Thursday, January 10, 2013
Too Much Whiskey, Not Enough Perspective
The other day I noted the silly petition to have Sen Feinstein tried for treason because she's re-introducing the Assault Weapons Ban. The right to petition is as American as believing oneself to be as badassed as Dirty Harry, and that's totally cool, but I do wish people understood basic shit about the rule of law and our Constitution.
Our Framers were informed by the experience of English kings calling criticism and other actions of a free people 'treason', so they were very explicit about what that crime entails (the only specific crime mentioned):
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.
I'm sure there are folks who do really view the AWB as "weakening" the 2nd Amendment and thus is an act of war or adhering to enemies or providing aid and comfort of somesuch nonsense. But, you know, that's just facially wrong.
Consider once more the Whiskey Rebellion (using Wikipedia for expediency):
The Washington administration's suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion met with widespread popular approval. The episode demonstrated the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. It was therefore viewed by the Washington administration as a success, a view that has generally been endorsed by historians. The Washington administration and its supporters usually did not mention, however, that the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, and that many westerners continued to refuse to pay the tax. The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway. The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party, which opposed theFederalist Party of Hamilton and Washington, came to power in 1800.
The Rebellion raised the question of what kinds of protests were permissible under the new Constitution. Legal historian Christian G. Fritz argued, even after ratification of the Constitution, there was not yet a consensus about sovereignty in the United States. Federalists believed the government was sovereign because it had been established by the people, so radical protest actions, which were permissible during the American Revolution, were no longer legitimate. But the Whiskey Rebels and their defenders believed the Revolution had established the people as a "collective sovereign", and the people had the collective right to change or challenge the government through extraconstitutional means.
Historian Steven Boyd argued that the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion prompted anti-Federalist westerners to finally accept the Constitution, and to seek change by voting for Republicans rather than resisting the government. Federalists, for their part, came to accept that the people could play a greater role in governance. Although Federalists would attempt to restrict speech critical of the government with the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, after the Whiskey Rebellion, says Boyd, Federalists no longer challenged thefreedom of assembly and the right to petition.
With one minor exception, violent resistance in the US has failed miserably, while non-violent action has achieved significant victories through various methods of civil disobedience and adept use of the political system. That's the point: we have a form of popular government in which the People can already exercise their power through our democratic mechanisms and republican structure.
Calls for rebellion by people who don't like the outcome of elections, the legislative process and/or judicial review come from ignorance, not patriotism. 1776 (or more accurately, 1775) happened because Americans had no voice in their government. The situtation is quite different today and there is no cause to threaten killing your fellow citizens over policy disagreements. THAT is pretty fucking treasonous.
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I get to pick a nit! I get to pick a nit!
"they were very explicit about what that crime entails (the only specific crime mentioned)"
Bribery is also mentioned (under impeachment). Not defined, presumably because everyone concerned knew *exactly* what was meant.
Of course, that was the era before SuperPACs, so perhaps they should have been more explicit.
Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki | Jan 11, 2013 2:05:01 PM
Objection sustained. Shoulda said 'defined' instead of 'mentioned'. Grumble.
Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Jan 11, 2013 10:22:41 PM