This weekend, millions of Americans will use the occasion of a federal holiday for all sorts of recreational activity, most likely caring little about the whys and wherefores.
This isn’t to condemn a good time. It is to revisit the whys and wherefores.
If pressed on the reason for the holiday, one may say they are celebrating our independence from England. But that’s probably the only consideration given to the idea.
If an American could compare the liberties he enjoys with those of a pre-Revolutionary War colonist, he might well wish to find the nearest time machine and switch shoes. And wearing those shoes, perhaps he would have opportunity to read the words of Thomas Jefferson, with the ink barely dry on the Declaration of Independence:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.
In penning these words, Jefferson became the liar of the century. His assessment was verifiably false, yet his words have had resounding historical impact.
The colonists actually had a sweet deal, particularly with taxation. The total burden of British imperial taxation was about 1% of national income, and no higher than 2.5% in the southern colonies.
How’d ya like rates like that now, American?
Alvin Rabushka penned his massive Taxation in Colonial America in 2008. The Business History Review published a review, and offered their summary:
Rabushka’s most original and impressive contribution is his measurement of tax rates and tax burdens. However, his estimate of comparative trans-Atlantic tax burdens may be a bit of moving target. At one point, he concludes that, in the period from 1764 to 1775, “the nearly two million white colonists in America paid on the order of about 1 percent of the annual taxes levied on the roughly 8.5 million residents of Britain, or one twenty-fifth, in per capita terms, not taking into account the higher average income and consumption in the colonies” (p. 729). Later, he writes that, on the eve of the Revolution, “British tax burdens were ten or more times heavier than those in the colonies” (p. 867). Other scholars may want to refine his estimates, based on other archival sources, different treatment of technical issues such as the adjustment of intercolonial and trans-Atlantic comparisons for exchange rates, or new estimates of comparative income and wealth. Nonetheless, no one is likely to challenge his most important finding: the huge tax gap between the American periphery and the core of the British Empire.(1)
In 1775, it would have been harder to find a freer nation on Earth than Great Britain. And in the British Empire, the colonists were by far the freest. Today’s Americans who believe they enjoy freedoms would be shell-shocked if they were transported back to 1775. Unless they were a slave, they would be living in the freest nation on Earth: British North America.
Generally, the colonists bought what the Continental Congress was selling when they declared independence on July 2, 1776, but were clueless as to what they were about to lose. They would soon pay a price in blood, treasure and debt. Just seven years after the Declaration was signed, tax rates had tripled. Rabushka writes:
Historians have written that taxes in the new American nation rose and remained considerably higher, perhaps three times higher, than they were under British rule. More money was required for national defense than previously needed to defend the frontier from Indians and the French, and the new nation faced other expenses.
By signing the Declaration, the colonists were now exposed to what they had not been exposed to prior to July 2, 1776: British tyranny, something which did not exist in North America on July 1, 1776.
As Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman might say: “You think you got tyranny? I’ll show you tyranny!”
After the American Revolution, 46,000 American loyalists fled to Canada. They were not willing to swear allegiance to the new colonial government. The retained their loyalty to the nation that had delivered to them the greatest liberty on earth. They had not committed treason.
Why would they?
Nobody views the signers as treasonous. As Sir John Harrington (1561-1612) said:
Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Victors, you see, always write the history books.
Conrad Black, Canadian-born historian and member of the House of Lords maintains the colonists were wrong to overthrow the Crown. He writes:
It is verging on secular heresy to make the point, especially in the week of July 4, but the American colonists didn’t have much to complain about, either. The British pretension that the Mother of Parliaments could represent the Americans although they had no members of it was nonsense, especially as America had 30 percent of the population of Great Britain by the Revolution, and was the most prosperous British entity. But the taxes imposed were less than the British Isles were already paying; Britain gave the Americans a year to propose alternative sources of revenue; and all Britain was seeking was help in reducing the national debt, which had doubled during the Seven Years’ War (largely owing to the effort to throw the French out of Canada, at the insistence of the Americans). The original tea partiers, disguised as Indians, were overreacting to a tax that was confined to tea and was not excessive. Their current emulators are less colorful and imaginative.
