Sometimes words remain appropriate, not only for the era in which they are spoken, but for multiple eras, and perhaps for the length of humanity’s struggle to overcome the worst aspects of our collective nature – greed, avarice, hypocrisy and the bondage of others to forward one’s own self interests – in other words, FOREVER.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s words of April 4, 1967 now known as the “Beyond Vietnam” speech are such words. They illustrate the depth of Dr. King’s comprehension that the Civil Rights Movement was a struggle of more than one race in one nation at one point in time.
These words, spoken exactly one year to the day before his assassination, are why some pause each January to remember and celebrate his life; while others are simply reminded of why he was, and continues to be hated by those attracted to power without compassion.
As last year when we first printed them on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in this first month of 2018 these words remain pointedly appropriate as our national debate increasingly focuses on racial, ethnic, religious and national stereotyping as primary motives for immigration and foreign policy decisions. And yet again we might ask ourselves if our ongoing borderless, worldwide war on terror isn’t at least in part, a legacy of our collective failure to heed Dr. King’s words of April 1967?
And 51 years down the road, we must ask ourselves one final question – how close to “too late” are we as a people and a nation?
– Due to the speech’s length, some introductory comments and other details on the Vietnam era have been edited out – deletions are indicated by (…) and some points have been emphasized with bold highlights.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” … The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one …
Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world … Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history … For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us …
“Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask?
And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live …
Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything on a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such …
My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent …
Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.
But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men – for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?
… Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son-ship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula … They must see Americans as strange liberators … We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops … Now there is little left to build on, save bitterness … They question our political goals and they deny the reality of a peace settlement from which they will be excluded. Their questions are frighteningly relevant. Is our nation planning to build on political myth again, and then shore it up upon the power of new violence?
… At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved … and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now.
I speak as a child of God … I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: “Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.”
The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit … and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about … Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.
And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God. In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution … It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.”
It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.”
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them, is not just … America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood …
We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice … It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries … A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies … This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind … When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response … I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality … This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God” …
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late … Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.”
There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.” We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace … and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight … Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world …
As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:
Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Another ‘Thank You’ to local law enforcement for its community policing
A couple of weeks ago, a friend told my wife this true story, based on self-experience.
“The lady had just brought her dog home after major surgery. The dog went downstairs and opened its stitches. She found the dog downstairs bleeding to death. It died in her arms. She did not want her daughter coming home to the scene, but also did not know how to move an 80-pound dog.
She called the Front Royal Police and soon admitted an officer. He was very happy to help and told her so. The officer gently placed the dog’s body in his car, asked her where she would prefer it be taken. With her following, he then took the dog’s body to where she asked. He was respectful, solicitous, and considerate the entire time. He told her that the entire force was there to serve the community.
After hearing this story from my wife, I had to ensure that the Front Royal Police Department be thanked. The Police get a lot of bad press, mostly because of a small number of bad apples. I wanted to make sure they were thanked for their service, and got some positive press, for a change.
Front Royal, VA
A missing child search and a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to local law enforcement
Last night, July 2, around 11 p.m., on a very starry night, the sound of a chopper circling and circling over the High Knob Community broke the stillness.
A check of Facebook group pages revealed a 3-year-old child had gone missing. The mother informed us her baby had presumably followed the dad who had taken the family pup outside for a late evening relief. When the parents discovered the child was missing and couldn’t be found, they called for help and our local deputies responded in a hurry.
In addition to sweeping the area and calling in a search and rescue helicopter, nearby concerned neighbors turned on their yard lights and looked for the missing child. While the outside work was underway, a thorough search of the home was undertaken. And there that 3-year-old was, hidden under a pile of blankets playing hide-and-seek.
What a relief!
So we have a happy ending. The deputies were able to go home, neighbors headed back to bed, and we were all secure in the knowledge that a cherished child was safe.
A big thank you from a neighbor to all the deputies who jumped to help find a missing child, and to the officers who were flying the search and rescue helicopter. That’s a job with some big risks over mountainous terrain. I happen to know the local police department and sheriff’s department spend a lot of their resources in looking after our vulnerable children and teens. If we can get better mental health services throughout the Commonwealth, the schools to jails pipeline could be broken, and lives mended.
Please if you see a police officer or sheriff’s deputy, thank him or her for being ready to serve, protect, and rescue the most vulnerable in our community. Right now they need to know we appreciate their service very much. And yes, indeed, there are some things that need fixing. Nonetheless, if we all work together, every mother’s child will be safe.
High Knob, Warren County
What are American values?
