When is it right for you to rebel against the negative powers working against you? When are so weighed down by someone or something that it is absolutely justified for you to strike back? Have you ever asked that? If so, then read on and let's look back in history and find a time when men of courage and perseverance did just that. Let the example of those who have gone before inspire and motivate you!
Rarely has the world seen such a formidable body of men gather together for a solemn purpose as when the members of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776.
In addition to the weighty duty of representing the citizens of their respective colonies, each of the delegates who would sign the Declaration of Independence brought something significant to Philadelphia: Jefferson brought his eloquence; the world famous, brilliant and elderly Ben Franklin lent celebrity and thus political cover; Sam Adams baptized the movement with fire and intensity; Witherspoon's religious credibility boosted the cause in the eyes of the devout.
Each signer was courageous and enormously significant; a few of them were truly indispensable.
But even among the giants of the American Revolution, one man stands out: John Hancock.
Hancock's early life did not obviously reveal that he would become a leader in the independence movement. Hancock was educated at the Boston Latin School and Harvard, graduating from college when he was 17 years old. He then went to work for his uncle, and quickly gained a reputation for being capable and honest. He was even sent on trade trips to England and on one of these he observed ? perhaps presciently ? the coronation of King George III.
When he was still a young man, he became the heir to the family shipping and import/export fortune and the richest man in Massachusetts. He thus took his place among the Boston elite ? most of whom remained unwaveringly loyal to the British crown, no matter what abuses were heaped upon the colonies.
But Hancock would take a different course. He sided with the independence movement. As the crown taxed the colonies and hampered their commerce, Hancock struggled to maintain his business and supply necessities to colonial merchants. As the measures of King George III against the colonists became more oppressive and lawless, Hancock became more evasive and covert.
He simply refused to give in. He organized a boycott of British tea and began smuggling lead, glass and paper into Massachusetts. Other merchants ? even if they were not as eager to stick their neck out as Hancock ? relied on him to fill their shops. And the customers of those merchants who purchased the necessities of life in those shops also depended on Hancock. Had Hancock taken the easy way out, plenty of people would have suffered.
Hancock named the ship used in his smuggling operation Liberty and she rapidly became a tangible symbol of the cause of colonial independence, if not a celebrity of sorts. When Liberty was impounded by the British in 1768, a riot followed.
During the 1770's, Hancock was involved in every significant development leading up to the Declaration: the Boston Tea Party, the organization of the minutemen, the financing of the resistance. Indeed, it was often stated that, "Sam Adams wrote the letters to the newspapers, and John Hancock paid the postage."
He worked tirelessly behind the scenes, but he was not afraid to take a bold public stand, as well. In his famous speech commemorating the Boston Massacre of 1770, Hancock spoke to crowds in Boston, and reminded them never to forget the events of the previous year:
"Let this sad tale of death never be told, without a tear; let not the heaving bosom cease to burn with a manly indignation at the relation of it, through the long tracks of future time; let every parent tell the shameful story to his listening children, till tears of pity glisten in their eyes, or boiling passion shakes their tender frames."
He then turned his wrath directly on those soldiers who, in a moment of cowardice and panic, fired a volley into a crowd of civilians:
"Dark and designing knaves, murderers, parricides! How dare you tread upon the earth, which has drunk the blood or slaughtered innocence shed by your hands? How dare you breathe that air, which wafted to the ear of heaven the groans of those who fell a sacrifice to your accursed ambition? -- But if the labouring earth doth not expand her jaws; if the air you breathe is not commissioned to be the minister of death; yet, hear it, and tremble! The eye of heaven penetrates the darkest chambers of the soul; and you, though screened from human observation, must be arraigned, must lift your hands, red with the blood of those whose death you have procured, at the tremendous bar of God."
With words like that, it is little wonder that Hancock would soon be charged with treason and become a wanted man.
Fast forward to April of 1775. After a considerable build up of tension between the royalist military governor of Massachusetts and local independence-minded patriots, martial law was declared and a crackdown on the insurgents was ordered. Hancock and Sam Adams were publicly denounced as traitors and their arrest was ordered. Fortunately for Hancock and Adams, they had been warned by Paul Revere and were able to escape and hide before the arrival of troops.
The governor's troops then marched to Concord where the colonial militiamen were stockpiling weapons and gunpowder. The militiamen and red coats met. The Battle of Lexington and Concord followed, the "shot heard round the world."
When the smoke cleared, more than fifty of the colonial militia had been killed. The Crown had declared war on the colonies. What would the response be?
In John Hancock's mind, the necessary response was obvious.
Because of his certainty of purpose, Hancock was elected President of the Continental Congress. One of his first acts (and obviously his most significant one) was to commission George Washington as the chief military officer of the united army of the colonies.
