The last couple of years have been boom times for the far right’s distinctive rhetoric of dispossession. From backwoods militias who believe foreign troops are training on U.S. soil to take away their constitutional rights, to suburban Tea Party weekend warriors who heatedly promise to “take the country back” from their perceived demonic Democratic overlords, America is abuzz with groups and individuals claiming to represent and defend the “true” republican ideals upon which they believe this country was founded.
Of course, not all of these groups and individuals have the firmest grasp on American history. Take, for example, the website RebelRepublic.us, one of many Internet pages mounted by members of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement since the election of Barack Obama.
Like many of their peers, the activists behind Rebel Republic — which bills itself as the “Voice of the Patriot Movement” — aim to “promote a return to early Republic ideals.” It is curious, then, that the site’s agenda includes a promise to “[d]rive a change in voting laws to allow only US Citizens that meet at least one of the following criteria the opportunity to vote: they pay taxes, have served or are serving in the U.S. military, and/or own land in the U.S.” In another post on the subject of “voting reform,” the site maintains: “This country is built on the fundamental premise that property is to be protected from the government and other raiders. It only makes sense that those that have a vested interest in maintaining and protecting that property should have a direct say in how government intervenes.”
Forget the fact that anyone who buys a carton of milk “pays taxes”—we were more struck by the bit about “owning land.” Why stop there—should we also bring back feudal estates and the law of primogeniture?
We were curious to know if Rebel Republic really thinks bringing back property qualifications for voting represents a return to “early Republic ideals.” The expansion of the franchise that took place in America during the late 1780s and 90s — limited though it was to white males — was rightly viewed by the Founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, as the very fulfillment of that republican ideal, i.e., the self-government of free men. The only early Americans who worried about the democratizing of political power were arch-Federalists, elitist in style and politics, who also favored a strong central government at the expense of states’ rights. Hardly the kind of people you’d expect to find sites like Rebel Republic making common cause with.
We wrote Rebel Republic asking them to clarify their support for a voting property requirement. “Since there is no right to vote within the US Constitution,” explained a spokesperson in response, “the basis for this voting criterion is simple; it is to assure that the people who have the privilege to vote have a vested interest in their country.”
“The US Constitution,” he continued, “is about limiting Federal interference into the property rights of its citizens. Unfortunately we now live in a country where 47% of the people pay no [income] taxes and the majority of that 47% actually get a handout from the Federal government.”
If Patriots such as those at Rebel Republic had their way, many of those in that 47% would be deprived the right to vote, much like the men — many without property — who took up arms against King George.