Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Let us face the fact that the Syrian demonstrators calling for the beheading of the Danish cartoonist have achieved de facto if not de juror censorship over almost all of the Western press. On the Colbert Report he said they were taking the principled stand to not show those cartoons because they might be killed. Colbert was, of course, going for the laugh but the paper I read The Washington Times did not show the cartoons either. In any other situation, something so central to something so controversial surely would have been shared with the readers or viewers. From a purely news standpoint those drawing should have been printed in every major daily newspaper in the country as well as being shown on the ubiquitous television news programs.
Now, did The Washington Times and so many other papers choose not to run the cartoons because they felt them to be deeply offensive or did they choose not run them because they did not want their editorial boards to end up on some cleric’s list of people it was every Muslim’s duty to murder? Will we ever really know?
David T. Beito
Click Read More (below) for the answer.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Modern Education and the Government,” June 10, 1929 in Contemporary Speeches. Compiled by James N. O’Neill and Floyd K. Riley (New York: The Century Company, 1930), 18.
It is no accident that someone with an abolitionist background wrote such a work because the modern paternalistic ethos, which infects all levels of government, has much in common with the ante-bellum pro-slavery ideology that Spooner so opposed.
Roderick T. Long
Im sure the running dogs of statism will be rushing to use His Excellencys recent misadventure as another argument for increased gun control.
If so, the case will be a poor one. In the world the gun controllers are building, people like Cheney will always have access to firearms.
Keillor then goes on to write: “Not a bad gig, considering. There are mature gifted musicians scuffling for less than screeners earn, and farm families scraping along despite prayer and hard labor, and genius comedians scrapping for spare change. So a young Republican lady or gent could be tickled pink to land a job as assistant secretary for compliance assurance and get an 18-by-24 office with a window looking out on the Washington Monument and spend the day in meetings after which you will write memos of ingenious persiflage and obfuscation, like a cat smoothing the litter box.”
Hat Tip Kenny Rodgers.
David T. Beito
Today, many defenders of reparations are socialists and race-baiters, who want a pretext to empower the welfare state, attack free markets, and create perpetual dependence and animosity.
This was not always true. In the post Civil War period, many advocates for liberty called for giving land to the ex-slaves through proposals such as “forty acres and a mule.” They drew on a Lockean tradition that stressed that the slaves had earned just title by “mixing their labor” with the land.
But the practical objections to “forty acres and a mule” were also powerful. Critics raised difficult questions: Who would enforce land distribution to the freed slaves and how? What if Southern whites violently resisted? Would breakup of the big plantations ultimately undermine the property rates of other Americans?
Yet these obstacles were not quite as insurmountable as many claimed. Much “unowned” land was potentially available in both the South and the West. The Mississippi Delta, for example, was still largely an unoccupied frontier at the end of Civil War.
One of the more intriguing proposals along these lines came from ex-slave Sojourner Truth. Although she never learned to read and write, she won fame during the antebellum period for her forceful and down-to-earth abolitionist oratory. From the 1860s until her death in 1883, Truth campaigned tirelessly for a proposal that Congress reserve land in the West for the freedman.
Truth was no socialist. She had no patience for “lazy” freedmen who refused to work, lacked ambition, or tried to live the taxpayer. Here is a selection from one of her speeches: "'Now, here is de question dat I am here to-night to say. I been to Washin'ton, an' I fine out dis, dat de colud pepul dat is in Washin'tun libin on de gobernment dat de United Staas ort to gi' 'em lan' an' move 'em on it. Dey are libin on de gov'ment, an' dere is pepul takin' care of 'em costin' you so much, an' it don't benefit him 'tall. It degrades him wuss an' wuss. Therefo' I say dat these people, take an' put 'em in de West where you ken enrich 'em. I know de good pepul in de South can't take care of de negroes as dey ort to, case de ribils won't let 'em. How much better will it be for to take them culud pepul an' give 'em land? We've airnt lan' enough for a home, an' it would be a benefit for you all an' God would bless de hull ob ye for doin' it. Dey say, Let 'em take keer of derselves. Why, you've taken dat all away from 'em. Ain't got nuffin lef'. Get dere culud pepul out of Washin'tun off ob de gov'ment, an' get de ole pepul out and build dem homes in de West, where dey can feed themselves, and dey would soon be abel to be a pepul among you. Dat is my commission. Now adgitate them pepul an' put 'em dere; learn 'em to read one part of de time an' learn em' to work de udder part ob de time.”
