of Independence on his Facebook page this week. That, in and of itself, is no big deal, of course. However, the quotes he has chosen make it clear that he is making a direct comparison between the King of England during the period before the American Revolution and our current President, Barack Obama.

This one is from last Wednesday:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

This one was posted yesterday:

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

And, finally, this one from this morning:

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

The comparison is, franky, offensive and points out just how distorted the truth about our American history has become in the minds of people like Colbeck and his tea party brethren. I probably don’t need to, but I feel compelled to point out how ludicrous it is for a sitting Senator who is part of the majority party that controls our entire state as well as the U.S. House of Representatives to be complaining about tyranny when he is a living embodiment of the democratic republic created by our Founding Fathers.

In the period leading up to the American Revolution, we experienced true tyranny in this country. Our citizens had absolutely no say in their own lives, no ability to govern themselves and were actually forced to provide housing and food to an occupying military force from England. The Declaration of Independence includes 27 “Abuses and Usurpations”, three of which Sen. Colbeck has published this week. Here’s a good description of what they are:

The first 12 abuses involve King George III’s establishment of a tyrannical authority in place of representative government. The foundation of representative government is the power of the people to make laws for the public good. King George III interfered with that process by rejecting legislation proposed by the colonies, dissolving colonial bodies of representation, replacing colonial governments with his appointed ministers, and interfering with the naturalization of citizens in new regions. King George III extended his tyrannical control by interfering with the objective judicial processes and the civil rights of the colonists. King George III prevented the establishment of judicial powers in the colonies and made judges dependent on him for their jobs and salaries. King George III further established tyrannical control by maintaining a strong military presence under his direct command. The King is a tyrant, because he keeps standing armies in the colonies during a time of peace, makes the military power superior to the civil government, and forces the colonists to support the military presence through increased taxes.

Abuses 13 through 22 describe the involvement of parliament in destroying the colonists’ right to self-rule. The king has “combined with others” to subject the colonists to legislation passed without colonial input or consent. Legislation has been passed to quarter troops in the colonies, to shut off trade with other parts of the world, to levy taxes without the consent of colonial legislatures, to take away the right to trial by jury, and to force colonists to be tried in England. Additionally, legislation has established absolute rule in a nearby area, taken away the authority of colonial governments, and forbidden further legislation by colonial governments.

The last 5 abuses, 23 through 27, refer to specific actions that the King of Great Britain took to abandon the colonies and to wage war against them. The King has attempted to suppress the colonial rebellion through violence and military means. He sent the British military to attack colonists, burn their towns, attack their ships at sea, and destroy the lives of the people. He hired foreign mercenaries to fight against the colonies. He kidnapped American sailors to force them into British military service, refused to protect the colonies from Native American attack, and has caused colonists to fight against each other.

THAT is what tyranny looks like.

What our present-day “patriots” call tyranny is, in fact, simply childish whining about not getting their way in this democracy of ours. If they don’t like laws that are passed, they cry to the heavens about their freedom being taken away and about our tyrannical government. If Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Adams and the other Founding Fathers were alive to see their theatrics, they would be mortified.

Perhaps one of the most egregious perversions of our country’s history is the misinterpretation of the words of Thomas Jefferson. Tea partiers like Colbeck frequently cite his statement that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” This, they say, is evidence that they must take up arms against our government because they disagree with it.

The exquisite irony in this perversion of his quote is that Jefferson was actually talking about ignorant people like today’s tea partiers, people without education or adequate knowledge. He was writing to William Stephens Smith about an early draft of the U.S. Constitution. In this early draft was a provision for what would essentially be a “president for life”. This was included to deal with what some were calling “anarchy” in the colonies, the only example of which was Shays’ Rebellion which took place in 1787, two years before George Washington became president. Jefferson told Smith that the uprising was the result of poorly educated rural farmers. It was okay, Jefferson said, however, because better that they push back against things they disagreed with than to succumb to lethargy. Here’s an analysis by Douglas L. Wilson of The Atlantic:

People who are aggrieved have a right to protest, but do they have a right to rebel? The “tree of liberty” letter is presumably Jefferson’s moment to say so, but he does not. He speaks rather to the question of ignorance. “The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” The part of the population that is wrong, in this case the farmers in western Massachusetts, can be expected to act on their misconceptions, and that, says Jefferson, is a good sign, for to be silent about your grievances is a portent of true calamity, “death to the public liberty.” {…}

Jefferson next calculates, in his characteristic way, the true rate of rebellion in America in order to put Shay’s isolated affair into mathematical perspective. “We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” Here again Jefferson’s concern is public liberty — the preservation of the liberties of the country at large — which he says in turn depends on “the spirit of resistance,” the continued willingness of aggrieved citizens to resist.

What, then, is to be done about instances such as the isolated one in Massachusetts? Jefferson is direct: “Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.” What follows immediately after this famous passage is intended to remind his correspondent of its context: “Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order. I hope in God this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.”

So, Jefferson was talking about the righteousness of letting the ignorant speak out against that which they disagree with and did so in the context against arguing against a president with unlimited tenure. He was clearly not advocating violent overthrow of the government when people don’t get their way, a military temper tantrum when democracy doesn’t work in their favor.

The irony in Senator Colbeck’s situation is that he introduced a bill this week that actually requires students be taught American history one week out of the year:

Yesterday , I introduced SB 120 and 121. These bills are known as the American Heritage Act and Celebrate Freedom Week Act respectively. SB 120 would prohibit censorship of education material on the basis of religious content. SB 121 requires the instruction of core American principles during Constitution Week for public school students in grades 3-12. Many wonder why our nation is divided and experiencing negative economic growth. I would submit that it is because we have lost an understanding of the core principles that made us great and wandered from the execution of thes [sic] principles. Article VIII, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution states clearly that the purpose of education is to develop good citizens. These bills will help to ensure that we adhere to this mission.

Senator Colbeck and his tea party followers should take their own advice and correct their mistaken impressions regarding some important parts of our country’s past. I’d encourage them to look into the Boston Tea Party, as well, since they clearly have no conception about the meaning of that event.

Tyranny must be fought with everything we have, even if it means spilling blood. However, what we have in this country today is so far removed from tyranny that those ranting against it simply reveal themselves as the ignorant hypocrites that they are.

[Jefferson Memorial photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]

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  • la58

    How do you learn about American History in one week. Back when I was in H.S. it was a semester.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1025475856 Tony Gattis

      It’s not just history they need to learn. They could also do with a class or two on civics.

  • rational101

    This Colbeck guy is an embarrassment. I sure hope Michigan voters come to their senses in the next election cycle.

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