Blogs > Liberty and Power > Someone posts this every year; this year it's me

Apr 19, 2010 10:27 am

Someone posts this every year; this year it's me

[BTW, does anyone know the author of this classic?]

"Assault weapon" confiscation turns violent in Boston

Scores Killed, Hundreds Injured As Para-Military Extremists Riot

BOSTON, April 19 - National Guard units seeking to confiscate a cache of recently banned assault weapons were ambushed on April 19th by elements of a paramilitary extremist faction. Military and law enforcement sources estimated that 72 were killed and more than 20 injured before government forces were compelled to withdraw.

Speaking after the clash, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage declared that the extremist faction, which was made up of local citizens, has links to the radical right-wing tax protest movement. Gage blamed the extremists for recent incidents of vandalism directed against internal revenue offices.

The governor, who described the group's organizers as "criminals," issued an executive order authorizing the summary arrest of any individual who has interfered with the government's efforts to secure law and order.

The military raid on the extremist arsenal followed wide-spread refusal by the local citizenry to turn over recently outlawed assault weapons. Gage issued a ban on military-style assault weapons and ammunition earlier in the week. This decision followed a meeting in early April between government and military leaders at which the
governor authorized the forcible confiscation of illegal arms. One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that "none of these people would have been killed had the extremists obeyed the law and turned their weapons over voluntarily."

"Government troops initially succeeded in confiscating a large supply of outlawed weapons and ammunition. However, troops attempting to seize arms and ammunition in Lexington met with resistance from heavily-armed extremists who had been tipped off regarding the government's plans.

During a tense standoff in Lexington's town park, National Guard Colonel Francis Smith, commander of the government operation, ordered the armed group to surrender and return to their homes. The impasse was broken by a single shot, which was reportedly fired by one of the right-wing extremists. Eight civilians were killed in the ensuing

Ironically, the local citizenry blamed government forces rather than the extremists for the civilian deaths. Before order could be restored, armed citizens from surrounding areas had descended upon the guard units. Colonel Smith, finding his forces overmatched by the armed mob, ordered a retreat.

Governor Gage has called upon citizens to support the state/national joint task force in its effort to restore law and order. The governor has also demanded the surrender of those responsible for planning and leading the attack against the government troops. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, who have been identified as "ringleaders" of
the extremist faction, remain at large.

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Andrew D. Todd - 4/24/2010

Well, what was happening in North America in 1775 was not unprecedented. It was a rerun of what had happened in England in 1642 and 1688, especially the latter. In 1688-89, the king's Irish troops took on something of the same overtones that the Hessians would take on during the American revolution. The notion of a purely godlike king had been separated along with Charles I's head, back in 1649. When Charles II came back in 1660, he was very much on probation, and he knew it. James II didn't recognize the limitations in his position, and consequently, he didn't last very long. The revolution of 1688 which chucked him out, after only three years, was in large part organized by his own daughters, in combination with the Whig Grandees (*) in particular, and Parliament in general. You know, Princess Anne and the warming pan business. The new king William III, the Staatholder of Holland, understood that, as a foreigner, he had to drive a bargain with Parliament for his crown.

(*) People like John Churchill, eventual Duke of Marlborough.

Read G.M. Trevelyan, _The English Revolution, 1688-89_ (1938) and also Michael Zuckerman, _Peaceable Kingdoms: New England Towns in the Eighteenth Century_ (1970).

Consider the following passage, from Parliament's proclamation of 1689: "That King James the Second, having endeavored to subvert the Constitution of the Kingdom, by breaking the Original Contract between King and people, and by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons having violated the fundamental laws and withdrawn himself out of the Kingdom, hath abdicated the government and that the throne is therefore vacant." (Trevelyan, p.77, pbk ed. 1970) This is, in essence, an article of impeachment.

Here is a passage of Macaulay, which is also applicable, describing the period when King James' army was deserting, regiment by regiment, to King William: "...but during a few days [Lord Cornbury] stood alone in his shame, and was bitterly reviled by many who afterwards imitated his example and envied his dishonorable precedence. Among these was his own father. The first outbreak of [Lord] Clarendon's rage and sorrow was highly pathetic. 'Oh God,' he ejaculated, 'that a son of mine should be a rebel!' A fortnight later he made up his mind to be a rebel himself. Yet it would be unjust to pronounce him a mere hypocrite. In revolutions men live fast: the experience of years is crowded into hours: old habits of thought and action are violently broken: novelties, which at first sight inspire dread and disgust, become in a few days familiar, endurable, attractive. Many men of far purer virtue and higher spirit than Clarendon were prepared, before that memorable year ended, to do what they would have pronounced wicked and infamous when it began." (Thomas Babbington Macaulay, The History of England, ed., abrig. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Penguin, 1979 [orig. pub., 1848-1861], pp. 272-73). In 1775, the town fathers of Lexington and Concord were going through the same kind of mental evolution in 1775. Men who had difficulty changing their minds in a hurry wound up being replaced in public offices by their sons or nephews.

