Would Washington and Jefferson have joined anti-quarantine protesters with AR-15’s on their shoulders, urged state governments to crush them mercilessly, or just ignored them and let Covid-19 sort them out?
The Coronavirus hadn’t been a pandemic for three weeks before protests erupted in American cities over quarantine measures. How would America’s two most revered Founders have reacted to these demonstrations?
Although the protesters were few in March and mostly limited to those of more anarchic persuasions, the continued lockdown caused the grumbling and demonstrations to go mainstream in many states. Michigan and San Diego were major hotspots for these anti-quarantine protests
Much of the restlessness stemmed from the government’s failure to give Americans a realistic expectation of when they could resume a normal life. This uncertainty and the mixed signals in the age of social media caused many simpletons to believe all forms of conspiracy theories. Even level-headed people began to believe that their state governments would unnecessarily quarantine them for several months.
But as Walter Olson shows here, this is not the first time state and local governments have quarantined citizens, and they have the constitutional right to do it in this type of situation.
Jefferson was a liberal in his day. Before the era of Progressives and New Dealers, to be a liberal meant to support maximizing personal liberty and limiting the role of government to the most necessary of functions.
Washington, meanwhile, liked to think of himself as apolitical and most Americans thought of him this way as well. But being president revealed that he too was incapable of rising above the factional fray, and he allied firmly with the conservative Hamiltonian camp.
In Washington’s day, to be conservative meant belief in an ordered, tiered society that respected tradition, common law, and the willingness to crush all those who tried to disturb the peace or rouse rabble. It didn’t have to mean supporting monarchy, but it did favor a far more powerful executive than the liberals.
Jefferson would’ve most likely sympathized with anti-quarantine protesters. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe that governments had a right to forcibly protect citizens from pandemics. Everyone believed that because pandemics were more common and deadly in their day. Governments usually didn’t even have to force people to self-quarantine. They did it gladly.