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|Stamp Act Resurrected||| Print ||
By KrisAnne Hall
At a recent forum Dennis Prager said, “We have forgotten what it means to be Americans. We have been sorely negligent in teaching our children about our Founding Fathers and the tyranny they overcame. We have failed to teach our children the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the principle of Natural Law which teaches us that our rights are gifted to us by our Creator and not the government.”
This negligence has been perpetrated for so long that we have entire generations that have no clue what tyranny looks like, or why it is important to fight for the rights we all hold by the very nature of our birth. This ignorance has permitted citizen and leader alike to sit idly by as many fundamental principles of our Republic are attacked.
George Santayana, philosopher and poet declared, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Yet, here we are today, seemingly doomed to repeat the history that separated our people from the tyrannical rule of a British King.
Many today do not know that our colonists did not come to the American Continent to build a new nation; rather, they came to expand Great Britain. They sought to establish a part of the Empire in which they could freely and fully exercise their natural rights as British citizens. Our forefathers were, in fact, proud British Citizens; as late as 1765 children in the streets were chanting, “King, Pitt, and Liberty.” This simple chant reflected their love of the King. However, when their King’s actions violated both the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the principle of Natural Law, no love of King could sustain the colonists’ allegiance to a tyrant.
Few Americans understand how the Tax Acts of the 1770s drove our forefathers to demand separation from their beloved country of Great Britain. American colonists were becoming increasingly annoyed at the actions of Parliament and the fact that they had no direct representation. Since coming to the American Continent they had become accustomed to electing their officials and the direct representation guaranteed them through the Bill of Rights. So when Parliament, in 1765 passed the Stamp Act,as a measure to collect taxes to pay for the cost of the safety and security of the new Colony, the gauntlet was thrown down.
The Stamp Act required that the King’s stamp be purchased and placed on all printed material, ranging from legal documents to playing cards and dice. The colonists were outraged by this direct taxation and limitation on their free speech. Up until this time the colonists voted in their own taxes when a request for funding came from the British Government. Additionally, the idea that each document must have the stamp of the government was offensive to a people who believed that it was their Creator that granted them this right and that it was not was not proper for the government to invoke such limitations. As if these violations were not enough, the Act also dictated that those in violation would not be tried by a jury of their peers in the colony, but would be sent to foreign soil for trial. The colonists knew that the Stamp Act was a direct violation of their rights as British Citizens, according to well-established English Law and Natural Law, and the Virginia House of Burgesses quickly adopted the Virginia Resolves declaring the Act unconstitutional. The colonists intensely resisted the Stamp Act. Americans petitioned the King and Parliament, rioted, and smuggled or boycotted goods and threatened the lives of those appointed to enforce the Act. In less than a year, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.
The news of the repeal of the Stamp Act caused a resurgence of British Patriotism. New York City put up a statue of King George in honor of this repeal. The excitement of the people was so overwhelming that the people took no notice when, on the heels of the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act. This Act gave Parliament the right “to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”
As a result of the Declaratory Act, the Parliament began issuing a series of laws against the Colonies and because Parliament had declared them to be “fit for the good of the empire,” the colonists could do nothing to challenge them. Parliament had not repealed the Stamp Act because it understood the Act to be unconstitutional, it repealed it to appease and distract the people, and so they could learn and modify the Act to gain full power and authority over the colonies, “in all cases whatsoever.”
Parliament had learned its lesson from the Stamp Act. It now understood that the colonists would be directly opposed to an internal tax on goods. Parliament then modified its direction to tax only items imported into the colonies and then limited the ability of the colonists to produce their own goods. The new vehicle for their methods was the Townshend Act; a taxation on glass, paint, oil, lead, paper, and tea. The Empire had also learned from the Stamp Act, that it could not employ local people to enforce these taxes and instead sent a swarm of English Custom Agents to collect these taxes and prevent smuggling. In order to enforce this Act, Parliament gave the Agents of the Crown the authority to issue Writs of Assistance.
