Last Saturday night, February 26, 2005, I was asked to give the keynote address to the annual Ancient Order of Hibernians dinner. The Hibernians are a group of Irish immigrants and descendants.
In attendance were several prominent republicans including United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, appointed by President Reagan.
I hope Blue Oregon readers enjoy reading my remarks even a fraction as much as I enjoyed researching and writing the speech.
I am going to let you all in on a little secret. Some of you might think that I learned to distrust a government that has no strong checks and balances over the course of my 12 years holding political office, or during my 12 years as president of the firefighters union. But, in fact, I didn’t learn my distrust… with me, it’s a genetic pre disposition.
I just can’t help it.
But let me explain by telling you a story of long ago. A story that takes place before the Declaration of Independence, but nonetheless helped lead to its writing.
The men met at the Green Dragon Tavern in North Boston. Upstairs they headed, above the tavern, in a meeting room later called “the headquarters of the American Revolution.” Only those who were sworn members of the secret society, The Sons of Liberty, were allowed.
The members of the Sons of Liberty wore a jewel around their neck that other members knew meant that they were one of their sacred –if covert- brothers in arms. Contained within the jewel was a picture of the Liberty Tree. As an extra precaution, the Sons of Liberty were known to have their own secret language.
But this night they knew could lead to each of their deaths. Therefore, they took an extra security precaution that they knew no man of this time and place would ever betray. Each participant held his right hand on the Bible and took the sacred oath of secrecy. In this society, a man may betray another man, but never God.
It was a bitter cold but fateful night. Those who met upstairs at the tavern were determined to brew some tea…American style. A mixture that was made up of 90,000 lbs of British black tea steeped in the ice cold salt water of Boston Harbor.
It was December 16, 1773 and the Boston Tea Party was to be hosted by angry but determined patriots. These colonists and immigrants had decided enough was enough. And it is a mistake to think their grievance was solely motivated by the unfair taxation of tea that led to the ruin of American tea merchants.
The gathered group of men hated the military presence of King George III’s army. And they still had a score to settle with the British who had massacred 5 of their fellow Bostonians less than 4 years before.
Among the ranks of Patriots who were to spit in the eye of the great British Empire that night was my 4th Great Grandfather, Thomas White.
Thomas White was born in Kilkenny, Ireland on March 19, 1739. After immigrating to America, he made his way to Philadelphia in early 1771. He met and married my 4th Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Jones, within months of his arrival in the city of Brotherly Love.
Thomas White did not fade into history after poking the British in the eye that December night 211 years ago.
He went on to serve bravely in the Revolutionary War as a soldier of the Continental Army in the Second Pennsylvania Regiment.
But Thomas White’s fight against the Crown, tragically, did not end with the British being defeated in the Revolutionary War.
Three of his sons again fought the British in the War of 1812. One of those three, my 3rd Great Grand Uncle, Ezekiel White, was killed in the bloodiest battle of that war.
I can only imagine how the 73 year old Irishman and his wife Elizabeth received the news of the death of their beloved son at the hands of an enemy Thomas believed he had vanquished for good just 30 years before.
That should be a lesson to all of us. Never drop your guard…and most important of all…never forget.
My wife, Julie, fears I have inherited some of the rebel genes passed on by my Great Grandfather White.
Although I think her fears are overblown, I do admit to fantasizing that our generations King George the 2nd, err, umm, excuse me, I mean President Bush, would force upon our city a ship load of under priced foreign coffee.
None of us should ever be content to trade our freedoms and liberty for some illusory promise of security.
As Thomas Jefferson said “He who trades liberty for security deserves neither and will lose both.”
But having said that, of course, all of us want to protect our families and fellow countrymen from attacks from others who would do us harm.
However, none of us should ever allow our government to exploit the need we all have to be secure in our homes as a justification to spy on law abiding citizens who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their constitutional right of freedom of religion, assembly and speech.
It would not be the first time our government sought to restrict the freedoms given us by our Constitutions Bill of Rights fought for by Thomas White and his fellow Patriots.
The Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 was used to suppress free speech among citizens, including, ironically, Thomas Jefferson.
The Sedition Act of 1918 made it a crime to criticize by speech or writing the government or constitution.
And finally, and most profoundly shocking, is Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942.
That order caused the internment of all Japanese, including those Japanese-American citizens born in the United States, within military relocation camps in 1942.
I know the government is capable of misusing and abusing its power. Not just from history, but from the blood of my ancestors that flows through my veins, including that old Irishman, the Rebel Thomas White.
The right to be free from government intrusion into our lives as citizens is not just something I believe in. It is, I am humbly proud to say, my heritage.
Names like the Patriot Act cause a visceral reaction deep within me. Not just because of the onerous provisions contained within it, but more because of the name. I suspect the authors intentionally used the name “Patriot Act” to conjure up the tag of disloyalty if others opposed its darker provisions. The authors knew they could not appeal to our reason therefore they settled to appeal to our fears.
I believe that my Great Grandfather White, one of the original true Patriots, would agree with me.
As you may have read, I am opposed to the City of Portland’s continued participation in the so called Joint Terrorism Task force unless certain checks and balances are put in writing between the FBI and the Portland City Council.
Just two weeks ago, the Oregonian Editorial Board made the following observation about my efforts to hold our police accountable;
"The Portland City Council has a ton of weighty issues on its plate. That's what makes it so irksome to see time and energy being wasted on whether city police should continue participating in the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Commissioner Randy Leonard is leading the charge. He says he'll vote against rejoining the task force unless the feds agree to reimburse the city for its costs and agree to grant the mayor and police chief the same level of security clearances as the two Portland officers who serve on the operation.
Leonard and his fellow foot-draggers on the council say there isn't enough civilian oversight of the task force's work. They worry about ensuring that city officers aren't breaking Oregon laws or violating community standards."
Thomas White and his fellow rebels put their all on the line to bequeath to their descendants the liberty we all now enjoy.
But my 4th Great Grandfather, the Irishman who braved the deadly cold waters of the Atlantic in the 18th century to journey to this place of promise, the man who fought government domination, the man who gave his son to the same cause, would tell us to never drop our guard, never do that which may be easier or safer if your heart tells you otherwise and never allow the government to begin encroaching on the liberties and rights he and his fellow Revolutionaries fought to bequeath us.
And in case any of us ever forget that, Thomas White has a monument that marks his grave that has the following inscription:
"IN MEMORIUM OF THOMAS WHITE ONE OF THE BRAVE HEROES OF THE BOSTON TEA PARTY, DEC. 16, 1773,
AND A REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIER AND PATRIOT FOR AMERICAN INDEPENDANCE,
WAS BORN IN IRELAND, MARCH 19, 1739,
DIED SEPT. 13, 1820,
AGED 81 Y'RS, 5 MO'S, 24 DAYS
THY WARFARE O'ER
DREAM OF FIGHTING FIELDS NO MORE
HOW SLEEP THE BRAVE WHO SINK TO REST,
BY ALL THEIR COUNTRY'S WISHES BLEST."