- - Thursday, February 23, 2017

The most alarming aspect of the recent anti-Trump movement is the rioting and violence which has raised the specter of a revolution against the lawful authority of the United States federal government. On the serious side of this dissent are the actions of the California Gov. Jerry Brown, who wants to declare the largest state in the union a “sanctuary state”.

This means that California law enforcement would be instructed by state law NOT to cooperate with federal officials in identifying and transferring custody of illegal residents who have been convicted of criminal acts. What they would be instructed to do is a matter of some debate. In the past, sanctuary cities have often released such criminals back into society thereby facilitating additional crimes. There has also been talk of California seceding from the Union. This “serious” talk seems to be the backdrop for a plethora of demonstrations, large and small, throughout California and indeed in several other cities.

What to think about all this? What does it mean?

One thing to understand is that America’s “peaceful transition of power” has not always been so peaceful. There is a long history of dissenters, massive marches, riots and revolutionaries. The bar of civility was set very low, very early by the emergence of newspapers after the Revolutionary War. In 1776, there were fewer than 50 newspapers in the colonies. By 1800, there were more than 250. The press became increasingly partisan and the rise of the two parties was indelibly fostered by the extreme language of the early editors.

Late in his second term, George Washington was subjected to malicious attacks of a highly personal nature. His old admirer, Thomas Payne, was an example. He turned on the president, calling him, among other things, a war profiteer. It is likely that these attacks were a significant factor in Washington’s decision not to run for a third term.



Thomas Jefferson, in his 1796 campaign against his old friend John Adams, secretly hired a pamphleteer to slander Adams as a monarchist with an unholy love of the British. That was just one of his tricks. Adams had anticipated the personal attacks, as he wrote to his wife Abigail that he believed “every chief executive was almost sure of disgrace and ruin”. (How right he was!) Ultimately, Adams decided to seek the office because, he said, “I love my country too well to shrink from danger in her service.”

The election of 1796 established the two parties, the Federalists of Washington and Adams and the Democrat-Republicans (called Republicans) of Thomas Jefferson. The election of 1800 between Jefferson and Adams was even nastier than 1796. It ended in a tie which went to the House of Representatives for resolution. But the House was equally divided. It took 36 ballots before the lone Representative from Delaware finally changed his vote to Jefferson.

As Federalist James Bayard explained later, it became clear that the Federalists were willing to secede from the Union rather than vote for Jefferson. This would mean that little Delaware would be swallowed up by a larger state (probably Pennsylvania), and cease to exist as a state. So, he changed his vote to save his own position as a Congressional Representative — thus preserving the Union; thus, electing Thomas Jefferson president; thus, enabling a peaceful transition of power.

All these early confrontations featured dissent, slanders, protests, riots, and outcomes which were widely unpopular among the losers. The worst case in point was the duel between Jefferson’s Republican Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, the organizer of the Federalists. Burr’s shot killed Hamilton. This incident, however, pales beside the Civil War, in which the two sides ultimately resolved the question of political succession by the worst war in American history, resulting in 650,000 casualties.

As to mass demonstrations and riots, they have accompanied every period in American history. President Washington had to send in troops to re-establish order in the 1792 Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, sparked by a tax on moonshine. The anti-German riots in Philadelphia in the 1830’s burned the houses of German immigrant nuns. The John Brown armed insurrection of the 1850’s had to be put down by the U.S. Army, and was soon followed by the Civil War. The Colorado Miners’ strike in pre-WWI Colorado was settled by the Colorado National Guard slaughter of the miners’ village. The WWI veterans who had not been paid their wages took over the White House lawn in 1932, which followed a national explosion of “Hooverville’s” of unemployed men in the same time period. And so it goes

In more recent times, we have also seen the vast demonstrations of the 1960’s for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, both marred occasionally by violence. There have also been massive peaceful demonstrations, including civil rights, the pro-life marches every year, and many others. So, the marches, name-calling, even the riots are part of a long history in the USA.

What is to be done? I suggest that we focus on the most dangerous element of the dissent: the violence. The old saying, “Violence begets violence” has proven true throughout history. Demonstrations and slander have to be tolerated, But not violence. Violence should be put down immediately and forcefully. I think the wiser members on the Left agree. There are many solid citizens in the Democrat party. They do not condone the rioting and violence. They also realize that such lawlessness undermines their credibility as a responsible opposition. So, no violence. That should be our line in the sand.

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