In the Boston Tea Party of 1773, a rowdy mob of American colonists dumped a shipload of tea into the harbor to protest a new tax. Unruly demand for change is a deep-rooted American tradition. So is the call for “law and order” to defend the status quo.
Against wider suffrage. In Rhode Island in the 1840s, armed protesters demanded voting rights for all white men regardless of wealth. Opponents formed a Law and Order Party to preserve the old colonial charter, which allowed only men of property to vote.
Against abolition. “Bleeding Kansas” in the 1850s was awash in violence between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. A pro-slavery Law and Order Party accused its opponents of criminal fanaticism and met bloodshed with bloodshed.
Against alcohol. In the later 1800s and early 1900s, temperance sentiment was strongest among Protestants of English descent. Disdainful of beer-drinking Irish and German Catholic immigrants, they formed local Law and Order Leagues to enforce anti-liquor ordinances.
In each case, law and order won out in the short run. The expanded-suffrage leader in Rhode Island was sentenced to life in prison. Questioning the legality of slavery in Kansas could bring five years imprisonment. The 18th Amendment made Prohibition federal law. In the longer run, social change proved beyond the power of law and order to prevent.
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