Small Steps Toward Liberty
November 3, 2011 by Michael Boldin
Concordia res parvae crescunt.
It’s a Latin phrase made popular during the Revolutionary Period that means “small things grow great by concord.” And in a time when politicians claim the power to control nearly every aspect of your life, it’s a phrase that not only packs wisdom, but gives insight on a possible road map to liberty.
A Quick History Lesson
In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide housing and provisions for British soldiers. Like unfunded mandates of today, the colonies had to pay for it all, too. But, when 1,500 British troops arrived at New York City in 1766, the New York Assembly refused to comply, effectively nullifying the act.
The Quartering Act was circumvented in all the colonies other than Pennsylvania. In royal circles, this was yet another sign that the colonies were getting a bit out of control.
In 1767, the British Parliament passed a series of five laws known as the Townshend Acts. Their primary purpose was to raise tax revenue and enforce compliance in the colonies. They included the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act of 1767, the Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767, the Vice Admiralty Court Act of 1768 and the New York Restraining Act (a punishment for the very public rejection of the Quartering Act a year earlier).
The “punishment” given to New York? The Assembly had its legislative powers suspended, effectively leaving all decision-making outside the colony. In other words, they had to self-govern as they were told to, or not self-govern at all.
The colonies responded. And, although the Townshend Acts didn’t have the same, immediate uproar as the Stamp Act had just two years prior, they were hated and resistance soon became widespread. The most influential response to the acts came from John Dickinson, commonly known as the “Penman of the Revolution.” Opposing the new Acts, he wrote a series of twelve essays known as Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.
Dickinson’s warning? Don’t concede to new powers just because they appear to be small — or in the case of the Townshend Acts, because the taxes were low — since such concessions always set a dangerous precedent for new and greater powers in the future.
In the first of his essays, Dickinson addressed the New York Restraining Act. He wrote:
If the parliament may lawfully deprive New York of any of her rights, it may deprive any, or all the other colonies of their rights; and nothing can possibly so much encourage such attempts, as a mutual inattention to the interests of each other. To divide, and thus to destroy, is the first political maxim in attacking those, who are powerful by their union.
He continued on to say that, in essence, the rightful response at that moment would have been for other colonial assemblies to have at least passed nonbinding resolutions informing Parliament that the Act was a violation of rights and it should be repealed.
Why? His answer came through clearly at the end of this first essay, where he signed off with the Latin phrase “Concordia res parvae crescunt.”
Small things grow great by concord.
Assuming Total Power
In many ways, today’s Federal government has suspended the legislative power of State assemblies by assuming control over powers never delegated to it in the Constitution. For example, when the Administration of President Barack Obama threatened to close businesses in California because politicians and bureaucrats in Washington think that a particular plant should be illegal, it made its intentions clear. And when the Administration of President George W. Bush told the people of Montana — and elsewhere — that they wouldn’t be able to fly without a new national ID card, it also asserted the power to legislate for the people of that State.
The Federal government assumes unConstitutional new powers like this almost daily.
When Congressional declarations of war are deemed an “anachronism,” Congress simply abdicates its duty on the question of war and unConstitutionally transfers its power to the executive branch. And when such unConstitutional transfers of power seem unlikely, the executive branch simply redefines war into “kinetic something something” — and then initiates war on its own say-so anyway.
When homegrown wheat that’s never bought or sold and is consumed on one’s own property is outside the sphere of Federal control, the judicial branch simply redefines what the Founders considered “interstate commerce” and dictates that the Federal government controls virtually all commerce, and then even noneconomic activity.
Politicians in Congress and the executive branch — and the lobbyists who benefit financially from their unConstitutional acts — are all too happy to use this wealth of power.
For far too long, people have stood idly by, “voting the bums out” and hoping that a new crop of Federal politicians would ride in and save the day.
But, while new bums have come and gone (and come and gone), the day has yet to be saved.
Step By Step
Pushing off the yoke of an empire is not something that’s done in one fell swoop. This is something that the Penman of the Revolution recognized early on.
When I talk with people about resisting — and slowly but eventually nullifying — unConstitutional Federal acts, I rarely find opposition to the idea. Instead, I often hear things like “Yeah, but they have the guns!” Or, “I’m totally in favor of this, but it’ll never work, the Feds are too strong.” Or, “This will just crumble when DC takes away funding or jails opponents.”
Fear is something that obviously keeps traction through the ages, for Dickinson dealt with these same thoughts. He wrote in his third essay:
“Great Britain,” they say, “is too powerful to contend with; she is determined to oppress us; it is in vain to speak of right on one side, when there is power on the other; when we are strong enough to resist we shall attempt it; but now we are not strong enough, and therefore we had better be quiet; it signifies nothing to convince us that our rights are invaded when we cannot defend them; and if we should get into riots and tumults about the late act, it will only draw down heavier displeasure upon us.”
In the Revolutionary Period, like today, people were afraid of upsetting the status quo; and they urged others to sit idly by.
Are these men ignorant that usurpations, which might have been successfully opposed at first, acquire strength by continuance, and thus become irresistible?
The message? If we stand by and do nothing, we know what’s coming. Each small step toward liberty is an important one.
Today, dozens of States have considered — and many have passed — nonbinding resolutions reaffirming the Founders’ vision for the Federal government: that it should be one of limited, delegated powers. Fifteen States are actively defying both congress and the Supreme Court by allowing the use of marijuana. More than two dozen States have refused to comply with the Real ID act. Other States are taking steps to consider legislation that would nullify specific Federal acts like Obamacare, warrantless searches by the Transportation Security Administration, legal tender laws, the Food Safety and Modernization Act, and more.
While many of these acts might feel like small steps in the grand scheme of things — risking reprisals from the dangerous beast we call the Federal government — each thorn in the side of the empire is yet another essential step toward liberty.
For as a wise person once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
NOTE: The preceding is based on Michael Boldin’s monologue at the close of Tenther Radio Episode 20. Listen to the audio version here.