“In this election year, there are significant parallels between the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798,” writes William J. Watkins, Jr., research fellow at the Independent Institute and author of RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
Civil liberties were a key issue in the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson challenged John Adams, whose Alien and Sedition Acts had given him the power to deport any alien who expressed ideas he deemed subversive. Many Americans were at first supportive of Adams, fearing the importation of the French revolution into the United States — or even French troops themselves. Public support for Adams eroded, however, when it was clear how far he was willing to go to suppress dissent.
Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions — anonymously — to prevent such abuses from spreading. And when public opinion turned against Adams, voters elected Jefferson into office and gave his party a 24-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Jefferson promptly killed the dreaded Alien and Sedition Acts.
Although voters who favored civil liberties had a clear choice in the election of 1880, the same cannot be said of voters in 2004, according to Watkins.
“Senator John Kerry, the President’s only real challenger, voted in favor of the PATRIOT Act and authored some of its provisions,” Watkins writes. “According to the Kerry campaign, the problem is not with the PATRIOT Act itself, but with those enforcing it, i.e., Attorney General John Ashcroft. His message for Americans is to keep the powers in place and to trust him with these powers that he admits have been abused.
“The ballot box is a powerful weapon in the people’s hands when they have real choices. With the franchise the people can defend their liberties and reform the government. To paraphrase Jefferson, they can effect a bloodless revolution. However, when both parties offer the people candidates with indistinguishable views on issues relating to fundamental liberties, the franchise is an impotent weapon. And if democracy so falters, the people are left with few attractive options in defense of their freedoms.”
See “The Revolution of 1800 and the USA PATRIOT Act,” by William J. Watkins, Jr.
For a summary of RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy, by William J. Watkins Jr., see http://www.independent.org/books/brief_reclaiming.html
To order RECLAIMING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, see http://www.independent.org/tii/catalog/cat_reclaiming.html
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teaches law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. Her book, The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights, will be published by Lawrence Hill this summer. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org