What would George Washington think? Clive Bundy edition
A friend arrived in America, from Moscow, last Sunday. I had planned, as a kind of welcome to America surprise, to ask her to go with me to Nevada, to help protect Clive Bundy from the neo-Redcoats who were threatening him. Sadly, having grown up in big cities, I’m not good with a gun. However, I had planned to bring along a copy of my book about my great uncle George Washington, hold it up to the news cameras, and explain what George Washington would think about all this.
The fact that the feds backed off this time, as they had not done in Ruby Ridge or Waco, scuttled my plans. However, after thinking it through, I was slightly disappointed to realize George Washington might not agree with me on this one. There was, after all, the Whiskey Rebellion, a dispute similar to Clive Bundy’s, in which George Washington sided with the federal government (he was its president at the time, so had little choice, but went beyond the call of duty by personally leading the armed force that made the protesters back down.)
Thomas Jefferson took the opposite side of George Washington in that dispute. He had recently said, “God forbid we should ever be 20 years” without an armed rebellion, in the same letter as his famous line, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Siding, emotionally, with Bundy and Jefferson, I was even more disappointed to learn that there are court decisions about lands that had belonged to the Federal government before Nevada’s incorporation that lend at least some credence to the federal government’s position. Then again, there was the Dred Scott decision, and everything the British did that led to our Revolution, all of which were perfectly legal.
Of course, even being right, or probably right, about opaque legal issues or easement rights or Constitutional interpretations, does not give you the right to burn babies, as happened in Waco, or shoot unarmed baby-carrying women, as happened in Ruby Ridge, or to assault a pregnant women, as happened outside Clive Bundy’s ranch. I wonder what George Washington’s punishment would have been for any of his soldiers who did these sorts of things?
In the end, though, the good guys won, and I finally figured out why. This made me reconsider what George Washington would think about Clive Bundy.
What happened in Nevada can be seen as an American, armed version of Gandhi’s protests, with more similarities than might be readily apparent. Gandhi won, to the extent he did, not because he did what he did, but because what he did was filmed. When these films were shown to the British public as part of newsreels, they had an effect on its conscience that far more strenuous protests never had had when seen only by colonial rulers.
Likewise, in Nevada, without the presence of the media, things would have gone down much differently. An early echo from Waco and Ruby Ridge was seen when the feds were prevented neither by their personal morality nor their “rules of engagement” from assaulting a pregnant woman. Nor did any half-remembered school lesson in government or the Constitution prevent them from setting up a Putin-Sochi-Orwell style, fenced in, “First Amendment Area”, surrounded by goons with guns, where patriots attempting to exercise their rights would be allowed to uselessly baa like sheep for the amusement of their armed keepers.
George Washington, knowing all of this, might have sided with Thomas Jefferson on this one. Cohesion in the face of a splintering new government of which he was the first President is one thing, subservience to a government grown wildly out of control is another.
Is this the Whiskey Rebellion the best parallel, or Bunker Hill?
Austin Washington is the descendant of two of George Washington’s brothers, and is the author of The Education of George Washington.