Opuscula

A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Patriot



CHARLESTON: ASSEMBLY HALL

Two dozen ANGRY, YELLING, MEN OF PROPERTY. Among them are ROBINSON, HAMILL and JOHNSON, who are Patriots. Opposed to them are SIMMS, WITHINGTON and BALDRIDGE who are Loyalists. As Martin makes his way to his seat, the SPEAKER OF THE ASSEMBLY POUNDS HIS GAVEL.


SPEAKER
ORDER! ORDER!



Slowly, the room quiets down.



SPEAKER
Our first order of business...



SIMMS
And our last if we vote a levy...



The ROOM ERUPTS.



SPEAKER
ORDER! ORDER! Mr. Simms, you do not have the floor.



The ROOM SETTLES DOWN.


SPEAKER
Our first order of business is an address by Colonel Harry Lee of the Continental Army.



An imposing figure makes his way to the front of the assembly, COLONEL HARRY LEE, about Martin's age and cut from the same cloth -- strong, weathered, with a powerful bearing. Lee sees Martin and offers a familiar nod, which Martin returns, stone-faced. At the dais Lee pauses, then speaks simply.



LEE
You all know why I am here. I am not an orator and I will not try to convince you of the worthiness of our cause. I am a soldier and we are at war and with the declaration of independence we all expect from Philadelphia, it will soon be a formal state of war. In preparation for that, eight of the thirteen colonies have levied money in support of a Continental Army. I ask South Carolina to be the ninth.



In the balcony, Gabriel nods in agreement. Simms rises.



SIMMS
Colonel Lee, Massachusetts may be at war, along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island and Virginia, but South Carolina is not at war.



LEE
Massachusetts and New Hampshire are not as far from South Carolina as you might think and the war they're fighting is not for independence of one or two colonies. It's for the independence of one nation.



WITHINGTON
And what nation is that?


Robinson, one of the Patriots, stands up.


ROBINSON
An American nation. Colonel Lee, with your permission?


Lee nods.


ROBINSON
Those of us who call ourselves Patriots are not seeking to give birth to an American nation, but to protect one that already exists. It was born a hundred-and-seventy years ago at Jamestown and has grown stronger and more mature with every generation reared and with every crop sown and harvested. We are one nation and our rights as citizens of that nation are threatened by a tyrant three thousand miles away.



LEE
Were I an orator, those are the exact words I would have spoken.



Laughter. Martin rises.



MARTIN
Mister Robinson, tell me, why should I trade one tyrant, three thousand miles away, for three thousand tyrants, one mile away?



Laughter from the Loyalists. Surprise from Lee and the Patriots. In the gallery, Gabriel winces.



ROBINSON
Sir?



MARTIN
An elected legislature can trample a man's rights just as easily as a King can.



LEE
Captain Martin, I understood you to be a Patriot.



MARTIN
If you mean by a Patriot, am I angry at the Townsend Acts and the Stamp Act? Then I'm a Patriot. And what of the Navigation Act?  Should I be permitted to sell my rice to the French traders on Martinique? Yes, and it's an intrusion into my affairs that I can't... legally.


Laughter.


MARTIN
And what of the greedy, self-serving bastards who sit as Magistrates on the Admiralty Court and have fined nearly every man in this room.  Should they be boxed about the ears and thrown onto the first ship back to England? I'll do it myself.

(beat)

And do I believe that the American colonies should stand as a separate, independent nation, free from the reins of King and Parliament? I do, and if that makes a Patriot, then I'm a Patriot.


Martin grows more serious.


MARTIN
But if you're asking whether I'm willing to go to war with England, the answer is, no. I've been to war and I have no desire to do so again.



The room is quiet, the Assemblymen having been thrown off- balance. Gabriel is disappointed by his father's speech.



ROBINSON
This from the same Captain Benjamin Martin whose anger was so famous during the Wilderness Campaign?



Martin glares at Robinson, then smiles.



MARTIN
I was intemperate in my youth. My departed wife, God bless her soul, dampened that intemperance with the mantle of responsibility.



Robinson looks derisively at Martin.



ROBINSON
Temperance can be a convenient disguise for fear.



Martin bristles but before he can answer, Lee steps in.



LEE
Mister Robinson, I fought with Captain Martin in the French and Indian War, including the Wilderness Campaign. We served as scouts under Washington. There's not a man in this room, or anywhere, for that matter, to whom I would more willingly trust my life.



ROBINSON
I stand corrected.



LEE
But, damn it, Benjamin! You live in a cave if you think we'll get independence without war...



MARTIN
Wasn't it a Union Jack we fought under?



LEE
A long time ago...



MARTIN
Thirteen years...



LEE
That's a damn long time...



The Speaker POUNDS HIS GAVEL again.



SPEAKER
Gentlemen! Please! This is not a tavern!



Martin and Lee ignore the speaker.



MARTIN
You were an Englishman then...



LEE
I was an American, I just didn't know it yet...



The Assemblymen and even the Speaker turn their heads in simultaneous anticipation of each rejoinder.



MARTIN
We don't have to go to war to gain independence...



LEE
Balderdash!



MARTIN
There are a thousand avenues, other than war, at our disposal...



Martin speaks slowly and firmly.


MARTIN
We do not have to go to war to gain independence.



Lee says nothing for a moment, then he speaks more seriously, quietly, grimly.



LEE
Benjamin, I was at Bunker Hill. It was as bad as anything you and I saw on the frontier. Worse than the slaughter at the Ashuelot River.  The British advanced three times and we killed over seven hundred of them at point blank range. If your principles dictate independence, then war is the only way. It has come to that.



Martin is silent for a long moment. He softens and grows unsteady, speaking far more honestly than he ever wanted to.



MARTIN
I have seven children. My wife is dead. Who's to care for them if I go to war?



Lee is stunned by Martin's honesty and his show of weakness. At first Lee has no answer, then:



LEE
Wars are not fought only by childless men. A man must weigh his personal responsibilities against his principles.



MARTIN
That's what I'm doing. I will not fight and because I won't, I will not cast a vote that will send others to fight in my stead.



LEE
And your principles?



MARTIN
I'm a parent, I don't have the luxury of principles.



The other Assemblymen, both Patriots and Loyalists, stare at him, appalled. Martin, feeling weak, sits down. Lee looks at his friend with more sympathy than disappointment. In the gallery Gabriel turns and walks out.

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