Wednesday, November 4, 2015

(How to) Be a Revolutionary (for Dummies) Part I

Above all, Adams was a publicist: the first American since Roger Williams to appreciate the power of public opinion and to wield it -and organize it. He used all the instruments at hand to promote his crusade. He was an indefatigable letter writer, article writer, and speaker. "Every dig of his pen stings like a horned snake," complained Governor Francis Bernard. He mingled with merchants, statesmen, fishermen, mechanics and farmers.

One of his chief bases of operation was the Cactus Club, an early discussion group set up by his father, which admitted not merely the elite, but also merchants and mechanics. The younger Adams utilized it as a training school for leaders and to lay out such programs of attack on British rule as the Non-importation Agreements, which wrought havoc with British trade, disturbing England and the colonies profoundly.  It was at the Cactus Club that he planned his committees of Correspondence, which set up a continent-wide grass-roots network of action and information.

These gave him a leverage in every community. Adams was not only propagating ideas, he was building up popular instruments for the Revolution.

He took discussions to town meetings in Boston's Faneuil Hall, where he swayed men like trees in the wind.  Every "transient person", he declared, had a right to "animadvert" publicly on anything under the sun.  He intended to exercise that right whenever he chose "without asking any man's leave."

"In these times of light and liberty, every man chooses to see and judge for himself."

New England Governor Thomas Hutchinson called him a " Master of Puppets."  Adams laughed scornfully. He did not conceive of his followers as puppets, but as free men.

Adams maintained that he was not a "Leveler", referring to the faction in Parliament of about 1647 that wished to abolish all rank.  He instead insisted that extensive equality was the design of government at its best. He scoffed at fears that the people might abuse liberty, and adamantly questioned if this should be a valid argument for denying liberty to them. He was of the opinion that denial was a worse abuse of liberty, and that nothing was less desirable for mankind then slavery.

From the start, he realized the necessity of breaking down subservience to English officialdom and the ruling class in England, which had extended to the colonies.  He laid bare the selfishness and corruption of the existing autocracy.
He aroused fury in privileged quarters, and was highly pleased when Hutchinson accused him of "robbing men of their characters." He intended, he flung back , to show them up for what they really were underneath their robes of authority.  In the end, Hutchinson had to take refuge in England to escape the wrath of the New Englanders.

Adams most persistent and telling attacks were against servile judges and the system of justice. He brought judicial decisions under public scrutiny, showed how the jurists prostituted their profession.

He sought to demoralize New England law and denounced Blackstone for reinforcing unjust English law. The only proper test of law should be whether it was "consonant to natural reason." Law had to meet the needs of the people.  
He well knew that to shake faith in law and the courts and to promote defiance of the law were basic prerequisites of revolution.

Every harsh sentence or twisted decision, which tended to mount up in hours of stress, reinforced his arguments. He clipped the claws of judges and courts , exposed their graft, and kicked them out of dual jobs in the courts and the legislature. Little by little, popular respect for the judiciary turned to derision.

Judges and leaders were forced to choose between accepting royal money or answering to the people- and sometimes the angry mob. These judicial leaders were forced to serve revolutionary purpose, or get out.

The sovereign people had a right to not withstand the abusive exercise of legal and institutionalized crown prerogatives, and Adams told both the governor and the judiciary that the people had a right to change the fundamental law and not merely the administration and interpretation of it. Anything injurious to the people could not be considered binding. And the people were not the wealthy cultured minority, but all the workers, yeomen and merchants: "All the homespun people hitherto treated as pawns".

Adams prepared the way for the Sons of Liberty to strike out against royal authority, against the recalcitrant legislatures, and to close down the courts. Overt civil disobedience, willingness to defy police power, to utilize violence, was the beginning of the end, though it would require ten years of such violence to awaken the people to a realization that the only solution was independence.

Other leaders were equally courageous: Isaac Sears in New York, Charles Thompson of Philadelphia, Patrick Henry of Virginia.

By the time Thomas Paine published his "Common Sense" in January 1776, the Revolution was well underway: Lexington, Bunker Hill, George Washington in command.

Paine's pamphlet, read by everybody in the colonies, swept away the last doubts about the need for full independence, which in turn meant republicanism and government by the people. The words were clear, simple, hard-hitting for every person.  Paine's epigrammatic arguments appealed particularly to the free people of the frontier, to artisans and yeomanry, and particularly merchants and shippers.

"The best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.  When we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.... the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise."
Source-T. Paine

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