From Zuckerman, one should take the point that, short of gross abuse, New England towns were allowed to conduct both their own internal immigration policies, and their own internal democratic procedures (qualification of electors, election of officers, etc.) without any real review from the provincial authorities, and they were allowed to do this for the better part of a hundred years. Precedent had grown up that each town was accustomed to regarding itself as its own little commonwealth. Towns did things like compelling a farmer to sell his outlying land and move closer to the village center because he didn't get to church often enough.

In short, when the King began trying to collect taxes without the permission of the legislature, it was a novelty beyond the memory of man.

Meanwhile, what had been happening in England in the course of the eighteenth century was that landholding had been becoming more concentrated, and democracy was suffering in consequence, because there were fewer people with the necessary land to be freeholders. Quite apart of from Bills of Enclosure (to you libertarians, things like the Kelo and Atlantic Yards cases), the great landowners had been buying up small parcels of land and consolidating them. If a small farmer sold out and moved to America, a great lord would probably be the ultimate purchaser of the farmer's land. "Rotten boroughs" were becoming more common, because there was no constitutional mechanism for periodic re-adjustment of parliamentary representation. Migration from the south-west of England to London and the north resulted in boroughs in the southwest which had votes in Parliament, but few or no inhabitants, the extreme case being Old Sarum. Parliament was becoming dominated by the "placeman" system, and it was becoming increasingly feasible for the King to simply buy a parliamentary majority. There were a few troublesome boroughs, especially around London, notably Westminster, which had thousands of voters, and returned Thomas-Paine-like radicals, such as John Wilkes and Sir Francis Burdett, but the controlled parliament could simply censure and expel these radicals, and Royal troops could arrest these dissident members of parliament, and haul them off to the Tower of London. It is understandable how George III might have suddenly got the idea that he was King by divine right, but that was not an idea which would recommend itself to a community of men who owned their own land.

Aeon J. Skoble - 4/23/2010

"Once you accept the premise that authority flows from the assembled people and not from the King, there was nothing remotely unlawful or unauthorized about Parker's actions."

That can't be right. Town charters or no, they were under British rule, and opposing the commands of the British governors would have to be illegal. I agree that the King doesn't _really_ have any authority, so I wouldn't say the minutemen acted wrongly, but it's definitely illegal. OTOH Ben Franklin quipped "Rebellion is always legal in the first person - our rebellion - it is only in the third person, their rebellion, that it is illegal."

Andrew D. Todd - 4/22/2010

My reaction is that this piece is the kind of "schlock" history which far-right extremists put forward. I am not a Colonial/Early America historian, but referring to Robert A. Gross, _The Minutemen and Their World_ (1976), I should like to make a couple of points. The Minutemen were not in any sense self-appointed or self-chosen. They were the creatures of the town government, the town meetings. The towns held charters from the royal governors, often dating back to the early seventeenth century, laying out their boundaries. Pursuant to these charters, the freeholders of the towns, typically seventy or eighty percent of the adult males, met in the town meeting-house (which was also the church), to make laws, to elect selectmen and representatives to the colonial legislature (the General Court), to elect a clergyman for the town and negotiate his salary, and to appoint other officials, such as officers of militia. The towns were typically single parishes, and like any other English parish, these parishes ran their own welfare states.

When relations with the Crown had deteriorated, the colonial legislature, the General Court, had responded by moving inland, beyond the reach of royal troops, and had met at Concord. The General Court had issued instructions to every town in Massachusetts to set up new organizations, such as Committees of Correspondence and Defense. When it became necessary to organize quick response units-- the Minutemen-- there was difficulty in raising sufficient numbers, because men feared that military drill would interfere with their livelihoods. The town fathers' response was first to exert pressure, not quite amounting to conscription, and, once their point was made, to grant additional pay. The carrot and the stick. The men whom the town meetings appointed as officers were largely the same men who were chosen as selectmen, and as representatives to the General Court, and allowing for differences in generations, they were the same men the royal governor had appointed as Justices of the Peace. When Captain Parker of Lexington formed up his company, he did so under orders from the assembled freeholders of Massachusetts, as well as the town fathers of Lexington. Once you accept the premise that authority flows from the assembled people and not from the King, there was nothing remotely unlawful or unauthorized about Parker's actions.

When a group of young men in the year 2010 assemble, and call themselves the such-and-such militia, one certainty is that it would be impossible to draw a line on the map, enclosing a reasonably compact region which incorporates their ordinary places of residence, and allows sufficient space for roads connecting these places of residence, etc., in such a way that they and their families would be a majority within that line, or even a substantial minority. They are in fact the malcontents of many towns and cities, and even different states. Nor, one finds, do they have any intention of "in-gathering in the wilderness," the way the Mormons did, to establish a community and live in their own way. The men-calling-themselves-a-militia wish, in fact, to rule the larger community, only they are unable to succeed at the ballot box. That is the big difference between them and Captain Parker.

Aeon J. Skoble - 4/21/2010

You're welcome! It was making the rounds on the internet a couple years ago and I saved it. Since no one forwarded it to me this year, I figured I'd post it, rather than my usual anecdote about visiting Concord and getting teary.

Keith Halderman - 4/20/2010

Thanks for posting this I had never seen it before.

Robert Horn - 4/19/2010

It was not "National Guard" units, it was a joint task force of Regular Army and Marines.