Sunday, July 1, 2012

America's Story (part 9) - A Tale of Two Revolutions

Occupy Wall Street - Police Struggle with Barricades

Since September 2011, we have heard much in the news about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The One Percent ....
The 99 Percent ...
(reference: Occupy Wall Street: Who are the one percent? | Fight Back!)

These phrases above have become the new buzz words of the day - labels that divide us ... again ... this time by class.

Initially (in my humble opinion), the Occupy movement had expressed some legitimate concerns: the rich and powerful - "the One Percent" - rigging the game to enrich and advance themselves at the expense of "the 99 Percent." Much of human history can testify to this!

But over the following months, the movement had seemed to have been hijacked. Some news have reinforced that conclusion showing images of angry mobs inflicting destruction and chaos instead of offering sensible solutions to right the wrongs the movement was initially protesting. An example of such can be seen in this video clip: Seattle May Day Mayhem!

But an ancient wise man once said ...

There is nothing new under the sun.
(source: Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV)

Throughout history, many revolutions came from "the 99 Percent" rising up against "the One Percent." Some did overthrow their "One Percent" oppressors; some did not, usually with terrible consequences for "the 99 Percent." And those revolutions that had succeeded - at least initially - precipitated unintended consequences whereas the new regime often turned out to be more oppressive than the old regime it had replaced.

Consider the 18th century. That era had its share revolutions. And two revolutions, in particular, were very similar, on the heels of each other, yet contrasted each other in their origin and in their ultimate outcome. Let's look at ...

* A Tale of Two Revolutions *

Back in 1859, Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870) wrote A Tale of Two Cities. And he began his tale with this familiar first line ...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ...
(reference: SparkNotes: A Tale of Two Cities: Important Quotations Explained)

And so it was in London and Paris during the 18th century, in particular 1775 - 1792. The setting for this Dickens' classic was during ...

* The French Revolution

The Radical's Arms
As shown is this satirical English cartoon (left), The Radical's Arms, the guillotine had come to symbolize the brutality of these "best of times, worst of times" during the French Revolution (1789 - 1799).

Before the revolution, the French working class had legitimate and serious grievances against their nobility and religious leaders, which are explained in this article: Causes of the French Revolution. The grievances could - simplistically - be summed up as "the One Percent" oppressing "the 99 Percent."

And this famous quote of Marie Antoinette's alleged response of the shortage of bread to feed the peasants -

"let them eat cake"

- epitomized that the French elite "One Percent" were so out of touch with the sufferings of "the 99 Percent."

(In all fairness, much evidence indicates Marie Antoinette never actual said those words, and the phrase has a different meaning than we think - reference: Who said, "Let them eat cake"? But what the heck ... This seemingly callous quote so handily fit the narrative of the revolution ... and everybody lies ...)

The French Revolution was instigated by "the 99 Percent" - those who had nothing to lose. Their target was "the One Percent" with which the working class had many serious, legitimate grievances to redress. Their noble rallying cry ...

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
(reference: National Symbols in France: The French Motto - "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" (Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité))

In the end, "the 99 Percent" had toppled the regime of "the One Percent." And by 1793, the revolution had devolved to the Reign of Terror. The new regime lopped off many heads of the old regime (at least those they could get their hands on). The revolutionaries treated the nobility often quiet cruelly, proving they were no better - maybe worse? - than their former oppressors.

Hence, a symbol of the revolution became the guillotine, as shown in the picture above. (reference: French Revolution Timeline)

A Tale of Two Cities tells of this fate of some of these hated "One Percent," or those that were perceived as enemies of the new regime. In the closing scene of the 1935 movie version (below), Sydney Carton swaps identities with Charles Darnay - who came from a family of French aristocrats, a target of "the 99 Percent."

Sydney Carton gives up his life in place of his friend, who has been sentenced to the guillotine, as these are his last thoughts:

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known."
(reference: SparkNotes: A Tale of Two Cities: Important Quotations Explained)

The First French Republic did not last long ... barely one decade. All its lofty ideals in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 26 August 1789 disintegrated along with the leadership and set the stage for a take over by a strong man. After the coup d'etat in November 1799, stepping into the position of the first consul was the man of destiny himself ...

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon in his study

A brilliant military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte had moved quickly up the ranks in the French army. Not long after assuming the position of the first consul in 1799 was he made consul for life in 1802.

No term limits here.

And in 1804, Napoleon became the Emperor of France.

So marked the end of the First French Republic.

The French Revolution had deposed their absolute monarch, King Louis XVI, and later beheaded him, believing that a better era had begun with Liberty, Equality, Faternity. After a little more than a decade, France found they now had another dictator.

Simply put:

* Before the revolution - King Louis XVI of France
* After the revolution - Napoleon I, Emperor of France

Different titles, different people, both dictators.

As with so many revolutions, the French Revolution only put into power a different "One Percent" - just as bad or even worse as the one it had replaced. Eventually, Napoleon met his Waterloo - literally - in 1815. The British eventually imprisoned him on the island of St. Helena, where he finished his days out of the world's spot light.

