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“But in order to maintain the Union unimpaired, it is absolutely necessary that the laws passed by the constituted authorities should be faithfully executed in every part of the country, and that every good citizen should at all times stand ready to put down, with the combined force of the nation, every attempt at unlawful resistance, under whatever pretext it may be made or whatever shape it may assume…
You have no longer any cause to fear danger from abroad; your strength and power are well known throughout the civilized world, as well as the high and gallant bearing of your sons. It is from within, among yourselves, from cupidity, from corruption, from disappointed ambition, and inordinate thirst for power, that factions will be formed and liberty endangered… You have the highest of human trusts committed to your care. Providence has showered on this favored land blessings without number, and has chosen you, as the guardians of freedom, to preserve it for the benefit of the human race. May He who holds in his hands the destinies of nations make you worthy of the favors He has bestowed, and enable you, with pure hearts, and pure hands, and sleepless vigilance, to guard and defend to the end of time the great charge He has committed to your keeping.
My own race is nearly run; advanced age and failing health warn me that before long I must pass beyond the reach of human events and cease to feel the vicissitudes of human affairs. I thank God that my life has been spent in a land of liberty, and that he has given me a heart to love my country with the affection of a son. And filled with gratitude for your constant and unwavering kindness, I bid you a last and affectionate farewell.”
Excerpted from Andrew Jackson’s 1837 Farewell Address. This speech was given to mark Jackson’s retirement from both the presidency and public life. He would spend the remainder of his life at his home in Nashville, where he died in 1845.
The first section of these elevated words came bounding into my mind this morning as I watched coverage of Cliven Bundy’s Nevada saga debated by a panel of experts on CNN. That this stand-off is happening is strange enough; that it’s being discussed in earnest by talking heads on major networks is positively surreal. If there is anything worth saying about this self-parodying story it’s this: arming a militia is not a substitute for settling your grievances with fellow citizens, government, or law through established legal channels. For twenty years, Bundy grazed 900 cattle on 600,000 acres of public land, and he’s racked up a million-dollar tab. Obviously he doesn’t want to pay, but that money is owed — owed to the American taxpayer. If Bundy, his friends, or anyone else in Nevada had an issue with the Bureau of Land Management or the proportion of land aggregated to the Federal Government in their state, then they could have made their beef known on the streets and eventually on ballots and/or bills. Instead, as numerous sources have described, they only now decided to grab their rifles, form a barricade… and “put all the women up at the front.” Real honorable, guys.
While being interviewed by Sean Hannity last week, Bundy compared himself and his gang to the Minutemen of the American Revolution. Hannity apparently didn’t see anything objectionable in this claim, nodding in agreement as if it’s inherently legitimate to challenge taxation and the powers that be, so long as you do it with a cowboy hat, gun, and accent. But it’s not. The rule of law is not a slogan, nor is threatening federal agents with violence a game. John Adams wasn’t prattling like a pundit when he observed we are a nation of laws not a nation of men. Folks like Bundy are fond of railing against the takers in our society who depend on forms of government assistance like food stamps. But Bundy has literally and knowingly been mooching off of the federal government for two decades, only to now be feigning confusion and outrage when the bill, visible from miles away, comes due.
- Martin Luther King describes when and how you should break the law
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- Thomas Paine delineates society from government