In another thread on these boards, a poster recently lamented about King's decision to donate the proceeds from 'Guns' to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, writing: "I could not believe that someone that should understand the basic premise of the First Amendment could so decide that the Second Amendment should be trampled upon," before really winding up and delivering this bit: "however that is a pretty bad [argument] imo, and a big step for someone to take that again… should understand the dangers of incrementally removing a Right... a sacred right, until it is left in tatters and is no longer a right at all." The poster then goes on to conclude: "You say that you want to provoke a constructive debate, however by promoting that the proceeds will go to a political entity that is very much a member of the political discourse, you are not provoking a constructive debate at all, but instead are chooses sides along political lines in a very political way... for when you have already drawn the line in the sand and chosen your side…the debate is already closed." An interesting set of statements, in light of current events.
This got me thinking about the issue of rights and how the notion of Americans having "sacred rights" arose in the first place. It all began in 1775 when abolishionist Anthony Benezet founded the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. It was the first first anti-slavery society in North America, and it was fully funded by the Quakers, but received significant moral support from England, France and the Canadas (all nations having recently renounced slavery as immoral and unChristian, although actual laws specifically prohibiting slavery and the international trade of slaves were slow to follow - Upper Canada in 1793; France in 1794; England in 1833). Benezet, who was born in France, immigrated to America in 1731, joining the Quaker commune at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 18 years of age, and was soon to befriend John Woolman, another Quaker, and together they were soon advocating war tax resistance and conscientious objection to any civil action that was in seeming violation of George Fox's famous oath: "I lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars... I told them I was come into the covenant of peace which was before wars and strifes were." For Quakers such as Benezet, the only life worth living was the sacred life; the only religion was deist.
And so young Benezet worked tirelessly to persuade fellow Quakers (and Americans at large) that the slave-trade was not consistent with fundamental Christian morality (though the doctrine of the Bible's Old Testament was clearly not against the ownership of slaves, and the New Testament clearly asserts that both slaves and free persons are sons of God, and thus all part of the body of Christ and spiritually equally even if on Earth they are not so treated). After the events that became known as the Boston Tea Party (1793), Britain cracked down on the colonies by ending self-government in Massachusetts and placing it under the direct control of the British army with General Thomas Gage as de facto military governor. In April 1775, Gage learned that weapons were being secretly gathered in Concord, and he sent British troops to seize and destroy them. Informers sympathetic to the rebel cause warned the Americans of Gage's plans, and a local militia (ironically outfitted, employed and trained by the British during the French and Indian wars, and financed by the burdensome taxes that Boston Tea Party was protesting) was speedily rallied. This militia confronted the British troops and both sides exchanged fire at Lexington and Concord. Gage was appalled, and sped a letter off to the Prime Minister - events were now determined.