The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Whistleblowing in the American Revolution

The American Revolution was a grand political and military struggle that started in 1776. This revolution was fought by brave people who were willing to stand up against tyranny and oppression. One of these heroes was a man named Samuel Shaw, who risked his life to expose corruption in the Continental navy. Shaw was able to bring down a corrupt naval commander with the help of another whistleblower, Richard Marven. In this article, we will discuss the role that whistleblowers played in the American Revolution, and how their actions helped to secure our freedom.

Whistleblowers have always been an important part of our society, and their role in the American Revolution was no different. A Revolutionary War naval officer named Samuel Shaw, with the help of Richard Marven became the first whistleblower in the United States. The sailor became disgusted with the corruption he saw around him and decided to expose a corrupt naval commander by the name of Esek Hopkins. Samuel Shaw, alongside a group of 9 American sailors and marines, decided to discuss concerns to the Continental Congress that their commander of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, had engaged in inhuman crimes and that he was unfit for the position he then occupied. Some of the crimes committed by Hopkins included speaking ill of the Continental Congress, torturing British soldiers and prisoners of war, and failing to destroy a British frigate that run aground.

These servicemen decided to report this information to the Continental Congress, risking their military careers, and their lives for the “welfare of their country.” This brave act helped to bring down a tyrant, and it inspired other whistleblowers to come forward with their own stories of corruption. After an investigation, Congress was able to remove Hopkins from his post after he had already retaliated against the whistleblowers. Hopkins filed a criminal libel suit against the 10 sailors including Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven resulting in favor of Hopkins. The two were unfortunately jailed.

Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven pleaded in a second petition to Congress on July 23, 1778, that “they did what they believed to be right and their duty.” Congress sided with the whistleblowers and even supported the whistleblowers financially in the case that they ended up winning. This case was the inspiration for the promulgation of the first, and unopposed, American whistleblower's protection law. The law read:

“That is the duty of all persons in the service 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, fraud, or misdemeanors committed by any officers or person in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge (Legislation of July 30, 1778)

Congress passing this law created a legal duty to report fraud and corruption to the government and encourage other citizens to come forward by supporting these brave men and women willing to take the risk. Thanks to the courageous actions of Samuel Shaw and Richard Marven, justice was served, and democracy was strengthened. Without their bravery, the American Revolution may have had a very different outcome.

These brave men and women showed us that it is always important to stand up for what is right, no matter the cost. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and we must never forget their sacrifices. Whistleblowers play an essential role in our society, and we must always protect their rights. If you are considering reporting fraudulent activity to the federal government, you may be eligible for a monetary reward. It is important to consult with an experienced whistleblower attorney who can help you navigate these laws and protect your rights.

If you would like more information, please contact Whistleblowers International today for a free, confidential consultation. We can help you determine if you have a case and guide you through the process. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have learned something new about the American Revolution today.