The colonists had the better of the argument with the British, but individual Americans did not have substantively more liberties at the end of the Revolution than they had had at the beginning, nor more than the British in the home islands had (then or now or at any time in between), apart from having a resident sovereign government. The whole American notion of liberty came from the British, along with the common law and the English language. If the Americans had maintained their British status, they would control Britain and Canada and Australia and New Zealand now (another 120 million people and over $5 trillion of GDP), have all their energy needs met, and enjoy better government than they have actually endured for the past 20 years. It would have been much easier to abolish slavery and, if there had been a Civil War, it would not have lasted long, nor cost a fraction of the 750,000 American lives that it did. There would have been no World Wars or Cold War, or at least no conflict remotely as perilous as those were. The United States would also have less than its current 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and wouldn’t have a legal cartel that devours 10 percent of its GDP. These are matters that, though they verge on secular heresy, Americans may want to consider, in between singing splendid anthems and rereading Jefferson’s defamation of poor old George III and his blood libel on the American Indian in the Declaration of Independence, this national holiday.(2)
The newly-minted Americans (and their descendants) did not handle their newfound liberty well. The War ended in 1781, and just eight years later, the infamous Constitution was foisted upon the unruly colonies. The Constitution did what its defenders ostensibly vowed it would not do: localize power and control in a central State. It was all downhill from there, with Washington bureaucrats flexing their governmental muscle with the Alien and Sedition Act, which allowed imprisonment of people for speech critical of the federal government. Still to come was Lincoln’s obscene War of Northern Aggression, his brazen and bloody federal power grab, and the Great Depression, where the federal government, responsible for causing distress for the citizenry, took advantage of the monster they created to justify its ideology and social re-engineering.
The American Revolution was a mistake simply because the end result was less freedom. It did not take all that long for the colonists to devolve from living in an almost utopian existence, as far as liberty goes, to being subjects all over again, only to a much more heartless King with a thousand faces. In presuming to throw off a non-existence yoke of tyranny, we made ourselves slaves. We had not been liberated. We had been imprisoned, all now servants of a Godless oligarchy whose sole reason for existence was, and is to empower themselves at the expense of those it presumes to lord over. Americans who are not feasting at the government-set table of taxpayer funded benefits must now work half the year to meet their tax obligations. If liberty is what the American values, consider:
We are not free to travel.
We are not free to have a private conversation on our cell phones.
We are not free to do as we wish on property we say we own.
We are not free to drink raw milk.
We are not free to do as we wish with regards to health care.
We are not free to fish or hunt.
We are not free to take money out of a bank.
We are not free to carry firearms.
We are not free to start a business without permission.
We are not free to rent a home we own to whomever we wish.
We are not free to travel with cash.
We are not free to fly the flag of our choosing.
We are not free to speak our mind about sexual deviancy.
We are not free to sell lemonade in our front yard.
We are not free to collect rainwater.
We are not free to have yard sales.
We are not free to buy a Big Gulp.
The Declaration of Independence, inadvertently or not, made slaves of us all, and here we sit, 239 years hence, shackled in the bonds of the Godless American government.
We are not free!
We now live under the absolute fist of tyranny. There is no cause for celebration this weekend, as the actions of the signers laid the foundation for the quickly budding new empire. In throwing off the non-tyrannical Crown, thus creating a monster where there was none, they planted the seeds for what we have today, the sprouts beginning to show just eight years after their faulty decision.
Had you lived in 1775, would you have been a loyalist, or a revolutionary? Before you answer, consider again living in an era where the central government exacted 1% of the nation’s wealth. Consider living in an era where there was no income tax.
Would you describe this as living under tyranny?
The political answer for all this is for another column to come. But for now, enjoy the weekend festivities, the fireworks, picnics and baseball games.
And make sure you have a permit for it all. You wouldn’t want to celebrate without governmental authorization.
Whatever I may do this weekend, one could find me doing any weekend.
Independence Day is one holiday I won’t be celebrating.
(1) – hbs.edu/businesshistory/publications
(2) – Conrad Black. Post Colonial Killing Fields. conradmblack.com