Blog of Obscurity

A Very Munchkinly Blog

Sunday, April 24, 2005

So a man can stand up

I recently read Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. I can't imagine how I've missed this book all my life, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It should be required reading for every American child; and that would be no hardship because it's a delightful story with well-formed characters that are easy to like, and feel for.

It takes place at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and I want to share the passage that impressed me the most deeply. The scene is a secret meeting of the Boston Sons of Liberty, with Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Adams, Joseph Warren and James Otis in attendance (as well as the fictional characters Johnny Tremain and his friend, Rab). Otis has barged in to the meeting late, and has just overheard Sam Adams making the statement that the men would fight.

"For what will we fight?"

"To free Boston from these infernal redcoats and ..."

"No," said Otis. "... That's not enough reason for going into a war. Did any occupied city ever have better treatment than we've had from the British? Has one rebellious newspaper been stopped - one treasonable speech? Where are the firing squads, the jails jammed with political prisoners? What about the gallows for you, Sam Adams, and you, John Hancock? It has never been set up. I hate those infernal British troops spread all over my town as much as you do. Can't move these days without stepping on a soldier. But we are not going off into a civil war merely to get them out of Boston. Why are we going to fight? Why, why?"

There was an embarrassed silence. Sam Adams was the acknowledged ringleader. It was for him to speak now.

"We will fight for the rights of Americans. England cannot take our money away by taxes."

"No, no. For something more important than the pocketbooks of our American citizens."

Rab said, "For the rights of Englishmen - everywhere."

"Why stop with Englishmen?" Otis was warming up. ... "... For men and women and children all over the world," he said. "You were right, you tall, dark boy, for even as we shoot down the British soldiers we are fighting for rights such as they will be enjoying a hundred years from now.

"...There shall be no more tyranny. A handful of men cannot seize power over thousands. A man shall choose who it is shall rule over him.

"...The peasants of France, the serfs of Russia. Hardly more than animals now. But because we fight, they shall see freedom like a new sun rising in the west. Those natural rights God has given to every man, no matter how humble ..."

"...The battle we win over the worst in England shall benefit the best in England. How well are they over there represented when it comes to taxes? Not very well. It will be better for them when we have won this war.

"Will French peasants go on forever pulling off their caps and saying 'Oui, Monsieur,' when the gold coaches run down their children? They will not. Italy. And all those German states. Are they nothing but soldiers? Will no one show them the rights of good citizens? So we hold up our torch - and do not forget it was lighted upon the fires of England - and we will set it as a new sun to lighten a world ..."

"It is all so much simpler than you think," he said. He lifted his hands and pushed against the rafters.

"We will give all we have, lives, property, safety, skills ... we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up."