The Founders Abhorred a Mob

Nina Sankovitch
Jan 11 · 5 min read

The American Revolution was not brought about by a mob. In fact, in the eleven years leading up to the Declaration of Independence, American colonists largely relied upon peaceful means to oppose the tyrannical and oppressive actions of the King and Parliament. They successfully used economic boycotts to effect policy changes, as well as other legal measures (including an impeachment process in an effort to remove a Chief Justice beholden to the King).

In addition, both patriots and loyalists repeatedly sought to reconcile with the King, intent on settling peacefully their differences over colonial governing — but they were rebuffed again and again, and their appeals for compromise and peace were answered only by the sending of more troops to enforce unpopular British policies.

And even then, the policy of American patriots was to respond to British intimidation with speeches, pamphlets, peaceful protest meetings, and community actions such as more boycotts, shunning of Crown officials, and continued proposals for settling the differences between colony and mother country peacefully.

While there certainly were mob actions going on during those years leading up to the American Revolution — mass gatherings which inflicted violence on Crown officials and loyalists, as well as on their homes and their businesses — those mob activities were largely condemned by American patriot leaders.

In fact, in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre, during which British soldiers caught up in an angry mob fired into the crowd, killing five colonists, American patriots Josiah Quincy Jr. and John Adams agreed to take on the defense of the British captain and soldiers accused of killing the colonists.

Quincy and Adams took on the case not only to prove that in America, everyone gets a fair trial — as Josiah Quincy Jr. stated, “nothing should appear in this trial to impeach our justice, or stain our humanity” — but also because,

“Hot, rash, disorderly proceedings injure the reputation of a people…without procuring the least benefit… [and no one] would sacrifice his judgment and his integrity, to vindicate such [mob] proceedings.”[1]

The Boston Tea Party, viewed by many as the decisive act which set the American colonies on the path to revolution, was in fact a nonviolent act of disobedience. On the evening of December 16, 1773, American patriots dumped over 92,000 pounds of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act, an Act which created a monopoly on tea sales on behalf of the East India Company, required the colonists to pay duty on incoming tea from the company, and would put American-owned importers and sellers of tea out of business. The Tea Party, while causing economic distress to the East India Tea Company, harmed not a single person, nor any property other than the East India company tea. Any cargoes other than the tea were left undamaged in the ships; the ships themselves were not damaged in any way, other than a small padlock broken on one door, which was replaced the next day by anonymous delivery.

As John Adams described it, “The Town of Boston, was never more Still and calm of a Saturday night than it was [during the Tea Party]. All Things were conducted with great order, Decency and perfect Submission to Government.”[2]

When the American patriots declared independence in July of 1776, a key goal for the new country they envisioned was to create a government that would balance executive, legislative and judicial powers in order to ensure peaceful negotiations, compromise, and the balancing of the needs of all in carrying out government for the people and by the people. They also sought to ensure that transitions in presidential power would be made smoothly and peacefully, a goal for which John Adams set the precedent in 1801 when he ceded the presidency to Thomas Jefferson after the hotly contested election of 1800.

To further strengthen the structure of peaceful, balanced, and democratic governing in the United States, the Founders deliberately set in place safeguards to protect against demagoguery or tyranny by creating provisions for both impeachment and removal of any leader who fails to protect and uphold the rights and privileges laid out in American constitution. In addition, to guard against enemies from within and outside the union, the Founders clearly defined treason: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies.”[3]

On January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol was attacked and infiltrated by an organized, weaponized, and determined mob intent on waging war on our country by inflicting terror and violence on our legislators, with the goal of undermining and overturning the results of a free and fair election.

Peaceful measures were available to those unhappy with the election results of November 2020, including the numerous court challenges to those results which led to decisive and repeated rulings that the elections were without fraud and the results should be upheld. In addition, the results underwent a final challenge during the process of tabulating of the electoral votes. In two years, another round of elections will offer those unhappy with the present election results a chance to vote in new legislators; in the meantime they can petition for their interests through their legislators, write letters and editorials, march peacefully, and yes, even knit hats.

But instead of following legal and peaceful avenues to challenge the results of the November election, the mob which descended on Capitol Hill last week chose illegal and violent means to further their treasonous goals of overturning our national election and overthrowing our government.

Those who perpetrated the violent invasion, from the planners of the attack to those who spread the message about it, from those who promoted and facilitated it, to those who carried it out, are traitors to America and violators of the ideals and the clear provisions of the Constitution. Under no definition of “patriotism” are they patriots. The Founders of the United States would have considered such men and women to be nothing but scoundrels and criminals, subject to prosecution, top to bottom, for treason against our country, the United States of America.

This piece is an edited excerpt from my book, American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution.

[1] See American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution, pp. 203, 221.

[2] Ibid, p. 304.

[3] Article III, Section 3, Clause 1,United States Constitution.

Nina Sankovitch

Reader, Writer, Historian.

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