Today, we have many debates over the values of Americans. We disagree on some, but some ring true to most:
Human dignity: Every human being is entitled to what our founders called life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The rule of law and equal justice: The powerful person will not be allowed to escape the law. The accused person must have the right to face accusers, state his case, and be judged by fellow citizens. No one person or group of persons should be exempt from facing justice or winning justice. The mob does not determine guilt, innocence, or punishment, but only by due process of law can a person be found guilty or innocent.
Respect for women: The empowerment of women is visible everywhere, from business to academia. In every walk of life, women should have the same rights as men.
Private property: This fundamental belief reaches into every aspect of our lives. We can start a business by hanging out the shingle. Our home is our own. Our property is sacred. And tucked into this notion of private property is ultimately the idea of ownership of your ideas and work.
Free speech: Free speech is one of the most radical ideas in history. The common man can criticize the government; the powerful man can do the same. Each should be able to do so equally and without restrictions.
Religious tolerance: For centuries, the king’s religion was yours. Period. But free people today recognize freedom of conscience and religion, to believe or not as they will.
Continental Congress calls upon the Black Regiment
The debating was over, and the Declaration of Independence had been approved by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia on a hot July day. Questions abounded still and anxiety as to the future was on the minds of men who had now affixed their signatures to a piece of paper destined to be the greatest and most historic document in the history of the world.
At the bottom of the original Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress had ordered that when printed and ready for distribution on July 4th the documents would be sent to parish clergy and ministers. The importance of this is that the instructions did not direct this circulation to town clerks or newspapers, but to preachers of the Gospel, men known as the “Black Regiment” thus named for the black robes they wore.
The pulpit had already played and would play a more important role in American freedom. The black-robed ministers would encourage activism and many would personally join in the fighting and serve as soldiers and chaplains. As many as one hundred would leave the pulpit of the church for the “pulpit of the camp and battlefield.”
The Declaration when it arrived in the hands of the clergy was “required to read the same to their respective congregation, as soon as divine service ended, in the afternoon, on the first Lord’s Day after they have received it.”
Church members would find it hard to have services without their ministers now gone to war and with attendance dropping off for lack of clergy personnel on the home front. However, the war and home front would be the same… every place where the British chose to camp and sought to destroy George Washington’s “rag tag” army in the north and Nathanael Greene’s in the South.
Tempers flared in all corners of the land and debates were held between Loyalists and patriot members of congregations. In Loudoun County, Virginia, at Ketoctin Baptist Church, a debate between Tory John Osborn and Preacher John Marks was arranged. Heated tempers caused the debate to be called off and John Marks joined General Washington’s Army as a Chaplain. John Osborn would not give up his support of the King’s cause and in defiance would name a new son Tarleton after one of General Cornwallis’ most cruel officers, Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton is portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot as merciless and inhumane.
The Rev. Jonathan Boucher, Anglican Priest, would carry not just his sermon into the pulpit but also a loaded pistol. His congregation was split and the danger of personal attacks was ever present.
The Rev. Peter Muhlenberg of Woodstock, Virginia, preached regularly for the cause of freedom for the American colonists. He had a surprise for his congregation on the day of his final service in his Woodstock church to drive home his point that the American Revolution must succeed. Following the final hymn, he threw off his black robe as he recited Ecclesiastes 3:1 to reveal his uniform of a militia colonel. He then recruited men of his congregation to join the fight for independence and they became known as the “German Regiment.” He had been licensed as an Anglican priest and ministered to the German settlers of the Shenandoah Valley. He served with honor as a Revolutionary War officer and rose to the rank of major general. There is a statue of this black robed priest in the yard of the old courthouse in Woodstock honoring the Rev. Major General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, Priest, Patriot, Soldier and Hero.
The majority of Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Puritans, Methodists, and most of the denominations in the Colonies excepting the Quakers would join in preaching the insurrection. Anglican priests were split because of their vows of allegiance to the King but still many would heed the call of Independence. The torch of Independence was lit early with Anglican George Whitefield’s arrival in the Colonies in 1740. He was known as the greatest preacher in the Colonies. He preached salvation through Jesus Christ and gave warning to the people about the oppression of the King in his revivals and launched the “Great Awakening.” He traveled from New England to Georgia setting attendance records and started “field preaching” which Anglican John Wesley also used. The difference in the political points of view of Whitefield and Wesley were commonly known. Wesley taught “obedience” to the Crown and Whitefield spoke of “man’s right of freedom” from oppression, including the slaves.
