Magazine article New Internationalist

Great American Rebels: True Originals Abound in a Country That Has Much to Thank Them for - Here Is Just a Sample of Them

Magazine article New Internationalist

Great American Rebels: True Originals Abound in a Country That Has Much to Thank Them for - Here Is Just a Sample of Them

Article excerpt

1. Daniel Shays (1747-1825)

A VETERAN of the Revolution who fought at Lexington, Bunker Hill and Saratoga, Shays resigned from the Continental Army in 1780 after not being paid. He returned to his small farm in western Massachusetts. Here, like many others, he quickly fell into debt. Farmers had begun to resist the use of the courts to enforce repayment. When the Supreme Court of Massachusetts indicted 11 rebel farmers as 'disorderly, riotous and seditious persons', Shays organized 700 armed farmers and went to Springfield where hundreds more joined him. The judges adjourned the court. Confrontations between farmers and militia multiplied in what became known as Shays' Rebellion. Wealthy Boston merchants raised an army against the rebels. Arrested, condemned to death and pardoned in 1788, Shays eventually died in poverty.

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2. Geronimo (1829-1909)

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'I WAS BORN on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures,' said Geronimo, the last great leader of Native American resistance. His Indian name was Goyathlay ('one who yawns'); he was born to the Bedonkohe Apache group in what is now New Mexico, but was Mexican territory until 1846. He was reputedly given the name Geronimo ('Jerome' in Spanish) by Mexican soldiers. Geronimo was not a chief but a shaman or 'medicine man'. He believed that the spirits had conferred on him an invulnerability to bullets. In 1858 the murder of Geronimo's wife, mother and three children by Spanish soldiers from Mexico increased the level of Apache resistance to a new wave of American settlers. In 1876 the Chiricahua were removed by the US Army to an arid 'reservation' at San Carlos, eastern Arizona. Geronimo escaped three times. The US Army sent 5,000 troops to hunt him down. In 1882 he agreed to return to the reservation, but escaped again in 1885 until the last of all the Native American surrenders in 1886. In breach of the surrender agreement, Geronimo and some 400 Apache men, women and children were transported to Florida and then, in 1894, to Oklahoma, where he died.

3. Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

'I WANT FREEDOM, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful and radiant things.' An influential and celebrated anarchist, Goldman was an early advocate of free speech, birth control, women's equality, labour unions and the eight-hour working day. She was frequently harassed or arrested; her talks were often banned outright. In 1893, amidst mass unemployment in New York, she urged hungry children to go into stores and take the food they needed. She was arrested for 'inciting a riot' and sentenced to two years in prison. Of the rising price of food after the Spanish-American War of 1898 - which centred on American 'interests' in Cuba - she said: 'When we sobered up from our patriotic spree, it suddenly dawned on us that the cause of the war was the price of sugar... That the lives, blood and money of the American people were used to protect the interests of American capitalists.' She worked with the first Free Speech League, a direct progenitor of the American Civil Liberties Union. Her opposition to conscription during the First World War led to a two-year imprisonment, followed by deportation in 1919. Thereafter she was forced to live a peripatetic life, eventually dying in Canada.

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4. Mae West (1893-1980)

'I BELIEVE IN CENSORSHIP. After all, I made a fortune out of it.' Mae West grew up as 'The Baby Vamp' on stage in Vaudeville. In 1926 she wrote, produced and directed the Broadway show Sex, which led to her arrest for obscenity. In the following year her next play, Drag, was banned because it dealt openly with homosexuality. As a result, she made innuendo and self-parody into a fine art, writing the scripts of five out of her nine Hollywood movies. …

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