"'Now, here is de question dat I am here to-night to say. I been to Washin'ton, an' I fine out dis, dat de colud pepul dat is in Washin'tun libin on de gobernment dat de United Staas ort to gi' 'em lan' an' move 'em on it. Dey are libin on de gov'ment, an' dere is pepul takin' care of 'em costin' you so much, an' it don't benefit him 'tall. It degrades him wuss an' wuss. Therefo' I say dat these people, take an' put 'em in de West where you ken enrich 'em. I know de good pepul in de South can't take care of de negroes as dey ort to, case de ribils won't let 'em. How much better will it be for to take them culud pepul an' give 'em land? We've airnt lan' enough for a home, an' it would be a benefit for you all an' God would bless de hull ob ye for doin' it. Dey say, Let 'em take keer of derselves. Why, you've taken dat all away from 'em. Ain't got nuffin lef'. Get dere culud pepul out of Washin'tun off ob de gov'ment, an' get de ole pepul out and build dem homes in de West, where dey can feed themselves, and dey would soon be abel to be a pepul among you. Dat is my commission. Now adgitate them pepul an' put 'em dere; learn 'em to read one part of de time an' learn em' to work de udder part ob de time.”
February 9 2006
"Observer: Dialogue of the deaf"
Paul Wolfowitz was always going to have a rocky first year at the World Bank, given his role as architect of the war in Iraq.
It has not helped matters that he relies so heavily on a core team of advisers from the Republican party, who have very little expertise in development matters. But, Observer wonders, are his staff trying to make it work?
In a recent survey only 48 per cent of more than 10,000 respondents said they had a good understanding of the direction in which the bank's senior management - namely, Wolfowitz - was leading them.
That is down from 67 per cent at the time of the last survey, two years ago. That is not particularly surprising - the bank has a long history of unsettling transitions, the inevitable result perhaps of a process in which the president is chosen based on close links to the White House rather than knowledge of the bank and its work.
But what was surprising was the answer to a question that Wolfowitz himself inserted into the survey.
"My annual meeting speech [last September] gave me the chance to provide my views on the general direction and priorities for our institution. Have you read it?" Forty-five per cent of the respondents said they had not.
As a public service, Observer would like to point out that they can find it on the bank's website, on Wolfowitz's page, under the heading"Recent Speeches".
Having asked the question, I can provide a better answer than those who write obscenity laced emails under pen names as acts of moral courage. The task is not difficult, I admit. One answer I could advance: given the harm that 'bad' ideas have caused to real and innocent human beings -- e.g. racism 'caused' slavery or Friedan 'caused' the breakdown of the American family -- how can a decent, caring human being NOT feel rage when encountering such 'bad' ideas? Is not the recognition of any worth or the expression of any human connection toward the adovcate of such ideas actually an act of support for that advocate?
In a word"no." There are so many ways in which my answer is NO that I have to pick and choose the ones to expand upon or else I would blog all day. First of all, I rarely"hate" ideas. Even bad ideas -- as long as they are well presented -- can be fascinating. Indeed, one of the most intellectually interesting experiences I've ever had is to find out exactly where Foucault and I begin to disagree: the starting-gate idea where we part ways and never meet again. At no point in the discovery process did I hate Foucault as a person even though I believe his impact on the world has been horrible.
Several factors contribute to my response. For one thing, I am firmly committed to meeting ideas with ideas and this commitment makes me focus on the truth or falsehood issue rather than upon emotion. Moreover, I don't believe it is fundamentally wrong to say or ask anything; indeed, the progress of knowledge requires us to consider and discuss every possibility. If you express certain ideas, then we will not be friends and I may assiduously avoid your company. But this is different than hating you. And, yes, I extend this principle even to very 'bad' ideas.Take racism or sexism. I reject both but I actively support a world in which there can be active discussion on whether Asians are racially superior to whites, men to women, dogs to cats... I don't fear the truth and I don't think free speech endangers our understanding of what is true -- quite the opposite. If someone says something patently false or derogatory, then the way to meet it is a knock-down argument. Those who revert to attacking the person rather than the argument are usually a) not up to the task or b) wrong on some particular.
