Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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REBELLION. By rebellion is understood the act of resistance by one or more individuals to lawful authority acting within the limits of its power. Insurgents are those who attack the government with the intent of overturning it, and rebels those who refuse to obey it. It is true that rebellion quickly becomes insurrection. The distinction between them, consequently, exists especially at the beginning, but exact definitions are necessary in political language. Rebellion is, at bottom or in principle, a refusal of obedience, which manifests itself either by violence and assault, or by passive resistance.


—There is no rebellion unless the public force, against which the rebels rise, be acting in the execution of the laws, or of legitimate orders of the authorities or the courts. This is the essential element of rebellion. When peace officers act outside of their right, or exceed their power, resistance is not rebellion. This principle was written in the Roman law (see law 5, of the Code De jure fisci); it was even taught in French law by Jousse (Traité des mat. crim., vol. iv., p. 79). In such a case, the act of the officer is an act of brute force. But the presumption of legality is in favor of the officer, and it is for the person who believes himself to have the right to resist, to show grounds of excuse in justification. And, further, when a public officer acts within the limits of his power, an irregularity of form which clouded his title or acts would not constitute an excuse, because then the officer commits no violence, and at bottom his title and acts are legal. But if, for instance, the officer purposes to make an arrest, except in the case of flagrante delictu, or to effect an execution without a judgment, resistance is an act of lawful defense, provided that it does not go beyond the bounds of strict necessity.


—These are the least serious cases of rebellion. They are what may be said to constitute petty rebellion. Rebellion, in its greatest development, goes much farther than contesting the acts of a police officer; it calls in question the very government whose orders he executes; it raises against the government the same objections, of incompetency, or of exceeding its powers, which we have just supposed in the case of public officers. The same principle, as to the lawfulness of the resistance, must be applied here.


—Rebellion, we have said, may show itself without violence, and be entirely passive. Thus, breaches of certain legal obligations are, in our opinion, acts of rebellion. If the commander of an armed force refuse to cause it to act, though he be lawfully required to do so by the civil authority, he deserves, according to our idea, the title of rebel, quite as much as the wretch who meets a sheriff with a blow from his fist.


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