By the time the delegates met in Philadelphia, Hancock's bold and famous signature on the Declaration was a mere formality. He had already put his life, fortune and sacred honor on the line in the cause of independence. In fact, he likely welcomed the company of the other signers! His large and flamboyant signature went down in history and this quote ? likely apocryphal ? has often been attributed to him: "The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward." Whether he actually said that or not, the sentiment is pure Hancock, fearless and defiant. Little wonder his name became synonymous with the word "signature".
During the Revolutionary War which followed, the burden of financing the war and supplying the troops with necessities fell largely on Hancock. He did not fail to deliver. As if that were not enough, in 1780, with a few years remaining in the war, Hancock was elected as the first governor of Massachusetts - a post he held until his death in 1793.
With victory and the Treaty of Paris, you might think that things would slow down for Hancock, but that was hardly the case. He was called upon time and again. He represented Massachusetts under the Articles of Confederation and was the seventh President of the United States in Congress. With the demise of the Articles, as governor of Massachusetts, he became a major voice for ratification of the U.S. Constitution. In the new United States, he pushed for the creation of a powerful navy - a move which proved to be critical to the new nation's survival in the War of 1812.
For most of his life, John Hancock expended an enormous amount of energy for the cause of liberty and for American independence. While no one can challenge Washington for the title of "Father of our Country", Hancock would be a strong contender for the title of "Grandfather of our Country".
What does the life of John Hancock mean for us today? So long as there are people who want to take away the freedoms of other people, we should not forget John Hancock.
His response ? his disobedience to the governmental forces which oppressed him and other colonists ? is not universally applicable. As the Declaration argues, governments should not be overthrown or disobeyed for trivial reasons. But sometimes governments should, indeed, must be disobeyed.
Take, for example, the story of a handful of Texas families in the late '70's and early '80's. For various and diverse reasons, they had exercised their liberty to teach their children at home rather than in the public schools or in a private academy.
They were on solid legal ground to do so. As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Texas history knew, the Texas compulsory attendance law enacted in 1916 did not preclude education at home. More than a few Texans were doing just that when the law was passed. After all, there were not that many private or public schools in the state at that time, certainly not enough to accommodate all Texas children. It was simply understood that many Texas children were taught at home before, during and after the passage of the compulsory attendance law. It never occurred to anyone that compulsory attendance outlawed learning at home.
That is, until 1981 when a bright staff attorney for the Texas Education Agency suddenly announced that homeschooling was not one of the exceptions to compulsory attendance. Shortly after that, an assistant general counsel ? not to be outdone in zeal to curtail freedom -- announced even more bluntly: "The compulsory student attendance laws of the State of Texas do not permit students to be taught at home."
Never mind history and the traditional freedoms which Texans had always enjoyed. "There is a new sheriff in town," was the flavor of the Texas Education Agency's argument.
Sound familiar? "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."
After the announcement of this novel interpretation of a six decade-old statute, the State of Texas actually began prosecuting disobedient, noncompliant parents ? those stubborn parents who refused to bow their knee to the dictates of the State. In all, some 150 prosecutions were initiated, and about 80 of them were actually tried. And some were convicted. By 1984, teaching your own children at home in Texas had become a criminal offense!
Enter the plaintiffs in Leeper v. Texas Education Association. Some of them had already been criminally prosecuted for their refusal to obey the State; some of them had been threatened with prosecution. Some of them had been financially harmed by Texas' criminalization of homeschooling. But they all had this in common: like John Hancock, they did not regard recent pronouncements from a crazed King, er, State agency demonstrating willful ignorance of history as being the final word on the matter. They were not willing to let their freedom, the freedom of others and the freedom of the next generation to be squandered simply because they couldn't stomach a bit of a fight. Rather, they geared up for the battle. Though they had few resources, in their hearts they knew they were right and the "red coats" were wrong.
The case took about a decade to end. But the final shot was fired by the Texas Supreme Court in 1995 when it unanimously announced that from that point on (just as before) the Texas compulsory attendance law could no longer be used to make criminals out of parents who teach their children at home. The conflict was obviously not bloody, unlike the American Revolution. But the stakes were high.
If they had acquiesced, that freedom would have been lost. What is the next freedom we would lose?
If we value freedom, then from time to time, we need John Hancocks. We need people to continue to import goods or educate their children or refuse to move to the back of the bus? even if the State tells them otherwise.
Only through occasional active disobedience and confrontation will our historic freedoms be protected. Let's hope that whenever the next big deprivation of freedom occurs, there are some John Hancocks among us who will be willing to disobey and fight.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. -- Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
Rebellion is also personal and when a tyrannical force is oppressing your life ? when you are weighted down by anxiety, fear, bordeom, lack of confidence, meaning and vision, it is time to strike back, and strike back violently. Make a list of your shortcomings ? your enemies ? and systematically eliminate them from your life.
Mark Cole is an attorney, husband and homeschool father in Texas. To learn more about men like John Hancock and to see how they can inspire you, visit his website at http://www.conversationsfromthepast.com