Daily Archives: October 16, 2011

Disorder–an occasional American pastime

I don’t think Ann Coulter thought this one through.

Contrary to all the blather you always hear about how lawless street protests and civil disobedience are part of the American tradition — “what our troops are fighting for!” — they are not. We are an orderly people with democratic channels at our disposal to change our government.

The very reason we have a constitutional republic is because of a mob uprising. Soon after the American Revolution, Shays’ Rebellion so terrified and angered Americans that they demanded a federal government capable of crushing such mobs.

For nearly 200 years, Americans understood that they lived in a country capable of producing bad politicians and bad policies, but that it was subject to change through peaceful, democratic means. There was no need to riot or storm buildings because we didn’t have a king. We had a representative government.

Well, Americans haven’t always been as docile as she’s making out.  The Whiskey Rebellion, the pro-French mobs of the 1790’s, the New York draft riots, the labor upheavals of the Gilded Age and afterward, the suffragette protestors of the Progressive Era, Coxey’s Army, the numerous and sometimes overlapping movements of the 1960’s…public uproar has been woven pretty deeply into the fabric of American life, and it’s always been a source of divisiveness.  Witness, for example, the contrasting attitudes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson toward Shays’ Rebellion. Washington: “Are they nuts?!”  Jefferson: “Oh, sweet!  A revolt!

What really surprised me, though, was this sentiment: “This is what our Constitution was designed for: to use the force of the federal government to uphold the law when the states couldn’t (Shays’ Rebellion) or wouldn’t (segregationist Democrats).”  A die-hard conservative pundit cheering on the “force of the federal government.”  You don’t see that every day.

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