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Oregon vs the Founders

January 7, 2016

Stewart Rhodes was kind enough to ask me to elaborate on my previous post, specifically regarding my thoughts about the differences between what we see in Oregon and how the Founders did things. This is that elaboration. I should add I am particularly appreciative of Mr. Rhodes’ statement about not forcing assistance or protection on those who don’t want it. Freedom, to truly be freedom, must include the right to make arguably poor decisions.

EXPLANATORY NOTE: Nothing here should be taken as a personal attack on Ammon Bundy or his supporters. I have never met or even corresponded with the man. Accordingly, a significant part of my comments are based upon how I believe things appear to outside observers.

MINDSET

It’s important to understand the mindset of the Founders. They were British subjects. They had been born British subjects and realistically, had there been no revolution, could have expected to live their entire lives and die as such. There is sufficient cause to believe that had the Crown been more responsive to their complaints and grievances, the Founders would not have reached the point of pushing for revolution. There would have been no “Committees of Correspondence”, no Continental Congress, Thomas Paine would have arguably never written “Common Sense,” and all the other things we associate with the pre-revolution would not have taken place. This, then, is the first and I believe greatest difference between what occurred then and what we see in Oregon. The Founders, at least early on, did not want revolution. My observation of the folks who have occupied the buildings in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is consistent with what I have experienced in talking with many (though I must emphatically state, not all) in the prepper and militia communities. That is, they not only lack a reluctance for armed rebellion, many of them seem eager to welcome it.

PREPARATION and THOUGHT

While not all had a large amount of formal education, the Founders were to a large extent readers of the Enlightenment. We can’t overlook the impact the Enlightenment had on these folks (consider, for example, Franklin’s visits and correspondence with scholars at Edinburgh). Both the Scottish and European Enlightenment contributed to the thoughts of the Founders. This isn’t really all that surprising. What we now call the Enlightenment was in full swing at the time. Its ideas were being debated, promoted and becoming widely accepted by the intellectuals of the day, especially, I suggest, the younger ones (of the Founders, Franklin was the “old man”of the group). For modern Americans who are contemplating the possible inevitable need for revolt, circumstances are different. We are heirs of the Enlightenment, not its theorists. We aren’t debating the ideas of social contract. We aren’t reading a new book that will lead to the development of an entirely new field of thought called economics. This is a problem for those of us who are devoted to Enlightenment principles because the current philosophy is Postmodernism. So far, I’m unaware of anyone who is promoting a return to Constitutional principles, using postmodern thought (I certainly don’t know how to do such a thing. Postmodern thought annoys me and gives me a headache!). Instead, we seek to argue people into it, using the methods of the Enlightenment when Postmodernism rejects much of the Enlightenment’s approach. That’s a problem. So, regardless of whether they are right or not, the folks in Oregon are, at best, assuming a large number of people will accept their take on Enlightenment principles – when those principles are largely rejected by a significant portion of our society.

The Founders were about as prepared as they could be. While there was a stockpiling of arms and ammunition (and maybe food?), this was not the extent of their “prepping.” For instance, by the eve of the revolution, Sons of Liberty cells had been started in each of the 13 colonies. More than that, the formation of the Committees of Correspondence allowed for coordination of action against Great Britain. Some were formed by the extra-governmental groups like the Sons of Liberty, but others were formed by the colonial legislatures of some colonies. Some have gone so far as to suggest the Committees of Correspondence formed a sort of shadow government. Regardless, they point to a major difference between the Founders and what we see in Oregon. While there were certainly a large number a loyalists in the colonies, the significance of a leglislature forming one of these Committees is hard to overstate. The First and Second Continental Congresses were formed in succession. The First was to make its case to Great Britain with a show of political force. The Second raised the Continental Army. I’m unaware of anything today that’s suggestive of any of these, except perhaps in the minds of those with dreams of being a modern George Washington. The folks in Oregon certainly give no indication they’ve been involved in anything that approaches such planning and preparation. Stockpiling food, ammunition and weapons is one thing. Building and growing popular and political (especially legislative) support is something entirely different.

