L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 123, May 28, 2001
Liberty, as Sen. Calhoun said, is Easier to Get Than to Keep
by Vin Suprynowicz
Special to TLE
[This is an updated version of Vin's classic 1996 holiday column]
Memorial Day. The bugles blow, laughing children place flags on the graves of the fallen, the surviving comrades of the silent dead squeeze into too-tight uniforms (could they ever really have been so thin?) to march a block or two beneath the flag.
Amid the picnics and the barbecues, on this first holiday of summer, who can wonder that a peaceful land spares little more thought for those who died to keep it free? Our carefree days, after all, are the very thing they died to protect.
That, and our freedoms.
How safe, today, are the liberties for which so many generations of Americans, in Mr. Lincoln's words, "gave the last full measure of devotion"?
The first Americans to take up arms to protect American liberties were the 70 militiamen who stood at Lexington on April 19, 1775, attempting to block Lt. Gen. Thomas Gage from seizing an illegal stockpile of arms and powder at nearby Concord.
The minutemen failed, at first. Eight died and 10 were wounded in the first exchange of fire. Only after Gen. Gage's troops searched the nearby village of Concord for hidden arms and turned back for Boston did the colonists exact their revenge, picking off 250. Now the British knew they had a problem.
Why were the colonists aroused? Parliament in February of 1775 had declared Massachusetts to be in "open rebellion" -- a declaration that made it legal for government troops to shoot troublesome rebels on sight -- precisely the kind of operating orders issued to federal agents at Ruby Ridge in 1992, and at Waco in 1993.
Yet on May 10, 1996, the Boston Globe reported Massachusetts state authorities had finally called on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to help clear up an 11-year backlog of paperwork generated under a Massachusetts law which now requires the registration of every firearm purchased by a law-abiding citizen, and a five-year backlog in processing permits "required to carry handguns, own rifles or purchase ammunition."
State legislators say they're worried police officers responding to calls might be unaware which Massachusetts residents have been "stockpiling arms."
As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in Olmstead vs. the United States, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."
How many times, on sultry Memorial Days, have we listened to the best student in the class strive to remember Mr. Lincoln's words, without really hearing in them our own call to action? (We leave uninspected for the moment the irony that the tyrant Lincoln was personally responsible for the slaughter, having launched a ruthless military re-conquest of the South rather than allow those Americans the self-determination which Woodrow Wilson would later so graciously bestow on any Balkan backwater willing to hold a "plesbiscite"):
"It is for us, the living ... to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced ... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Armed government forces "can never be formidable to the liberties of the people," Alexander Hamilton guaranteed in The Federalist No. 29, "while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens."
"To preserve liberty," wrote Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, who drafted the Bill of Rights, "it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
Most Americans believe the "freedom of religion" is still sacred, but the IRS now yanks the tax exemptions of churches it finds too political. Congress has recently passed a bill to regulate the Internet under the guise of protecting children, motivation that its members apparently believe gives them license to trash the First Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment right of the people to be "secure ... against unreasonable searches and seizures" has been eroded in the name of the War on Drugs until police forces are now rewarded with a share of the booty if they manage to seize the homes and planes of suspected criminals, even if they're never charged with a crime.
In parts of Florida, it's reached the point where county cops just pull over black motorists at random along Interstate 95, seize all their cash, and send them on their way -- laughingly inviting them to return and try to "prove" they didn't intend to buy drugs, if they have some extra time and money on their hands.
Only recently have the courts started to take hesitant steps to require the compensation -- required by the Fifth Amendment -- of Americans whose property is rendered worthless by regulation. Jaro Baranek, a Czechoslovakian refugee, says he recognized from the old days what was happening when he was forbidden to build a home on the $20,000 piece of property he bought in Washington state. But while "The communists used to take land without compensation, at least there you didn't have to pay taxes. Here they take your land and you have to pay for it," Mr. Baranek says.
The 10th Amendment, guaranteeing the government in Washington, D.C., would remain small, limited, and distant, has vanished with the buggy whip. We now routinely dismiss from the "impartial juries" required under the Sixth Amendment any juror who admits he might not enforce what he considers to be an unjust law.
"What kind of government have you given us?" Mrs. Powel asked Mr. Franklin as he emerged, at last, from the sweltering hall in Philadelphia.
"A republic," he said ... "if you can keep it."