Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 31, 2013

The Constitution as homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 31, 2013

This is the fourth in a series of anticipated posts closely reading the Constitution of the United States for homeland security implications. Readers are encouraged to use the comment function to add background, analysis, exegesis or exposition related to the text highlighted.



We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


Jefferson was not in Philadelphia to debate the Constitution.  At the time he was serving as the ambassador of these (profoundly plural, but potentially) United States to the French court.  In late 1787 Jefferson wrote a friend, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Jefferson was writing about Shay’s Rebellion.  This was a sometimes violent anti-government — anti-tax and anti-debt foreclosure —  movement that arose especially among Revolutionary War veterans in Western Massachusetts.  The national government did not have sufficient funds to mobilize an effective response and Massachusetts was nearly as hard-pressed.

Especially as the Convention delegates — mostly prominent men of property — gathered in Philadelphia between May and September 1787 the rebellion’s very recent challenge to domestic tranquility was much on their mind.

What is the difference between a terrorist and freedom-fighter?

Elbridge Gerry was a Massachusetts delegate to the Philadelphia Convention.  Gerry had little sympathy for the rabble-rousers, saying, “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.”  (Later as Governor of Massachusetts, Gerry was progenitor of the “gerrymander,” no doubt easier to justify when you mistrust the character of voters.)

But for Gerry the prospect of a stronger national power to deal with such challenges could be even more dangerous.  During debate he argued, “A standing army is like a standing member. It’s an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.”  And a potential means for suppressing personal liberty.  Gerry was one of three delegates at Philadelphia who refused to sign the proposed constitution because of the absence of a Bill of Rights.  When this was later corrected, Gerry served as Vice President under James Madison.

Disagreements regarding the appropriate balance between liberty and security go all the way back.

In 1995 Timothy McVeigh wore a t-shirt featuring Jefferson’s words on “refreshing the tree of liberty” when he bombed the Murrah Building spilling the blood of 168, including fifteen children enrolled in America’s Kids Day Care Center.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by William R. Cumming

December 31, 2013 @ 3:07 am

Historians often disagree on the factors and circumstances leading to revolutionary fervor. Simon Schama’s book REVOLUTION is to me a great study of the FRENCH REVOLUTION!

But there does seem to be some coalesence [sic] of historians around the theorem that Professor AJP Taylor propounded that revolutions occur during periods of RISING EXPECTATIONS!

The eye of the observer [Walter Heisenberg] might suggest it depends on where you stand.

Comment by JCOMISKEY

December 31, 2013 @ 10:25 am

The Constitution and reality and managing expectations….and some thoughts for 2014

Government action does not mirror words or thoughts of how things should be. They reflect how things are and how people plan and respond to life’s events. The rules are guides that must be “mostly” adhered too, common sense notwithstanding.

IMHO, government officials must do what they must, but be prepared to justify their actions retrospectively.

I wonder, however, was 2013 the most dangerous of slippery slopes. Teddy Roosevelt’s “arena” is duly noted. See: http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html

Tom Coburn’s December 30, 2013 article “The Year Washington Fled Reality reflects an undoing of the Constitution” is most instructive. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB20001424052702303345104579282881750665074

See also Coburn’s 2013 Wastebook and Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics. http://www.coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=d204730e-4a24-4711-b1db-99bb6c29d4b6 and http://www.amazon.com/Things-That-Matter-Passions-Pastimes/dp/0385349173/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388497151&sr=1-1&keywords=krauthammer

Author’s note: Coburn and Krauthammer are up there with Ralph Waldo Emerson of Self-Reliance fame. http://www.math.dartmouth.edu/~doyle/docs/self/self.pdf

My constitutional arena

In September 2004, I was a graduate student at Queens College and taking a constitutional law class. I missed the first two classes due my NYPD duties and the then in progress Republican National Convention. At the beginning of class #3, the instructor noted my two absences and asked me why he should allow me to remain in the class being that I had missed 2 of 14 classes and he had a “miss 2 classes and you’re out policy.” I replied that I was had been on the front lines of the constitution and had helped secure the people’s rights to free speech and to peaceably assemble amongst others. Smiling he accepted my explanation with the caveat that I teach the days class with the following instructions: tell us what you did and why.

