Thursday, January 17, 2013
You Say You Want An Insurrection?
[I]n another valuable contribution to the January/February issue of the Washington Monthly, journalist and historian Colin Woodward argues that the very ideologies of white supremacy and state’s rights that make the Confederacy possible ultimately destroyed it from within:Slaveholders were insulted when the government tried to force them to provide slaves to support the war effort or to join the army even if they felt they had more important things to do. Such policies—which grew more draconian as the South’s position deteriorated—“violated political, social, and other cultural imperatives and taboos.” This included “keeping government small and weak, extolling local and state sovereignty over that of a national government, and keeping black people firmly subordinated and strictly excluded from many spheres of life.” Planters refused to grow food for the army instead of cotton for profit. Critical fortifications were left unfinished because they refused to loan slaves to accomplish the task. Morale in Confederate ranks was eroded when well-connected plantation owners passed laws giving their families special exemptions from conscription.
Resistance to the war effort was especially intense in my home state of Georgia, cockpit of Sherman’s crucial and successful effort to cut the Confederacy in half and make the much-discussed battles in Virginia more or less a bloody mopping-up operation. Here’s how the New Georgia Encyclopedia describes the administration of Gov. Joseph E. Brown, the state’s chief executive throughout the war:[T]he hallmark of his wartime administration was his resistance to the authority of the central Confederate government, a policy that was soon copied by some other Confederate governors and that helped to undermine the overall war effort. Governor Brown’s opposition surfaced in many fields. He opposed the army’s impressments of goods and especially slave laborers. He frustrated Confederate efforts to seize the Western and Atlantic Railroad and to impose occasional martial law. He bitterly criticized Confederate tax and blockade-running policies. Over time the war-weary legislature backed him more often, and influential politicians like Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens and former secretary of state Robert Toombs became his open allies as morale slumped in Georgia.
History is not without a sense of irony. Virginian James Madison opined during the Constitutional Convention that Congress needed to be given power over militias because:
The primary object is to secure an effectual discipline of the Militia. This will no more be done if left to the States separately than the requisitions have been hitherto paid by them. The States neglect their Militia now, and the more they are consolidated into one nation, the less each will rely on its own interior provisions for its safety & the less prepare its Militia for that purpose; in like manner as the Militia of a State would have been still more neglected than it has been if each County had been independently charged with the care of its Militia. The Discipline of the Militia is evidently a National concern, and ought to be provided for in the National Constitution.
He also rebutted Patrick Henry during their state's ratification convention:
Without uniformity of discipline, military bodies would be incapable of action: without a general controlling power to call forth the strength of the Union to repel invasions, the country might be overrun and conquered by foreign enemies: without such a power to suppress insurrections, our liberties might be destroyed by domestic faction, and domestic tyranny be established.
Have we not found, from experience, that, while the power of arming and governing the militia has been solely vested in the state legislatures, they were neglected and rendered unfit for immediate service? Every state neglected too much this most essential object. But the general government can do it more effectually. Have we not also found that the militia of one state were almost always insufficient to secure its harassed neighbor? Did all the states furnish their quotas of militia with sufficient promptitude? The assistance of one state will be of little avail to repel invasion. But the general head of the whole Union can do it with effect, if it be vested with power to use the aggregate strength of the Union. If the regulation of the militia were to be committed to the executive authority alone, there might be reason for providing restrictions. But, sir, it is the legislative authority that has this power. They must make a law for the purpose.
Patrick Henry is the perfect States Rights guy. He despised the Preamble's "We the People" because he thought the Several States should have all the power and rights to change our existing governmental order. He claimed to hate slavery, yet didn't want to abolish it and was thus very concerned about state power to suppress slave insurrections.
Regardless, Henry was correct that should the Federal government have control over the militia and ability to create a standing army, liberty would be at greater risk than if the powers were spread more between the states and central authority. He lost the question, however, both in VA and nationally, though ultimately did win a concession in the Bill of Rights.