Writs of Assistance were general warrants that would be written and issued by the British Agents without judge, magistrate, or approval through a hearing. James Otis, an attorney, called these Writs of Assistance, “the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law-book.” They were literally hand-written warrants that required no probable cause and little more than mere suspicion. These British Agents, often described as overzealous and corrupt, had the power to break into ships, warehouses, businesses and private homes on nothing more than a whim. Colonists vehemently opposed these clear violations of the Bill of Rights and English Law. John Dickinson, in his Letters From a Farmer, reasoned that:
“In fact, if the people of New York cannot be legally taxed, but by their own representatives, they cannot be legally deprived of the privileges of making laws, only for insisting on that exclusive privilege of taxation. If they may be legally deprived, in such a case, of the privilege of making laws, why may they not, with equal reason, be deprived of every other privilege? Or what signifies the repeal of the Stamp Act, if these colonies are to lose their other privileges, by not tamely surrendering that of taxation?”
The many parallels to the present day are frightening. In the wake of the McCain-Feingold Bill, it would not be surprising to wake up one morning to the “New Stamp Act.” The machinations to find new ways to tax the people harkens back to the many Tax Acts of the 1770s, and we can most certainly see parallels to “the worst instrument of arbitrary power;” consider the Patriot Act. The underlying rationale by Parliament for the Stamp and Townshend acts as enforced by the Writs of Assistance was the safety and security of the nation. This is how the history meets the present day. In the name of national security and safety, Congress has granted the Federal Bureau of Investigation a modern day Writ of Assistance via the National Security Letters.
The statute within the Patriot Act that allows for National Security Letters permits law enforcement to obtain records of people not suspected of any wrongdoing and without judge, magistrate, or court order, based upon mere suspicion. To compound the constitutional imposition of this act, those served with these letters are gagged and prohibited from disclosing that they have even been served with the threat of federal prosecution. As you ask yourself, can this be possible, I will tell you not only is it possible, but we have already seen the tyranny of this power.
In July 2005, the FBI issued a national security letter to four Connecticut librarians. The letter sought computer subscriber data for a 45-minute period, during which a terrorist threat was thought to have been transmitted. In accordance with this letter, a gag order prevented the librarians from talking about the letter to anyone. The librarians refused to comply with the FBI’s request. The librarians were arrested and federally prosecuted. Federal prosecutors eventually dropped the charges, but not until these librarians were indicted and brought before a federal judge under violations of the Patriot Act. And according to an ABC News report, 9,254 National Security Letters were issued in 2005, involving 3,501 people.
As a result of several lawsuits initiated by the ACLU, the provisions of the Patriot Act have been altered. However, these alterations were nothing more than an attempt to appease and distract the public. Provisions inserted to protect libraries were counteracted by a loophole that authorized the original power of the National Security Letters if the library contained public Internet access. Provisions inserted to allow for challenge of the Letters are circumvented in the event the government declares that allowing the challenge would “harm national security.” On the government’s word, the court must accept that assertion as “conclusive” and dismiss the challenge. Even more alarming is the fact that in February of 2010, Congress decided to reauthorize the Patriot Act for three more years.
We must also remember that in 2007, by a vote of 404-6, the House passed HR 1955, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act. Full passage of this Act would open the door for citizens to be prosecuted not only for actions they had taken but also for associating with certain groups or possessing certain belief systems. Just as the Townshend and Quartering acts were stacked together and enforced by Writs of Assistance, how can the Patriot Act and the mutable definition of terrorist provided in HR 1955 combine to make an even more destructive end? Let me remind you of the observation of that Pennsylvania Farmer, “If the [rights of the people] may be legally deprived, in such a case…, why may they not, with equal reason, be deprived of every other privilege?
We have ignored the important history surrounding the Revolution of our nation and in doing so, we have allowed our own Congress to repeat its tyranny. In the name of safety and security, our Constitution is being shredded, our liberties are being taken, and our children’s future is being destroyed. We have ignored Benjamin Franklin’s warning that those who would trade their liberties for security deserve neither liberty nor security. It appears to me that only the people of this nation are ignorant of its history. The enemies of liberty seem to be well- educated and have learned from its failings and have modified tyranny accordingly. Today’s challenge: Who will stand for the safety and security of OUR Constitution?