The Father of Bottom-Up Government

“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace.  We seek not your counsel, not your arms.  Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
–Samuel Adams, August 1, 1776

Californians vote in referendum to recall Gov. Gray Davis.  An outcry of opposition prevents Harriet Miers from becoming a Supreme Court justice.  The people veto a Dubai ports deal.  Texans say “no” to Gov. Rick Perry’s mandate for young girls to be vaccinated against cervical cancer.  Opposition mounts to the Trans-Texas Corridor.  Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas pass laws to make it difficult for illegal aliens to settle in those towns.

On my radio show, these are examples of what we call “Bottom-Up Government.”  

Simply put, Bottom-Up Government is what happens when the people believe that government at the highest levels is not functioning in an acceptable manner, and so the people get involved, pooling their resources to change what they don’t like.

To those who have been content to allow government to take care of their needs, this may seem like a new phenomenon.  It’s not.  Bottom-Up Government has a grand tradition that goes all the way back to colonial times.  In fact, it could be said that Bottom-Up Government was the force that created the United States of America.

In those days, colonists were unhappy about the tax policies imposed by Great Britain including the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  The rallying cry became “no taxation without representation.”   Samuel Adams had led the opposition to those acts and had been involved in every important aspect of the struggle against the British.

When the Tea Act was passed in London, allowing the British East India Company to land tea free from the tax, Samuel Adams stepped up again.

Most American ports had refused to allow the company to land with its tea.  But in Boston, a British-appointed governor was set to bring three ships in by force under the protection of British armed ships.

Adams put together three teams of 50 men called “The Sons of Liberty” and, disguised as Mohawks, boarded the ships the evening before they were due to land.  By nine o’clock that night they had dumped 342 crates of tea into Boston Harbor.  

That night — Thursday, December 16, 1773 — could well be the first important instance of Bottom-Up Government as we know it today.  

Adams and his men were sworn to do no damage, except to the tea.  They broke a padlock, but returned the next day to repair it.  The Boston Tea Party was a simple and forceful “no” to the prevailing government of the time.  The British responded with other laws known as the “Intolerable Acts,” but that did nothing to stop the movement.

The Tea Party led to other acts of Bottom-Up Government, and eventually to the American Revolution.  What Samuel Adams accomplished that night in Boston Harbor resonates to this day.  TIME Magazine, in its current “crying Reagan” issue, points out that Ronald Reagan was fond of reminding us that the Boston Tea Party was an anti-tax initiative.

To be more precise, the Tea Party was not so much anti-tax as it was simply against the people being hit with stiff taxes with little or no say in the matter.  In Texas today, the battle cry could be “no vaccination without representation.”  Across the United States in cities like Hazleton and Farmers Branch, it could be “if the government won’t enforce its own laws, we will.”

The Bottom-Up Government movement takes place largely outside the well-oiled system of lobbyists and political contributors.  Most of the time, those utilizing the First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances are individuals or loose coalitions of like-minded folks.  Sometimes the movement originates with small-town city councils or spreads through internet blogs or on talk radio.

So the next time you pop the top on a cool Samuel Adams brew, remember the Founding Father that it was named for — the man that Thomas Jefferson called “The Patriarch of Liberty.”  Adams would remind us not to “Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you” but to stand up to big government when it no longer represents the people.