Four Boxes of Liberty - Origins

Origins

The phrase has been attributed to Ed Howdershelt, who self-publishes science fiction novels on the Internet. Larry McDonald, a politician from Georgia and former president of the John Birch Society has also been quoted, omitting the caution to use bullets as the last resort: "We have four boxes with which to defend our freedom: the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box".

However, the origins of the saying are much older. Stephen Decatur Miller may have originated the concept during a speech at Stateburg, South Carolina in September 1830. He said "There are three and only three ways to reform our Congressional legislation, familiarly called, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box". This became his campaign slogan in his successful bid for the Senate on a platform advocating the abolition of tariffs. An 1849 edition of the Family Favorite and Temperance Journal extended the concept: "Four boxes govern the world:—cartridge box, ballot box, jury box, and band box". The bandbox, originally designed to hold collar bands, was used to carry the elaborate women's hats of the time as well as many other personal items. The quip was reproduced in the 25 December 1869 edition of the Spirit of the Times newspaper and in the 1881 Treasury of wisdom, wit and humor, odd comparisons and proverbs.

William F. Butler, an African American leader, used the concept in a speech he delivered in November 1867 in Lexington, Kentucky, saying: "First we had the cartridge box, now we want the ballot box, and soon we will get the jury box". Butler was referring to the fact that African Americans had fought in the Unionist forces in the American Civil War, but were still facing opposition to being treated as full citizens.

A version that is close to the modern forms was introduced by Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave who became an influential public figure in the Union States and Great Britain before the Civil War, and had a long and distinguished career after the war. In a speech delivered on 15 November 1867, Douglass said "A man's rights rest in three boxes. The ballot box, jury box and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex". In Douglass's autobiography the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1892, he described his conviction that a freedman should become more than just a freedman, and should become a citizen. He repeated that "the liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box; that without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country..."

The Altamont Enterprise revived the old saw of the cartridge box, ballot box and bandbox in 1909 when reporting a discussion between the newspaper editor Horace Greeley and the early campaigner for women's rights, Elizabeth Cody Stanton. Greeley proposed that the bullet box and ballot box went together, and asked Stanton if she would be prepared to fight if she had the vote. Stanton retorted that she would fight as he did, with her pen. The article went on to describe the case of Abigail Hopper Gibbons, who as a landowner and taxpayer was sent an official form asking her to give reasons why she was not eligible for jury duty. She replied, "I know of none". However, at this time women were barred from the jury box, the ballot box and the cartridge box.

Some women rejected the feminist position. The anti-suffragette Emily Bissell saw involvement in the boxes of liberty as inappropriate for women. She wrote "The vote is part of man's work. Ballot-box, cartridge box, jury box, sentry box all go together in his part of life. Women cannot step in and take the responsibilities and duties of voting without assuming his place very largely".

The moving box represents the right of migration, contrasted with the other boxes in phrases such as "fight or flight" and “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty”, Albert O. Hirschman's book about one’s two (peaceful) options when suffering dissatisfaction in a group. Migration is a major theme of American history, most famously in the arrival of freedom-seeking colonists from Europe, the pioneers (including the Mormon pioneers) moving west, and The Great Migration of southern blacks, first to the North and then to the West. In “Shouting Fire”, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz generally prioritizes the freedom of speech, but states, “To the Jew, however, the right to emigrate has always been of transcendent importance... The 'wandering Jew' has escaped persecution by moving from country to country....” Internal migration in the US remains significant to the present day, with Americans seeking states with more suitable legal, economic, and cultural environments.

Read more about this topic:  Four Boxes Of Liberty

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