Sunday, March 16, 2014

"it is a good thing for Governments to know that the people possess arms...."

Is Rebellion Ever Justifiable In a Republic?

From the World.

   The Times contends that it is not. Its argument, if we correctly apprehend it, is, in substance, that inasmuch as the aggrieved are represented, they have a remedy in the elections if they are a majority, while, if they are a minority, they are bound to submit. We do not undertake to define the justifiable causes of rebellion, since they involve a question of degree, and therefore do not admit of very exact statement. But whatever may be the amount of oppression which justifies armed resistance, we cannot see why it should make any difference, in the moral aspect of the question, whether the oppressors be few or many. The majority in a republic will never rebel, since they have an easier and less hazardous mode of attaining their wishes. When minorities rebel, they do so with the odds against them; and it is only a deep sense of wrong, or a firm confidence in the justice of their cause, that can induce them to take the risks. Majorities are but aggregates of individual men; and as individual men may be unjust and tyrannical, majorities composed of such individuals may be so too. The absolute will of a majority is even more intolerable than the absolute will of a monarch, since it may consist of infinite strands of individual tyranny twisted together into one tremendous cable.

   Republican government is, to be sure, the government of majorities; but it quickly degenerates into an engine of oppression unless the will of the majority is restrained by a fixed constitution. Constitutions are not meant for the protection of majorities, who, in a republican government, can always protect themselves through the ballot-box, but for the protection of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. So long as the majority, or the government which is their agent, respects the limits thus set to its authority, rebellions can never be justifiable if the Constitution is just and wise. But if a hot-headed and over-bearing majority refuse to be bound by the constitution, and erect their own will into the supreme law, will the Times tell us what would, in that case, be the effectual means of resisting oppression and redressing injustice? The government of an unrestrained majority is the worst of all possible tyrannies. When all constitutional restraints are cast off and scoffed at, what are the minority to do ? For our part, we do not hesitate to affirm that no people are fit for republican government who have not in their composition a spice of the rebel. The knowledge that the majority will resist if injured, is a salutary restraint on the governing power. It was Jefferson's opinion that there ought to be at least one rebellion in a generation, to purify the political atmosphere, and remind rulers of the necessity of moderation.

   The Times' notion that rebellion is never justifiable under a representative Government, is one of those hasty half-thoughts caught up by looking at a subject in one of its aspects, instead of a comprehensive survey. The Federal Constitution itself indirectly recognizes the right of rebellion in extreme cases. It declares that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The right of the people to bear arms implies their right to use arms, otherwise the guarantee would be as idle as a right to keep guns without triggers. It is a good thing for the people to have arms in their hands to use, in the last resort, against oppression; and it is a good thing for Governments to know that the people possess arms of which this use can be made. Whether any particular occasion justifies resistance, is quite a different question from whether resistance is ever permissible. The Times, by inculcating the slavish doctrine that the tyranny of the majority is never to be resisted, precludes all consideration of particular grievances as a ground of rebellion. If rebellion is never permissible in a republic, it cannot be permissible against this or that wrong, how ever flagrant and intolerable.

   This slavish doctrine is new in American politics, but it is a natural enough corollary from the high-handed action of the Government during the last six years. All former expounders of our institutions have recognized the right of rebellion. The Federalist, for example, in discussing the means of the State to resist Federal encroachments, gives a prominent place to physical force, and winds up in this spirited strain of truly republican eloquence: "Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the supposition that they would be less able to defend the right of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment by a blind submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it." [Federalist No. 46 by James Madison]

   Mr. Webster, in both of his great speeches against nullification that in reply to Hayne and that in reply to Calhoun explicitly and fully acknowledged the right of rebellion as unquestionable, as did also Mr. Clay in connection with the same subject. Mr. Seward, in discussing the militia system, said that among the three occasions for the exercise of the right of rebellion was: "First. The attempt by the Government or its officers to exercise tyranny over the people." It marks a great decline in the spirit of liberty in this country, and betokens the demoralizing influence of the period through which we have been passing, that a popular newspaper has become imbued with sentiments so abject and servile.

[The Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, Thursday, March 28, 1867. Vol. VII---No. 70. Pg. 2]
   Nice article! However, I would have chosen the following quote from the Federalist as being far more applicable to the topic:
"If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government . . . The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms..."--Alexander Hamilton, [The Federalist Papers No. 28]

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