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Government by Dissent

Government by Dissent: Protest, Resistance, and Radical Democratic Thought in the Early American Republic

Robert W. T. Martin
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 273
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  • Book Info
    Government by Dissent
    Book Description:

    "The most thorough examination we have of how early Americans wrestled with what types of political dissent should be permitted, even promoted, in the new republic they were forming.Martin shows the modern relevance of their debates in ways that all will find valuable - even those who dissent from his views!" - Rogers M. Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania We generally think of democracy as government by consent; a government of, by, and for the people.We commonly downplay or even denigrate the role of dissent in democratic governments. But in Government by Dissent, Robert W.T. Martin explores the idea that the people most important in a flourishing democracy are those who challenge the status quo. The American political radicals of the 1790s understood, articulated, and defended the crucial necessity of dissent to democracy. Dissent has rarely been the mainstream of democratic politics. But the figures explored here - forgotten farmers as well as revered framers - understood that dissent is always the essential undercurrent of democracy and is often the critical crosscurrent. Only by returning to their political insights can we hope to reinvigorate our own popular politics.Robert W.T. Martinis Professor of Government and Chair of the Government Department at Hamilton College. His works includeThe Free and Open Press: The Founding of American Democratic Press Liberty, 1640-1800 (2001), andThe Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton(co-edited with Douglas Ambrose, 2006), both from NYU Press.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3886-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Under cover of darkness and disguise, a carefully orchestrated band of protesters intentionally and systematically destroyed private property. On a different occasion and in a discreet context, a large, peaceful protest was marred by a handful of rioters who engaged in some destruction of private property, despite other protesters’ efforts to stop them. The former episode we praise as the “Boston Tea Party” (1773), and twenty-first-century political movements have been named after it; the latter incident we denigrate as the “Battle of Seattle” (1999), that is, if we remember it at all.

    While this stark comparison is perhaps unfair in...

  6. 2 Regulation, Not Rebellion: From “Rough Music” to Democratic Disorder
    (pp. 21-54)

    When President George W. Bush sent American troops into Iraq in 2003, he was able to launch and maintain an increasingly unpopular war without serious financial and military problems. A large, professional army stood ready to follow his commands, with other troops in reserve who could be easily called up. The Treasury would not run dry, because most Americans pay their taxes in advance via automatic withholding. And should any soldier, marine, military reservist, or taxpayer refuse to acquiesce in all this, the president could rest assured that an ample police force could arrest the protester, courts would prosecute, and...

  7. 3 “Secret Plodders”: Anti-Federalism, Anonymity, and the Struggle for Democratic Dissent
    (pp. 55-82)

    How dare they? It was bad enough, some Pennsylvania Anti-Federalists thought, that the eastern aristocrats in Philadelphia had managed to hoodwink and corral enough votes to force the proposed new Constitution through the hastily called state ratification convention.¹ But then, on December 26, 1787, in the Anti-Federalist stronghold of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the local Federalists went about celebrating the news of ratification publicly, practically rubbing it in the faces of backcountry democrats and refusing to halt the celebratory cannon fire. It was just too much, so a number of “anti-constitutionalists” set upon the Federalists, beating them with barrel staves and quickly...

  8. 4 Institutionalizing Counterpublicity: The Democratic Societies of the 1790s
    (pp. 83-114)

    “The evening proving stormy, very few of those who intended forming themselves into a Society appeared” at Seabury’s Tavern in Newark, New Jersey, on Thursday, March 6, 1794. In the spirit of Centinel’s 1788 call for political societies that would enlighten and invigorate the citizenry, and following the lead of several other recently formed clubs, a meeting had been advertised to form a “Republican Society” that would serve as an institution “peculiarly devoted to political enquiry.”¹

    But if the inclement weather drove away the club’s supporters, “the storm did not deter the enemies of the institution, from collecting all their...

  9. 5 James Madison: Public Opinion and Dissentient Democracy
    (pp. 115-146)

    James Madison’s defense of the beleaguered democratic societies—in no less a venue than the House of Representatives and on no less an occasion than the debate over a formal response to President George Washington’s denunciation of the societies—provides a mere hint of his pivotal place in the emergence of the theory and practice of dissentient democracy in American politics. Madison had been the “Father of the Constitution” and one of the two principal authors of theFederalist Papers, along with Alexander Hamilton. But here he was, only a few years later, no longer a Federalist and instead the...

  10. 6 “Salutary Collisions” and Multiple Discourses: A Farmer, a Lawyer, and Two Unknown Democrats
    (pp. 147-176)

    Alexander Hamilton climbed some steps under the noonday sun on July 18, 1795, and brazenly tried to deliver his speech in favor of the broadly unpopular Jay Treaty with Great Britain. When the crowd’s hooting overmatched his powerful voice, Hamilton had his proposed resolutions read aloud by someone for whom the throng quieted. But when they heard a resolution declaring that the people did not need to “give an opinion on the treaty,” the gathering of nearly five thousand people completely drowned out all discussion with calls for resolutions giving an opinion in opposition to the reviled treaty. And that’s...

  11. 7 The “Saucy Sons of Enquiry”: Thomas Cooper and Democratic Dissent
    (pp. 177-196)

    When Edmund Burke denounced him in Parliament as one of the “worst men in the kingdom,” Thomas Cooper was clearly not surprised. Indeed, his publishedReplycalmly noted that the supposition was “probably mistaken,” at least while Burke was “alive to make the assertion.”¹ It was 1792 and Cooper had just returned from a visit, on behalf of the Manchester Constitutional Society, to the Jacobin Club in revolutionary France. His political writings of the previous five years had earned him some notoriety as a radical critic of monarchical England. Though Cooper enjoyed his visit to France, he also had fears...

  12. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 197-206)

    Though Thomas Cooper demurred, we need not look far for an encouraging example of someone who stayed true to his own vision of dissentient democracy, even in the most trying of times: James Madison. Though other thinkers would take the theory further, Madison early and insightfully envisioned popular government as much more than elected representation, federal structures, and separated powers. Beneath these and other “auxiliary precautions” lay a democratic public opinion animated by the dissentient public sphere. There, he expected dissenting voices to inspire self-reflection and consideration of opposing viewpoints, even in the face of deferential norms and the advantages...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 207-242)
    (pp. 243-256)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 257-261)
    (pp. 262-262)