"The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Thomas Jefferson
Shay's Rebellion was an armed social uprising in western and central Massachusetts during the last half of 1786 and spilling over into the first few months of 1787. The rebellion was born from egregious injustices enacted upon Revolutionary war veterans and meager farmhands from whom the state wrongfully confiscated personal and business-related items to pay back debts owed to European war investors. During this period, the framework of the United States' taxation and revenue code was dictated by the Articles of Confederation (the Constitution wasn't adopted until September of 1787) which was hopelessly inadequate to enforce federal law or collect the appropriate revenue to operate the country. Therefore, each state struggled to pay down its own debt accumulated during the war. Much of this debt repayment was placed on the backs of the poor.
It was in a response to Shay's Rebellion that Jefferson penned these words in a letter addressed to James Adam's son-in-law William Stephens Smith concerning the current state of affairs in Massachusetts. It's also been a favorite rallying cry for the recent activities of the Tea Party Movement during the past two years. One of the most visible events involving this phrase occurred in August 2009 when Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball (I really don't like that name.) berated a gentleman named William Kostric about his decision to bring a firearm to a presidential rally.
Here it is:
However, there are critical sections in the letter that are seldom, if ever, mentioned by the people who tout this phrase as a Libertarian calling card. In these passages, Jefferson emphasizes a much more sophisticated, and more moderate (especially given the period) view of social rebellion.
What country before ever existed...without rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon, and pacify them.
Snap out of it, Tea Partiers.
Yes, please question the government. But arm yourself with THE REAL AND ACTUAL FACTS, not someone else's talking points, and certainly not firearms.
"Let us hope we never become numb to what...the real blood of patriots looks like when it's spilled." Jon Stewart