Homeland v. Republican Politics, Part Two
The following includes two quotes from Thomas Jefferson, in letters written to James Madison and another to Abigail Adams, concerning what is called “Shays’ Rebellion, which occurred in Massachusetts and by which Daniel Shays and a few thousand followers tried to take over the government in Massachusetts.
“In a letter to Madison on January 30, 1787, Jefferson wrote “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical… It is medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” In another letter Jefferson expressed to Abigail Adams, “The spirit of the 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.”  Jefferson saw the people as the ultimate way to protect liberty and their rights. He felt so strongly about this idea that he did not think the rebels should be punished.”
Jefferson also wrote that the motives of the Shaysites were “founded in ignorance not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion….And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?....The remedy is to is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.”
Jefferson’s arguments seem radical to us these days, when we are in the midst of “protecting the homeland” from enemies, foreign and domestic. Homeland politics cannot allow or abide by “a little rebellion,” whereas according to Jefferson, republican politics requires and benefits from “a little rebellion,” at least every twenty years. Take note that Jefferson did not consider the Shaysites to be “enemies” and did not call for a war on domestic terrorism. Set them straight and pardon the rebels.
Homeland politics is a distinctly anti-republican kind of politics. It’s the kind of politics that prioritizes “domestic tranquility” and treats those who disturb that tranquility as enemies, even these days “terrorists.” But if you think about it, in the United States, those who have subverted domestic tranquility have changed for the better our political and social arrangements. Recall the peace movement during the Vietnam War, recall the Stonewall rebellion when gays and lesbians rebelled against the police, recall MLK and the civil rights marches that led, eventually, to the end of de jure segregation, etc., etc., etc. As Jefferson pointed out, if there aren’t disruptions, rebellions every so often, the people’s liberties will be lost.
But homeland politics doesn’t take its bearings from preserving liberty. Rather, it takes its bearings from “protecting the homeland,” and whatever liberties are left over after that is done – and it is never done – are all the people are entitled to, but only so long as “domestic tranquility” isn’t disturbed.