By: Michael Boldin
“Let us remember that if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom!“
Writing as Candidus in the Boston Gazette on Oct. 14, 1771, Samuel Adams recognized an important and timeless truth. Turning a blind eye to an attack on liberty only guarantees that more attacks will come in the future.
The same goes for violations of the Constitution, which the Founders often referred to as “usurpations,” or the exercise of “arbitrary power.”
In his 1791 Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, Thomas Jefferson agreed with Adams in principle when he wrote:
“I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people.’ [10th Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.” [emphasis added]
Here’s something that shouldn’t be surprising: Jefferson was right.
But turning things around from a government with tens of thousands of unconstitutional “laws,” regulations, rules and orders on the books isn’t going to happen in a single step either.
Let me be blunt. Anyone promising a silver bullet is lying to you. It’s going to take a lot of work and thousands of steps forward to make a stand for the Constitution and liberty.
While the odds are certainly against us at this stage, we can take comfort in the fact that we have a lot of amazing advice – successful advice – from the Founders and Old Revolutionaries.
Take this, for example, which you can find on most pages of our website, on official TAC membership cards, and more:
“Concordia res parvae crescunt.”
Written by John Dickinson in response to the Townshend Acts of 1767, it’s a Latin phrase which means “small things grow great by concord.” And it’s something we value immensely every single day here at the Tenth Amendment Center.
In May 1765, when most attention was being paid to the hated Stamp Act, King George III gave Royal Assent to the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to house British soldiers in barracks provided and paid for by the colonies.
If those barracks were too small to house all the British soldiers, then the colonies or the specific localities in question were required to accommodate them in local “inns, livery stables, ale-houses, victualling-houses, and the houses of sellers of wine.”
And should there still be soldiers without accommodation after all these “publick houses” were filled, the colonies were then required to “take, hire and make fit” for these soldiers, “such and so many uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns or other buildings, as shall be necessary” to house the rest.
However, the New York colonial assembly didn’t like being commandeered to provide and pay to house British troops. So they refused to comply with the law.
More than two years later, the first of the Townshend Acts, the New York Restraining Act, suspended the assembly and governor of New York by prohibiting them from passing any new bills until they agreed to comply with the Quartering Act 1765.
In effect, this left all decision-making outside the colony.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The most influential response to the acts came from John Dickinson, widely known as “the Penman of the Revolution.” Opposing the new Acts, he wrote a series of twelve essays known as “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.”
In the first of his “Letters,” Dickinson spent time discussing the New York Restraining Act. He wrote:
“Whoever seriously considers the matter, must perceive that a dreadful stroke is aimed at the liberty of these colonies. I say, of these colonies; for the cause of one is the cause of all. If the parliament may lawfully deprive New York of any of her rights, it may deprive any, or all the other colonies of their rights; and nothing can possibly so much encourage such attempts, as a mutual inattention to the interests of each other. To divide, and thus to destroy, is the first political maxim in attacking those, who are powerful by their union.
He continued on to say that, in essence, the rightful response at that moment would have been for other colonial assemblies to at least pass non-binding resolutions informing Parliament that the act was a violation of rights and that it should be repealed.
Why? His answer came through clearly at the end of this first letter, where signed off with that Latin phrase mentioned above, Concordia res parvae crescunt.
Small things grow great by concord.
STEP BY STEP
In many ways, today’s federal government has suspended the legislative power of state assemblies by assuming control over powers never delegated to it in the Constitution.
Politicians in congress and the executive branch – and the lobbyists that benefit financially from their unconstitutional acts – are all too happy to utilize this wealth of power.
For far too long, people have stood idly by. They’ve put all their time, energy and money into “voting the bums out” with the hope that a new crop of federal politicians would ride in and save the day.
But, while new bums have come and gone – and come and gone, and come and gone – the day has yet to be saved.
Pushing off the yoke of the most powerful government in the history of the world is not something that’s going to happen in one fell swoop. This is something that Dickinson and many others recognized early on.
“Great Britain,” they say, “is too powerful to contend with; she is determined to oppress us; it is in vain to speak of right on one side, when there is power on the other; when we are strong enough to resist we shall attempt it; but now we are not strong enough, and therefore we had better be quiet; it signifies nothing to convince us that our rights are invaded when we cannot defend them; and if we should get into riots and tumults about the late act, it will only draw down heavier displeasure upon us.”
Today, just as in the pre-Revolutionary times, many people are afraid of upsetting the status quo. So they sit idly by – and urge others to the same
Are these men ignorant that usurpations, which might have been successfully opposed at first, acquire strength by continuance, and thus become irresistible?
He was far from alone.
Samuel Adams, for example, urged the same:
The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.
If we stand by and do nothing we absolutely know what the result will be.
More importantly, no matter how much the odds appear to be against us, it’s our duty to do what’s right. For us at the Tenth Amendment Center, doing what’s right is pretty straightforward:
The Constitution. Every issue, every time. No exceptions, no excuses.
Step-by-step we’re working to stand for the Constitution and liberty.
I hope you’ll join us!