July 4, 1776
July 4, 2016
Historian Murray Rothbard in his impressive four volume history of the US, Conceived in Liberty, depicts an America in the 1760s and 1770s that was undergoing a revolution. The people in America had adopted a different philosophy on rights and had stopped viewing themselves as colonists. That change in people’s hearts and minds was the actually what Rothbard called the American Revolution.
By 1776, the American Revolution had occurred in the hearts and minds of the people in the colonies. The Declaration of Independence can be looked at as an important moment that celebrates that change of perspective of these free people. That change in hearts and minds is not what we usually call the American Revolution however.
What followed that revolution, that change in hearts and minds, was a bloody rebellion, that could have just as easily been avoided if only the Crown understood that the colonists had gone beyond a point of no return and were no longer able to find justice in the method of governing that the Crown insisted they abide by. Every year, the spirit of 1776 is celebrated in America on July 4 by virtue of being enshrined in a holiday. That spirit of 1776 tends to incorporate that very important change in hearts and minds and the bloody rebellion that followed.
In the midst of BBQs, fireworks, and festivities it’s a spirit that Americans do not seem to spend much time contemplating or discussing. Below are 7 aspects of Independence Day that Americans never mention.
1. Getting Rid of King George in 1776 is the Equivalent of Getting Rid of George Bush in 2008 or Barack Obama in 2016
I do not mean getting rid of those people by assassination or overthrow – that would be a civil war, but by removing their influence over you – a secession. The American War of Independence, like the war between the states that occurred in the 1860s was not a civil war, but a war of secession. South Carolina was not trying to wrestle control of the country from newly elected President Lincoln. South Carolina was merely trying to wrestle control over South Carolina.
The modern day equivalent of July 4, 1776 is telling DC that it is not in control of you or your neighbors anymore and that you will rebuff any attempts to the contrary and even go so far as killing any soldier they send who tries to force you to behave otherwise.
Can you imagine getting a group of friends together taking the next IRS auditor you find, beating him up a little and then to add insult to injury dragging him into your back yard, dunking him in roofing tar used motor oil, flashing cement or some similarly gooey substance and then tearing open some old down pillows you have around to finish up the job of tarring and feathering him before you drop him back off on the street, at the nearest IRS office, or some similar ‘customs house’ ?
That’s a thing that Americans used to do in a much lower tax era where tax collectors were seen as cheats and scoundrels. Today working for the IRS can be seen as respectable in American society.
The American Revolution and the War for Independence was about adopting the mindset that you are a free person and you are willing to fight and even kill anyone who be hard-headed enough to deny you that freedom.
The fact that something like this is generally considered radical saddens me, because it shows that Americans have such limited understanding of their own founding. One could say that Americans have lost touched with an aspect of life that makes America so special, but even during the American War for Independence these ideas were not ideas celebrated by the majority. They are ideas that a vocal minority cherished and advocated for.
Maintaining this rebellious spirit makes a segment of Americans so fascinating to me and projects significant effects onto the rest of society, by helping shift the political debate toward a more populist answer for society rather than a political class answer. Populist is not enough for a response to be good, but it can be a step in the right direction.
I’ve heard it from gun toting people on the political left from Vermont, upstate New York, Nevada, and Minnesota. I’ve heard it on the right too. I’ve heard it from Tea Partiers in Illinois, I’ve heard it from conservatives in Massachusetts, I’ve heard it from libertarians in Hawaii, I’ve heard it from anarchists in Virginia. I’ve heard it from average people in New Hampshire, where so many of the people I’ve met seem to be passionate about such things.
This is a beautiful segment of American culture, with a pronounced passion for freedom and a philosophical understanding of it, that I don’t know to exist anywhere else in the world. There are ethnic groups that want their own land across the globe and are willing to fight for it. There are civil wars where people want to fight to see who rules an entire country. Nowhere else do I know of regular folks with a sense of constant dissent bubbling under the surface with a gun toting population ready to pick off the federal government if the moment ever becomes ripe for revolt.
That would be an aspect of the spirit of 1776 that never gets talked about. Once you start talking about it, it’s surprisingly present in the minds of many Americans, always ready somewhere just below the surface.
This feeds the inherent stability of the US in a way that the Michael Bloombergs and other nanny state do gooders don’t seem to understand. We are ready to risk everything for something better. That is at our very core culturally. We do not crave European stability or Asian ancestor worship, we do not crave the Indian comfort of caste or respect the British or African appreciation of royalty and established hierarchies. We are the nation that loves destabilizing upstarts, and cheers underdogs, we are the nation that loves innovation. This is fundamental to the American spirit.
Where this breaks down is that some Americans recognize that others may not want that same upstart attitude. In an attempt often to protect others they create nanny state programs that tend to deny others that sense of what is so quintessentially American. A home, a car, and 2.3 kids is not as quintessentially American as that belief in upending society. This can sometimes to be an aspect of the political divide between right and left in America, but by and large, across the spectrum Americans appreciate the theoretical concept of political revolution and the existence of the destabilizing upstart in the world – manifesting itself most recently in technology, but welcome in many areas of life – from religion to literature to policy.
