On June 20, 1783, about 400 soldiers in the Continental Army mobbed Independence Hall in Philadelphia to demand payment for their services during the Revolutionary War. They blocked the door so the delegates inside couldn’t leave.
Alexander Hamilton, delegate from New York, persuaded the troops to back off and give Congress time to meet and address their concerns. President George Washington sent 1,500 troops to suppress the mutiny, as the soldiers’ protest was called, some mutineers were arrested, and Congress initiated an investigation.
The story becomes complicated after this. A Congressional committee met with the Pennsylvania Executive Council, asking the council to do more to protect the federal government. The council agreed to consult with the military commanders and reply to Congress the next day. These machinations led to Congress’ moving the capital several times, eventually creating a federal district, Washington, D.C.
Whether those aggrieved Continental Army soldiers ever got their pay isn’t clear, but they should be remembered for creating this nation’s first attempt to redress grievances by taking their protest to the streets.
To redress means to set right or to set upright again or to restore or remedy. Our right to seek to alleviate injustice is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ever since that solders’ mutiny in 1783, we have been taking to the streets seeking redress of our grievances.
A long life provides one with a perspective not available to every generation. Many protests that morphed into dangerous riots have marked my life’s journey, several during my college years in the 1960s — Ole Miss in 1962, Birmingham in 1963, Harlem in 1964, Watts in 1965. Many others. Many.
We won’t ever forget the long, hot summer of 1967 with its 159 race riots in more American cities than one can remember. In our frustration and rage, we burned buildings and cars, people of all ages and races were killed, their lives snuffed out forever. And we looted stores.
Our right to freely express our frustration is precious. It is crucial in a functioning democracy. I will believe in this and support it to my dying day. Let us continue to take our protests, peacefully, loudly, as necessary, into the streets and the halls of government.
But I don’t understand looting. What gives us the right to smash our way into a store and take what is not ours? Maybe someday someone will explain this to me.