Another reason I don't hate those with whom I disagree is that words are words are words are words. I believe that a mugger who attacks someone in an alley has committed more wrong than anyone who merely says anything. Perhaps partly because of political correctness, which views ideas and words as acts of violence (e.g. sexual harassment), society seems to have lost all sense of what childhood wisdom once taught us: sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words can never hurt me. Unless someone acts to implement and impose vicious ideas -- or uses law and government through which to act -- then they have done no harm. They may be offensive and I may devoutly wish his/her mouth was a radio so I could change stations. But that is a different matter than hating them.
Aha! I hear the reaction. Friedan did use government to implement her ideas and, so, shouldn't hatred be the appropriate response? After all, she crossed the line I've just drawn. Well, you'll get no argument from me about Friedan using the law as a gun. But, evenly so, I don't feel rage. Much or most of the reason is that I find it difficult and exhausting to go through life with rage storming within me at every word and act. So many people use the law to impose awful and self-serving principles that I could easily be hate-filled 24/7. That wouldn't stop the injustice but it would ruin my life and my ability to take any pleasure. I wouldn't be more effective in countering the injustice; arguably, I'd be less effective. But I suppose it would convince the"let's hate" contingent of my sincerity. But I am not attracted to doing so even if it means being taken off mailing lists. I mean, can you imagine how much fun a"let's hate" conference would be with its penciled-in 'shooting-the-bile' coffee klatches, its scheduled 'who do we hate most?' panel discussions and its 'why we are right to hate' late night bull/beer sessions?
Rage is like a drug to some advocates of X or Y or Z. It is not enough to say to them"I agree with your position and I will argue my agreement to the best of my ability BUT I don't share your emotional response." It is not enough because what is important to them is not the truth or falsehood of the position but the rage it inspires. Thus, my agreement is irrelevant. My lack of rage is the entire point because their rage is the entire point to them. They advocate X or Y or Z in order to feel the surge of adrenaline that comes from wanting to bash in the face of whoever disagrees. What is the origin of their sanctimonious hatred? I don't know. I think some people are so filled with anger that they naturally gravitate toward the political causes that allow them to express hatred as moral imperative. I think others are so embittered by their experiences that hatred develops. There are probably a thousand other explanations and shadings of explanations at work.
Whatever. The bottomline remains: I don't hate easily. Part of the reason is my personality; part is ideological. I remain convinced that an individual who raises his/her hand against another commits an act that is different in kind than an individual who raises their voice. An idea doesn't 'cause' anything. Words are not actions. If I have anger toward Friedan it is because she promoted laws that constituted acts of violence against innocent people. Using this guideline, however, I am equally angry at Christian zealots, advocates of the war in Iraq, politically correct pundits...hell, I may as well be angry at everyone.
Only, I'm not. I know that's a hanging offense.
David T. Beito
Meanwhile, the University is sponsoring a benefit production of the Vagina Monologues (which many find equally offensive) and is piously promoting this benefit on the main campus website.
