Recently I was part of an international jury at the 29th Aydın Doğan International Cartoon Competition in Turkey. Some of the jurors and competitors were from countries where citizens who criticize the government can find themselves in prison.
The cartoonists, and their editors, in those countries tread carefully. (Yet one of the main themes among the competing cartoons was revolution. Here’s the co-winner, created by the Turkish artist Doğan Arslan.)
In Turkey, there are more than 100 journalists and a number of mayors and activists jailed by the government on invented charges.
In the U.S., our President has been labeled an extremist-Muslim-Communist-terrorist-Kenyan-alien plotting the destruction of our country. The punishment for the accusers is having Fox microphones and cameras thrust into their faces.
We are protected from arbitrary arrest by our Bill of Rights, which, generally, our government has adhered to since the Constitution was adopted. Many people today probably think the Bill of Rights is the Constitution, but it wasn’t even part of the original document.
What Federalists like Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and Madison actually created with the Constitution was a strong central government that was good for business and muscular enough to protect those in power from the people.
But when it came time to vote for or against the Constitution, many citizens refused to give up their demand for a Bill of Rights.
By 1789, with the Federalists pushing hard, all the states had passed the Consitituion. In 1791:
Update: Imagine if George Washington had acted like today’s Egyptian generals and said, “Guys, your Bill of Rights is certainly symbolically important, and I’m all for it in principle, but, for now, I and my army think our national security and the economy require that we put it on hold.”
There’s general agreement that today’s Congress is totally dysfunctional. Conservatives and Tea Partiers proclaim that, if we go back to the time of the Founding Fathers and adhere to the Constitution, life would be simpler and better for everyone. They want us to believe that, while the Founders disagreed, they were like an a cappella singing group, hitting different notes, but basically in harmony:
Hardly! As you’ll see in my book, Taxes, The Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels, there was at least as much discord then as now. The different sides held diametrically opposing views of what was good for this country. They were suspicious, calculating, devious, bull-headed, and hostile towards each other:
However, the conservatives are on the right track: For all their acrimony, the Founders were ready to get things done for the good of the country.
Eventually, scarred and battle weary, they produced a document solid enough to have carried us forward for over 200 years:
Imagine if today’s Congress were transported back to 1787 and were the ones responsible for producing the Constitution:
In Taxes, The Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels, I tell the basic history of the Revolutionary era—which, by the way, corrects distortions coming from certain politicians who promote history through the filter of their own ideologies.
But I was also after something else; to go back in time with my reporter’s pad and “humanize” the story—to get closer to the real people behind the great events…and show the Founding Fathers without their pedestals.
For example, look at Paul Revere. Paul’s not on a level with George W. or Thomas J. in importance, but he’s an iconic name in our history—a craftsman who committed himself to the rebellion. Thanks to our grade-school social studies classes and the poet Longfellow, we know of his famous night ride, alerting the countryside around Boston to the approach of the British army.
And we’ve heard about the two lanterns that were lit in the Old North Church steeple that set Revere’s ride in motion. (By the way, when he kissed his wife and children goodbye that night, he knew he would be a fugitive from British law.) Here’s an image from Susan Champlin’s and my graphic novel for young people, Road to Revolution!:
This is how I introduce Paul in Taxes…:
So here’s a solid citizen, a highly skilled silversmith, a family man with seven kids, a second wife (his first wife died after the birth of one of their children), a house and a business to support, who made false teeth to add to his income.
Yet Paul allied himself with the rebels. He became their go-to messenger, sneaking out of town, shuttling back and forth among colonies, all under the noses of the British high command. Willing to expose himself to prison, or worse, he obviously believed deeply in the ideals they were fighting for.
Here’s Paul agreeing to a messenger job. The sign is authentic:
When I was researching this book, I stumbled on something that put an exclamation point on the everyday pressures faced by all these early revolutionaries.
In the Forbes Galleries in New York City, there’s an expense report from Paul Revere to the rebel leaders of Boston (who themselves had to find a way to fund their rebellion). I imagined Paul, back home after another risky ride, writing out a voucher for the cost of feed for his horse…:
No superhero, but a blood and guts real person.
Immigration is a loaded word today. It’s also a topic that plays a central role in “Taxes…” Obviously the early colonists were immigrants. They were seduced, bribed, or suckered into coming to the new world. Some were dragged here in chains, but most staggered ashore with a dream that somewhere in this new land they might find fortune, freedom, and a new start in life.
As soon as these newcomers got cleaned up and settled, threw away their old rags and put on new clothes, learned manners and thought of themselves as “the better sort,” they turned to the ships unloading the next arrivals and saw dirty, ignorant, inferior people fit only to be servants and laborers. And so it has gone for every new group that arrives on our shores.
Here’s an example from my graphic history, “The Story of the Jews.” It shows Eastern European Jews arriving at the turn of the last century. They’re viewed with embarrassment by the more cultured, educated, and prosperous German Jews who’d arrived looking just as bedraggled 50 years earlier.
England encouraged immigration because more workers in the colonies meant more profit for her, but the natural rights of her colonists were irrelevant. Gradually, England’s high-handed and insensitive taxes and regulations would fuel colonial discontent. But first I needed a page that would quickly describe the variety of immigrants who arrived here, and the usual distaste against newcomers by those who were here first.
For the rebellion against England to succeed, there would need to be an alliance between rich colonial merchants, who were seeing their profits shrink, and their discontented workers—but that will come a few pages later.
Real life is comic, sad, ironic, extravagant; it moves fast and takes you by surprise. It’s ready made for my real life funnies comic strips. When I was roughing out “Taxes, the Tea Party, and those Revolting Rebels,” I struggled with how to kick off the story. History lies flat on the page. It doesn’t emote in front of you like real life does.
When it came to that crucial first page, I knew the facts I wanted to present, but how to do it in a way the modern reader would get. After gallons of coffee, an Out-Takes strip I did for Adweek magazine jumped into my head. The story took place at the end of the shooting of a TV commercial. I’ve included it here.
I thought, how classic, massaging the client…until the client walks out the door. Who hasn’t temporarily pasted a smile on his or her face and then been glad to pull it off? I translated that moment back in time to Colonial days and had my first page.