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March 9th, 2010

“WE THE PEOPLE…” It worked once. Perhaps it will work again.

constitutionBy James M. Johnson

The Tea Party Movement is only one year old, yet it has accomplished more in its first 12 months than any political movement in the history of Western Civilization.

Although the Tea Party Movement’s results are small compared to the ultimate accomplishments of the Abolition Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, or the Civil Rights Movement, it has surpassed each of them in terms of its measurable impact on the prevailing political order within its first year of life.

The Abolitionist Movement in Great Britain took 80 years to fulfill its mission of ending the slave trade. Beginning in the 1750s during the revivalist ministries of clergymen George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Charles Wesley, the Abolitionist cause was finally taken up in 1787 by a member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, whose former pastor, John Newton, had been a slave trader himself before converting to Christianity and writing the hymn Amazing Grace.

For 45 years, Wilberforce worked to influence the collective mind of the British Crown and his majesty’s government. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, he finally achieved victory three days before his death in 1833, when, worn out from illness and political struggle, his fellow members of Parliament pass the Slavery Abolition Act, outlawing slavery in the British empire.

But the movement in America took longer. Much longer. Beginning in 1688, a full century before the Constitution of the United States, Quaker clergymen in Pennsylvania began calling for abolition in the Thirteen Colonies. Organizing a small but committed following, the movement grew slowly, but was put on the shelf amidst the French and Indian War and later the War for Independence during the 18th Century.

Yet, after the Second Constitutional Convention, which established the United States as a federal Republic (not a democracy), the movement gained new life as it was enjoined by preachers, poets, publishers, and, yes, politicians, who spoke, sang, wrote, and ran for office on abolitionist ideals.

But it was a long and hard struggle. And it was not reached until 1865, after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, after the assassination of our 16th president, and after the death of 620,000 of our sons on battlefields stretching from Manassas to Shiloh to Fredericksburg to Gettysburg in the War Between the States.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement took over 80 years to accomplish its goal of according women the right to vote. Begun indistinctly during the 1830s, neither of its two most recognized leaders — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who would take charge during the 1850s — lived to see their goals realized. Both women labored intensely for fifty years, but by the time Wyoming became the final state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, both leaders had died.

The Civil Rights Movement also took 80 years. Having somewhat begun in the mid-1880s, at the close of Reconstruction, its leadership was diffused and weak, and was overshadowed by the Industrial Movement, the Great Depression, and two world wars for the better part of 70 years. It received little attention until 1955.

It was then that Rosa Parks, after having been arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, for not giving up her seat on a bus to a white man, re-ignited the movement that only a prosperous decade like the 1950s could have birthed. Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. called for a citywide boycott of Montgomery’s public transit system, and thirteen months later, the city backed down. Yet the movement had to endure another decade of fire hoses, jail sentences, barking police dogs, and bloody bridge crossings to see federal legislation finally passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

And last but not least, consider the Pro-Life Movement, which, after 37 years, has yet to reach its goal of ending abortion in America. Effectively launched the day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, the movement has morphed into an institution of sorts, complete with buildings, payrolls, and lobbyists. Nothing too grassroots about it anymore. Yet the unborn body count piles up… 55 million, and still no end in sight.

The Tea Party Movement, however, does not have as its goal the end of slavery, or the vote for women, or the end of discrimination, or the end of abortion. On its face, it may appear trivial compared to these other causes. But if liberty matters, then its importance cannot be overstated.

If unalienable rights — whether it be the right to life, the right to own property, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to speak freely, assemble freely, worship freely, petition the government freely, and a host of other freedoms that our Founding Fathers deemed worth fighting for — then the Tea Party Movement is just as important as the rest of these movements.

Many wrongly assume that the Tea Party Movement is about pushing for lower taxes, less spending, and balanced budgets. But it is not. Those are only peripheral issues, and they will never prompt over a million citizens to travel across a continent to march on their Capitol, or to hold ten thousand smaller events in their cities and neighborhoods — especially without a single leader directing them.

The Tea Party Movement is not tied to personality or party. It is organic. It is a true people’s movement which, employing modern communication methods, has simply connected like-minded citizens who feel compelled to do something to save their country.

Today, thanks to the Tea Party Movement, there are more copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States being published, read, studied, distributed, quoted, and thundered from podiums, pulpits, and platforms then at any time in history. And the cumulative effect of this authentic, passionate, and unquenchable thirst for liberty may — just may — result in a Second American Revolution.

“WE THE PEOPLE…” It worked once. Perhaps it will work again. As for me, I am proud to be a small part of it.

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About the Author

James M. Johnson
James M. Johnson is the president of the Iowa Republican Assembly, which works to get constitutionally minded conservatives elected to leadership positions in the Republican Party, and to elective office on the local, state, and federal level. He has worked on over 50 political campaigns and holds an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in political communication.

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