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Whistleblowing is fundamentally American, since 1778
Stephen Kohn talks about the history of whistleblowing and the importance of National Whistleblower Day
On July 30, 1778, amidst the American Revolution, an act of courage by ten men aboard the USS Warren laid the foundation for whistleblowing in the United States, setting a precedent for the future protection of those who risk their own security to expose wrongdoing. This tale of bravery and sacrifice begins with a small group of sailors and marines who dared to challenge the abuses by Esek Hopkins, the first Commander of the U.S. Navy, despite the absence of any legal safeguards.
Driven by their commitment to the revolutionary cause, they delivered a letter to Robert Treat Paine, prosecutor of the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre, seeking his support. Eight days later, Marine Captain John Grannis took the bold step to present their petitions to the Continental Congress, demanding the removal of Hopkins for his serious misconduct and undermining of the Revolution’s mission.
Rather than retaliating against these early whistleblowers, Congress acted decisively – Hopkins was suspended, provided an opportunity to counter the allegations, and ultimately discharged when no defense was offered. When Hopkins retaliated by having two of the whistleblowers arrested for libel, Congress responded by passing arguably the world’s first explicit whistleblower law on July 30, 1778, paying for the men’s legal defense, and ensuring their victory – the first for American whistleblowers.
This story, unearthed by Stephen M. Kohn, a law professor and author of “Rules for Whistleblowers: A Handbook for Doing What’s Right,” underscores why the U.S. Senate has marked July 30 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day for the past ten years. The day serves as a reminder of the vital role that whistleblowers have played since the birth of our democracy, and the necessity to uphold their protections in the present day. For more on this historical account and its significance, read the full article here.