How much do you know about the “Sons of Liberty”? Lots of Americans are making claims about these forefathers—but you may be surprised at how little is known about them. That’s true both now … and then.
FIRST: Take our visual quiz! How many of the 18th-century Sons of Liberty can you name from their portraits, above?
SECOND: Where are the new “Sons of Liberty” today?
Liberty—freedom from restraint—is an American value that goes back to the founding of the nation. The original Sons of Liberty were an underground organization, dedicated to opposing British rule and championing the rights of colonists to self-determination. The saying “no taxation without representation” and the symbol of the “Liberty Tree” hark back to this early time.
Are the Sons of Liberty alive today? That may sound like a sexist way to phrase the question. But, the large majority of libertarians today are mostly men—almost seven of ten, according to the just-released 2013 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Almost all are non-Hispanic whites (94%). And, the majority is on the younger side: 62% are less than 50 years old.
Just looking at these basic demographics, today’s libertarians resemble the Sons of Liberty. But does the resemblance stop there? The original Sons of Liberty weren’t opposed to government. They were opposed to British rule, which had become more arbitrary and harsher over time. As historian David Hackett Fischer notes, they viewed liberty in “its classical sense of separation.” They also believed in the rule of law and the importance of government.
What do today’s libertarians believe? Mostly, it’s “hands off” for the government. A majority oppose increasing the minimum wage, according to the PRRI survey. Virtually all have a dim view of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare.) They oppose stricter environmental laws. They also oppose government restrictions on a host of social issues, as we’ll cover this week.
How many American subscribe to libertarian beliefs? Just 7% of American are strict libertarians, according to the PRRI poll, with and additional 15% who lean that way. In total, that’s just over two of ten Americans—yet libertarianism remains a strong thread in American history and politics.
Are you a modern-day “Son of Liberty”?
What do you think of their beliefs?
ANSWERS to the visual quiz: If you correctly named more than a few of these portraits, then you are a remarkable American historian! The correct answers are … TOP ROW, left to right: Samuel Adams, Benedict Arnold, John Hancock, Patrick Henry and James Otis. MIDDLE ROW, left to right: Paul Revere, James Swan, Alexander McDougall, Benjamin Rush, and Charles Thomson. BOTTOM ROW, left to right: Joseph Warren, Marinus Willett, Christopher Gadsden, Oliver Wolcott and Haym Solomon.