On this July 4th holiday I hope that you will take a moment to truly consider the sacrifices made by so many generations of Americans that have made us free. I would like to share with you an idea from our nation’s birth that may have been forgotten by many. No doubt you have heard of a group that paved the way to the American Revolution known as the Sons of Liberty?
What you may not know is that this group of patriots started small as a group of agitators known as the Loyal Nine. The name came from the fact that this group consisted of only nine men, committed to agitation of the Stamp Act. The Loyal Nine began in the summer of 1765, eleven years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Within one year, their number would grow to over two thousand men known as the Sons of Liberty. Possibly, they are best remembered for their role in the Boston Tea Party and in the tarring and feathering of Stamp Tax collectors.
If you are unfamiliar with the Stamp Act, it was a direct tax by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The Stamp Act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. These printed materials included legal documents, magazines, newspapers and many other types of paper used throughout the colonies. Like previous taxes, the stamp tax had to be paid in valid British currency, not in colonial paper money.
A great many of the Sons of Liberty were printers and publishers themselves, and even those who were not were sympathetic to the cause. It was they who would pay the most as a result of the Stamp Act. Nearly every newspaper in the colonies carried daily reports of the activities of the Sons. Accounts of the most dramatic escapades spread throughout the colonies. In one most remarkable incident, an account of the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions was printed far and wide. The ultimate effect of such reporting was to embolden both citizens and Legislatures in every colony.
When the Stamp Act became effective on November 1st of 1765, nearly all of these papers went right on publishing without the required Stamp. One of the direct goals of the Stamp Act was to crack down on free speech by these colonial newspapers. Why was the work of the Sons of Liberty so important to the coming revolution? Because the newspaper printers of the colonies were the original American alternative media. These newspapers were able to speak against propaganda pushed by the British authority.
Today, we commonly use words like “liberty” and “freedom” to describe our lives and our nation without considering the cost of those words. It is easy to discuss these things when the majority of people in our nation embrace the language. Today as you celebrate this Independence Day, whether it be with a family BBQ or a fireworks display, consider for moment that at one time the idea of independence was not accepted by the majority of people in the colonies until a faithful few- like the Loyal Nine- stepped out and did the work of a patriot. Speaking out against tyranny, even when the majority would not do so. Perhaps it was the work of the Loyal Nine and the Sons of Liberty that inspired another patriot, Samuel Adams, to write:
“It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”
Happy Independence Day!