Schumpeter wrote on a wide range of economic and social subjects, and is best known for Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy and History of Economic Analysis. One of his claims to fame is the phrase" creative destruction," by which he indicated the dynamic entrepreneurial element at the heart of the market economy. (Actually, I've never been crazy about that phrase; I prefer Israel Kirzner's Misesian/Hayekian emphasis on entrepreneurial coordination.) Curiously, Schumpeter thought the state socialists had won the economic calculation debate against the Austrians, and he expected capitalism to be replaced one day. Yet, in the free-market economy (" capitalism") Schumpeter saw a force for peace and worldwide cooperation through the division of labor. However, in his view various precapitalist influences eat away at the system, especially the wish for protectionism, setting a country on the path to imperialism and war. He stressed that these influences are not inherent in the market economy. (Note the similarity with Ludwig von Mises's thesis in Omnipotent Government.) With the U.S. government fighting in the Middle East and possibly more battles on the horizon, it is fitting to contemplate what Schumpeter had to say about capitalism and war. Here is an excerpt from his paper"Imperialism and Capitalism" (1919) reprinted in his posthumous book Imperialism and Social Classes (1951; all emphasis in the original):
A protectionist policy, however, does facilitate the formation of cartels and trusts. And it is true that this circumstance thoroughly alters the alignment of interests. . . . Union in a cartel or trust confers various benefits on the entrepreneur—a saving in costs, a stronger position as against workers—but none of these compares with this one advantage: a monopolistic price policy, possible to any considerable degree only behind an adequate protective tariff. Now the price that brings the maximum monopoly profit is generally far above the price that would be fixed by fluctuating competitive costs, and the volume that can be marketed at the maximum price is generally far below the output that would be technically and economically feasible. Under free competition that output would be produced and offered, but a trust cannot offer it, for it could be sold only at a competitive price. Yet the trust must produce it—or approximately as much—otherwise the advantages of large-scale enterprise remain unexploited. The trust thus faces a dilemma. Either it renounces the monopolistic policies that motivated its founding; or it fails to exploit and expand its plant, with resultant high costs. It extricates itself from this dilemma by producing the full output that is economically feasible, thus securing low costs, and offering in the protected domestic market only the quantity corresponding to the monopoly price—insofar as the tariff permits; while the rest is sold, or"dumped," abroad at a lower price, sometimes (but not necessarily) below costs.This, Schumpeter continues, can set off a malignant drive toward militarization, imperialism, and colonialism, promoted by the tariff-spawned monopolists who need to dispose of their surplus goods. The target countries don't always acquiesce.
What happens when the entrepreneurs successfully pursue such a policy is something that did not occur in the case discussed so far—a conflict of interests between nations that becomes so sharp that it cannot be overcome by the existing basic community of interests.
Thus we have here, within a social group that carries great political weight, a strong, undeniable economic interest in such things as protective tariffs, cartels, monopoly prices, forced exports (dumping), an aggressive economic policy, an aggressive foreign policy generally, and war, including wars of expansion with a typically imperialist character. Once this alignment of interests exists, an even stronger interest in a somewhat differently motivated expansion must be added, namely, an interest in the conquest of lands producing raw materials and foodstuffs, with a view to facilitating self-sufficient warfare.What I would add here is that the" conquest" need not be old-style explicit colonization. It can be executed more subtly through a system of client states and friendly, beholden regimes (oiled by the IMF, World Bank, USAID, and arms sales), with"regime change" pulled off periodically when necessary.
The lesson? For the sake of peace, we need laissez faire.
Cross-posted at Free Association.
"The Republicans have lost even the thinnest pretense of being a party for smaller government. They might prefer deficit spending to taxing people up front. They might understand economics well enough to know that some overbearing regulations favored by Democrats will kill the host on which their parasitic operations depend. They are lower-tax imperialists, perhaps. But they do believe, when push comes to shove, that the president should have unchecked power to spy, detain, torture and wage war. Perhaps the only Constitutional provision worth observing is the guarantee of a Republican form of government – that is, a government of, by, and for the Republicans."
Is there anyone out there who will defend the Republican Party?
But what a red herring when you consider their view that the president needs no authorization whatever to launch a war whenever he feels its necessary. They're not really saying Congress added to his power with the AUMF. Congress couldn't have added to his power. The AUMF has all the legal effect of a hortatory resolution from Congress declaring it international nurse's week. In their theory, the president already had the power to go to war with whomever he wanted. The president's leading theorist of the war power writes unabashedly of "the president's right to start wars." So these powers are incident to wartime. And the president gets to say when it's wartime.
David T. Beito
Instead, he makes statements like these:
This issue has nothing to do with"freedom of speech." The government of Denmark is not about to prosecute Jyllands-Posten, nor will the EU – although they could do so, given the existence of"hate speech" legislation signed into law in both cases. But I don't recall that any Arab governments or significant spokesmen have called for such action: they just want an apology. Not an unreasonable demand, given the circumstances, and, in any case, the protesters are just practicing their right of free speech, now aren't they?
This is completely wrongheaded. Now more than ever, antiwar libertarians have an obligation to to speak out to their antiwar allies on the left as well as to the American public on the importance of free speech.
