Page images

"Why Didn't They Ask for My Kingdom?"

Continued demands upon King John for reform were slighted and evaded until an aroused populace marched on London, captured the arrogant King, and penned him up on an island in the Thames. There, at the insistence of his barons and nobles, he was forced to sign the Magna Carta.

The angry prisoner placed his signature and seal on the document. Then, as the happy barons left, the King fell to the ground in rage, gnashing his teeth and breaking to pieces small sticks which came into his hands as they opened and closed in fitful frenzy. "Why," he cried, "when they were asking, didn't they ask for my Kingdom also?"GREAT MOMENTS IN FREEDOM, Lansing, p. 176.

He Refused To Bow

Austria, conqueror of Switzerland in the fourteenth century, believed in keeping the Swiss reminded of their fate. In the village square of Altdorf, for example, they placed a hat on top of the flagpole. All were ordered to bow to this, since it symbolized the power of the Austrian Emperor. But William Tell refused to bow.

"Thou shalt shoot an apple from the head of thy son," was the decree of the local authority for this affront to Austrian power. Tell's only other choice was certain death for both himself and his son.

The son was stood against a tree. William Tell shot and his aim was true. But he held another arrow in reserve. He confessed to the local governor what it would have been used for if he had missed and harm had come to his son.

"I would have shot you with this other arrow," he said, “and believe me, I should not have missed you."-GREAT MOMENTS IN FREEDOM, Lansing, p. 109.

"What I Do, I Do Freely for Liberty"

"There seems no reason that our colony should be too precipitate in changing the present mode of government,” said John Jay when the move for independence was being discussed. "I would first be well assured of the opinion of the inhabitants at large. Let them be rather followed than driven on an occasion of such moment."

To check on the feelings of the populace, Jay employed an investigator. When he reported to his employer on the results of his survey, Jay offered him the money that had been agreed upon. "Sir," he said, "I cannot take it. The country has need of every dollar to prosecute the war. I can work; I can get my living. Never mind any

money for me. What I do, I do freely for liberty."-HISTORIC AMERICANS, Brooks, p. 147.

A Good Listener

In an unpretentious brick house in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson wrote and rewrote what was later to be called The Declaration of Independence. As he finished the final draft, he heard a knock at the door.

"Come in," he said, wearily but cheerful.

The caller was Benjamin Franklin.

"Well, Brother Jefferson," he asked, "is the fair copy made?” "All ready, Doctor. Will you hear it through once more?”

"As many times as you wish," said the elderly statesman. "One can't get too much of a good thing, you know."

After Jefferson had finished reading it Franklin sat back and beamed. "That's good, Thomas!" he exclaimed. "That's right to the point; that will make King George wince. I wish I had done it myself."-HISTORIC AMERICANS, Brooks, p. 101.

"We Do Not Wish To Molest You . . ."

St. Augustine, who came to England as a Christian missionary, met King Ethelbert on the Isle of Thanet in 597 A. D. Although the King could not accept Christianity himself, he addressed St. Augustine and his fellow-workers in the following words:

"Because you have come hither as strangers from a long distance, and what you yourselves believe to be true and good you wish to impart to us, we do not wish to molest you. Nay, we are anxious to receive you hospitably, and we will give you all that is needed for your support. Nor will we hinder you from joining all whom you can to the faith of your religion."-ENGLAND'S VOICE OF FREEDOM, Nevinson, p. 27.

"We Shall Light a Candle"

Because they would not bow to the crowned heads of their country in matters of religion, Bishop Latimer and Bishop Ridley were burned at the stake on October 16, 1555.

As they were led to the stake, Bishop Latimer smiled to all about him, but Ridley was dragged along, quaking with terror. When the flames leaped up around them Latimer called to the horrified Ridley: "Be of good comfort Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as, I trust, shall never be put out."-HISTORY OF ENGLAND AND GREATER BRITAIN, Cross, p. 239.

No Man Shall Interfere

When Massachusetts prevented Roger Williams from practicing the religious principles in which he believed, he fled to Rhode Island. There he founded a colony in which any religion, or no religion at all, would be tolerated. Civil authorities would tend only to civil problems.

"The straining of men's consciences by the civil power," he declared, "is so far from making men faithful to God or man, that it is a ready way to render them false to both."

One of the men who came down from Boston to live in the new colony, aptly called "Providence," was Joshua Verein. For twelve months he did not attend any church services whatever. Williams said nothing.

But one day it was found that Joshua Verein had beaten his wife because she went to church. This was something which came under the jurisdiction of the civil authority; a man was interfering with the religious freedom of another person.

It made no difference to Roger Williams that this other person was the wife of the man who beat her. Joshua Verein was banished from the colony.-LIFE OF ROGER WILLIAMS, Easton, p. 243.

