The Founders, Whistleblower Protection and Bradley Manning

Received by e-mail, From:, Date: Sept. 19, 2011.

Dear Friends, What would the Founders have said about Wikileaks, whistle-blowers and Bradley Manning? One tactic that is often used to bolster a position is to invoke the Founders’ intentions toward Constitutionality. Jefferson, Madison and Franklin are cited—on everything from AK-47s to the map of the human genome—as to what a healthy democracy looks like today. But if we want an accurate gauge of the founders’ intentions very early on in our Republic we can look to the Bill of Rights, early amendments to the Constitution and bills that were debated and ratified to see which beliefs held enough sway to be enshrined in legal code. 

Whistle-blower protection, it turns out, was among the first laws to be enacted by the early U.S. government. If there is any question about its mandate, the law passed without a single dissenting vote. In an excellent review of whistle-blower-protection history, attorney Stephen Kohn of the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C. states: “The tension between protecting true national security secrets and ensuring the public’s ‘right to know’ about abuses of authority is not new. Indeed, the nation’s founders faced this very issue.”

Kohn refers to tension between subordinate military personnel and their commanders:

  • “In the winter of 1777, months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the American warship Warren was anchored outside of Providence, R.I. On board, 10 revolutionary sailors and marines met in secret—not to plot against the king’s armies, but to discuss their concerns about the commander of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins. They knew the risks: Hopkins came from a powerful family; his brother was a former governor of Rhode Island and a signer of the declaration. Hopkins had participated in the torture of captured British sailors; he ‘treated prisoners in the most inhuman and barbarous manner,’ his subordinates wrote in a petition. One whistle-blower, a Marine captain named John Grannis, was selected to present the petition to the Continental Congress, which voted on March 26, 1777, to suspend Hopkins from his post.”
  • Hopkins retaliated and filed libel suits against two of the sailors, who in a petition to Congress said they were “arrested for doing what they then believed and still believe was nothing but their duty [emphasis added].”
  • Two of the many parallels between this July 23, 1778 case and that of Army private Bradley Manning are striking: 1) Lower ranking personnel see criminal behavior by their superior officers and report it; 2) The superior officer retaliates against the subordinate.

But here our venerable Founders diverge sharply from their considerably lesser progeny. Where in 1778, Congress saw fit to take action against the offending superior officer, Congress sits mute while the Obama administration has sought to attack its whistle-blowers
and protect the superior offenders.

According to Kohn, in 1778:

  • “Later that month, without any recorded dissent, Congress enacted America’s first whistle- blower-protection law: ‘That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.’ ”

23 year old Bradley Manning faces life imprisonment, a president who says publicly that Manning “broke the law,” and charges under the Espionage Act of 1903 — the same draconian law that was used to put the Rosenbergs to death. On the 50th anniversary of their execution the New York Times wrote, “The Rosenberg case still haunts American history, reminding us of the injustice that can be done when a nation gets caught up in hysteria.”

Click here to tell President Obama to stop retaliating against whistle-blowers and to start investigating U.S. war crimes.

Contrast what the Founders did to protect their whistle-blowers with today’s honorable public servants. According to Kohn:

  • “Congress did not stop there. It wanted to ensure that the whistle-blowers would have excellent legal counsel to fight against the libel charges, and despite the financial hardships of the new republic, it authorized payment for the legal fees of [the 1778 sailors] Marven and Shaw.”

1st Amendment protections of a free press were expressly designed to keep the government and its individual officers from experiencing the absolute corruption of absolute power. Despite his campaign pledge to protect whistleblowers President Obama has retaliated against them at a rate far in excess of his predecessors. The administration’s efforts to silence WikiLeaks and discredit Julian Assange ring hollow.

Army Private Bradley Manning would do well if someone—anyone—in the Federal system would remember the Founders’ deep suspicion of government and robust protection of whistleblowers.

Click here to tell Attorney General Holder to honor his oath to uphold the Constitution by investigating the masterminds of torture, the commanders who authorized torture and all those who implemented and continue the policy.

Support VotersForPeace and take a stand against injustice.

Democracy is as strong as is most important link—the people. Please add your voice and participate in demanding an end to torture and that all war criminals be brought to justice.

Thank you for all that you do. Kevin Berends, Interim Project Director, VotersForPeace.US.


National Whistleblowers Center NWC: Homepage, Sitemap, About, The Whistleblowers of 1777Contact.

Voters For, About, with team and email, Take action, Address: VotersForPeace, 2842 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA, Tel: 443-708-8360, (VotersForPeace is a nonpartisan organization that does not support or oppose candidates for office);

The Founders = Founding Fathers of the United States;

Bradley Manning, Videos on YouTube;

WikiLeaks: it’s official website; on wikipedia; a short-video: What Does it Cost to Change the World?

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