If, instead, they choose to join the calls to appease the banners, censors, and anti-liberty protestors with"apologies" and groveling, there will be no end to it. Most of the cartoons, after all, were no more offensive than the depiction of Christ in the"Last Temptation," Dante's incendiary portrait of Mohammed in The Divine Comedy, or even South Park's lampooning of Jesus Christ or Pope Benedict. Should the creators, or purveyors, of these"offensive" works also be required to apologize?
Perhaps many antiwar libertarians are fearful that they might give ammunition to those who justify the war on the grounds that the Middle East is"Islamofascist." This precise opposite is true. Few issues better illustrate the folly of neocon/Jacobin foreign intervention as this one. The most obvious example is the readiness of our"democratic" allies in Iraq and Afghanistan to throw aside any alleged"pro liberty" views and join the anti-Dane lynch mob.
Kenneth R. Gregg
Walter McDougall says:
Verne’s pioneering science fiction (as it would later be called) inspired Robert Goddard, Wernher von Braun, and virtually all the other pioneers of the space age. Indeed, his book From the Earth to the Moon Direct in 97 Hours, first published in 1865, not only anticipated the Apollo program, but also foresaw that it would be done by Americans, that they would quarrel bitterly over the best technological means, that Florida and Texas would compete for the program, that three astronauts would make the journey in a cone-shaped capsule, that they would use rockets to steer and escape the moon’s gravity, and that they would splash down in the Pacific Ocean to be recovered by the U.S. Navy. More impressive still was Verne’s anticipation of the American culture of technology: a mixture of boundless enthusiasm, private initiative, militarism, and P. T. Barnum commercialism.Verne's son later wrote that he had only three passions in life: freedom, music, and the sea. Verne supported the Revolution of 1848, but as it degenerated into violent class conflict during the June Days he would stand for law and order. When Louis Napoleon then overthrew the republic and made himself emperor, Verne opposed him. He would later support the regime’s active promotion of science and industry. Verne deplored the socialist Paris Commune of 1871. In 1888 he ran for town council on a leftist ticket, but in the 1890s stood with the Right during the bitter, anti-Semitic Dreyfus Affair. Verne’s campaign platform was:
“In social matters my taste is order; in politics my hope is to create within the present government a reasonable party that balances respect for justice and religious belief with consideration for people, the arts, and life itself."Verne's novels have contrary trends: support for national liberation movements such as the Irish and Polish, but also a strong pacifist streak; paternalism toward colonial peoples, but a hatred of slavery and imperialism (especially British); sympathy for utopian experiments, but resentment toward state power; affirmation of free enterprise, but assaults on big capitalism (especially American); a celebration of loyalty and community, but sympathy for militant individualism.
While Verne was critical of British imperialism, he was willing to accede to his publisher's request, in order not to offend France's then-ally, Russia (and the Russian book market), to change the origin and past of the infamous Captain Nemo (Verne's alter ego--the Latin nemo is a pun meaning no-one--or nobody--or fish) from that of a Polish noble vengeful because of the murder of his family during Russian repression and partitions of Poland, and the death of his family in the January Uprising to that of Prince Dakkar, the Hindu son of an Indian rajah and nephew of the great moslem anti-imperialist, Tippoo Sahib, full of hatred for the British conquest of India. After the Sepoy mutiny, Nemo devotes himself to scientific research and develops an advanced electric submarine, the Nautilus. He and his crew of loyals cruise the seas, battling injustice and slavery.
Translations of his works into english have often "toned down" or excised his more political (or, rather, antipolitical) comments, so that much of Verne's politics is not available to most readers, partly due to publisher assumption of a juvenile readership. As Walter James Miller has said:
in 1978 Crowell published ... a complete new translation of From the Earth to the Moon, with annotations and appendices to show the errors and distortions in [previous] versions... I demonstrated that, properly and completely rendered, this genuine space novel was also an anti-war classic on a level with Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.Jules Verne was a true visionary and a writer to be reckoned with.
[Verne] also foresaw the collapse of colonialism, the emergence of new attitudes about gender and androgyny, the industrialization of China, the smoldering of French separatism in Canada, the rise of the American Goliath, the prostitution of science by new power elites: by private financiers and the military-industrial complex... Verne ...explored all varieties of nonconformism, from vagabondism to guerrilla war to philosophical anarchism...[and] gave a voice in his books to every shade of social and political opinion, from utopian socialism to anti-semitism to proto-fascism. Indeed, the great French scholar Jean Chesneaux ranks Jules Verne with H.G. Wells as a major writer of political fiction.
