Official Recognition Sought for Founding Fathers’ Support of the First American Whistleblowers of 1777
As set forth in today’s op-ed piece by Stephen M. Kohn in the New York Times, “The Whistle-Blowers of 1777,” ten sailors and marines contacted the Continental Congress with allegations that the Commander of the United States Navy had committed serious misconduct, including the torture of British prisoners.
Instead of retaliating against the whistleblowers or attempting to cover up the misconduct, America’s Founding Fathers provided material support to the whistleblowers, and enacted America’s first ever whistleblower law on July 30, 1778.
Copies of the original documents from the Continental Congress are reproduced here.
Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the NWC, issued the following statement:
On July 30th, 1778, the Founding Fathers expressed unanimous and strong support for whistleblowers in enacting America’s first whistleblower law. In a time of war, when the existence of the republic itself was at stake, they did not hide behind ‘national security’ to cover up embarrassing facts about the first Commander of the U.S. Navy. Instead, they ensured full public disclosure of the misconduct allegations, took prompt corrective action, and they provided direct material assistance when the whistleblowers appealed for help from retaliation.
Despite the severe financial strain of the budding republic, Congress provided over $1,000 to ensure that the whistleblowers would have the best legal assistance possible in defending their reputations and freedoms from the retaliation they faced.
The Founding Fathers demonstrated the courage of their convictions and established once and for all that exposing misconduct of the highest-ranking government officials is at the heart of American democracy.
The contributions of modern day whistleblowers such as Ernie Fitzgerald (billions in Department of Defense fraud); Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse (illegal no-bid contracts in Iraq); Sherron Watkins, Cynthia Cooper, and Harry Markopolos (rampant fraud on Wall Street); Bradley Birkenfeld (billions in fraud by UBS); Dr. Frederic Whitehurst (fraud in forensic laboratories); Coleen Rowley, Jane Turner, and Sibel Edmonds (FBI abuses) have been significant in the preservation of democracy. And the list goes on. But unlike the Founding Fathers, our government has not acknowledged the contributions of these patriots and heroes. Instead, their contributions to the public interest have been officially censored.
A national day of recognition is essential to honor both the courage of the Founding Fathers in 1777 and the continuing contributions of Americans who have had the courage to, in the words of America’s first whistleblower law, ‘give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors.’
The full story of this untold historic episode was first set forth in The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself.