War Plan White
Civil disorder is a term that generally refers to groups of people purposely choosing not to observe a law, regulation, or rule, usually in order to bring attention to their cause, concern, or agenda. Civil disorders are any public disturbance involving acts of violence by assemblages of three or more persons, which cause an immediate danger of or results in damage or injury to the property or person of any other individual.
Civil disorders can take the form of small gatherings or large groups blocking or impeding access to a building, or disrupting normal activities by generating noise and intimidating people. They can range from a peaceful sit-in to a full-scale riot in which a mob burns or otherwise destroys property and terrorizes individuals. Even in its more passive forms, a group that blocks roadways, sidewalks, or buildings interferes with public order.
Throughout this country's history, incidents that disrupted the public peace have figured prominently. The Constitutional guarantees allow for ample expression of protest and dissent, and in many cases collide with the Preamble's requirementof the government "to ensure domestic tranquility."
When Sir William Blackstone wrote his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England in the mid-18th century, he defined freedom of speech as the lack of prior restraint. By that he meant that the government could not stop someone from saying or publishing what he believed, but once a person had uttered those remarks, he could be punished if the type of speech was forbidden. The English, like the ancient Greeks, had established legal restrictions on three types of speech - sedition (criticism of the government), defamation (criticism of individuals), and blasphemy (criticism of religion) - each of which they called "libels." Of these three, the one that is most important in terms of political liberty is seditious libel, because ruling elites in Blackstone's era believed that any criticism of government or of its officials, even if true, subverted public order by undermining confidence in the government.
In America, the colonists established truth as a defense to the charge of seditious libel. One could still be charged if one criticized the government or its officials, but now a defendant could present evidence of the truth of the statements, and it would be up to a jury to determine their validity.
The early American republic maintained careful neutrality between warring France and Britain. Federalists, suspicious of the Republicans' friendship with the French, won congressional passage of the Sedition Act in 1798. The statute criminalized criticism of the American government. The Sedition Act made it a crime for American citizens to "print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about the Government. At that time, the government was in the hands of the pro-British Federalists, while much of the criticism leveled at that party came from certain Republican newspapers and legislators. Federalists defended the Act as necessary to the defense of the United States. The law was expressly designed to suppress any and all political opposition to Federalist leadership and policies. Republican-dominated Southern legislatures bitterly attacked the constitutionality and desirability of the Sedition Act, not for the limits it placed on speech, but for the fact that it increased federal power over the states. The story of the Sedition Act casts serious doubt on the notion that the founding fathers intended the First Amendment to be a libertarian statement designed to protect every speaker and every utterance.
The Alien Act laws raised the residency requirements for citizenship from 5 to 14 years, authorized the President to deport aliens, and permitted their arrest, imprisonment, and deportation during wartime. The laws were directed against Democratic-Republicans, the party typically favored by new citizens.
The Regular Army's role in quelling civil unrest during the first eighty-nine years of the Republic was sporadic. During this period some American citizens opposed a standing Army. This resistance was based on the intrinsic fear that the Army would be utilized by the government to tyrannize its people. A standing Army, according Robert Coakley, "could be the instrument only of a monarchy, not a democratic state." Despite the concern on the part of many Americans for one hundred years after the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, the U.S. Army did not usurp power or turn out to be putty in the hands of potentially malicious presidents to harass their opponents or suppress dissidents.
During this period federal troops quelled civil unrest during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, Fries' Rebellion in 1799, Dorr's Rebellion in 1842, at the Kansas Border in 1854, during the Mormon Troubles in 1857-58, and quelled the unrest at Harper's Ferry and captured John Brown in 1859. This long history of assisting civil authorities enforce the nation's laws included the 1863 New York City Draft riots.
In the post-Reconstruction era, the Army was heavily involved in quelling violence associated with labor disputes and enforcing court injunctions against striking union workers. The Army's intervention in the railroad strikes of 1877, the labor disputes at the Coeur d'Alene Mines in Idaho in 1892, and the Pullman strikes of 1894, created the most turbulence within the officer corps.
The predominant problem that existed during this period was clarity of instructions and policies. According to Jerry Cooper, "officers wished they could have avoided involvement in riot duty because of the lack of defined policy and law." Policy decisions that should have been made at the federal level were left vague or unanswered leading local or state authorities in charge. Invariably, their decision supported management's position and pitted soldiers against strikers.
During the eleven year period between 1885 and 1895 military forces were mobilized 328 times for riot duty; 118 involved labor conflicts.
During the twentieth century the Army's role in quelling civil disturbances was both more frequent and more diverse. The Regular Army suppressed civil unrest at the Nevada gold mines in 1907; at the Colorado coal mines in 1913 and 1914; at the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, riots in 1918; at the Washington, DC, riots in 1919; at the Omaha, Nebraska, riots in 1919; at the West Virginia mines in 1921; and thwarted the activities of Army veterans during the Bonus March in Washington, in 1932.
During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, there were a few minor regulations aimed at sedition, but not until the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 did the real debate over the meaning of the First Amendment Speech Clause begin. In the late 1940s the government prosecuted leaders of the American Communist Party for advocating the forceful overthrow of the government and conspiring to spread this doctrine. A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, which since the 1920s had seemed to take an ever more speech-protective view of the First Amendment, now apparently reversed itself. Though admitting that American communists posed little clear and present danger, the Court ruled their words represented a "bad tendency" that could prove subversive of the social order.
Under 18 USC Sec. 2383. Rebellion or insurrection "Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States."
Under 18 USC Sec. 2384. Seditious conspiracy "If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."
Between 1902 and 1921 there were 51 emergencies other than war for which Regular Army troops had been used. Some of these emergencies were relatively uuimportant. Others were of considerable importance. Whatever the magnitude of the need, due to the existence and training of this regular force, troops were instantly available. Neither would the hick of available troops have eliminated the emergency. From June, 1915, to June, 1917, there were received in the War Department approximately 400 requests from different States and individuals for Federal troops.
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