Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 1999 /21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
Mourning the loss of
the last Liberty Tree
Annapolis, Md. - Under a gilt-edged October sky, I mourned an aged tree.
Not just any tree. It stood here once, tall and strong, solid and shady,
on the eve of the American Revolution. It fostered courage. It witnessed
war. It defied wind, fire, lightning, and decay.
Now, this four-century-old tulip poplar, the last of the Liberty Trees, is
In the tree's prime, rebellious patriots and militias were celebrated, not
maligned. Freedom was worth fighting for; the desire for national
sovereignty burned fiercely. Limited government was considered virtuous,
not mean-spirited. Tax revolts were renowned, not denounced. Political
leaders prayed in public without reproach - or sanctimony. Colonists
carried guns without federal background checks. Citizens bore the flag in
their hearts, not on their boxer shorts. Sam Adams was a living hero, not a
brand of beer.
Adams helped found the Sons of Liberty in 1765 when Mother England tried to
impose a stamp tax on America. The parliamentary act required colonists to
pay an extra levy on every piece of printed paper - from newspapers,
diplomas, and legal contracts to permits, pamphlets, and playing cards.
Shop owners, lawyers, journalists, and pamphleteers protested not just the
actual cost of the tax (which was relatively light), but the underlying
right of the British government to impose it at all.
Beneath the cover and comfort of Liberty Trees throughout the 13 colonies,
the Sons of Liberty decried taxation without representation. Resistance to
the British parliament's fiscal power grab was critical to preserving the
country's system of self-rule. Small increments of tyranny, our
forefathers understood, compound quickly. The Stamp Act was repealed in
1766, the seeds of sedition were sown, and the rest, of course, was
During the Revolutionary War, British troops destroyed most of the original
Liberty Trees. According to Maryland state archivist Edward Papenfuse, the
redcoats chopped down the famous elm in Boston and reduced the tree to 14
cords of firewood. Vengeful British soldiers hacked the Liberty Tree in
Charleston, South Carolina to pieces - and then burned the stump to try and
erase the last traces of its existence.
Others succumbed naturally to age and disease. But somehow, the tree here
on the campus of St. John's College in Maryland's capital persevered. It
grew more than 100 feet tall, with shade cover stretching 60 feet and a
diameter of 102 inches. To the untrained eye, the Liberty Tree at
Annapolis looked hale and venerable on its last day rooted to the earth. I
could not see a single crack.
As a tree specialist noted earlier this month, however, the insides of the
tree were too hollow to support its weight. A few centuries of rough
weather and student pranks weakened the wood. In 1907, college officials
poured 55 tons of cement into its empty trunk. A man-made support system of
bolts, cables and concrete held this last Liberty Tree together for much of
the last hundred years. No more, the experts said.
|The last Liberty Tree, RIP
So local politicians preened for the cameras this golden October morning
and summoned up their most earnest-sounding, freedom-loving platitudes.
""I hope we commit ourselves to not just the preservation of new trees, but
the preservation of the ideas that are stronger than any tree," blathered
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat whose recent gun control
proposals would make his state's original settlers roll over in their
A gaggle of college students attended the Liberty Tree's wake, too - not to
pay respect for its legacy, but to skip out of an early morning class.
They chowed down on free pastries and coffee; they rolled their eyes during
the singing of the National Anthem; some even snickered during a solemn
moment when the campus bell tolled 13 times in honor of each of the
I could not bear to watch as construction workers fired up their chainsaws
and dismantled the Liberty Tree, limb by limb. The metaphor is too awful.
Superficially, the personal and economic freedoms the tree represents
appear secure. But small increments of cynicism, ingratitude, and
indifference compound quickly. Few are willing to protest the domestic
tyrannies that gnaw away daily at our once-inalienable rights to life,
liberty, and happiness.
We live in a hollow shell of the world the Sons of Liberty envisioned. For
those who can see the country's internal timber rotting, the grief and the
horror cut too deep to
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
10/27/99: AOL goes AWOL on parents
10/22/99: The persecution of Harry Potter
10/20/99: Don't doctor the law
10/14/99: The trouble with kids today
10/12/99: Pro-animal, pro-abortion, anti-speech?
10/07/99: Beltway press corps needs more skunks
09/30/99: ESPN overlooks athlete of faith, grace, and guts
09/27/99: Personal freedom going up in smoke
09/15/99: Farewell, "Miss" America
09/10/99: Will George W. work for a color-blind America?
09/03/99: Feminization of gun debate drowns out sober analysis
08/27/99: America is abundant land of equal-opportunity insult
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism
08/04/99: Sweepstakes vs. state lottery: double standards on gambling
07/21/99: "True-life tales from the Thin Red Line"
(or "Honor those who sacrificed their lives for peace")
07/21/99: Reading, 'Riting, and Raunchiness?
07/14/99: Journalists' group-think is not unity
06/30/99: July Fourth programming for the Springer generation
06/25/99: Speechless in Seattle
06/15/99: Making a biblical argument against federal death taxes
©1999, Creators Syndicate