It was on the 23rd of March, 1775, that a few of the most revolutionary words of all time were passionately spoken on the floor of St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. Closing a desperate plea for the Virginia Colony to organize and form a militia against British rule, Patrick Henry exclaimed “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Historians would forever look back to this speech as one of the inciting notes of the orchestra leading up to the American Revolution.
North America was chained to the United Kingdoms of England and Scotland by a 3500 mile transatlantic shackle of monarchic power. But in a world where the fastest ship took a full 6 weeks to cross the pond, North America was gifted with the strategic opportunity to shake itself free. The story of human history is a long tale of oppression, where the whims of self-appointed leaders of mankind drive human progress into the ground in the interest of maintaining their power. These top-heavy institutions always fail, and are nearly always replaced by a state destined to follow the same path of oppression until it dies itself.
But America was destined to be free.
Any nation can be independent by simply winning a war. But for a nation to be free – that is another matter entirely. The Soviet Federation of Russia was independent of Tsarist Russia, but such a victory does not necessitate the existence of a free society. The American Revolution was not fought for independence only, but for the freedom of all mankind. Independence itself was an afterthought to the actual goal.
The antithesis of freedom is unrightful authority, and force is authority’s weapon of choice. To be free, you must free yourself from such authority.
“Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission?” – Patrick Henry
As it was well noted in the Declaration of Independence, “Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Rulers have a tendency to become just that, and in such events, it becomes the responsibility of a free people to maintain their own interests in personal liberty.
It was 240 years ago today, on July 4, 1776, that the unfit ruler of “a free people” was written a very solemn notice of the states’ intention to secede from the British Crown’s realm of authority.
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” – The Declaration of Independence.
America was an example for the world. All people, in every age of history, have had the option to make the very choice that was made in Philadelphia in 1776. But the road to freedom is the road less traveled. Serfdom, poverty, and oppression are the more common choices. We will never rid the world of the evils of force and coercion. But it is always within our reach to decrease the authority of these evils until they are sufferable.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” – The Declaration of Independence.
From a firebrand age of revolutionary thinking, a nation was born. But it was short lived. And many of the things that were fought for were never accomplished.
In the time of America’s first presidency, the newly established government implemented a tax on whisky, which had become a common medium of exchange in many of the northern colonies. The tax was designed to favor the rich by permitting them to pay a single fee, giving them the advantage of economies of scale. Small farms were unable to compete. And when they refused to pay the tax, General George Washington returned to the battlefield to wage war on his own people, many of which who had marched with him against the British.
Despite being independent of Great Britain, black people in the United States did not share in the same freedom that white people received. Large sections of the Native American population were rounded up and killed, or forced to cede their homes to the United States government. Women were not allowed any representation in the government. Taxes slowly increased, and new taxes were designed and implemented.
The United States, still independent of Great Britain, waged war on itself in the 1860s. In the 1940s, innocent civilians were monitored while being secretly dosed with radiation by giving radioactive pills to pregnant women, and giving disabled children radioactive oatmeal. The US Public Health Service would eventually inflict syphilis on American citizens to observe the effects of the disease left untreated. In 1953, the CIA would give unsuspecting people LSD to monitor the effects. Over 2,000 American sailors were forced to try and survive in gas chambers to test gas masks. The United States government killed over 10,000 Americans by poisoning alcohol after they banned it out of hypocritical conservative paranoia. People suspected of being of Japanese descent were interred in camps during World War II.
Being independent did not stop any of those things. Freedom is not free, and the story of America is the story of men who paid for it in full and lost it in their lifetimes. In 1776, trade was illegal with any country other than Great Britain. Colonists who had built homesteads west of the Appalachian Mountains were forced to return east. Colonists were required to provide their own housing to British soldiers. There was a stamp tax, and an imported goods tax. And when The Crown refused to address those grievances, the result was a revolution.
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” – The Declaration of Independence.
It seems that we’ve forgotten why the colonists wanted to be independent in the first place. They wanted to be free. And because we’ve forgotten that, we’ve lost what we were supposed to have, and failed to realize just how much of what was fought for was never achieved. The struggle for liberty is an ongoing one, and it seems we’ve stopped fighting far too early.
This Independence Day, take a moment to remember the original concept of the More Perfect Union. Some things have gotten better, others have gotten worse. We aren’t at war with ourselves. Women can vote. Black people have human status. And we’re going to stay true to this path by reclaiming what we’ve lost and achieving what we never did: liberty, and a free society.