But this ill fated French Revolution had been inspired by a recent revolution across an ocean, which had preceded it. And that was ...

* The American Revolution

But this revolution had its genesis in a difference source, and after it was over had far different consequences. It could be said that the American colonists were oppressed by "the One Percent" - King George III of Great Britain and company.

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independece
Volumes have been written as to what had triggered the American Revolution. Here are a few of them:

The British regime had issued fiats without consent of the governed in areas of new taxes, boycotts, punitive laws, regulations ....
(reference: American Revolution - Causes of the American Revolution)

The colonists had enough and reached a tipping point as written down in The Declaration of Independence, which listed these grievances against King George III of Great Britain.

Here is an excerpt of the specific reasons:

"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. ..."

At least 27 specific grievances are given against the King. And the colonist reiterated their repeated attempts to redress these grievances - not with protests in the streets ... or riots ... or out of control mobs destroying property ... or inflicting chaos ... but with humility and civility. And they got the following response from the ruling regime:

"In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. ..."

The Declaration ended with this oath of the signers:

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

But the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the leaders of the American Revolution would not be considered "the 99 Percent" of American colonists, but the prosperous "One Percent." And Paul Harvey in this broadcast (below) on the Eve of on Fourth of July, eloquently tells of the sacrifice of these "One Percenters":

And these signers had * everything * to lose.

What was so valuable that these One Percenters would give up everything ... their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor? It was valuable gift, a pact made with the living and the dead and the unborn ...

* Liberty *

The next few years after defeating Great Britain, the United States struggled to find her way in governing the new republic. The first constitution, the Articles of Confederation (1777), had its flaws. But this was replaced a decade later by our present Constitution (1787).

And unlike France, whose struggling republic of "the 99 Percent" fell into the hands a dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, the American Revolution came from "the One Percent" and had a different outcome as our first president under the Constitution (1789 - 1797) was ...

George Washington - the One Percenter

George Washington
This consummate "One Percenter," George Washington was one of the wealthiest presidents the United States has ever had.

Adjusting for inflation, George Washington was worth an estimated $525 million, with Mount Vernon, his other property, and his wife's inheritance. He was second only to JFK (as the Kennedy estate has been estimated as much $1 billion).
(reference: Business - 24/7 Wall St. - The Net Worth of the U.S. Presidents: From Washington to Obama - the Atlantic)

But unlike other conquering military leaders - Napoleon, for example, who made himself emperor of France - this victorious general of the American Revolution did not declare himself king, but instead went back to Mt. Vernon to continue farming

Hearing, quite incredulously, about George Washington's plans after the revolution, King George III commented about his adversary -

"If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."
(reference: The Man Who Would Not Be King | David Boaz | Cato Institute: Daily Commentary)

* For some more info on our first president's character, check out: George Washington Insights

But George Washington eventually went back to public service and was elected president of the United States under the Constitution by the electoral college. After two terms - refusing the entreaties for a third term, Washington retired from office, setting a precedent to be followed from then on. This was only broken a 150 years later by FDR. Later in 1951 the 22nd amendment to the Constitution was passed to limit the office of the president to two terms, so he/she wouldn't be a dictator ... like Napoleon?

Simply put:

Before the revolution - King George III of Great Britain
After the revolution - President George Washington of the United States of America

Different titles, different people, but one a monarch, the other a chief executor elected (though indirectly via the electoral college) by the people

Unlike France, our republic, which was born from our revolution, did not last a mere decade, but well over two hundred years and counting. Our republic was a product of the much maligned "One Percent" - but this "One Percent" was of those not only in wealth, but in character - by those who had everything to lose as they put everything on the line ....

* their lives
* their fortunes
* their sacred honor

And these "One Percenters" - the signers of the Declaration of Independence - are part of America's Story
which is to be continued ....


Other links on the 4th of July:

The signers of the Declaration of Independence

Happy Fourth of July

America's freedom story


Other posts in this series:

America's Story (part 1) - The Speech that redefined us, November 19, 1863 (2011)

America's Story (part 2) - Savages! (2011)

America's Story (part 3) - Over There - 1917, 1941 (2011)

America's Story (part 4) - Christmas 1944, when we said NUTS to the enemy (2011)

America's Story (part 5) - Amazing Grace (2012)

America's Story (part 6) - GI Joe Tuskegee Airmen (2012)

America's Story (part 7) - When Reagan was shot (2012)

America's Story (part 8) - Memorial Day, Gettysburg, and Amos Humiston (2012)


Previous posts on similar subjects:

3 birthdays, 3 presidents, 3 centuries, 3 defining wars ... (2011)

Have a Blessed Fourth! (2010)

July 1776 & July 1863 (2009)


Photos from:
Wikipedia Commons: Occupy Wall Street - Police struggle with barricades
Wikipedia Commons: The Radical's Arms
Wikipedia Commons: Declaration of Independence
Wikipedia Commons: George Washington

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