My Turn, Anne Palmer: Lessons for divided country found in America’s history

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 1, 2022

By Anne Palmer

Several weeks ago, an opinion piece appeared in the Salisbury Post that seemed to equate obtaining the COVID-19 vaccination with being a patriot (“What is a patriot? Those who love country more than themselves”). Because I have the highest regard personally for that writer, I have continued to mull over his argument. Nevertheless, I must beg to differ with his conclusion.

Recently, a biography of Patrick Henry fell into my hands. Published in the early 1960s, it is obviously unconcerned with the current controversy: one which threatens the fabric of our country. Does that sentence seem too extreme? Please hear me out before you make a judgment.

If you could choose what has differentiated America from all other countries, I believe it could be distilled into one word: freedom. Our immigrant ancestors to these shores sought the freedom to worship without persecution. They came seeking a fresh start, where their courage and hard work and faith would help them determine their own destiny.

Settlements developed in the country, and while the people were not represented in Britain’s parliament, more than 100 years passed with relative self-determination. And then a “king arose in England” who did not know or care about his American “subjects,” seeing them only as a source of income for his own poorly administered financial affairs. King George III instituted the infamous Stamp Act, which taxed all American-owned goods.

While some leaders still believed loyalty to the crown of England required their compliance with this order, others saw it as a blatant overreach by the throne to fill its own coffers while impoverishing the colonists. Patrick Henry was chief among those dissenting, and he drafted seven “resolves” which defied the authority of the king to levy such taxes. When his resolves were narrowly passed by the then-governing colonial House of Burgesses, the die was cast.

Patrick Henry’s oration expressed what thousands of colonists thought but dared not say. His words helped to galvanize those who had tasted freedom and recognized an outside threat.

With rebellion building in the colonies and wise advice from some sympathetic members of British Parliament, the Stamp Act was repealed! But it was soon followed by another attempt by the throne to garner needed funds by issuing the Townshend Duties (levies) on many different goods which England exported to America. These, too, were vehemently opposed by the growing unity the independent-minded colonists were forging.

Once more, King George backed down on enforcing Parliament’s law and the Townshend duties were repealed, with the added assurance that there would be no more taxes levied on the colonies … But again, the crown did not remain true to its word. Does the “Boston Tea Party” ring a bell for students of early American history?

Why go into the details of our country’s early struggle for independence? Our country stands currently divided over many issues, and there are some who promulgate that division because it provides distraction from other very important matters which should be addressed. I believe we can draw some important lessons for our current divided state by considering the wisdom distilled from this country’s founding fathers in their struggles against the tyranny of Britain’s King George.

Here are some quotations from records of our country’s early history — familiar words which may ring true to you as you read them again:
• Taxation without representation is tyranny.
• When the law ends, tyranny begins.
• United we stand; divided we fall.

The core of the division over the present administration’s vaccination mandate is actually not the COVID vaccination! Rather, the supremely important issue is the high-handed mandate itself. Our government is set up with three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. And only the legislative branch is entrusted with making laws — not the executive branch, not the judicial branch. Tyranny?

There are at least two sides to any issue — sometimes more. But let not fear drive a wedge in our relationships with each other. Let not unconstitutional mandates be used as a cudgel to force compliance with an issue where appeals to “science” may be presented on both sides. Let not our defensiveness or self-righteousness override civility in our search for common ground and reason. As the yard signs say, “We’re all in this together.”

Anne Palmer lives in the Salisbury. The opinion piece she’s responding to was published on Sunday, Dec. 20.