‘Real Americans’ have always been rebels: a guide for progressive patriotism
by Micah White in The Guardian newspaper March 2017
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Thomas Jefferson, an author of the Declaration of Independence, once wrote in a letter to James Madison, architect of the US constitution and bill of rights, that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”.
Jefferson also advocated only mild punishment for rebellions so as to avoid discouraging them too much. And, in a wakeup call to today’s Americans, Jefferson famously advocated revolutions every two decades, writing in 1787: “God forbid we should be 20 years without a rebellion … What country can preserve its liberties if the rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”
Abraham Lincoln echoed Jefferson during his inaugural address in 1861 when he said: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember, or overthrow it.”
And so too did Ulysses S Grant in 1885 when he declared: “The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression if they are strong enough, either by withdrawing from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.”
Nowadays, the right of revolution is as inalienable as ever, yet it is rarely acknowledged by those in power. Unlike presidents Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant today’s leaders are loathe to concede that if their government is oppressive, then the people have a duty to revolt. Notice how Barack Obama is fond of praising protesters’s right of assembly but stops far short of celebrating the right of revolution.
All this leads to the final epiphany that we, the people, have a patriotic duty to defend our country whenever our governments conflicts with a higher, democratic ideal.