The Oath Keepers, who rose to public prominence earlier this month through their appearance at the protests in Ferguson, MO, marking the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, are far from the first group of Americans to pledge to resort to arms to defend the Constitution and resist the tyranny of their own government. For historic precedent, meet the “Decemvirates.”
In 1863, amidst rising Northern opposition to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, an anonymous letter was printed and circulated in Philadelphia calling for the formation of secret underground cells of armed fighters “ready to resist by armed force [Lincoln’s] tyrannical usurpations and those of his hired minions” and prevent the enforcement of the Conscription Act which had passed in March of that year, instituting a draft to replenish the ranks of the Union Army.
With a very few minor changes in wording, the letter (you can read the whole thing at Slate) could have been written by the Oath Keepers or any of the other multitude of anti-government “patriot” groups which have emerged from the shadows of the political far right over the last few years:
We are in the midst of the most desperate and cruel despotism that ever disgraced the civilized world. The worst form is about to be developed in the enforcement of the “Conscription Law,” by which men are to be torn from their families and homes, and forced to fight against their will, against the Constitution and against the voice of the majority of the people; in order that the present tyrants in power may be sutained in their usurpations.
Frankly, the chief difference between the Decemvirates, so-called because the cells were to be comprised of 10 members, and today’s self-appointed armed defenders of the Constitution is that today they organize in the open. And they are far better armed.