Historians seem to agree that 15-20% of the population of the 13 colonies were loyal to the Crown. This group was to a great extent comprised of people who had significant political or economic ties to Great Britain (and a corresponding interest in maintaining the status quo).  Some have suggested 40-45% of the population favored the patriot cause. Today, according to the US Census population clock, the United States has a population of 322.7 million people. In 2014, the Census Bureau estimated 77.1 % of the US population for 2015 would be people 18 and above. So, working solely with the 18 and above population, we have  almost 249 million citizens. If we assume percentages would be the same as in the American Revolution and the years leading up to it, that means somewhere between 37.34 million and 49.8 million people would be opposed to the revolution apparently sought by the folks in Oregon. Of course, the counter argument is that 99.9 million to 112.05 million citizens would favor the revolution. However, there is more to this story. Regardless of how one feels about the current welfare state, it seems true that most of those who might favor a Bundy style revolution view it as being, at best, in need of drastic overhaul. Official estimates are that about 20% of the US population is on some form of public assistance and that the overwhelming majority of those receive less than half their total monthly income from that assistance. Could that be an underestimation? Of course. What’s interesting is that many who call loudest for a reform of the welfare state accept as true the oft repeated Facebook meme that 50+% of the population is receiving public assistance. Those who seek to foment popular revolt then, are faced with this: somewhere between 20% and 50% of the population has ties to the status quo. The question then becomes, how many of them would be willing to forgo their economic benefit in an effort to restore Constitutional government? Quite frankly, I have no idea. I see no good reason to simply assume widespread support. I can see ample reason to expect great opposition.

Sam Adams is an individual example of preparation and thought. Though he failed miserably as both a businessman and as a tax collector, Adams was something special with a pen. He would use his pen through the years to object to various actions by the British government. Whether it was intended as a constant “poking” or not, it seems to have had that effect, as did the Boston Tea Party. Both Gage and Hutchinson responded to the poking in ways that only inflamed the patriot cause. It’s important to understand that Adams, and others, did not simply respond to events that affected only a few people. They responded to things that affected many or even most of the people in one or more colonies and that were widely unpopular. Some people may object to what was done to the Hammonds or even to the Bundy’s, but those and similar events do not elicit the widespread disapproval of the Coercive Acts implemented by Great Britain prior to the American Revolution.

Perhaps a better example of preparation is the 2nd Continental Congress. The drafting of the Articles of Confederation began on July 12, 1776. With all of its deficiencies, this document allowed the colonies to function as a nation during the war and for a few years thereafter. It looked not simply at revolution as an end in itself, but as an unfortunate but necessary tool to bring about a desired end. That end was freedom for the colonies as “free and independent states.” I think it was Stephen Covey who said “begin with the end in mind.” So, for those in Oregon, I would pose the following questions:  “What are your long term goals?” and “what have you done to help bring those about?”

CONCLUSION

What do I see as the major differences between what’s happening in Oregon and what we learn from history about the Founders?

  1. There is a profound difference in mindset. Especially early on, the Founders did not want revolution. They wanted to remain loyal British subjects. They simply wanted to be treated fairly. What I see in Oregon, and in some other places, is what seems to be almost an eagerness for conflict, especially armed conflict.
  2. I don’t see the same kind of thought going into what’s going on in Oregon as I see from the Founders. Enlightenment thought is simply no longer the philosophy of the day. It was followed by Modernism, which has now given way to Postmodernism. How have the folks in Oregon set out to harness postmodern thought to bring about popular support for revolution? I don’t believe they have anything that even approximates a plan.
  3. Seizing on a situation like that with the Hammonds is not the same as responding to something like the Coercive Acts. While the Hammonds are surely the subjects of gross injustice, most people are not affected by their situation. It is, at best, silly to expect those not already committed to the Bundy’s cause to rally to support them. At worst, it gives the appearance of having hijacked the Hammond’s situation for their own uses and suggests they’re guilty of the same lack of integrity many of us decry in our elected and appointed officials. I am not suggesting a lack of integrity is present. I’d be willing to bet, however, that’s how it looks to many people.
  4. Lack of public and political support virtually ensures failure by the folks in Oregon. It takes a lot to convince people to abandon the status quo.
  5. Preparation seems lacking in Oregon. I’m unaware of any indication the Bundy’s and their supporters have engaged in the sort of widespread, coordinated consensus building history shows us from the Founders. Certainly, there is no constant and ongoing “poking with a stick” that might lead the government or its agents to engage in activity that will bring about widespread support. There is little suggestion of widespread legislative support.
  6. Planning is lacking in Oregon. How will this situation be used to bring about a vast up swell of popular support? How will it lead to revolution or change? What is the plan for what would follow such a thing? Who and where are the leaders to undertake the hard task of building or rebuilding a free nation?

I could be completely wrong about this, of course. The people in Oregon may have thought all this out thoroughly. They may be part of a huge, growing and well-coordinated movement that even now is building popular and legislative support. They may have a plan for harnessing postmodern thought for the purpose of freedom. They may have well prepared and well qualified people in place to take the lead in restoring freedom and a true constitutional republic. They may be all those things – but I doubt it.

 

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