Just a thought.
Kenneth R. Gregg
There can be no prescription old enough to supercede the Law of Nature and the grant of God Almighty, who has given to all men a natural right to be free, and they have it ordinarily in their power to make themselves so, if they please.--James Otis, Jr.James Otis, Jr. (2/5/1725-5/23/1783) of West Barnstable, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, began his tutelage under Reverend Jonathan Russell and, by fifteen, Otis entered Harvard College and graduated in 1743. He studied law for two years under Judge Jeremiah Gridley, a member of the General Court of Massachusetts. The young conservative (as Otis was earlier in life) then served the Boston vice-admiralty court as advocate general from 1756 to 1760.
In 1760, with the end of the French and Indian War and the accession of George III, his administration compelled customs officials in Massachusetts to apply for new"writs of assistance" in the king’s name. These writs were in effect, search warrants that gave customs inspectors the legal authority to inspect ships, warehouses, homes or wherever else they felt compelled to inspect. Smuggling was common in the colonies due, in part, to high tariffs on sugar and molasses. This encouraged American merchants to deal with French, Dutch and West Indies traders.
Royal officials in London tightened enforcement against smuggling by offering Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard with a third of the fines collected from such activities. To aid the call for tighter enforcement, Governor Bernard appointed Thomas Hutchinson Chief Justice of Massachusetts. In doing so, Bernard passed over Otis’s father, Colonel James Otis, Sr. This action infuriated the Otis family and led to Otis’s resignation as the king’s advocate general with the vice-admiralty. After resigning, Otis offered assistance to the merchants in their attempt to stop execution of the new writs.
On February 24, 1761, a case came before the Superior Court of Massachusetts by Charles Paxton, the Surveyor of Customs for the Port of Boston, for writs of assistance. Jeremiah Gridley appeared for the customs office. Otis and an associate represented sixty-three Boston merchants, in opposition. Gridley argued the Court of Exchequer had the statutory authority to issue them, that the province law of 1699 had granted the Superior Court jurisdiction in Massachusetts over matters which the courts of King’s Bench, Common Pleas, or Exchequer have, and further that such warrants were necessary in the collection of taxes and in protecting the state from foreign and domestic subversives.
When Otis spoke, one critic described him as "a plump, round faced, smooth skinned, short necked, eagle eyed politician," but John Adams attended the trial and wrote down the account in his diary and again some fifty years later, "Otis was a flame of fire!"
Otis relied on English law to prove that only special warrants were legal and attacked the writs as "instruments of slavery." Defending the right to privacy, he proclaimed that the power to issue general search warrants placed "the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer." In perhaps his most moving passage, Otis declared,
"A man’s home is his castle, and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it is declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom house office may enter our houses when they please and we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court, can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient. This wanton exercise of this power is not a chimerical suggestion of a heated brain. What a scene does this open! Every man, prompted by revenge, ill humor, or wantonness to inspect the inside of his neighbor’s house, may get a writ of assistance. Other’s will ask it from self-defense; one arbitrary action will promote another, until society be involved in tumult and blood."Otis’s oration took some four or five hours and was not taken down stenographically, but it left an indelible impression on the young Adams. With a "profusion of legal authorities," Adams tells us, "a prophetic glance of his eye into futurity, and a torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away everything before him." Adams continued, "every man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance." Adams concluded his summation of the event by pronouncing, "Then and there, the child Independence was born." Otis challenged not just the royal governor of Massachusetts, not just Parliament, and not just the King, but also the entire British government, with a solid appeal to the Rule of Law. Thus began the American Revolution.
Following the Otis oration, the members of the bench had been swayed, with the exception of Chief Justice Hutchinson, who delayed the vote in an attempt to buy precious time. Hutchinson succeeded in having the writs upheld when, in November of that same year, the case was heard a second time. George III was the new monarch, and the Court of Exchequer routinely issued writs of assistance in England. The Massachusetts judges felt they could no longer refuse to issue them in the colonies as well. Hutchinson had won a temporary victory. In 1765, Hutchinson’s Boston home was destroyed by an angry mob.