2. Revolutionary Spirit Should Be Stoked on a Day Like July 4, because It’s Good for Us
July 4 is a day I like to read the work of great Americans who follow this revolutionary sentiment. I like reading Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, in which he makes a decree in 1776 that frees the slaves of the colonies, 87 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. It was not the publicly released version though. Several drafts later, after a committee of people got ahold of the document and watered it down, standard behavior for a committee, we were left with the document now known as the Declaration of Independence. It’s a pretty good document, it’s simply not as good as the much more intellectually consistent first draft.
Each year on July 4, I also like reading Henry David Thoreau’s essay commonly called Civil Disobedience, a brilliant piece of writing that encourages revolutionary thought. It was a text that both Gandhi and MLK saw as formative to them. I can’t seem to read even a single page without underlining an excellent quote or breaking off into writing of my own inspired by the excellent Thoreau. That seldom-read essay from Thoreau is a truly great contribution that American literature has given the world. If I had to choose one, I would likely call that long essay the most powerful work of American letters.
It’s good for us to stoke that revolutionary spirit and to remember that government rules only with the consent of the governed. There is no tomorrow promised to Washington DC or any other government. If they cannot get the job done, they can be relieved of their authority through a violent or non-violent revolution. DC, a non-state, a city that exists only because of the federal government, is an easy unnatural creation to imagine throwing off. It’s easy to imagine demanding that the city figure out how to live on its own devices. It is a pretty to look at, leach of a city that, much like Disney World, is fun for tourism but offers little more in the way of value to society. My apologies for Disney for the comparison, Disney offers much more good to society than DC. To begin with, anyone who spends money with Disney does so voluntarily. Checks written to the federal government are not often voluntary.
Revolutions can be violent or non-violent. The threat and the belief that a violent rebellion could occur is important in ensuring that a free people be dealt with decently by their government.
As someone with more than a quarter century of experience in politics and government, I know how intimately important it is for a politician to feel pressure from the public. Politicians feel pressure all day long – from staff, from spouses, from confidants, from donors, from lobbyists, from colleagues, from the media. The least likely pressure that they will feel through the course of the day is from the people, which means that whatever the people say, think or feel about that politician doesn’t really matter, because it has no effect on his or her daily life. The amorphous concept of “The people” is a useful tool that politicians believe they can fairly accurately manipulate provided that politician has enough money on hand. There is some truth to this cynical belief, which makes it fairly easy for politicians to dismiss the voting public in all but the most threatening of situations.
There is no loss to turning up the pressure on a politician and to make him or her feel like revolution is a constant option that is on the table along with civil war, nullification of federal laws, flat out laughing at them, and disobedience toward bad laws. It’s good to leave these options on the table and keep them as realistic options in the mind of every politician lest that politician grow too comfortable and too cynical in office.
3. The Spirit of 1776, Was Very Different Than the Spirit of 1787
The Declaration of Independence clearly in many ways refers to America as a grouping of states. 1787 was an attempt by the federalists to forge them into a union together. The group known as the anti-federalist were the better speakers for freedom at the time and accurately predicted significant difficulty in adopting the US Constitution and expecting it to be a document under which a free people would be governed. While following the constitution would be a nicer method of governing than we have now, the Constitution also has some flaws built into it that make it a difficult document for governing a free society.
We refer to them both, the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787), in the same sentence as our founding documents, but they are certainly very different documents.
The US turned even further away from the spirit of 1776 and towards the spirit of 1787 in 1865. Lincoln, a legitimate tyrant, was killed toward the end of a bloody war of secession. Historically speaking, it was a just fate for a tyrant and it also made a martyr out of him.
Like many young Americans, and especially many young Illinoisians, I grew up idolizing Lincoln. It’s okay to appreciate his good and attack his bad. The guy was a legitimate tyrant, a word more accurately applied to him than any other US president. Every marriage has this hard to answer question hanging over it: How do we end this if it ever comes to that? Anyone who has had to entertain that question knows how complicated that is. Divorce is a common part of life in marriages between two people and in “marriages” among groups of people. Greece and the EU seem to be answering that question right now, less than 2 decades after the “wedding.” It’s fascinating watching the EU address the issue of Greece. South Carolina tried to answer that question some four score and seven years after the American Revolution had occurred and were given a brutal response much like the colonists were given. A key difference was that the old blind and tyrannical King George across the ocean preventing secession was replaced by the awkward Lincoln on this side of the ocean preventing a secession. America had a home grown tyrant more excited in going to war to preserve the spirit of 1787 than allowing South Carolina to leave the union in the spirit of 1776.
The Civil War is an inaccurate term, since the war was fought by states seeking to leave the union and govern themselves (a secession) instead of states seeking to wrestle control of the White House and control the entire union (a civil war).
