"The ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box"

Frederick Douglass: a good revolver and a box of ammo


The more I read about Frederick Douglass, the more I like him. His white master’s wife taught him to read. A literate slave was a danger to the institution of slavery, especially when a literate slave read the Bible and understood its message that the spirit and the body are free in Jesus Christ.

Douglass had begun to realize what his “master” understood: “There was power, indeed subversive, revolutionary power, in reading and interpreting the Bible for oneself, and that the institution of slavery, in fact, depended on controlling biblical literacy — who can read the Bible when and how.”

“I felt a delight in circumventing the tyrants, and in blessing the victims of their curses.” Yes, “circumventing the tyrants,” not with words alone but with the ability to defend oneself from being kidnapped, returned to slavery, or lynched:

The true remedy for the Fugitive Slave Bill is a good revolver, a steady hand, and a determination to shoot down any man attempting to kidnap.

He also said, “A man’s rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.” The late Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald, who died in the shootdown of Korean Flight 007 by the former Soviet Union in 1983, added a fourth:

There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order. 

Here’s how the four boxes in the defense of liberty have been described:

The soap box represents exercising one’s right to freedom of speech to influence politics to defend liberty. The ballot box represents exercising one’s right to vote to elect a government which defends liberty. The jury box represents using jury nullification to refuse to convict someone being prosecuted for breaking an unjust law that decreases liberty. The cartridge box represents exercising one’s right to keep and bear arms to oppose, in armed conflict, a government that decreases liberty. The four boxes (in that order) represent increasingly forceful (and increasingly controversial) methods of political action. [Some add a fifth box: the mail box.]

Would you like to guess who said the following?

[V]iolence exercised in self-defense, which all societies, from the most primitive to the most cultured and civilized, accept as moral and legal. The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi…. If you guessed Martin Luther King, Jr., you would be correct. The key qualifier is “self-defense.”
Comment: My blog (and Twitter) are my "soap box"

1 comment:

  1. Good on Douglass! There is a troubling reality that at a certain point, obedience to Caesar ends, and Douglass confronts us with that eloquently.

    A while back, I remember learning about jury nullification, and suffice it to say that I might be willing to use the jury box against unjust laws, too.


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