We cannot avoid, ignore, or abandon our responsibilities in striving to preserve the heritage secured by our Founders. Laity and the clergy must be vigilant and ever ready to fight for our Republic to ensure it is not weakened by interlopers and left for scavengers who come to suckle from the breast of Liberty bought with the blood of patriots. We must speak out against the mocking of our form of government and the eschewing of our Constitution to satisfy alien purposes while abandoning individual freedoms we treasurer. Our Founders knew and voiced the reality that moral values of Christianity are the “bedrock” foundation of our Republic and it will crumble without them.
I invite all true Americans from the mountains to the plains, from sea to shining sea, from Alaska to the Keys, and from Virginia to Hawaii to light the fires of that “old time religion” and preserve the freedoms won on the frozen tundra of Valley Forge, in the icy Delaware River, on the dusty field at Guilford Courthouse, in the snake filled swamps of South Carolina, and finally, on the sandy beaches at Yorktown.
Arise if you heart is filled with concern for the future of our Country.
Larry Wilson Johnson
Front Royal, Virginia
Is there something to hide regarding past County actions at FR Golf Club?
My name is Brandon Tolson. I have been a member and\or worked at the Front Royal Golf Club for the last 2 decades, under the member-run tenure and the current county-run administration. With that being said I’ve been part of, and witnessed firsthand many different good and bad situations. That is why I’m trying to get as much information out that many county citizens know little about.
First, being how the County inherited such a prime piece of commercial real estate. It was decided by 1 vote in the end, and there are still people to this day that voted nay to County occupation who believe it was a payed-for land grab. Many still want the members to take back control of this facility. But let’s move past that and talk about what the County has done at Front Royal Golf Club.
Well after the initial handshaking and back patting died down and we got past all the “what the county was going to do for you” talk, the wheels quickly appeared to start spinning on how to sell some of the property – and it was moved as Dominion Power became interested in the area. Some would say for the good others for the bad, I let you be the judge of that.
So then most folks would say there should have been some profit here since you sold/leased off prime long-term equity for short-term gains, right? There must have been. With that being a one-time deal you would think if you were in it for the love of historic recreation and a frugal money manager (which you should be when you handle all our tax dollars) you would know that you would have to set that aside for minor restoration and upkeep at the very least.
Even at this point a large investment and major restoration could offer even larger rewards. But instead, it was put in the county government fiscal year churn and spit out God knows where, with both the County and the EDA involved in the property’s advisory group.
Then they did their patent move: raise the price on everything to the club membership and guests.
At this point I can only speculate whether it was to start to sink the ship for a land movement, or was it just because they thought they could. But basically what you’ve done for your loyal followers thus far was to sell or lease one-third of our land; did nothing new for the golf course or boat ramp; and put a walk trail thru it which everyone with proper mental compacity was against, citing hitting little white rockets at children and chihuahuas as potentially cruel and inhumane. But they did it anyway to diversify the recreational uses and because they’re trying to connect that corner of the world with walk trails.
And some lucky fella down river has been getting fencing material ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good walking trail, and my son and soulmate and I have even enjoyed the Shenandoah National Park at the top many times, as I’ve witnessed many families do. But I wouldn’t have built a walking trail thru a dead man’s memorial golf course built for his unfortunate son, pre-WW II and left basically to the people – too much opportunity for a BAD golf ball/hiker accident. I wish I could have met them both so I could shake their hand and say thank you for all the recreation and employment it has given me; not to mention just the life lessons learned while being out watching other earthlings operate.
But looking past headache lane, the course was handicapped further when all stormwater and trash from the Walmart and Lowes-anchored shopping center was allowed to run off on top of the course and what we couldn’t clean up, was in to your beloved Shenandoah River for years now. All the trash that doesn’t make it in the dumpsters, and even some that does, goes on our course and then in the river. It seems the course is used as a filter. Does the course get paid to be a trash and litter filter?
Wait there’s more: then we started the whole indentured servant program picking up prisoners from RSW to work for free on the course. Then forcing your workers to take responsibility of inmates without any training or pay increase. And making them pick up different sex inmates which anybody would know you are putting your workers in a bad situation, as well as the inmate. Not to mention the county-wide expenditures put on the golf course cost code.
Year after year; bad decision after bad decision.
But to be honest with you, how could we not at least give these new guys that got some love for the game a shot at running it just for the very least to get to the bottom of a financial enigma using them as a cheap 3rd party audit, and maybe a long-term good thing for us, the people Mr. Carson Sr. intended the course’s use for into the future.
