We are a nation of laws. But a corrupt and despotic government can always use the law to hide its illegal activities. In that case, it is an act of high patriotism to place oneself in jeopardy to expose the truth.
As Henry David Thoreau said, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then?” Most men serve the state with their bodies, or with their heads, Thoreau continued.
Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others-as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders- serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as the rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil without intending it, as God. A very few-as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men-serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
I’m not encouraging citizens to break laws whenever they feel like it. I’m saying there are rare times in which the patriot must choose between his country and his government; between his duty as a patriot and the letter of the law. And in these cases the “perp” is not guaranteed a walk, because much evil is done by misguided individuals who believe they are right. Such people are subject to judgment by their peers.
But if our republic has any chance of remaining a nation that values liberty — instead of just paying it lip service — it will be because of courageous people who stand in the way of tyranny.
We may never know who it is, but somewhere, there’s a hero. Maybe more than one.