July 4 is more of a day to honor the rebel fighters like stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee and less of a day to honor the government men and punitive enforcers of the status quo like Ulysses Grant or General Sherman. It is a day to honor Sam Adams more than Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine more than Roosevelt. It’s a day for the free man to honor the free mind, rather than the day for the government beauracrat to praise the state’s conquest of the human mind and its desire to be free. We have many holidays to celebrate the latter, July 4 is not one of them.
4. The American Flag Is the Antithesis of this Day, It Is the Antithesis of July 4
The American flag represents the central government. It represents a federal government. It doesn’t represent a people, it doesn’t represent a loose confederation of states that can leave the confederation whenever they want. The American flag represents a big intrusive state. Getting away from a much, much smaller big intrusive state was what the Declaration of Independence was about.
The growth of contemporary government, the most intrusive aspect of anyone’s life in our age, would astound those who lived in 1776. It is practically a standard part of daily life in America to simply accept the latest government intrusion in life as an inevitability that must be accepted. Supplication is demanded of the average American. For some near total supplication is demanded, in order to live peacefully in America. To supplicate and allow government to do as you say for the honor of living in such a great country is ultimately what the American flag has come to represent. It is the much more valuable individualistic spirit of 1776 however that makes America such a great country.
The flag can be a symbol for many things, with each person understanding it differently. My interpretation of the meaning of the flag is very much a historically and intellectually consistent interpretation that separates the Spirit of 1776 from the Spirit of 1787.
To fly the US flag today is contrary to the Spirit of 1776. If anything the flag should be pulled down on July 4.
5. Those More Flag-like Attitudes are Enshrined in Holidays Too, Just not July 4
The glory of the state is a holiday for Flag Day (the day we celebrate the state’s flag), or Constitution Day (the day we celebrate the Spirit of 1787) or the two days we have to celebrate fallen federal soldiers (Veterans Day and Memorial Day).
As a side note, the issue of federal soldiers is important. Until 1903 each individual state had a check on foreign wars, it could tell the military that it would not send its militia to be involved in a war. Since this check was removed and sending soldiers to war was moved entirely into the hands of the federal government, war, not coincidentally, has become a big ugly bloody ordeal for America. This law helped allow men to be recruited directly by the federal government, while the Federal Reserve Act (1913) and Income Tax (1916) helped to fund war. War is the biggest of big government programs.
6. They Fascinatingly Fought Over Less Than 1% of Income Tax Burden
The movie Dazed and Confused about high school students in 1976 has a memorable line about exactly this as the students leave for the summer, one of the teachers says to them “Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you’re being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don’t forget what you’re celebrating, and that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.”
The tax burden that they revolted over was along the lines of 1% of the annual wage in the north and may have been as high as 3% in the south. Today the tax and regulatory burden on some Americans reaches nearly half of their income – from the income tax, to the social security tax, to property tax, sales tax, gasoline tax, alcohol tax (about half the price of a bottle of beer), and this doesn’t include the pernicious effects of inflation created by exuberant money creation by the Federal Reserve Bank. Inflation is a silent tax that moves wealth from the weakest members of society to the government and their crony friends.
7. Our Star Spangled Banner is About the War of 1812, a War Not at All in Line with the Spirit of 1776
On July 4, the Star Spangled Banner is apt to be played and sung, on television, at public gatherings, even in churches. The playing of it confuses the Spirit of 1776 with the idea that all things American are great. Obviously all things American are not great. There are good and bad aspects to every place.
The Star Spangled Banner is a song about a war that the American government instigated. It is exactly what so many opposed to the adoption of the US Constitution fought against – a big bully federal government that was able to force us into aggressive behavior that is the antithesis of freedom. War is the worst of the big government projects, and those who consistently oppose big government projects oppose wars despite the great patriotic jingoism that leads to them. Unfortunately, smaller government folks can often be the most likely to fall victim to such jingoism, an act of intellectual inconsistency. Big government war is absolutely contrary to the Spirit of 1776. The sovereignty of the individual is a vital concept of the Spirit of 1776.
In the War of 1812 the United States government tried to take over British lands in Canada. The British in retaliation invaded our capital and burned our White House down. The hero of the war of 1812 always seems to be Dolly Madison because she saved a few paintings legend says. The dufus of the War of 1812 is James Madison and anyone who instigated the British through such serious aggression that the young power hungry American government got quite the slap on the wrist.
The Star Spangled Banner, as beautiful as its words and tunes are, was written during a time that should be widely considered a national shame, a war we should not have been involved in, a war that was a betrayal of the Spirit of 1776, and a good example of the Spirit of 1787 run amok. The Star Spangled Banner should never be played on July 4. It is a song written in praise of a wrongheaded state.
While total praise of the great state in all of its glory and despite all of its shortcomings is the stuff most days in America are about, with a special fervor that takes over on national holidays, the memory of July 4, the holiday intended for the re-creation of the Spirit of 1776, is the one day to celebrate the unique greatness that is the American experiment in the world – the triumph of the individual over the state. There is nothing more uniquely American than that.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.