So what if they are competing with other businesses? If the course loses there will be a Home Depot or it’s like competing there, providing pollution and no recreation. Did I mention by then we might just find out what was really going on out there at the Front Royal Golf Club?
The only way they can’t take the new deal being offered that brings money to the county is if they’re scared of uncovering a financial trail to explain some of what I have described above; or they are just incompetent. One thing I know thru all my experience – and for anyone that doesn’t know me, it’s vast and I know multiple successful golf business owners here and abroad – that place can operate at a tenth of the cost of what they’re telling you at the worst. The place didn’t stay in business for 80 years losing money. I don’t think we have a Golf Course Problem as much as we’ve had a county management problem. Properly managed it is just fine with the beautiful river beside it. And even during the recent turmoil it has remained a place for many to get out and find themselves, as I think Mr. Carson intended beyond his and his son’s lives. Damn near any county would be grateful to have it as a municipal recreational option for its citizens.
Say yes to the new course management contract offer and no to incompetence and abandonment.
Warren County, Virginia
Domestic Military Action
If you read this column, then you know my goal is not to persuade a particular belief but to merely inform with historical knowledge. Such is the case with many online comments I have read over the past few weeks. With protest marches widespread, President Trump has threatened to use military action to stop the violence. I read recently that if the President uses military action against American citizens, then this country as we know it is over. I am not saying that we should use the army, and I am hoping it is not necessary. However, historically speaking, it has been done before, and actually our Constitution was created because of it.
As always first things first, something we don’t always use as much as we should. The Preamble to the Constitution lays out the five main roles of the federal government. The government is to establish justice, provide defense from our enemies, promote the welfare of its people, secure our liberty, and of course ensure domestic tranquility. In other words, one of the principal functions of the government is to protect us from internal threats.
In the first century of our nation, those functions meant very different things. This was the century where the federal government had little role in people’s lives. One area the government took seriously was domestic tranquility, especially when it came to strikes. As labor unions grew and began to strike, the American government always took sides with management. If the companies and their people could not break strikes themselves, then state militias and even the federal government was always willing to step in. Arguably the most famous of these strikes was the Pullman strike.
In 1894 the American Railway Union went on strike. It started at the Pullman company town outside Chicago. Among the many complaints was that the Pullman Company reduced wages but not rent on the home’s employees were forced to live in. When railway workers across the nation struck, President Cleveland called out the Army to put it down.
As I said in the beginning, the idea of using federal forces helped lead to the Constitution. When men like Alexander Hamilton called for a stronger federal government at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, they did not receive much support. However, shortly after they adjourned, Massachusetts experienced Shays’ Rebellion. As always, my space is limited, so suffice to say a group led by Daniel Shays, upset with treatment from the Massachusetts government, marched in Boston. Governor Bowdoin called out the militia, but Shays’ men were veterans and many were part of the militia. Bowdoin was forced to collect private funds to raise a private militia. Under the current government then, there was no federal support. Shays’ Rebellion scared the other states who were having similar incidents and worried about what might happen with rebellions in their own areas. Shays’ Rebellion was one of the incidents that motivated leaders to meet at the Constitutional Convention to secure federal protection against domestic insurrection.
It did not take long for the new government and Washington to use the army. In 1794 when western Pennsylvania farmers protested a new tax on whiskey, Washington sent out the U.S. Army to squash the protesters and show the nation that there was a new sheriff in town or at least a new government. He even led the army part of the way, the only time a president marched at the head of the U.S. Army.
Washington was not alone. In fact, three of the four presidents respected enough to make Mount Rushmore used the army domestically. Most people know Lincoln used the army to maintain martial law in the south, but he also used it to influence domestic affairs in officially union states, like Missouri and Kentucky. The army even arrested the Democratic candidate in the 1863 Kentucky governors’ election. Teddy Roosevelt did not end up using the army, but in 1902 during the Anthracite Coal strike, when management refused to negotiate with the union, he threatened to use the army to take over the mines.
Throughout the rest of the 20th century, presidents continued to use the army in domestic affairs. When WWI vets marched on Washington to collect their promised bonus in 1932, President Hoover called out the army to disperse them. Then of course there are all the events during the Civil Rights Era. In 1957 when Governor Faubus of Arkansas blocked the Little Rock Nine from entering Central High, President Eisenhower called out the 101 Airborne Division. There were several riots in 1967 and 1968, especially after the death of Dr. King, and while National Guard units handled most of the violence, in some episodes the army was called out.
I am hoping the army is not needed in the protests and that the message is given without violence. You can also share your opinions on whether the President should or should not use the army on civilians. Make your arguments for both sides, but make them correctly.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.