One of the more interesting sights of the past couple weeks has been the large number of Americans who have chosen to show up at the "town hall" meetings conducted by various members of congress to talk about the proposed health care "reform" legislation. YouTube is full of clips of representatives and senators trying to quell opposition to the plans. You can see some these here, here and here.
Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) co-authored an op-ed piece in USA Today in which they called such opposition "Un-American." It's funny that during the Bush years, the left told us that "Dissent was the highest form of Patriotism." Now, apparently, dissent is Un-American, and in St. Louis, union thugs were rolled out to try to quash the dissent. (See video of the union member's arrest here.)
But I thought it was sort of fun to note that this sort of revolt against members of Congress is nothing new, and has a rather honored place in American history. In 1816, members of Congress voted themselves a pay raise that DOUBLED their salary. In his book, An Empire of Liberty, historian Gordon Wood tells what happened next:
Now the people had a chance to make their resentment felt. Throughout the country public meetings composed of both political parties denounced the law that had raised the salaries of congressmen. Several state legislatures along with Fourth of July orators bitterly condemned it. Glasses were raised in criticism; the compensation law, noted one New York editor, was “toasted until it is black.” In Georgia opponents even burned the members of Congress in effigy.
Critics of the raise were especially incensed at Congressman Wright’s indiscreet comment about not being able to enjoy a good glass of wine and cited it over and over to great effect. Popular outrage was unprecedented, and the reputation of Congress was severely tarnished. Even congressmen who had voted against the law had to promise humbly to work to repeal it and to return the salary they had already received. In the fall elections of 1816 nearly 70 percent of the Fourteenth Congress was not returned to the Fifteenth Congress. In January 1817 a chastened lame-duck Fourteenth Congress met to debate the issue of exactly what representation meant, and by and large it determined that the people had every right to instruct their congressmen.
Imagine 70 percent of congressional incumbents being defeated. Gives us a goal for next year, eh?
(Hat tip to Rich Lowry, National Review.)