Governor Thomas Hutchinson was the last British governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colonists had hoped that their governor would be sympathetic to their grievances against the Crown, but Hutchinson was an unabashed loyalist. In what is widely regarded as one of the key incidents to bring the colonists to war, Hutchinson’s private letters to England were intercepted and made public.
Here were the views of this governor that caused the people of Boston to mob his home and call for his removal: “I never think of the measures necessary for the peace and good order of the Colonies without pain: there must be an abridgment of what are called English liberties.” Moreover, he declared that, “there must be a great restraint of natural liberty” if the colonists are to be brought to heel.
Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster of the American colonies, eventually took sole responsibility for leaking these letters to the public. He expressed some moral qualms about violating the privacy of the post. He eventually concluded that the Hutchinson letters were not “private letters between friends” but were instead “written by public officers to persons in public station, on public affairs, and intended to procure public measures.”
Here we find a principled argument to determine whether a whistleblower is justified in his or her actions. Because members of government are public servants, their recommendations bearing on public affairs are not entitled to secrecy. This is particularly true when it becomes known that a public servant is in fact conspiring against the preservation of liberty, and is found out betraying and committing treason against the principles of law that he or she is sworn to uphold.
Franklin’s famously apropos quote goes, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The dispiriting truth, however, is that many Americans are so worn down by fear of terrorists, or the daily grinding uncertainty of their economic status and the paralysis that comes from feeling powerless against the monied interests who have stolen our government, that these high-minded ideals do not stir their souls.
These “whistleblowers” cannot be regarded as anything other than heroes, who have shown courage that many Americans cannot show because they lack the means, or do not show because they lack the spirit of patriotism:
Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, John M. Gravitt, Babak Pasdar, Mark Klein, Karen Kwiatkowski, and Coleen Rowley
Daniel Ellsberg: “Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.”