20 April 2020

[Fred Wheeler] - Let's Not Make a Habit of This


Americans generally believe our governmental system embraces certain characteristics such as individual liberty, freedom of speech and association, the rule of law, a market economy, etc. However, during times of stress (usually at times of war) our government has strayed from these customs. Thankfully these departures have been few and, for the most part, not habitual.

When the ink on the U.S. Constitution was hardly dry, Congress, fearing an impending war with France, passed the Alien and Sedition Act which forbade criticism of the government. Among others, a congressman was found guilty and was forced to run for re-election from a prison cell.

Prior to the Civil War Lincoln had the members of the Maryland legislature arrested and jailed to prevent them from voting to secede. During the war he suspended Habeas corpus and closed down over 300 newspapers.

Following our entrance into  World War 1, Congress passed the Espionage Act under which over 2,000 people were imprisoned. One of these was a candidate for president, Eugene Debs. This law (amended) is still on the books.

During War War II Roosevelt interred over 120,000 Japanese- Americans in concentration camps. One of the worst parts of this action was that before the people were herded into the camps they were given just 48 hours to dispose of their homes and businesses. It obviously was a buyers' market.

Less than two months after 9/11 Congress passed the Patriot Act. We still are finding out what mischief the NSA and FBI can commit  under it.

Now, we are under the arbitrary provisions of Shelter in Place. It depends on what state you live in, but people are being arrested for walking their dog, going to church, playing pitch with their daughters. In Michigan you can go to the store, but you can't buy paint, plants or seeds.

Once this is over we will have an opportunity to look back and reassess what should have been done and, most importantly, what should not have been done. Perhaps we won't be so quick to suspend so many of our cherished core values next time.