The first, famous Liberty Tree stood on the Boston Common, an American Elm with a political history. The elm was a commons tree in the pre-Norman ‘English borough’ tradition: A place for the people of the shire to gather on their own terms and for their own purposes.
In the decade of agitation that fed into the American Revolution, Boston radicals rallied beneath the tree’s canopy, speaking against imperial authorities and calling for home rule in the colonies.
After the speeches, the people marched. In one case, hundreds of marchers ended their protest at the docks, where they cheered on scores of activists as they dumped East Indies Trading Company tea into the harbor. In another case, the march ended in a volley fired from imperial rifles, martyring Crispus Attucks and four others as the first casualties of the dawning revolution.
In the first months of the Revolutionary War, imperial troops occupied Boston, and cut the elm to the ground. Yet the Liberty Tree lived on. In hundreds of towns, and in every colony, the revolutionaries consecrated new Liberty Trees and Liberty Poles, and flew their likenesses on their flags.
Thomas Paine wrote of the Liberty Tree in poetry and prose, and soon the tree was an international symbol. The French revolutionaries hailed the tree, as did the Irish republicans. In Haiti, the great Toussaint L’Ouverture prophesied:
By overthrowing me, you have succeeded in cutting down the tree of liberty of the blacks in Santo Domingo, but have failed to destroy the roots that are deep and strong. The tree will grow again.
The original Liberty Tree served as a physical and symbolic gathering place for revolutionary, democratic movements. It is our intention that this new Liberty Tree serve in the same purpose. As an organization, the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution provides material support for the growth of a broad based, deeply rooted, aggressive democracy movement in the United States. At Liberty Tree, we echo the sentiments of the abolitionists of the 1850s who wrote that:
Revolutions must be prepared for gradually, outrages must be resisted, and outrageous laws must be resisted and refused obedience to, before a revolution can be prepared for, long before it can be matured. ~ The Racine Advocate, 1851
A song, written early in the American Revolution by Thomas Paine, 1775
In a chariot of light from the regions of day, The Goddess of Liberty came; Ten thousand celestials directed the way, And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above, Where millions with millions agree, She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love, And the plant she named Liberty Tree.
The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground, Like a native it flourished and bore; The fame of its fruit drew the nations around, To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinctions they came, For freemen like brothers agree; With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued, And their temple was Liberty Tree.
Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old, Their bread in contentment they ate Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold, The cares of the grand and the great.
With timber and tar they Old England supplied, And supported her power on the sea; Her battles they fought, without getting a groat, For the honor of Liberty Tree.
But hear, O ye swains, 'tis a tale most profane, How all the tyrannical powers, Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain, To cut down this guardian of ours;
From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms, Through the land let the sound of it flee, Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer, In defense of our Liberty Tree.