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Patrick Henry’s voice rings out today as clearly as ever, reminding America that true leaders speak, act, and fight for the people’s liberty. America faced a crisis of leadership in 1775. The colonies faced growing taxation from Great Britain. Across the colonies, leaders railed against taxation without representation. For years, the colonies had complained to Great Britain, but nothing was done. Parliament and the King refused to recognize the justice of the colonists’ grievances. Whispers of independence and revolution were in the air, but few were willing to make a public show of support for such a radical idea. Into the void stepped Patrick Henry. In his immortal speech before the Virginia Convention, he decried British policy as oppressive and tyrannical. With characteristic boldness, he wholeheartedly endorsed armed rebellion against the crown, crying “give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry became the leader the colonies had been looking for, changing the course of American history. More than that, however, he set an example of a leader who called others to action, led boldly in a time of crisis, and defended his ideals in the face of tremendous opposition.
Patrick Henry took an unusual path to influence. Many of the Founding Fathers began their careers early, attended prestigious universities or studied law at a young age. However, Patrick Henry did not take the easy road. He did not study law until later in life. But when he did, it became obvious very quickly that he had talent. Thomas Jefferson called him the greatest speaker he had ever heard. He became well-known for supporting controversial causes, speaking out against the much-reviled Stamp Act. When America needed someone to speak out for independence, Patrick Henry was willing to do so. “The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry’s speech helped tip the scales in favor of revolution. Without his tremendous influence, American history might have been very different. Patrick Henry’s speech was more than just rhetoric. It demonstrated his willingness to publicly support the cause of freedom. When American independence was hanging in the balance, he spoke out. He not only changed the facts of American history, but he showed future generations that a true leader must speak boldly to gather others to his cause.
Most people’s knowledge of Patrick Henry begins and ends with his famous speech. However, his influence was just beginning. Some great orators are content to simply stir up the populace and then step back and let others do the dirty work. Patrick Henry acted. He joined the militia and became a colonel. He stirred up so much trouble that the royal governor issued a proclamation decrying his efforts. In 1776, he was elected governor, leading the critical state of Virginia through the early years of the war. During the dark days of the early revolution, George Washington faced internal threats from other leaders who doubted his ability. Patrick Henry defended him, and even exposed a plot to have Washington replaced. The fate of the Revolution in Virginia was in his hands, and he guided the state with a steady hand. His tremendous influence helped Virginia fuel the American Revolution, especially through his ceaseless efforts to supply George Washington with the encouragement and supplies he needed.
Perhaps Patrick Henry’s greatest legacy is the Bill of Rights, the list of freedoms he fought to secure. In the years after the American Revolution, the colonies were faced with a second task: building a new government to establish liberty for future generations. Not everyone agreed on the best way to do that. A Constitutional Convention was called to reform the government, and the leaders gathered there formed the document we know as the US Constitution. Patrick Henry was very worried by the new powers granted in the Constitution. He feared that a paper document would not be able to preserve liberty from potential tyrants. He was especially insistent on the inclusion of a bill of rights. “The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost, by this change… is this same relinquishment of rights worthy of freemen?” Thanks to Patrick Henry, America got its bill of rights. Without him, that great document ensuring liberty for future generations might never have been written. Patrick Henry has been proved right. The Bill of Rights has served as an indispensable support of American liberty, serving as a check on all who would abuse their power. Every time we read an uncensored newspaper, worship as we please, or voice our opinions in the public square, we are enjoying the legacy of freedom Patrick Henry established.
Patrick Henry has shaped the world we live in today. He ushered in the American Revolution in the South, stirring the citizens of the colonies. He led the state of Virginia through the turbulent revolution, and preserved liberty by demanding a bill of Rights. Even more importantly, he set an example of what a statesman should be, moving others to action, acting boldly himself, and defending his principles, even when it was unpopular. Patrick Henry shaped history, and we can judge our leaders by their ability to follow his example of words, action, and integrity. As Patrick Henry said, “I know no way of judging the future but by the past.”
“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” Murray N. Rothbard, American economist, historian and political theorist (1926-1995).
Basic synopsis: a neighborhood watch captain follows a “suspicious” black teenager. Some sort of confrontation ensues, and the teen is shot dead in “self-defense”. A few weeks go by, and suddenly the story breaks out in the media and spreads across the nation. Why?
First, some more background.
Evidence against George Zimmerman, the captain, includes a 911 call in which he appears to stereotype black teenagers and ignore police instructions by following Trayvon Martin. Witnesses also claim to have heard a younger voice scream, and Trayvon’s girlfriend, who was on the phone with him at the time, said he has trying to get away. http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/20/justice/florida-teen-shooting/index.html
Evidence for Zimmerman includes injuries he sustained during the confrontation, his testimony that he was attacked, and witnesses who say that Martin was on top of him during the fight.
