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Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 1999 /21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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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 dead.

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 The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, the seeds of sedition were sown, and the rest, of course, was history.

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.

The last Liberty Tree, RIP
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.

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 graves.

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 original colonies.

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 measure.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate