A government of our own is our natural right...If we omit it (formation
of a Constitution) now, (one) may hereafter arise, who laying hold
of popular disquietudes, may collect together the desperate and
the discontented, and by assuming to themselves the powers of government,
may sweep away the liberties of the continent like a deluge...Ye
that oppose independence now, ye know not what ye do; ye are opening
a door to eternal tyranny, by keeping vacant the seat of government.
Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776
Thomas Paine wrote and published his classic pamphlet, Common Sense,
early in 1776 Philadelphia as part of an effort by a small minority
to persuade others in America to break away from England and form
an independent government, a constitutional republic. At the time,
America was merely another British colony, albeit the single most
important in view of its vast natural resources. Five months later,
56 patriots set their signatures to the single most important document
in our nation's past, the Declaration of Independence. The rest,
as they say, is history.
Thomas Jefferson was later to advocate revolution at regular intervals
- every fifteen years, in fact. It is not for nothing that we remember
him as a true revolutionary. It has been 222 years and only one
revolution has been attempted. It failed. We remember it as the
The victors have rewritten history to depict the Civil War as having
been over the abolition of slavery, when in fact it was about the
same old thing: economics. Exploitation of the few by the many.
The tyranny of the majority, to borrow Jefferson's words.
There have been rumors of attempted military coups in modern times,
coincident with the simultaneous retirement or death of a great
many military officers, most recently during Clinton's first term
as President. However, aside from the South's attempt to break away
a century and a half ago, there has been no serious overt attempt
to overthrow or, even, radically overhaul the United States government.
The lack of revolution, many say, is the mark of how well our forefathers
drafted this country's formative instruments. Tell it to the southerners
who lost so much a century later. Tell it to William Cooper and
other modern patriots who have lost so much in recent times. Tell
it to the many veterans today who regularly question why they served
and fought to preserve America, only to see it become what it is
There has been a revolution, of course, because the America of
today would not be recognizable to the founding fathers. Indeed,
it seems a weak imitation of itself as it was only 50 years ago,
a time that I personally recall and can contrast with today. This
revolution has taken place gradually, one elected official, bought
and paid for, at a time...one overreaching statute at a time...one
corrupting influence at a time.
Before my time, George Orwell wrote the screenplay for today. Even
then, it was apparent where we were headed. Perpetual war become
"peace." A Ministry of Truth charged with rewriting history
by pushing reality down the memory hole. Destroying whole populations
in order to "save" them. A citizenry too timid to speak
its mind; propagandized and browbeaten into submission, but allowed
two minutes daily of orchestrated hate. The Thought Police watching
one's every move, their efficiency in stark contrast to the inefficiency
of other government agencies. A Ministry of Plenty to oversee chronic
shortages engendered by the neverending war's gaping maw.
We Americans crow about our Constitution and, particularly, the
first ten amendments (the "Bill of Rights"). However,
we pretend not to notice that those rights, every one of them, today
has been neutralized or turned into action to be authorized in advance
by the government. With authorization, of course, comes restriction
and the potential of denial, the very antithesis of a right.
The conversion of rights to authorized acts might at first appear
to be no big thing; that is, until the control inherent to authorization
is actually exercised. Thus, for example, gun registration becomes
licensing becomes regulation becomes restriction becomes confiscation.
And there are always good reasons given, usually even believed by
those giving them at the time, for the initial inroads taken. Then
others always find good reasons to expand those inroads.
Today we see an acceleration of the process as the general populace
appears to clamor for more security. We are told that the actions
taken by Bush the Second are in response to a general outcry by
Americans. I wonder.
We have seen airline travel become a nightmare without becoming
safer and serve as the single largest factor in hastening adoption
of a national ID card.
We have seen a flood of third-world immigrants, both legal and
illegal, continue unabated, with their "benefits" expanded
at a time when Americans are tightening their belts (witness Bush's
call for food stamps for illegals).
We have seen elimination of any requirement for search warrants
by the police; indeed, we have seen them authorized to conduct altogether
secret searches and wiretapping.
We have seen adoption of "star chamber" proceedings;
trials without public access and no right to a jury.
We have seen elimination of habeas corpus laws, which used to preclude
prisoners being held without charges or formal accounting.
We have seen a President conducting war unilaterally, without a
nod to Congress.
We have seen elimination of posse comitatus laws, so that now the
military may be used against our own citizens.
We have seen Attorney General Ashcroft direct federal agencies
to refuse to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests.
We have heard Attorney General Ashcroft characterize as treasonous
any and all criticism of the actions of this administration.
These and many other things have we seen in just the past few months.
Normally, it takes years to advance this sort of an agenda. Like
a dude-ranch horse, catching sight of the barn on the return leg,
our government seems bent upon quickly covering what little ground
is left before America is fully socialized, controlled and locked
up tight. It's as though they are afraid someone might notice and
force a course change before they have completed the journey. Someone
like Thomas Jefferson, perhaps.
Many think these recent changes are no great price to pay for increased
security. Perhaps not, if only increased security were the result.
But it isn't. Increased control is the result and that is far from
being the same thing as security. They fail also to notice that
these changes are placed atop those wrought by over 200 years of
increasingly powerful and corrupt government. The sum total change
We have seen a judiciary continuously defer to the executive branch
and a legislature that has become irrelevant in its lust for individual
The Declaration of Independence is but a bittersweet memory today.
The Constitution and its amendments largely a dead letter, with
only ceremonial significance. What we are today easily could have
been the result of a revolution, given the marked change in government
that has resulted. In fact, that is just what has taken place. It
just took place so gradually that nobody really noticed or cared.
It is only in the past few months that the pace has picked up so
much that the transformation has become apparent.
And yet, people seem (if you believe the media's report of poll
numbers) to support what is taking place. As Thomas Paine certainly
would say, "Ye that oppose independence now, ye know not what
ye do; ye are opening a door to eternal tyranny." Or, as enunciated
by Pogo, Walt Kelly's creation: "We have met the enemy, and
he is us."
Ye know not what ye do.