Remember the infamy of December 7, 1683

algernon-sidneyDecember 7 has “lived in infamy” since Pearl Harbor. But that date was already infamous before America was a country. In 1683, Algernon Sydney, who opposed Charles II for overstepping his powers, was executed for treason on that date, after a trial blatantly violating his rights (so blatantly that Parliament overturned his conviction in 1689). The key evidence was an unpublished manuscript arguing that the king was not above the law, which became “Discourses Concerning Government” 15 years later.

Sydney died for asserting a right of revolution to defend citizens against a king exceeding his legal authority. That radical claim later helped inspire the American Revolution, because, according to Thomas West, “His death as a martyr to liberty inspired [colonists] with a model in their own risky enterprise against the force of English arms.” On December 7, Sydney’s revolutionary words for liberty against government abuse merits remembering as much as a foreign attack on American soil.

Our rights and liberties are innate, inherent … from God and nature, not from Kings. … He who enjoys [liberty] cannot be deprived of it, unless by his own consent, or by force … in relation to my house, land, or estate; I may do what I please with them, if I bring no damage upon others.

Our natural liberty … is of so great importance that from thence only can we know whether we are freemen or slaves.

The liberty of one man cannot be limited or diminished by one or any number of men, and none can give away the right of another … ambition … cannot give a right to any over the liberties of a whole nation. Those who are so set up … are rather to be accounted robbers and pirates than magistrates.

Government[s] … degenerate into a most unjust and despicable tyranny, so soon as the supreme lord begins to prefer his own interest … before the good of his subjects … such an extreme deviation from the end of their institution annuls it; and the wound thereby given to the natural and original rights of those nations cannot be cured, unless they resume the liberties of which they have been deprived.

Prerogative is instituted only for the preservation of liberty … governments … in which every man’s liberty is least restrained … would be the most just, rational and natural.

The supreme law … [is] the preservation of their liberties, goods, lands and lives … all laws must be subservient and subordinate to it … if there be no other law … than the will of [government], there is no such thing as liberty. Property is also an appendage to liberty; and ‘tis … impossible for a man to have a right to lands or goods, if he has no liberty … overthrown by those who … ought with the utmost industry and vigor to have defended it.

Is it possible that any one man can make himself lord of a people … to whom God had given the liberty of governing themselves, by any other means than violence or fraud … the most outrageous injury that can be done … we are free-men … no man has a power over us, which is not given … the ends for which they are given … can be no other than to defend us from all manner of arbitrary power.

Shall it be lawful for [rulers] to usurp a power over the liberty of others, and shall it not be lawful for an injured people to resume their own? … The people … cannot but have a right to preserve their liberty … Those who defend, or endeavor to recover their violated liberties … act vigorously in a cause that God does evidently patronize.

Algernon Sydney defended “the natural, universal liberty of mankind.” He helped inspire the American Revolution, because “a people from all ages in love with liberty and desirous to maintain their own privileges could never be brought to resign them.” However, it is unclear that Americans retain such beliefs, judging by they extent our rights have been resigned to government overstepping. We should revisit his understanding and commitment, if we are to reclaim our heritage of liberty.

Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education Faculty Network. His books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013).

For Californians, Dec. 7 a reminder that the coast is never quite clear

“Could it happen here?”

That’s the question that was asked in Southern California 74 years ago. Dec. 7 marks the anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base near Honolulu. Two hours of bombing killed more than 2,000 Americans and wounded 1,000 more. Eight battleships were damaged or destroyed, as were nearly 200 airplanes.

Congress approved a declaration of war against Japan the next day, and within a week, Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. World War II had been raging for over two years, but it took just a few days for the American people to go from reading about it in newspapers to living it in full color.

In San Diego, a principal staging port for troop, supply and naval convoys in the Pacific, blackouts went into effect. Camouflage netting covered airports, military bases, and the Pacific Coast Highway. Residents kept buckets of sand in their homes to smother fires in case of enemy bombing. If Hawaii had been hit, they wondered, would the West Coast be next?

People in Los Angeles thought so on Feb. 23, 1942, when a lone Japanese submarine approached the shore and fired at an oil facility near Santa Barbara. The next night U.S. troops watched the skies over L.A. and fired 1,440 rounds at what they thought might be Japanese planes. Newspapers reported that civilians had seen Japanese tanks in Malibu Canyon.

On the Point Loma peninsula in San Diego, the soldiers at Fort Rosecrans were put on 24-hour alert as bayonets, gas masks and ammunition were issued. The only anti-aircraft weapons available were World War I-era machine guns, and the men of the 19th Coast Artillery set them up in a hurry.

But no weapon in the Fort Rosecrans arsenal could have challenged Japan’s battleships, which carried nine 18.1-inch guns with a range of 28 miles. The U.S. Army rushed plans for two guns, 68 feet long, that would fire a projectile 16 inches in diameter at a target up to 26 miles away.


This reinforced concrete casement at Fort Rosecrans on Point Loma housed massive guns installed during World War II to defend against Japanese battleships. (Photo by Susan Shelley)

Construction for the weapon known as Battery Ashburn included a giant casement of reinforced concrete, covered by tons of earth, to protect it from a direct hit by enemy battleships or aircraft. When the 46-ton guns were transported to Point Loma, the solid rubber tires of the tractor-trailers carved 3-inch ruts into the asphalt roadway.

Completed in 1944, Battery Ashburn, along with Battery Humphreys, two 6-inch guns with a range of 15 miles, joined Battery Strong and Battery Point Loma (installed in 1941), Battery Whistler (1918), Battery McGrath (1900), and Battery Calef/Wilkeson (1898) in the arsenal of coastal defenses.

It’s a useful reminder that the war on terror is not our first rodeo.

Today the batteries of Fort Rosecrans are part of the Cabrillo National Monument, site of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, where World War II signal crews used lights and Morse code to contact ships approaching San Diego harbor. If the ships responded with the correct code, submarine nets at the harbor entrance were lowered to allow them to proceed. We always screen visitors during wartime.


Some of the 50,000 veterans’ graves at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on the Point Loma peninsula in San Diego. (Photo by Susan Shelley)

Point Loma, for all its tourists and whale-watching and coin-op binoculars pointed at spectacular views, is a somber place. On the hill high above the Pacific, 50,000 veterans are buried in the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, their white headstones facing the ocean or the bay, silently watching.

Dec. 7 reminds us that danger can be closer than we think. And that the U.S. defense budget is high for a reason.


Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. Reach her at or follow her on Twitter, @Susan_Shelley.