On July 30, 2014, by a unanimous resolution the U.S. Senate declared July 30 as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day” for the second year in row. The resolution comes on the anniversary of the first ever whistleblower protection law enacted on July 30, 1778.
Stephen M. Kohn, KKC Partner and Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, first discovered the importance of this date to whistleblowers. Fifteen years ago, while conducting research for an amicus brief filed by the NWC supporting the constitutionality of the False Claims Act, Kohn discovered a resolution passed by the Continental Congress. The resolution, enacted on July 30, 1778, can be considered the world’s first whistleblower law. Kohn then carefully researched why our Founding Fathers enacted the resolution, and learned the details of America’s first whistleblower case. He reviewed the letters the whistleblowers wrote in jail pleading their case to the revolutionary Congress. He obtained from the National Archives a copy of the check the Continental Congress wrote to Sam Adams, honoring Congress’ agreement to pay the costs of the whistleblowers’ defense.
Our revolutionary founders acted swiftly when they learned that two whistleblowers had exposed misconduct by the highest-ranking U.S. naval official and were being prosecuted in the State of Rhode Island. They voted to spend precious monies from the new government’s treasury to ensure that the whistleblowers had lawyers to defend them. They voted to release all of the naval records documenting the whistleblower’s concerns.
The Founding Fathers’ message was clear and the vote was unanimous when they resolved: “That it 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, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
The National Whistleblower Center believes it is important to change the current culture and attitudes toward whistleblowers. The NWC approached Senator Charles Grassley in 2013 and asked for his help in establishing July 30 as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. He was successful in getting the resolution passed by unanimous vote.
Senator Ron Wyden, who will be the Vice-Chair of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus when it begins next year, joined Grassley in his efforts to pass the resolution again this year.
Stephen Kohn first retold this history in his book, The Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself (3rd Ed. 2013, Lyons Press). He has also recited this history before various groups and he most recently spoke about it on National Whistleblower Appreciation Day during the 2014 Whistleblower Summit Luncheon in Washington, D.C.
Click here to watch him tell the story of the first whistleblower case in the U.S.