In this January 3, 2011, photo, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at an inauguration ceremony at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
The first great test of the American Constitution came in 1798, when President John Adams became so agitated with his critics that he disregarded the Bill of Rights and the rule of law and arranged for the arrest of dissenting elected officials and editors.
Adams was so lawless that his own vice president, Thomas Jefferson, organized the opposition. Two years later, Adams was the first American president to be removed from office by the electorate. And rightly so.
James Madison, the essential drafter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, referred to the “Alien and Sedition Acts” that Adams and his associates used to justify their assault on the First Amendment as “a monster that must forever disgrace its parents.”
Unfortunately, the monster still breaks loose. And not just in Washington.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is no John Adams. But prospective Republican presidential candidate’s delusions of imperial grandeur have led him to cobble together a set of rules that he is using to have dozens of dissenters (including veterans, grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers with children and top teachers) arrested for assembling in the rotunda of the state capitol and singing labor songs.
Never mind that the “Solidarity Sing Alongs” were held peacefully, and without significant incident, before the governor’s crackdown began this summer.
The arrests escalated on Thursday. And, though Walker plays on a small stage, those familiar with the basic outlines of American constitutional history will note a certain historical irony in the drama the governor has scripted.
First, an elected official, Madison Alder Mark Clear, the former president of the city council, was arrested for joining in the singing of “This Land Is Your Land.”
Then, just a few minutes later, Progressive magazine editor Matt Rothschild was detained when he attempted to record what was happening. Rothschild informed the arresting officers that he was a journalist and that he had every right to cover the story.