There is so much we do not know. We do not seem to have much evidence other than Zimmerman’s testimony to determine whether Zimmerman initiated the conversation or the fight. We have very little about the moments between when Martin appeared to be on top of Zimmerman to when the fatal shot was fired. Zimmerman could be telling the truth. Maybe he was a bit overzealous and ending up angering Martin, who then attacked him. Maybe Zimmerman is simply guilty of a mistake: he thought his life was in danger when it was not. Or maybe this case really is what it first appeared to be: a vigilante killing an innocent child. What we do know is that a life was cut short, and people want to know why.
This case has gripped the nation, and there are three reasons for the public uproar.
First, emotion and compassion. Any time a child or teen dies, anguish for the family pours out from all who hear about it. It is human nature to imagine oneself in the same situation as those who are hurting. We feel the pain, and this pain soon turns to calls for action. Some of these demands have been reasonable: have a trial, hear the facts, make a decision. Some have turned ugly, with threats of violence and expressions of hate. Emotion is a powerful thing.
Some people are not as emotional, however. Even for these, the Trayvon Martin case has a tremendous impact. Personally, I am concerned with justice. I want to know what is right, and when something appears to be fundamentally wrong, I want justice done. Cases that are only emotional in scope have little substance to interest people focused on justice. However, this case seemed at least initially to be an example of a man committing a crime and getting away with it. Critics focused on Zimmerman, the actions of the police, and the Florida ‘Stand Your Ground” law.
Third, special interests soon weighed in. Civil rights groups mean well, but they do use stories for their own agendas. Jesse Jackson condemned the actions of Zimmerman and made Trayvon Martin an example of all racism in this nation. This case does have a racial element, but groups changed Trayvon’s death from an individual injustice to an indictment of our entire society. The media loves controversies, and so the story spread more widely than ever.
Emotion, love for justice, and special interests have fueled this media spectacle. Time will tell what justice means in this case, and if justice will be done. By the time this case is done, emotion and special interests will fill the public dialogue. I hope we have not lost sight of the facts of this case, and the pain felt by Martin’s family and by Zimmerman and those who know him.
Of course, it is all for a good cause: making sure they don’t skip school. School uniforms are embedded with microchips to notify parents when children do not attend school. The privacy problems associated with this program are mind-boggling. The government can track the students anywhere they go while in uniform. This type of intimate knowledge of children’s lives sets a dangerous precedent. A government that tracks people initially tracks them “for their own good.” Even then, the system is rife with the potential for abuse. How long before the program is expanded to prevent citizens from crossing a border, or going anywhere the government does not want them to go? I hope our schools do not get any bright ideas from the Brazilian program.
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.
In the colonies, the king exercised tremendous control over the state legislatures and governments. This provision is mirrored in the present trend in our government toward centralization. Instead of allowing states to pass their own laws, the Federal Government takes over more and more, like education. An example of this is the immigration battle in Arizona. While I am a libertarian and an advocate of open immigration, I find it absurd that the federal government wants to prevent a state from enforcing a law unless the Justice Department consents. No Child Left Behind enforces one-size-fits-all solutions, harming the educational opportunities of students in states across the nation, forcing states to change their standards. While I don’t favor public education, if we are going to fund it, we should recognize not everyone has the same abilities and localized and child-specific policies are better. The Patriot Act went against many state privacy laws dealing with credit card information and library confidentiality.
A grievance we should all have against our government is that the power is delegated away from the people more and more, symbolically and geographically. We elect leaders that we will send across the country to Washington D.C. where they will vote on laws that will affect everyone, instead of keeping them close where they are more accountable and can tailor specific “solutions” to problems. Federalism does not make the resulting laws any more justified, but it increases the accountability and decreases the power of our rulers. Federalism is not the means to achieve a free society, but rather a principle slowing the growth of large-scale government mandates. We may not have a king to dissolve state assemblies, but we have a federal government quietly drawing all power to itself.
This sign, posted at a library in Massachusetts, is a reminder of the violation of civil liberties under the PATRIOT Act. They can inspect the books you check out, and librarians cannot warn you that FBI agents are looking at you reading history. Not surprisingly, the American Library Association opposes these provisions. “The American Library Association (ALA) opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…ALA considers that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users. Some courageous librarians stood up to this act. Legislative action against NSLs (national security letters demanding information about people) has been mixed. Librarians who receive NSLs are basically under a gag order. According to the ACLU 200,000 such letters have been issued (librarians are just one group who can receive these letters. Our nation is under attack by those who use scare tactics as an excuse to take away civil liberties. Thankfully, some courts still stand up for the Constitution. How long before even legal recourse becomes difficult or impossible?