« Politics Is The Art Of The...Oh, Forget It | Main | We Have Too Many Damned Felines To Name »

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Government Is As Government Does

As I have oft noted, I read old Congressional journals for fun:

And the following message was received from the President:
Gentlemen of the Senate:
    I nominate, for the district of New York, James Dunne, Judge; William S. Smith, Marshal; Richard Harrison, Attorney. For the district of New Jersey, David Brearly, Judge; Thomas Lowry, Marshal; Richard Stockton, Attorney.
    And I Iikewise nominate Thomas Jefferson, for Secretary of State; Edmund Randolph, for Attorney General; Samuel Osgood, for Postmaster General.
                                                        GEO. WASHINGTON.
    September 25, 1789.
And the appointments were immediately confirmed.

Jefferson had just returned from France, where he resided when this was going on three years prior:

Thus far, the demonstrations in Western Massachusetts had been made against the Inferior Courts...the next step was, of course, to stop the Supreme Judicial Courts, and, at this point, the rebellion changed its footing, and became plainly and unmistakably treasonable. The Supreme Judicial Court was to open at Springfield on Tuesday, Sept. 26th...The Court was opened at the appointed time, but the Grand Jury did not appear, and was, in fact, under arms, at the door, for the protection of the Court that could do no business without them.

During the day, the insurgents occupied ground about three quarters of a mile North of the Court House, in the vicinity of the present Ferry Street. Throughout the day, numbers flocked in from the towns around, and attached themselves to either standard, a company of militia not unfrequently marching in a body to join the insurgents, after they had been ordered from abroad to support the Government . The Government party wore a strip of white paper in their hats, to distinguish themselves from the hemlock bearers, and spies were traversing the space between the two bodies, alternately using the paper and hemlock badge, as they approached and mingled in the respective camps.

In the course of the day, the insurgents sent a message to the Court, proposing the conditions on which they would consent to disband and retire. These conditions were that the people should not be indicted for rising in arms to prevent the Courts from sitting at Northampton, or for appearing at that time to stop the proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Court; that no civil causes should be tried, except those in which both parties were ready and willing; that the militia embodied by the Government should not receive payment for their services, with several others of smaller moment. The Court refused these conditions, promptly and decidedly, and declared that they should execute the laws in accordance with their oaths.

As Abigail Adams wrote the following January:

With regard to the tumults in my Native State which you inquire about, I wish I could say that report had exagerated them, it is too true Sir that they have been carried to so allarming a Height as to stop the Courts of Justice in several Counties.

Jefferson replied:

The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.

And a couple months after the Constitution was submitted to the People, most famously:

Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure

While this is perhaps a little more extreme than I'm willing to be, it is actually one reason I don't find anti-government types running for office to be hypocritical.  Jefferson the revolutionary was consistent in believing the People had every right--even a duty--to rise up against government from time to time, and he worked within the government structure to keep it as honest (in his view) as he could.  Similarly, Tea Partiers--who I certainly don't think carry the same intellectual or ethical heft as the deeply-flawed Jefferson--ostensibly go into government to get rid of the parts they don't like.  It's not contradictory from where I sit.

Shay's Rebellion perhaps is best summed up by this petition from the town of Athol, MA:

[O]ur Property is torn from us & our Gaols filled & still our Debts are not discharged; but our Property daily diminishing greatly to the injury of Debtors and in many cases but little to the advantage of the Creditor.

Sounds very much like our situation today.  The differences, I think, are that we do have a better system of government than that under the Articles, and people actually responded with torches and pitchforks instead of just posting about doing so online (I'll also note that anti-Federalists did actually try to make government function).  Would that more would get engaged in some way, even if they're cynical about the effectiveness of government.

I'm not going to suggest that I've done things right, but I will say my experience of running for office as an independent in 2010 did show me a few things.  The biggest lesson I took away from it was that by actively campaigning, I made a great deal of contact with so many people, which ultimately enabled me to be elected to a leadership spot of a major party (despite my disillusionment and disengagement, I was once again sent to the county committee by our town caucus) and to a seat in local government (re-elected this year, in fact).  It ain't much, but none of this would have happened if I'd not tried in the first place.

Gandhi said, "be the change you wish to see."  So find a way to keep his and Jefferson's legacies alive, lest our property continue to be torn from us.


September 26, 2015 in Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink


Post a comment