The Declaration of Independence: Fanfare for the Common Man and Woman

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that a few sections of the Patriot Act expired Sunday night, namely section 215 which allows the government to gather your private personal information, and I’m not sure about section 505 sunsetting, but that section allows them to search without without a warrant. What they use are NSL’s (National Security Letters), which are only bureaucratic permissions by officials within the FBI. The standard is much, much lower than probable cause that you’re planning something related to terrorism. Remember, this was passed because of 9-11.

What I wrote below, is kind of a truncated history of why we even have a fourth amendment, and taken even farther, a bill of rights

Here’s how I began a post six years ago

There are many reasons that hundreds of thousands if not millions of Europeans immigrated to the United States after it was discovered and before it became a country; some of which were economic, religious, or political, everyone of those people had a story.

Over 240 years ago a group of merchants hired a cranky, iconoclastic lawyer named James Otis to defend their rights as free-born Englishmen, and in 1761 James Otis stood up in a Boston Mass. courtroom to speak against Writs of Assistance – which were a kind of general search warrant where the bearer could search anyone, anywhere, anytime which lasted for the lifetime of the sovereign (George II died in 1760); he spoke for five hours straight …


He lost the case but …

John Adams was at the trial and this is how he described the speech

Otis was a flame of fire! … Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there, the child of independence was born.


What follows is the story of a few of the people who should be mentioned, but most often are not. This one post can only be a beginning, for the fact that one post can’t be all encompassing, because that would take several blogs and at least 10-15 hours of work. And I’m going to have to skip over the Stamp Act Riots of 1765, mainly because of the time span (10 years). And, I’m taking a lot of this from Ray Raphael’s, First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord, and A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it should – Howard Zinn was the series editor.   [cont’d.]

People like Mercy Otis Warren (James Otis’ sister)

Seven months after British Regulars marched on Lexington and Concord, three months after King George III declared the colonies in a state of rebellion, and a month after British artillery leveled the town of Falmouth (now Portland, Maine), even the most radical delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia did not dare utter the “I” word: independence. Their caution bothered Mercy Otis Warren, and she, for one, was ready to take the next step. On November 15, 1775, as her husband James penned a letter to the Warrens’ close friend John Adams, a delegate to Congress, Mercy suddenly interrupted:

She [Mrs. Warren] sits at the table with me, will have a paragraph of her own; says you [Congress] “should no longer piddle at the threshold. It is time to leap into the theatre, to unlock the bars, and open every gate that impedes the rise and growth of the American republic, and then let the giddy potentate send forth his puerile proclamations to France, to Spain and all the commercial world who may be united in building up an Empire which he can’t prevent.


When she talked, men listened.

Informal meetings between her husband, James Warren, John Adams and others in the movement took place in her home. John Adams was her friend, and she was a confidant and adviser to him. And when she thought her biting commentary might be going too far she asked him what he thought, and he said

If we look into human nature … we shall find it is really a dread of satyr that restrains our species from exorbitances, more than laws, human, moral or divine. … The business of satyr is to expose vice and vicious men as such to this scorn and to enrobe Virtue in all the charms which fancy can paint.

Later he would probably regret those words, because they had a falling out over the structure of the constitution

Politically, the two parted ways irrevocably in 1787-8 during the debates over the proposed new Constitution for the United States. Although Adams himself was not present at the Constitutional Convention, the basic structure of the document reflected his thinking, his writings, and the constitution he had drafted for the state of Massachusetts back in 1779. Warren was no great fan of Adams’s Massachusetts Constitution, and she viewed the new framework for the nation as a clear repudiation of the republican ideals for which the Revolutionary War had been fought. Writing as “A Columbian Patriot,” she argued that the Constitution, which lacked a bill of rights, undermined several liberties key to republican thought: freedom of the press, prohibition of warrantless searches and seizures, civil trials by jury, freedom from military oppression, annual elections, rotation of elected officials (“term limits” in today’s parlance), direct access to representatives, explicit repudiation of aristocratic rule, and local control over taxation. Not knowing the “Columbian Patriot” was a woman, Antifederalists in the key battleground state of New York, printed and distributed 1,700 copies of Warren’s Columbian Patriot pamphlet to counter the 500 printed copies of the now-famous Federalist Papers.

In the fight over ratification, Warren lost the battle but not the war. With other Antifederalists, she could soon claim credit for passage of the Bill of Rights. …

The 90 towns, cities, counties, grand juries, artisan and militia associations, and colonies that declared their own independence from British rule, months, and years before Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper. 57 of those 90 were from rural Massachusetts, among them, Worcester.

There’s the story of old James Barr from Salem who stopped a British patrol led by Colonel Leslie, on their way to seize arms and ammunition from crossing a privately owned drawbridge. Leslie was dumbfounded. Leslie promised to not disturb anyone or anything and was allowed passage.

Or, the Maryland county conventions who ordered their representatives back to the Continental Congress on the eve of the drafting of the declaration. Samuel Chase remarked to John Adams

See the glorious effects of county instructions. Our people have fire if not smothered.

Or the Edenton Ladies Tea Party

So when you light your fireworks, and make a toast. A toast to the people who made this country, remember. Remember not just the people who ratified the document on July 2 – and that Independence Day should actually be July 2 – but remember all those who aren’t mentioned, because without them we wouldn’t be where we are here today.


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