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Constantine Cannon Celebrates National Whistleblower Day

Posted  July 30, 2021

Today, along with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley and other members of Congress, we celebrate National Whistleblower Day, marking the occasion, on July 30, 1778, when the Continental Congress unanimously enacted the first whistleblower protection law in the United States.  As whistleblower advocates, it is a day to reflect on the courage, sacrifice, and patriotism of whistleblowers both in the United States and around the world.

The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1778

The first whistleblower protection law was passed in response to a petition submitted in February 1777 by a group of ten American sailors and marines to the Continental Congress, who risked their military careers by filing a whistleblower complaint against their commanding officer, Commodore Esek Hopkins.

The servicemen reported to Congress that Commodore Hopkins had engaged in “such crimes as render[ed] him quite unfit for the publick department he now occupies.”  These crimes included torturing British prisoners of war, failing to destroy a British frigate that had run aground, and repeatedly speaking ill of the Continental Congress.  The men declared that they were “ready to hazard everything that is dear, and if necessary, sacrifice our lives for the welfare of our country.”  But they were not willing to continue serving under Hopkins.

After conducting an investigation, Congress suspended Hopkins from his post.  He then retaliated against the whistleblowers by filing a criminal libel suit against them. Two of the whistleblowers, naval officers Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven, were jailed.

In a second petition read to Congress on July 23, 1778, Shaw and Marven pleaded that they had been “arrested for doing what they then believed and still believe was nothing but their duty.”  Congress agreed.  To remedy the wrong against Shaw and Marven, and to encourage other whistleblowers to come forward, Congress passed a law that created a legal duty on the part of “all persons” to report fraud and corruption in the government:

Resolved, that it is the duty of all persons of the United States, as well as all other inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or any other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the service of these States, which may come to their knowledge.

The Continental Congress also authorized money for Shaw and Marven’s legal defense.  With the help of their attorneys, Shaw and Marven prevailed in the libel suit and were freed.

Senator Grassley’s Speech at National Whistleblower Day

In remarks leading up to this year’s National Whistleblower Day, Senator Grassley, the champion of the False Claims Act, commented on the “very important role” that whistleblowers play in keeping our government transparent and accountable to the American people.  He described whistleblowers as “patriotic people” who “ought to be respected”:

They are very important to the entire nation because whistleblowers play a critical role in our government to make government responsive.  They call attention to problems of waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiency.  They help those of us in Congress identify problems within the government so we can fix them through oversight and legislation . . .

To that end, Senator Grassley recently introduced several legislative proposals relating to whistleblowers, including bi-partisan legislation to expand the reach of the False Claims Act, the government’s oldest and most successful fraud enforcement tool.  He has also proposed additional whistleblower protections.

Senator Grassley’s legislative proposals, if enacted, may further the best of the American tradition started by the Continental Congress back in July 1778 when it took steps to protect the sailors who spoke out about the criminal conduct of their commanding officer.

Constantine Cannon honors the courage of whistleblowers who, in the best tradition of American patriotism, act on their duty to report fraud and corruption.  If you are a whistleblower with information that you would like to report, please contact us.


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