The instructor questioned many of the NYPD and my actions. I told him that the RNC was a National Security Event and in some cases we were protecting POTUS and other members of Congress. We had to balance national security with constitutional rights. It was not always pretty and everyone was not happy. I thought we did a relatively good job. POTUS was safe and most protesters protested peaceably. Many other protestors were arrested and perhaps some just got caught up in the fray and spent the night in jail, democracy and fair play notwithstanding.

2014’s HLS constitutional arenas will challenge DHS, TSA, FBI, Billy Bratton’s NYPD, and others to protect us and our civil liberties and particularly our privacy. Note: dictionary.com’s 2013 word of the year was privacy. http://blog.dictionary.com/privacy/

Government in its best form is a necessary evil. -Thomas Paine
Happy New Year

Comment by Street Cop

December 31, 2013 @ 11:40 am

Mr. Comiskey you make some great points and I am inclined to agree with you. Homeland Security is a verb, IMHO, not a noun. It is very easy to discuss a noun and quite difficult to put it into action. There are too many talkers and not enough do’ers…

By the way, I hope you pulled out an A!

All the best in 2014 everyone.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 31, 2013 @ 11:17 pm

Perhaps HS is an adjective! Happy New Years!

Comment by Christopher Tingus

January 1, 2014 @ 12:47 am

…and by the way, kudos to NYPD and all other law enforcement on duty at Times Square doing their utmost to keep all safe and to welcome a New 2014 Year!

Happy New Year to all!

Comment by Michael Mealer

January 8, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

Does the reflection on Shay’s Rebellion and Jefferson’s anarchic philosophy support fear of government activity required to insure domestic tranquility or support the power of ‘we the people’ to attack a legitimate government with violence?

Weren’t the members of the Philadelphia Convention more concerned with preserving the union by controlling military action between the states rather than maintainig public order and domestic peacekeeping within the states themselves?

Utilizing national power to control local conflicts a local government cannot afford or is incapable of addressing seems to endorse insuring domestic tranquility through national police power. Preparations and activities surrounding a National Special Security Event may identify national power-or perhaps more appropriately national resources-to address the local impact of the event. Not quite national police power in the strict law enforcement sense, but police power in the general sense regarding control.

The dynamics in a National Special Security Event and the authorities, powers and actions used by local and federal authorities to insure not only First Amendment rights, but insuring domestic tranquility are quite interesting.

The NATO 3 trial in Chicago is beginning next week. I will be called by the defense team to explain the city’s actions and submit my decisions to constitutional scrutiny by Jeffersonian idealists willing to shed the blood of perceived tyrants while preserving the blood of those who believe violence and destroying domestic tranquility are necessary to communicate ideas in a free society. I’m sure the press coverage will be interesting.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 8, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

Commander Mealer: Glad you perceived the tension was preserved in the original the post. Love the way you have framed the issue.

Regarding your second paragraph: There was concern regarding potential inter-state conflict. But proximity to Shay’s Rebellion — and some other outbreaks of “Demos” — seems (according to several credible sources) to have given the issue of “public order” more priority than I would have otherwise guessed.

Best wishes next week. I will read the Tribune more carefully than usual. Would also welcome your report here.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

January 11, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

Commander Mealer: In the unlikely event you are still looking in here, I just stumbled across this in a letter from Washington to Lafayette from August 1787 — written in Philadelphia

The disturbances in Massachusetts have subsided; but there are seeds of discontent in every part of this Union, ready to produce other disorders if the wisdom of the present Convention should not be able to devise, and the good sense of the people be found ready to adopt, a more vigorous and energetic Government, than the one under which we now live; for the present, from experience, has been found too feeble and inadequate to give that security which our liberties and property render absolutely essential, and which the fulfillment of public faith loudly requires….

Comment by Michael Mealer

January 22, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

This helps support an argument in favor of federal responsibility to secure local security interests.

I’m not sure whether the source of concern is the lack of power of the local or state governments to protect citizens or whether there is a percieved lack of legitimacy and authority that can be remedied by a strong federal government. In either case it seems there is some recognition of the federal government as a source of physical security and responsibility for economic prosperity.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>