Still, it remains a puzzle to me how much focus is given to people on the short end of the stick and assertions that the militia's purpose is to fight a tyrannical government at home. Perhaps if we maintained a huge standing army and didn't have a republican form of government with democratically elected offices, that would be a great worry. In fact, that was a primary driver of the American Revolution: burdensome taxes to fund a military establishment over which Colonials had no control or input.
Yet once the Constitution was established and ordained by We the People, that fear became tertiary at best. Consider Justice Joseph Story's commentary:
The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people.
Or that of an old Virginian, President George Washington:
The well informed members of the community, actuated by the highest motives of self-love, would form the real defence of the country. Rebellions would be prevented or suppressed with ease; invasions of such a government would only be undertaken by mad men; and the virtues and knowledge of the people would effectually oppose the introduction of tyranny.
What was the greatest tyranny in the United States for several score years? Slavery, enforced by militias in the states like the one called home by Washington, Madison, Henry, et al. What was the greatest example of revolution in the United States? The Civil War, which pitted a decentralized rebel government with a not-so-coordinated military against a centralized constitutional government with a more-coordinated military. So which defended liberty better?
Naturally I would submit the Union did, not only by being the winner, but by being the side that really stayed true to our ideals enshrined in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The secesh liked to harken back to the words of Thomas Jefferson (another Virginian, of course), but recall that the Colonial grievance was not being afforded their rights to representation, from which almost all other problems flowed (including British use of their standing army to oppress the population).
When South Carolina tried to leave the US and take its fellow slaveholders with her, it did so not because Lincoln sent the Federal army to oppress them, or because he'd issued any controversial executive orders freeing the slaves--he had simply won a legitimate, Constitutional election that all these states had a stake in, and the man hadn't even taken office yet. That's a fairly significant difference between our original Revolution and the petty desire of powerful slaveowners.
So do lawmakers (not to mention extreme pro-gun citizens) from TX and VA and elsewhere really want to emulate that track record? Attemped unconstitutional nullification followed by attempted extraconstitutional rebellion followed by shattering defeat from followers of our Constitution?
And do they really think that the Constitution enshrines the right to insurrection? SCOTUS makes the obvious point:
[I]t is within the power of the Congress to protect the Government of the United States from armed rebellion is a proposition which requires little discussion. Whatever theoretical merit there may be to the argument that there is a "right" to rebellion against dictatorial governments is without force where the existing structure of the government provides for peaceful and orderly change. We reject any principle of governmental helplessness in the face of preparation for revolution, which principle, carried to its logical conclusion, must lead to anarchy. No one could conceive that it is not within the power of Congress to prohibit acts intended to overthrow the Government by force and violence.
We didn't establish a government to be overthrown by violent revolution, but rather through the political process (which could include calling for convention beyond regular elections). In fact, we granted the government explicit power to suppress rebellion (as well as treason), and to rely on the militia to carry out the task if necessary. So to claim that the 2nd Amendment cannot be limited in any way because it will deprive people of their right to resist tyranny is quite ignorant. As Lincoln observed:
It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.
He also said:
Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it our people have already settled — the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains — its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world that those who can fairly carry an election can also suppress a rebellion; that ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly and constitutionally decided, there can be no successful appeal back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace: teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war; teaching all the folly of being the beginners of a war.
You wanna talk about revolution? Go for it, I guess, but don't wrap yourself in the Constitution while doing so. Don't tell me you're a Patriot when you call for armed insurrection because you don't like SCOTUS rulings, or electoral outcomes, or when the political process is used to try doing the bare mininum to help protect schoolkids from young white guys with devices of mass murder.
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If the 2nd amendment absolutists want to reestablish an actual, organized and well-regulated MILITIA, that might wind up being a decent plan.
So they'd have to muster at regular intervals, every month or two, for drills, cross-country marches, camping, etc. All ass a prerequisite to having a (registered) firearm. Not up to date in your militia obligations? Turn in that gun, citizen!
Sort of like a cross between the boy scouts and re-enacters.
It really is too bad that the fascist right-wing racist scum has tainted the very idea of a modern 'militia'.
Posted by: Snarki, child of Loki | Jan 17, 2013 1:36:25 PM