22 August 2012

Riot and Militia Acts

Shay’s Rebellion and the Constitution by Mary Hull, 2000, Excerpts

The day after the standoff at the courthouse, the Massachusetts legislature met in Boston. First, it suspended the writ of habeas corpus, the requirement that a law enforcement officer have evidence against a suspect in order to imprison him or her. Without habeas corpus, anyone the governor considered dangerous to the state could be arrested.

Next the legislature passed the Riot Act to prevent the regulators from organizing. This law, designed by former revolutionary and patriot leader Samuel Adams, authorized sheriffs and justices of the peace to order an armed crowd to disperse.  The failure of an armed crowd to disperse would result in arrest, imprisonment, and seizure of personal property. Mobs had been useful in resisting the British prior to the revolution, and people who were upset with the new government tried to use these same methods now.

The legislature also passed the Militia Act during its fall 1786 session. The Militia Act declared that “any officer or soldier who shall begin, excite, cause, or join in any mutiny sedition” will be subject to “such punishment as by a court martial shall be inflicted.” People suspected of being regulators could now be arrested and detained without bail on the grounds that they put the safety of Massachusetts in danger. They could be held in jail with any evidence.

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