Otis’s battle against the writs of assistance won him great public favor for a time. In May of 1761, he won election to the Massachusetts General Court. The news of the election reached a Worchester dinner party. Attending the party were John Adams and Brigadier Timothy Ruggles, who was chief justice of the Common Pleas Court and later a Tory exile. Ruggles declared to Adams, "Out of this election will arise a damned faction, which will shake the province to its knees."
Ruggles’s prophetic prediction proved even more accurate than he expected for it was 1761 that triggered the Revolution, and the Otis family, father and son, set the wheels in motion. That same year, James Otis Sr. was reelected as Speaker of the House, and together, they succeeded in pushing through an act which forbid any writ which did not specify under oath, the person and place to be searched. However, under the advice of the Supreme Court, Governor Bernard refused to approve the legislation. Nonetheless, the public sentiment had shifted, and talk of an independent nation had begun.
In 1764, Prime Minister George Grenville and the British Parliament had imposed upon the colonies the Sugar Act. The new law placed tariffs on sugar, wine, coffee and other products, and spelled trouble for many American businesses. At the time the Sugar Act was passed by Parliament, Grenville had also submitted a resolution for a Stamp Tax.
Otis became an instant celebrity and a month later was elected to a seat in the General Court (legislature). As time passed and the list of American grievances against the Crown grew, Otis played an ever more prominent role in advancing the colonists' interests. In 1764, he headed the Massachusetts committee of correspondence. The following year he was a leading figure at the Stamp Act Congress in New York City. In 1765, the Stamp Act was passed and Otis stood as one of the Acts most vocal critics. Under the pseudonym"John Hampden," Otis published in the Boston press a sweeping denial of Parliaments right to tax the colonies without representation.
Otis’s open advocacy of American rights grated on many officials' nerves; his election to the speakership of the General Court in 1766 was voided by the governor’s veto. Undeterred, Otis teamed with Samuel Adams to confront the next crisis: enforcement of the Townshend Duties in 1767. The firebrand duo drafted a circular letter to enlist the other colonies in planned resistance to the new taxes.
Otis’s pamphlet to the Parliament drew resolute approval from the Whigs in England.
Otis began a gradual loss of his mental faculties. His continued verbal assaults grew worse. In 1769, Otis was in a coffeehouse brawl with a customs official and received substantial injuries to the head. This quickened the pace of his failing mental capacities and two years later, his old adversary, Thomas Hutchinson, appointed a sanity commission which found Otis to be a lunatic.
Throughout the remainder of his life, Otis had intermittent spells of clarity, but he played very little role in the Revolution. He was placed in the care of various friends and family members. While under the care of his sister, Mercy Otis Warren, at Watertown, Mass., he heard rumor of battle. On June 17, he slipped away unobserved, borrowed a musket from a roadside farmhouse and joined the minute men who were marching to the aid of the troops at Bunker Hill. He took an active part in the battle and afterwards made his way home again. In 1783, James Otis, Jr. was struck dead by a bolt of lightning while standing in the doorway of his sisters’ home. A tragic end to an outspoken leader who sent the colonists in the direction of a revolution.
This little bit of history should be remembered by the current administration in their endeavor to allow warrants without recourse to local judges' permission. This is how the American Revolution was touched off. If the Bush administration is not careful, there is little doubt in my mind that there will be unintended consequences in America's future!
Just a thought.
NPQ: You’ve seen a lot in your long life and thought about the big issues. What is on your mind these days?
Milton Friedman: The big issue is whether the United States will succeed in its venture of reshaping the Middle East. It is not clear to me that using military force is the way to do it. We should not have gone into Iraq. But we have. At the moment, the most pressing issue, therefore, is to make sure that effort is completed in a satisfactory way.
There is no doubt that America’s stature in the world—in large part due to the attraction and promotion of our liberal freedoms—has been eroded as a result of Iraq. However, if Iraq emerges in the end as a self-governing country that is not a threat to anybody, that will have a favorable effect on the Middle East in general. The end result then would be to increase the prestige of the US. But that is not the case now. The effect so far has been the other way.
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