What are we celebrating?

minuteman.jpgWhen the rumblings began in the Colonies, they began as whispers of discontent. The ideas of freedom soon spread like wildfire from person to person, growing to a palpable bulge under the surface of British rule. A full decade before the Declaration, on a customary August day, the Sons of Liberty hanged an effigy of the Crown Distributor of Stamps Andrew Oliver on Newbury Street in Boston, not two blocks from where I live today, in response to the Stamp Act. They proceeded to burn his wharf property, and stoned and ransacked his house. When Justice Thomas Hutchinson came to Oliver's defense, he barely made out with his life. The people of Boston had sparked the fire that would lead to the first shots of the War in nearby Lexington ten years later. It was the volatile combination of the yoke of King George and the ideas of the Enlightenment that caused the reaction resulting in the Spirit of '76.

The Spirit that stirred the souls of the people of Massachusetts, of Pennsylvania, of Virginia and the Carolinas, gave birth to the greatest social experiment in the history of mankind - an experiment based on the notion that the individual is owed freedom from violence simply due to his nature as a man, from the time of his birth till the day he draws his last breath. Unfortunately, the Anti-Federalists who understood this framework, lost a major early argument a few years later. Among the many abuses carried out by King George listed in the Declaration were:

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Yet, closer examination of history reveals that the colonists lived in a time of fewer taxes, freer trade, lesser bureaucracy, and more sensible laws than in modern times. Their outrage was in response to much less than evokes even the slightest grimace in the average American today. The tyranny of today far surpasses what the colonists experienced in those times, yet the Federal behemoth continues to grow year by year without offense taken by the masses. The sanctification of democracy gives the appearance of 'equality' under one-man-one-vote, while rights are somehow understood to be wants and entitlements.

So today when you are out barbecuing and watching the fireworks, celebrate not the existence of the United States as a separate nation from Britain or uniqueness of the American flag or democratic absolutism; rather remember that the Spirit of '76 was first and foremost about liberty, and ask yourself what exactly we are celebrating today.

Jefferson was eerily prescient when he wrote:

"The spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless. A single zealot may become persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated that the time for fixing every essential right, on a legal basis, is while our rulers are honest, ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded.

Does that Spirit still exist today? Until recently, I was convinced that the answer to that question is no, that as Jefferson predicted, we have continually slid down hill getting closer to the rock bottom surface of despotic government. But the internet and the blogosphere have given an outlet of those of use who hold true to those dangerous ideas, with fire in our hearts and vigor in our bellies. Right now, the soft undercurrent of the Spirit of liberty blows like a gentle zephyr, but it has the potential to sweep human affections like a blizzard's gale. Let us make the most of it.

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Thank you for a very thought

Thank you for a very thought provoking post on your blog. I would like to slightly disagree with you on certain points of your argument. Specifically, you said:

closer examination reveals of history reveals that the colonists lived in a time of fewer taxes, freer trade, lesser bureaucracy, and more sensible laws than in modern times. Their outrage was in response to much less than evokes even the slightest grimace in the average American today. The tyranny of today far surpasses what the colonists experienced in those times, yet the Federal behemoth continues to grow year by year without offense taken by the masses. The sanctification of democracy gives the appearance of 'equality' under one-man-one-vote, while rights are somehow understood to be wants and entitlements.

While I would agree with you, mostly, that the financial tyranny was certainly less for the elite in the society of 1776, the majority of the population were certainly all working at least six days a week just to keep on providing for their basic needs.

But here's where I strongly disagree with you: the moral tyranny that was engaged in there was far more brutal than it is now. After all, we just ruin an individual's life within our society these days. As opposed to killing each other back then.

Humanity has finally managed to, from time to time, not consider killing each other if we don't believe the same way about an omnipresent ultimate being who told us all how to live a long time ago in a particular book. Usually. For example, non-clergy engaging in anything but a monogamous religiously sanctioned married relationship back then were under strict censure, and had to be careful (especially females) of being appropriated for various moral or ethical lapses.

Personally, I think the problem is that we need to expose and determine a viable way of dealing with those who do propose using violence on others as a solution to their problems. Or ‘our’ problems. I have a particularly hard time with someone proposing to use violence on my behalf to solve my problems. To me, being American means that you might be allowed to let me know what your opinion is, but you don’t have a right to do things, that I don’t approve of, on my behalf. Or stop me from doing what I want to, as long as I’m not harming others by doing it.

And I hope that humanity manages to make it past its’ adolescence and grows up one day. I know I won’t be around to see it, but I’d like to know within myself that I tried to help in some small way. Anyways,. . . just my two cents. Keep up the good work!

Tom, Your thoughts are

Tom,

Your thoughts are appreciated.

While I would agree with you, mostly, that the financial tyranny was certainly less for the elite in the society of 1776, the majority of the population were certainly all working at least six days a week just to keep on providing for their basic needs.

Yes, but this was not a result of tyranny. Tyranny is violations of rights. The world as a whole was much poorer back then, and technology has made us richer today. While most of us have a 5 day work week today, in the future, increased productivity might bring us a 4 day work week.

Personally, I think the problem is that we need to expose and determine a viable way of dealing with those who do propose using violence on others as a solution to their problems. Or ?our? problems. I have a particularly hard time with someone proposing to use violence on my behalf to solve my problems. To me, being American means that you might be allowed to let me know what your opinion is, but you don?t have a right to do things, that I don?t approve of, on my behalf. Or stop me from doing what I want to, as long as I?m not harming others by doing it.

I completely agree; however, I think the logical conclusion of your views leads to the philosophy of classical liberalism, which we here at Catallarchy espouse, not modern American liberalism.

I've wondered about this

I've wondered about this topic (the relative freedoms of Americans just prior to the Revolution versus US Citizens today) for several years. I also suspect that we tolerate more intrusions on our liberty today than our forebears did.

But, it's only a vague suspicion on my part. Do you know of any attempts to quantify relative liberty of the two times?

I had imagined in the past a graph of per capita taxation over the years. Maybe Tom is right, though, and this wouldn't show the whole picture.

It just occured to me that this is very similar to the comparison done by the Economic Freedom Network (http://www.freetheworld.com/) between countries. It would be interesting to see their EFW index calculated for the US at various stages in time (say every 25 years from 1600 until today). Anyone looking for a history of economics thesis?