Masterpiece Written in Jail

When the Act of Uniformity was passed in 1660 John Bunyan, the son of a poor tinker who followed that trade himself and preached "on the side," found that the law made his preaching illegal. But he felt that the law was unjust. He continued to preach to the hundreds who came to hear him until he was arrested and thrown into the Bedford jail.

For twelve years he languished there; making tagged laces for his own support, preaching to his fellow-prisoners, and writing several books, among which was one entitled Grace Abounding.

Upon being freed, he went back to his preaching. He was warned; refused to desist; and was again taken into custody. It was during this second term in jail that he wrote the book which was to become one of the religious masterpieces of all time: Pilgrim's Progress.— ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION AND ETHICS, p. 897.

"We Must Give the Liberty We Ask"

One day William Penn, who was bringing people to America in order that they might be free to follow the tenets of Quakerism, took a friend to the outskirts of London to view an unusual sight.

There, before the astonished eyes of the visitor, were thousands of Germans waiting to sail for America.

"Are these all Friends?" queried the amazed visitor. This was the term applied to those who followed Quakerism.

"No," answered Penn, "they are Mennonites, Moravians; even some Catholics."

"But is it wise to mix men of such different views?" asked the astonished friend.

"We must be true to our principles," insisted Penn. "We would have none to suffer for dissent on any hand. We must give the liberty we ask."-RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, Williams, p. 48.

Guns Cannot Kill a Faith

Joseph Smith, leader of the Mormons, had been taken into protective custody at Nauvoo, Mo., because a hostile mob threatened his life. As the throng around the jail grew bigger and fiercer, Governor Ford stated firmly that he had promised Smith protection and he meant to stand by his word.

"But the mob is armed," pleaded the captain in charge of the militia around the jail. "There will be bloodshed."

"Yes, send the soldiers away," urged Joseph Smith. He was reluctant to see men killed over an issue that concerned none of them. "Without the soldiers your lives aren't worth a continental," argued the Governor. "The mob will kill you.'

[ocr errors]

"Perhaps it will,” replied Joseph Smith, "but those people can't kill what we stand for."

Joseph Smith was killed by the mob. But, as he prophesied, his religion did not die. It went on growing under the leadership of another man, Brigham Young.—LET FREEDOM RING!, Calhoun, p. 129.

Refutation, Not Suppression

One of the earliest exponents of freedom of the press was Louis XII of France. In 1513 he issued an edict stating that printers should be free from all restrictions. In it he spoke with great appreciation and admiration of the printing art, the discovery of which he considered "rather divine than human." He congratulated his kingdom on their leadership in the development of printing, saying that in this "France takes precedence of all other realms."

When the Council of Pisa condemned a book as heretical, Louis said: "Take no measures of severity against the author, but let the learned professors go over the book chapter by chapter and write a refutation of any part which seems contrary to truth."-BOOKS AND THEIR MAKERS, Putnam, p. 6.

Truth Ought To Govern

John Peter Zenger, publisher of the Weekly Journal of New York, thought it expedient to disagree with the existing government, and was brought to trial, accused of "seditious libel."

After two of his lawyers were disbarred, the aging Andrew Hamilton made the arduous journey from Philadelphia to take up the fight. Despite his arguments the judge instructed the jury to rule only on whether or not Zenger had printed the material.


Hamilton refused to let the jury act on these instructions. He argued that "it is a right which all free men claim . . . to complain when they are hurt; they have a right publicly to remonstrate against abuses of power.... Truth ought to govern the whole affair of libels." He further contended that such questions as the criminal intent and the truth of the publication should be left up to the jury to decide, and ended with the plea: "It is not the cause of a poor printer which you are now trying: No! It is the best cause: It is the cause of liberty!" The jury disregarded the instructions of the judge and set Zenger free. This event has been called "the Morning Star of that Liberty which subsequently revolutionized America."-CONSTITUTIONAL FREE SPEECH, Schroeder, p. 53.

Rights of a Free Press

In 1762 John Wilkes was charged with libeling the King in his fun-poking newspaper The North Briton. The offensive issue was ordered burned by the common hangman, and Wilkes was expelled from the House of Commons. The provocative item was reprinted, and Wilkes was sent to the pillory. Court appeals failed, and because the case agitated riots, Wilkes fled to the continent.

Four more times Wilkes was elected to the House of Commons, and four more times he was denied his seat, although the last time his opponent received only one-fourth as many votes as Wilkes.

This all cost money, and Wilkes was sinking into debt. But he was so popular that a public subscription squared him with his creditors, and a court awarded him damages for unlawful arrest.

Again elected to Parliment, his greatest victory in the fight for a free press came with the House order to erase from its records the minutes for his expulsion as "subversive to the rights of the electors of the United Kingdom." His later elevation to the office of Lord Mayor of London clothed him with the power to release all printers who were being held for supposed violations of law.-POPULAR PROGRESS IN ENGLAND, Routledge, p. 111.

« PreviousContinue »