Suppressing Insurrections

By Cyberquill 06/21/20132 Comments


Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 59 that “every government ought to contain in itself the means of its own preservation.”

Accordingly, the U.S. Constitution confers upon Congress the authority “[t]o provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.”

The dictionary defines insurrection as “an act or instance of rising in revolt, rebellion, or resistance against civil authority or an established government.”

So the same document that safeguards our most cherished liberties and equality under the law also—and quite plainly at that—gives our government the green light to go Assad on us should it see no alternative to safeguarding its own preservation.

That said, the American system, given its built-in checks and balances, its regularly held free elections, as well as a variety of safety valves it guarantees to its people (such as the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly) for venting whatever frustrations and grievances may ail them, greatly outperforms less sophisticated political systems in terms of reducing the likelihood of violent insurgencies occurring in the first place.

However, should these safety valves some day fail to preclude armed rebellion in the United States, and should said rebellion prove impervious to diplomatic démarche and compromise, what course of action would the leadership in D.C. resort to?

Surely, just because the Constitution authorizes our government to “call forth” the military to clamp down on homegrown troublemakers doesn’t mean that’s what our government would do, even if it had no better idea how to secure its own survival or that of the Union—or would it?

Come to think of it, when a bunch of Southern states declared their secession from the U.S. for the purpose of forming their own country, the U.S. government, lead by President Lincoln, cracked down on these insurgents in a way that, by the most conservative estimates, left in excess of 600,000 combatants dead in the space of four years, not counting civilian casualties.

For comparison, as per the latest conservative U.N. estimates, President Assad’s bulldozing the Syrian rebellion has thus far claimed 93,000 lives over a period of 15 months.

You do the math.

Of course, the Syrian civil war differs from the American one in several non-trivial respects.

For one, the Union and Confederate armies were considerate enough to hash it out man-to-man in corn fields and similar outdoor terrain (urban battles were few and far between), whereas the Assad regime is mainly blasting residential areas, presumably because that’s where the rebels are sniping forth from (as opposed to setting up shop in the desert where engaging them would minimize collateral damage).

Above all, Abraham Lincoln was the good guy in the conflict, and the secessionists were wrong, whereas Mr Assad comes across as little more than a warlord and a thug, and the Syrian insurgents certainly have a point in desiring to send him and his cronies packing (although it is doubtful whether some of these rebel factions would be much of an improvement over the status quo if they ascended to power).

Without intending to draw too much of a moral equivalency between the U.S. government under Abraham Lincoln and the Assad regime, both obviously call(ed) forth their respective militias as a means to their own preservation, i.e., to squash insurgencies in the territory under their charge.

In both cases, unspeakable bloodshed ensued.

Would a future U.S. president ever give orders to bomb and ravage Cleveland or Nashville if doing so seemed the only way to suppress an insurrection brought forth by yet another perceived long Train of Abuses and Usurpations that, in the eyes of the aggrieved parties, evinced a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism?

It just seems eerily natural for a government to do whatever it takes to preserve itself and to keep the nation from falling apart.


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  • Richard

    The example to follow is, as always, that of the British who tolerate rebellious colonies for long periods, even when the rebels divide into factions and fight amongst themselves. That is true freedom.

    Ultimately, wisdom will prevail, those colonies will understand the error of their ways, they will renew their allegiance to the Crown and all will be forgiven.

    • Cyberquill

      Right after the financial collapse of 2008, President Bush was literally down on his knees and implored the Queen to take back the colonies, but she didn’t want them anymore.

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