Mr. President Ruger, Colleagues, and Fellow Classical Liberals:
An internal memo says that I am to deliver a Patriots’ Day essay. Although I have often had the privilege to write for this beautiful website, 208 times since 2019, the familiar venue does not seem to free me from embarrassment. He who could address this audience without a soaring sensation, has stronger nerves than I. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of writing, so I rely heavily on a speech on a similar topic delivered long ago by a mutual friend of ours.*
The fact is, the distance between this website and the state of statism, from which I personally escaped to the extent currently possible, is considerable – and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. For the uninitiated, today is Patriots’ Day, the Third Monday in April. It is the birthday, adjusted to create three-day weekends, of New England’s de facto independence, the day in 1775 its people finally took up arms to thwart their Father Country’s heavy paternalist ambitions. The celebration carries our minds back to that day, to the acts of our great deliverance, and marks the beginning of another year of our national life; and reminds us that the Republic of America is 247 years old.
Two hundred forty seven years, though impossible for a human, is but a mere speck in the life of a civilization, which number their years by thousands. I am glad that America lingers yet in the beginning of its national career because there is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which tower above the horizon. The eyes of reformers are met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but their hearts may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, still in the impressionable stage of its existence. Reformers can still hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to its destiny. Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, the reformer’s brow heavier, and its future might be shrouded in yet more gloom.
Fellow-classical liberals, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 247 years ago, the people of New England were British subjects, under the, I daresay, British Clown. That government exercised its parental prerogatives, imposing upon its colonial children such restraints, burdens, and limitations, as, in its clownish judgment, it deemed in the best personal interests of its leadership class.
But our forefathers and mothers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of that day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute characters of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. To say now that New England was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy. Everybody today can discant on the tyranny of England towards the colonies but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, what we would call today spreaders of misinformation, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists.
Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, America’s forefathers earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner yet they saw themselves treated with sovereign coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of our forefathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure.
Oppression makes wise people mad and restive. America’s wise patriots felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable. With brave people there is always a remedy for oppression. Our forefathers were peaceful people; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. The idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was, though, a startling idea. The timid and the prudent were shocked and alarmed by it. Entrenched interests hate all changes, except those that promise profit. But the revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.
The battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy led to the Common Sense pamphlet of Paine and the Declaration of Independence. Much death and destruction, physical and financial, ensued. From the ashes, though, arose a fledgling phoenix that soon took free flight, soaring far above others in a glorious liberty that has released millions from bondage and saved millions more from untimely death the world over.
But today, from the round top of our ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! Cling to Patriots’ Day, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight. The statesmanship of our forefathers looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!
The fathers of this republic did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the cornerstone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you. Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. The din of business is hushed and even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp this day, at least in Massachusetts and Maine.
I shall not be charged with slandering New Englanders if I say I think the New England side of any question may be safely left in New Englanders’ hands. I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to others whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine! My business here today is with the present. Let the dead past bury its dead. Act in the living present.
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. Now is the time, the important time. Our forefathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your forefathers to cover your indolence. The evil that people do, lives after them. The good is often interred with their bones.
Fellow New Englanders, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to write here today? What have I, or the classical liberals I represent, to do with your Patriots’ Day? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in America’s founding documents, extended to Americans today? Would to God, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to that question! Then my task would be light. But, such is not the state of the case. The blessings of liberty formerly enjoyed by all Americans are no more, especially in New England and its sundry informal American colonies, which have raised the state to a position formerly held only by the Almighty.
Alas, this Patriots’ Day is that of statists, not of classical liberals. Statists may rejoice, but classical liberals must mourn. I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked more statist to me than on this Patriots’ Day!
America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution, which is disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, everything that serves to perpetuate the powerful state – the great sin and shame of America! I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any person, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a statist, shall not confess to be right and just.
I fancy some readers may complain that classical liberals should persuade more, and rebuke less. But where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the classical liberal creed would you have me argue? Must I undertake to prove that the citizen is a human being? That point is conceded already. Statists acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the citizen. In federal law today, over three score crimes may subject citizens to the punishment of death. What is this but the acknowledgement that the citizen is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being?
Would you have me argue that humans are entitled to liberty, to human rights so-called? That they are the rightful owners of their own bodies? The state has already declared it. There is not a human beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that state ownership of his or her body is wrong.
Am I to argue that it is wrong to make humans brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to take their wages without their real consent, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat their brains with dismisinfoganda, to starve them into obedience and submission to their government masters by revoking their natural right to earn a living?
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of Americans must be roused; the propriety of the people must be startled; the hypocrisy of the government must be exposed; and its crimes against humanity must be proclaimed and denounced.
What, to classical liberals, is Patriots’ Day? I answer: a day that reveals to them, more than all the other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which they are constant victims. To them, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery. All celebration is mere bombast, fraud, deception, and hypocrisy. Other governments on this earth are guilty of more shocking and bloody practices than those of the United States, but shocking and bloody they remain, to this very hour.
Take the Constitution, especially its Preamble, according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-statist clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of statism. Yet the bureaucratic monsters of the swamp reign so triumphant that they debate only which swamps to infest rather than their right to exist at all in a republic.
My soul sickens at the sight of mandatory masks and forced vaccines, laws and Constitutional strictures broken by government officials with impunity, billions bestowed upon foreigners from trillions summoned out of thin air, concerted efforts to brainwash children into unnatural states of mind and body, against the wishes of their own parents, and, most of all, elections and elected officials deeply tainted by corruption. And all that remains just the tip of a tyrannical spear that waxes with each cycle of the moon.
Is this the land your forefathers loved, the freedom they died to win? Nay! What can be done about it? Perhaps instead of celebrating Patriots’ Day, classical liberals should learn from it by establishing parallel governance structures, alternative institutional arrangements anchored in liberty, just as our forefathers did. God speed the glorious hour when no government on earth shall exercise a lordly power over the quivering masses.
*N.B. ➨ Literati will readily perceive that this essay is adapted from a speech written by F. Douglass in 1852 and delivered on 5 July of that year in my hometown, Rochester, New York.
Robert E. Wright is a Senior Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research.
He is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic Review, Business History Review, Independent Review, Journal of Private Enterprise, Review of Finance, and Southern Economic Review.
Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997.
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